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Minimum Viable Human Population with Intelligent Interventions

Roman V. Yampolskiy Computer Engineering and Computer Science Speed School of Engineering University of Louisville

Abstract Minimum Viable Populations are of interest to scholars of biology, space travel and existential risks among others. Most published studies report MVP numbers for natural populations. In this paper, we look at extreme theoretical values of MVP, which could be achieved with intelligent interventions from natural or artificial agents relying on advanced technologies, such as genetic engineering or IVF among others. Our results indicate that superintelligent agents may achieve theoretical limits of MVP.

Keywords: De-Extinction, Existential Risk, Extinction, Minimal Viable Population, Population Recovery

1. Introduction to Minimum Viable Population

Recent work on existential risks [1, 2] from advanced dual-use technologies such as synthetic biology [3] or transformational artificial intelligence [4-8] considers possibility of human extinction and can benefit from accurate estimates of critical population sizes necessary for the civilization to survive catastrophes and to repopulate. Disappointingly, existing literature mostly looks at unintelligent natural processes for such recovery [9]. Minimum Viable Population (MVP) for a specie is typically estimated, via computer simulations, as 90%+ probability of survival of a specie for 100+ years and does not take into account interventions by intelligent agents. Probability of surviving and thriving increases with the size of the population but all population sizes have non-zero chance of success if intelligence is involved in purposeful steering of the project. In this short paper, we look at how technologies, either existing or anticipated to be developed, could make even extreme values of MVP viable.

2. Minimum Viable Human Population

Estimates in the range between 150 and 40,000 individuals have been suggested for the naturally breeding human MVP [10-12], but some studies suggest that there is no magic minimal number [13]. Analysis of human genomes suggest a bottleneck of as few as 1,000-3,000 individuals [14] while all of humanity can be traced back to a single Mitochondrial Eve[15] and Y-chromosomal Adam[16]. Baum et al. [1] report that if the environment is favorable [17, 18], such as a dedicated refuge, 100 to 500 individual may be viable [19, 20]. Marin and Beluffi estimated an MVP of 98 would be necessary for a multi-generational voyage (6300 years) to the nearest

exoplanet with yearly evaluations of the vessel population, offspring restrictions and breeding constraints [21]. Separated groups of as few as 70 individuals [1] may have colonized both Polynesia and the Americas [22, 23]. Invasive species are known to be able to propagate from a single breeding pair. We may suggest the following possibilities with regards to specific viable population sizes, assuming near-even sex distribution:

5,000 Viable population size without interventions. 500 Genetic counseling may be necessary to avoid inbreeding.

50 Maximizing offspring from different partners is necessary to provide genetic diversity.


– Genetic disorders of inbreeding may be prevented via “3 parent” technique [24].


Usual natural reproductive process is likely to result in some offspring being viable.

The following may be viable for intelligent agents with advanced technology and could be applied as many times as necessary to achieve desired population size:


A single female and access to frozen embryos or sperm [25].


Intelligent robots, future humans or aliens may recover human population by synthesizing

biological humans [26] from fossilized DNA [27-31], synthesized genomes [32], DNA banks [33- 35], DNA transmitted to space 1 , or cryopreserved bodies [36].

Additionally, recent work on assisted reproduction from unisexual pairs suggests that a population of only females or only males may be sufficient for reproduction [37]. In this paper, we did not consider some more esoteric possibilities such as exhaustive search for viable genomes via Levin search [38, 39], re-evolving people via evolutionary simulations [40] or survival of individuals in different brunches of the multiverse [41].

3. Conclusions

In this short paper, we reviewed commonly reported figures for Minimum Viable Populations. Unlike previous studies, we allowed for the possibility of intelligent interventions using current or future technologies to better understand and estimate theoretical limits on MVPs. We conclude that with interventions from technologically advanced agents MVP can reach its theoretical limit of zero, but of course, it is better not to approach such extremely small population sizes. Additional gain from this exploration is in better understanding of how a backup can be created for humanity, to repopulate the world after an existential catastrophe, and what the minimum feasible sizes for such projects are.


The author is grateful to Elon Musk and the Future of Life Institute and to Jaan Tallinn and Effective Altruism Ventures for partially funding his work. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first paper on Least Viable Populations, which is also a Least Publishable Unit.


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