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best-seller: a dense meditation on artificial intelligence by the philosopher Nick Bostrom, who holds an appointment at Oxford.

Titled “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies,” it argues that true artificial intelligence, if it is realized, might pose a danger that exceeds every previous threat from technology—even nuclear weapons—and that if its development is not managed carefully humanity risks engineering its own extinction.

Across the hallway was the Petrov Room, named for another Soviet officer who prevented a global nuclear catastrophe. He read it in a nearby forest, in a clearing that he often visited to think and to write poetry, and experienced a euphoric insight into the possibilities of learning and achievement.

Bostrom later told me, “They may have saved more lives than most of the statesmen we celebrate on stamps.” The sense that a vanguard of technical-minded people working in obscurity, at odds with consensus, might save the world from auto-annihilation runs through the atmosphere at F. “It’s hard to convey in words what that was like,” Bostrom told me; instead he sent me a photograph of an oil painting that he had made shortly afterward.

It was a semi-representational landscape, with strange figures crammed into dense undergrowth; beyond, a hawk soared below a radiant sun.

Bostrom’s sole responsibility at Oxford is to direct an organization called the Future of Humanity Institute, which he founded ten years ago, with financial support from James Martin, a futurist and tech millionaire. (He concluded that it was highly unlikely.) Discussions at F. Earlier this year, I visited the institute, which is situated on a winding street in a part of Oxford that is a thousand years old. Demand for him on the lecture circuit is high; he travels overseas nearly every month to relay his technological omens in a range of settings, from Google’s headquarters to a Presidential commission in Washington. His intensity is too untidily contained, evident in his harried gait on the streets outside his office (he does not drive), in his voracious consumption of audiobooks (played at two or three times the normal speed, to maximize efficiency), and his fastidious guarding against illnesses (he avoids handshakes and wipes down silverware beneath a tablecloth).

Bostrom runs the institute as a kind of philosophical radar station: a bunker sending out navigational pulses into the haze of possible futures. Even at Oxford, he maintains an idiosyncratic schedule, remaining in the office until two in the morning and returning sometime the next afternoon. Bostrom can be stubborn about the placement of an office plant or the choice of a font.