“File:Nick Bostrom – Coffee.jpg” by Future of Humanity Institute is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

CW: Racism

The University of Oxford has launched an investigation into Professor Nick Bostrom—a renowned philosopher known for his work on metaethics and AI—following his leaking of emails with offensive, racist content, including a slur.

Professor Bostrom’s work has been widely celebrated, even ranking on Prospect magazine’s World Thinkers List as the top analytic philosopher. His work covers a broad range of topics, focusing on technology and its future implications, including AI, transhumanism, and space-travel. His budding philosophy “longtermism” asserts that action should be taken now by the ultra-rich to assure a better future for humanity, and it has previously drawn criticism for its eugenic implications.

Bostrom released the emails himself in an apology statement after allegedly receiving word that someone was “digging through” the mailing list to which it was sent (Extropian listserv) with the intention of sharing “embarrassing materials”.

In the email, Bostrom wrote that “Blacks are more stupid than whites”, a statement that he claimed to “like” and think is “true”. He added that he doesn’t “dislike” black people or think they should be “treated unfairly”, but that “black people have a lower IQ than mankind in general”. The broader point of his email was on the use of such language in public, and that he believed by saying this, people would accuse him of hating black people. However, in the email, Bostrom used a racist slur that wasn’t censored in either the original email nor in his apology.

Bostrom has offered his “unreserved” apologies for the statement, saying he “rejects” it completely. However, he also stated that he still sees a place for “provocative communication”. He also claims in the apology that there might be a disparity in “skill and cognitive capacity” between white and black people, and refuses to comment on whether this is genetic. Addressing natural concerns that these views might allude to eugenics, he writes that he does not support eugenics “as the term is commonly understood”. 

The University, currently investigating the comments, have said in a statement to The Daily Beast that they “condemn in the strongest terms possible” the views expressed in the email, which do not align with the institution’s “strong commitment to diversity and equality”. We are yet to see how the university will deal with the don, who serves the university as a professor as well as the Director of both the Future of Humanity Institute and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology.