Peace Through prophecy
What if letting AI run the economy led to human-centred capitalism?
Look around at humanity’s fractious politics, at the essentially lawless competition of international relations and war, and at our fumbled response to familiar threats like viral pandemics. Our civilization isn’t exactly well-prepared to safely manage the deployment of unpredictable and incredibly powerful AI technology. But how do we get from where we are now, to where we want to go?
In our utopian scenario, we imagine:
1. How governments could use mechanisms like prediction markets and liquid democracy, along with AI-enhanced research/analysis tools, to collectively make wiser decisions and capably execute big projects.
2. How positive changes could spread to many countries via competition to achieve faster economic growth than rivals, and via snowball effects whereby passing one reform makes it easier to pass others.
3. How the resulting, more-capable civilization could recognize the threat posed by misalignment of powerful AI systems, and internationally coordinate to create a solid plan for safely developing aligned superintelligent AI.
A Day In the Life in 2045
Reina Cruz-Portillo, San Marco, 26
I’m boarding the plane in Krakow Sunday night, and I think:
Dad’s showing his movie on Friday.
The message came in last night at the hostel. I sent pictures of cheering crowds to him thirty seconds later.
I’m imagining it as we take off. The stills that he showed me. Those evenings around the kitchen table in Los Jardines. It’s finally happening.
I can hardly wait.
Fortunately, construction work’s great for getting time to go by quickly. There’s always new things to do; systems to learn.
Monday morning, I’m in Zestafoni. Georgia’s done very well in the AI boom, and the iron beams of the power plant I’ve been hired to work on rise beside the blue mountains. Early goodgov programs reinvented Batumi as a worker’s protection paradise, drawing much of the Black Sea population east, and now this neighbor city is joining in, turning its manufacturing tradition toward neoplastics.
My Ergod AI installation handshakes with the city’s urban-planning AI—Romulus, I’ve worked with it plenty of times. My fellow constructors and I audit the drones and autocranes. I’m part of the group that volunteers for finesse work. I’ve never seen these particular parts, but my system whispers in my ear: Turn bolt clockwise for three seconds. Tighten fastener for two seconds. Step completed. Onto next step…
Wednesday, I’m in Nairobi, catching an autotaxi up to where Laibon Space Elevator is taking shape. Ergod walks me through the dispute that’s happening over the malfunctioning nanotube printers; no one’s sure who’s to blame. It acquaints me with all the major players and I figure out the right investor to call to keep the project going while we buy new printers that will work better in Nairobi weather.
Thursday, I’m in Azraq, where they’re creating green fields at the edges of the Arabian Desert. I meet up with a lovely woman named Enshirah, who I talked to on the flight over—she’s head of the Committee for Commerce and Transportation in Jordan. We confuse each other with our native languages before she laughs and we remember to turn our Rosetta translators back on.
They’re having trouble with the design of the plant; OikoTools keeps creating nonsense whorls of pipes. After learning about their process, I remember that the last time I used OikoTools, it involved Sahara sands. Sure enough, OikoTools doesn’t fully grasp local soils. I recommend HestiCAD instead, and we spend some time creating blueprints for electrical grids and water pipes on Enshira’s tablet.
Friday, I’m flying home at last. I lie back, listen to the sleep playlist I prepared earlier, and catch some rest before Dad’s movie.
When I wake up, it’s afternoon in San Marcos. I catch a local free autotaxi over to Los Jardines Fantasticos, my family’s neighborhood.
Los Jardines is laid out like a living thing, with streets of different lengths and houses in many colors and sizes at varying distances. Pigs and goats graze beside the community acres and gardens.
Everyone’s gathered at the outdoor theatre. Our town was a generic stretch of half-visited concrete, once, but we used our local funding pool to plan a renovation. Now we sit right next to one of the city’s nodes for food and essentials.
My family are down in front by the stage. Dad’s waving. I head down. Dad’s grinning, but he looks kind of nervous, too. He’s watching all the people coming down the wooden rows and taking their seats.
Dad’s become a history buff in his retirement. He’s been using the library research programs to dive into medieval Spain. El Cid’s his hero. He told me once that no one had ever given El Cid the movie he deserved. He’d make it himself if he was a Hollywood director, he said.
Dad, I’d told him. You don’t have to be. I sat him down at the kitchen table and showed him Morpheus. How to ask the AI for what you wanted for a scene. Castles, an army of medieval Spanish knights, a moon over a field of grass.
He never stopped marveling at it. There was nothing like this when I was growing up, he kept saying.
That summer, Dad posted his own suggestion on the Community Chat, and soon he and a bunch of friends were out in the park filming with felt tabards and wooden swords.
Morpheus made them look like relics from the eleventh century. I pointed Dad to Huangdi’s database on historical times and places. We learned how medieval Spaniards dressed, ate, and built and fed those into Morpheus’s imagery.
Mom sits down beside us in the first row of seats. She squeezes his hand.
Stars come out. Dad clicks the button, and the big screen lights up. Our friends and neighbors hush.
Violin notes swell. Spanish hills that looks nothing like our local park fade in. And Dad’s movie begins.
Even I’m surprised how much it sucks me in. I look at this film, and there’s no sign of Marta from down the road standing on a wooden box. I see Doña Jimena, standing on a castle rampart, waiting for her beloved to come home.
When the credits play and the floor lights come up, the night fills with immense applause.
Dad looks kind of stunned. Like he never expected this. And then a smile breaks over his face.
“It was a really good movie, Dad,” my sister Camilla says.
Everyone who was in the film comes up onto the platform. They invite Dad up to join them in taking a bow.
After it’s over, and people are standing around talking, Dad hugs me.
“Thank you, Reina,” he says. I squeeze his hand.
I look up at the stars, listening to friends and neighbors talk about their favorite scenes, and I think: I’m never going to forget this night.
Every town has its own art and stories. I’ll never see them all, not even a fraction.
But that doesn’t matter to me.
Julien Grouès, North Delhi, 49
“Amusing, isn’t it?”
Julien turns and sees Liu Zihan approaching him. “The way we mythologize them.” The translation of her words vibrates through his Rosetta wristband. Behind them, their fellow diplomats leave the conference room, still in conversation.
Julien Grouès nods. He knows, as Zihan does, that Xuanwu and Athene aren’t the gods they’re named after. They’re far stranger and more interesting. He and Zihan have studied these artificial minds longer than anyone, yet he’s still never fully grasped the whole.
Zihan looks beautiful at forty-six. She’s adopted the 3D-printed hair accessories fashionable in China, curling golden vines.
“I didn’t think we’d make it to today,” he confesses. “It’s surreal, seeing people building and creating everywhere. I was certain there’d be another Flash War.”
“Me, too,” she says. “Despite our efforts.”
“Really? You were so unshakable on Flash Day.”
“I was terrified,” she says. “I grew up believing there would be a war in my lifetime. When I heard the reports of your ships moving toward Ningbo, I thought: here it is.”
He’s never heard her speak of this. “They told me you were one of the first to suggest AI error.”
She nods. “I forced myself to stay calm. It didn’t add up. A massed carrier strike, with your cruisers changing course to join it? It was faster than anything we’d predicted before. There would‘ve been political foreshocks. Something else had to be at play.”
“I admire you,” he says. “I was one of the fools at the generals’ side, telling them to ask the American president to commit more forces. You saw through the illusion.”
She shakes her head. “I would not have been heard if not for others. I was still a fairly junior programmer for the Province Renewal, not expected to engage with politics.”
She’s being modest. Principal engineer for the AI meant to revitalize Ningbo was no small role. It was these localized projects that sent China’s economy skyrocketing in the 2020s, later convincing America and Europe to adopt similar reforms of their own.
Her voice changes, and the translator picks up on it. “If I had seen it faster, I might have prevented deaths.”
Two ships, and all the people aboard them. When the missiles began to fly.
“You did,” he says. “We shut down our broken defense clusters that afternoon. No one failed to see it by then.”
They’re walking together now, following the circuit of the Project’s headquarters. The walls display intricate interlocking patterns of birds and flora.
Zihan nods. “Yet I could not have convinced all the nations involved to coordinate in that atmosphere of fear.”
He remembers his anger at himself. “We had to do something,” he says. “It was like we’d been sleepwalking, and woken to find ourselves on a cliff. We couldn’t pretend we were separate nations anymore. We had to reshape AI into something we could trust.”
“Alignment,” she agrees. “Like the Apollo project. Actually, our goal seemed even more distant than the moon. But Julien, your group brought forth the agreements we needed.”
The Delhi Accords. So often referred to in discussions now.
“We’ve forgotten how controversial they were,” he says. “State control of chip manufacturing to prevent outside actors from causing their own crisis. Limits on inequality and economic growth…” So that the world wouldn’t change faster than the human ability to understand it.
“And access control,” she finishes, “APIs for the safe use of AI capabilities. Keeping the technology itself centralized while we made it safe.”
He nods. No words feel adequate. How do you describe a life’s work? Five years as a diplomat, then the next fifteen studying code to prevent the end of humanity?
“I still can’t believe it,” he admits. “I never thought our efforts would bear so much fruit.”
“We had a very good team,” she says, smiling. “I was very glad when they introduced me to you.”
He smiles. He’s never had her skill with AI. But they’ve grown together with time. The diplomat who wanted to set better policy learning to be a programmer. The programmer who’d been an influential voice during the crisis learning to play politics.
Their footsteps slow to a stop as they step out on a balcony overlooking the Delhi skyline. Rohini Tower blooms like a great tree, intricate rose-gold extensions atop a white base.
“It’s all going to change again,” Zihan says. Very quiet.
“Athene, Xuanwu, Mimir—they’ve come so far. I think you are right that we’re only a few years away from implementation.”
These superintelligent AIs are civilization’s flagship project. People speculate about the details. He and Zihan don’t have to.
“Are you nervous?”
“Yes. Who wouldn’t be?” She lets out a sigh. “I think we’ve done what we can. I don’t know any project in human history that’s received more time and attention from the best scholars. But there’s uncertainty.”
He nods, and she continues. “We don’t know what the coming world will look like any more than people before the Flash War knew about this one.”
Julien watches the orange sun disappear behind the skyline. “Maybe this will all be wiped out in the next era. Maybe people will build spaceports and colonize the galaxy. Or merge their minds with computers. Or maybe everything will still be here, but transformed in some way I couldn’t imagine.”
“I wonder too,” she says. “But luckily, we don’t have to plan humanity’s ultimate destiny. We just have to do our best, to give the next generation enough wisdom and power to choose for themselves.”
The first stars start twinkling in the evening sky.
Her smile is like shining moonlight. “In Shahdara, there’s a garden where they perform dances based on the Hindu epics. I hear they have heroes on flying chariots, and huge animatronic titans. Would you like to see that with me?”
Julien smiles. “I’d like that very much.”
Lights come on as night begins.
Before them, the city glows with every color of light.
Answers to prompts
Q. AGI has existed for at least five years but the world is not dystopian and humans are still alive! Given the risks of very high-powered AI systems, how has your world ensured that AGI has at least so far remained safe and controlled?
A. Ultimately, humanity was able to navigate the dangers of AGI development because the early use of AI to automate government services accidentally kicked off an “arms race” for improved governance technology and institution design. These reforms improved governments’ decision-making abilities, enabling them to recognize the threat posed by misalignment and coordinate to actually solve the problem, implementing the “Delhi Accords” between superpowers and making the Alignment Project civilization’s top priority.
In a sense, all this snowballed from a 2024 Chinese campaign to encourage local governments to automate administrative processes with AI. Most provinces adopted mild reforms akin to Estonia’s e-governance, but some experimented with using AI economic models to dynamically set certain tax rates, or using Elicit-like AI research-assistant tools to conduct cost-benefit analyses of policies, or combining AI with prediction markets. This goes better than expected, kickstarting a virtuous cycle:
- Even weak AI has a natural synergy with many government functions, since it makes predicting / planning / administering things cheap to do accurately at scale.
- Successful reforms are quickly imitated by competing regions (whether a neighboring city or a rival superpower) seeking similar economic growth benefits.
- After adopting one powerful improvement to fundamental decisionmaking processes, it’s easier to adopt others. (ie, maybe the new prediction market recommends switching the electoral college to a national-popular-vote with approval voting.)
One thing leads to another, and soon most of the world is using a dazzling array of AI-assisted, prediction-market-informed, experimental institutions to govern a rapidly-transforming world.
Q. The dynamics of an AI-filled world may depend a lot on how AI capability is distributed. In your world, is there one AI system that is substantially more powerful than all others, or a few such systems, or are there many top-tier AI systems of comparable capability? Or something else?
A. Through the 2020s, AI capabilities diffused from experimental products at top research labs to customizable commercial applications much as they do today. Thus, new AI capabilities steadily advanced through different sectors of economy.
The 2030s brought increasing concern about the power of AI systems, including their military applications. Against a backdrop of rapidly improving governance and a transforming international situation, governments started rushing to nationalize most top research organizations, and some started to restrict supercomputer access. Unfortunately, this rush to monopolize AI technology still paid too little attention to the problem of alignment; powerful new systems were deployed haphazardly without considering the big picture.
After 2038’s Flash Crash War, the world woke up to the looming dangers of AGI, leading to much more comprehensive consolidation. With the Delhi Accords, all top AI projects were merged into an internationally-coordinated Apollo-Program-style research effort on alignment and superintelligence. Proliferation of advanced AI research/experimentation outside this official channel is suppressed, semiconductor supply chains are controlled, etc. Fortunately, the world transitioned to this centralized paradigm a few years before truly superhuman AGI designs were discovered.
As of 2045, near-human and “narrowly superhuman” capabilities are made broadly available through a controlled API for companies and individuals to use; hardware and source code is kept secure. Some slightly-superhuman AGIs, with strict capacity limits, are being cautiously rolled out in crucial areas like medical research and further AI safety research. The most cutting-edge AI designs exist within highly secure moonshot labs for researching alignment.
Q. How has your world avoided major arms races and wars, regarding AI/AGI or otherwise?
A. Until 2038, geopolitics was heavily influenced by arms races, including the positive “governance arms race” described earlier. Unfortunately, militaries also rushed to deeply integrate AI. The USA & China came to the brink of conflict during the “Flash Crash War”, when several AI systems on both sides of the South China Sea responded to ambiguous rival military maneuvers by recommending that their own forces be deployed in a more aggressive posture. These signaling loops between rival AI systems lead to an unplanned, rapidly escalating cycle of counter-posturing, with forces being rapidly re-deployed, in threatening and sometimes bizarre ways. For about a day, both countries erroneously believed they were being invaded by the other, leading to intense panic and confusion until the diplomatic incident was defused by high-level talks.
Technically, the Flash Crash War was not caused by misalignment per se (rather, like the 2010 financial Flash Crash, by the rapid interaction of multiple complex automated systems). Nevertheless, it was a fire-alarm-like event which elevated “fixing the dangers of AI systems” to a pressing #1 concern among both world leaders and ordinary people.
Rather than the lukewarm, confused response to crises like Covid-19, the world’s response was strong and well-directed thanks to the good-governance arms race. Prediction markets and AI-assisted policy analysts quickly zeroed in on the necessity of solving alignment. Adopted in 2040, the Delhi Accords began an era of intensive international cooperation to make AI safe. This put a stop to harmful military & AI-technology arms races.
Q. In the US, EU, and China, how and where is national decision-making power held, and how has the advent of advanced AI changed that?
A. The wild success of China’s local-governance experiments led to freer reign for provinces. Naturally, each province is very unique, but each now uses AI to automate many government services, and advanced planning/evaluation assistants to architect new infrastructure and evaluate policy options.
The federal government’s remaining responsibilities include foreign relations and coordinating national projects. The National People’s Congress performs AI-assisted analysis of policies, while the Central Committee (now composed mostly of provincial governors) has regained its originally intended role as China’s highest governing body.
In the United States, people still vote for representatives, but Congress debates and tweaks a basket of metrics rather than passing laws or budgets directly. This weighted index (life expectancy, social trust, GDP, etc) is used to create prediction markets where traders study whether a proposed law would help or hurt the index. Subject to a handful of basic limits (laws must be easy to understand, respect rights, etc), laws with positive forecasts are automatically passed.
This system has extensively refactored US government, creating both wealth and the wisdom needed to tackle alignment.
The EU has taken a more cautious approach to reforming governance, but has used AI management of the economy to create an advanced hybrid system of “human-centered capitalism”, putting an automated thumb on the scale of nearly every transaction to favor stronger social connections and greater daily fulfillment. Europe has also created the most accessible, modular ecosystem of AI/governance tech for adoption by other countries. Brazil, Indonesia, and others have benefited from incorporating some of the EU’s open-source institutions.
Q. Is the global distribution of wealth (as measured say by national or international gini coefficients) more, or less, unequal than 2021’s, and by how much? How did it get that way? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient)
A. From 2022-2036, profits from AI technology increased inequality, both within and between countries. Between-country inequality was somewhat mitigated by “virtual immigration” and newly-founded charter cities. Many countries also adopted wise policies to reduce the cost of living by producing abundant energy and housing, and by lowering costs in medical care and education. On net, inequality increased, but median incomes also rose — a tide that lifted all boats, but some more than others.
The period of tension and uncertainty around the Flash Crash War, and the waves of nationalization that struck AI and semiconductor industries, was a tumultuous time for markets, destructively reducing inequality by sinking rich boats faster than it sunk poor ones.
Since 2040, the Delhi Accords have capped inequality at a consensus level. The Accords’ inequality targets are enshrined in the value-functions of all major futarchy markets, leading to policies like:
- Generous public services including UBI
- Huge Marshall-plan-like investment in developing countries.
- Tech founders can still profit by finding new applications for AI, but since AI is now government-controlled, rents on AI’s fundamental usefulness flow to the public purse.
- AI’s ability to deftly manipulate complex systems makes it possible to subtly tilt markets to create a more emotionally fulfilling, “human-centric” capitalism — boosting families, small businesses, small towns, the arts, etc, without causing undue distortion.
Overall, within-country inequality is similar to its 2022 level; between-country inequality is significantly lower. The whole world, of course, is spectacularly more prosperous than in 2022.
Q. What is a major problem that AI has solved in your world, and how did it do so?
A. Machine translation existed in a crude form in 2022, but starting in the mid-2030s, AI-powered translation became so high-quality that communication between speakers of a different languages approached the fluency of ordinary conversation.
The AI systems of 2045 go far beyond impeccably translating written sentences; they can translate conversation in real-time, maintaining the proper tone of voice and other vocal characteristics of the speaker. Even subtle forms of humor and metaphor can often be brought across the language barrier by AI systems, just as a skilled translator can often substitute one idiom for another.
Since both rich social connections and conversations about detailed technical knowledge can now be had with anyone, the world has benefited greatly from “virtual immigration” — machine translation, together with advanced and unobtrusive VR remote-working technology, allows people across the globe to collaborate closely on shared projects.
Beyond the economic benefits that virtual immigration unlocked (still very large benefits, despite the fact that the world of 2045 has generally much more open immigration due to a strong desire to attract talent and various governance reforms), advanced translation tools have also led to better cross-cultural understanding, which has certainly led to a lot of cool new art and culture, and likely (although this is hard for scholars to prove) helped make the community of nations more peaceful and cooperative.
Q. What is a new social institution that has played an important role in the development of your world?
A. New institutions have been as impactful over recent decades as near-human-level AI technology. Together, these trends have had a multiplicative effect — AI-assisted research makes evaluating potential reforms easier, and reforms enable society to more flexibly roll out new technologies and gracefully accommodate changes. Futarchy has been transformative for national governments; on the local scale, “affinity cities” and quadratic funding have been notable trends.
In the 2030s, the increasing fidelity of VR allows productive remote working even across international and language boundaries. Freed from needing to live where they work, young people choose places that cater to unique interests. Small towns seeking growth and investment advertise themselves as open to newcomers; communities (religious beliefs, hobbies like surfing, subcultures like heavy-metal fans, etc) select the most suitable town and use assurance contracts to subsidize a critical mass of early-adopters to move and create the new hub. This has turned previously indistinct towns to a flourishing cultural network.
Meanwhile, Quadratic Funding (like a hybrid of local budget and donation-matching system, usually funded by land value taxes) helps support community institutions like libraries, parks, and small businesses by rewarding small-dollar donations made by citizens.
The most radical expression of institutional experimentation can be found in the constellation of “charter cities” sprinkled across the world, predominantly in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. While affinity cities experiment with culture and lifestyle, cities like Prospera Honduras have attained partial legal sovereignty, giving them the ability to experiment with innovative regulatory systems much like china’s provinces.
Q. What is a new non-AI technology that has played an important role in the development of your world?
A. Improved governance technology has helped societies to better navigate the “bulldozer vs vetocracy” axis of community decision-making processes. Using advanced coordination mechanisms like assurance contracts, and clever systems (like Glen Weyl’s “SALSA” proposal) for pricing externalities and public goods, it’s become easier for societies to flexibly make net-positive changes and fairly compensate anyone affected by downsides. This improved governance tech has made it easier to build lots of new infrastructure while minimizing disruption. Included in that new infrastructure is a LOT of new clean power.
Solar, geothermal, and fusion power provide most of humanity’s energy, and they do so at low prices thanks to scientific advances and economies of scale. Abundant energy enables all kinds of transformative conveniences:
- Cheap desalinization changes the map, allowing farming and habitation of previously desolate desert areas. Whole downtown areas of desert cities can be covered with shade canopies and air-conditioned with power from nearby solar farms.
- Carbon dioxide can be captured directly from the air at scale, making climate change a thing of the past.
- Freed from the pressing need to economize on fuel, vehicles like airplanes, container ships, and self-driving cars can simply travel at higher speeds, getting people and goods to their destinations faster.
- Indoor farming using artificial light becomes cheaper; instead of shipping fruit from the opposite hemisphere, people can enjoy local, fresh fruit year-round.
Q. What changes to the way countries govern the development, deployment and/or use of emerging technologies (including AI) played an important role in the development of your world?
A. After the world woke up to the dangers of powerful misaligned AI in 2038, nations realized that humanity is bound together by the pressing goal of averting extinction. Even if things go well, the far-future will be so strange and wonderful that the political concept of geopolitical “winners” and “losers” is impossible to apply.
This situation, like a Rawlsian veil of ignorance, motivated the superpowers to cooperate with 2040 Delhi Accords. Key provisions:
- Nationalizing and merging top labs to create the Alignment Project.
- Multi-pronged control of the “AI supply chain” (inspired by uranium & ICBM controls) to enforce nonproliferation of powerful AI — nationalizing semiconductor factories and supercomputer clusters, banning dangerous research, etc.
- Securing potential attack vectors like nuclear command systems and viral synthesis technology.
- API access and approval systems so people can still develop new applications & benefit from prosaic AI.
- Respect for rights, plus caps on inequality and the pace of economic growth, to ensure equity and avoid geopolitical competition.
Although the Accords are an inspiring achievement, they are also provisional by design: they exist to help humanity solve the challenge of developing safe superintelligent machines. The Alignment Project takes a multilayered approach — multiple research teams pursue different strategies and red-team each other, layering many alignment strategies (myopic oracle wrappers, adversarial AI pairs, human-values-trained reward functions, etc). With luck, these enable a “limited” superintelligence not far above human abilities, as a tool for further research to help humanity safely take the next step.
Q. Pick a sector of your choice (education, transport, energy, healthcare, tourism, aerospace, materials etc.) and describe how that sector was transformed by AI in your world.
A. The everyday experience of interacting with computers has changed dramatically. It is physically different: rather than looking at phones or sitting at workstations, people often walk around and use their hands to interact with a virtual view through AR glasses. But more importantly, AI-infused tools have made creating and designing things much more accessible.
People can create entire software applications, automate their own workflows, edit videos, or create whole videogame worlds, just by talking with their computer: AI tools will interpret the speaker’s commands and present different proposed solutions for the user to choose between. Creating software, art — even industrial components! — becomes an iterative process as accessible as having a conversation. Naturally this is hugely beneficial for the economy; it also changes how people spend their free time, as described in the next question.
AI’s ability to create uniquely tailored experiences for each user has also transformed education. AI tutors can easily queue up high-quality videos, readings, quizzes, exercises, and videogame-like simulations, even on niche subjects. These sequences, customized for your exact needs, can be optimally spaced to help you learn and keep you interested. Naturally, schools are huge users of this technology, alternating AI study sessions with in-person socializing.
AI tutoring abilities also make it much easier to pick up new skills or get into a new hobby. Just as internet search engines allowed people to instantly look up simple questions, AI has made it easier for anyone to build a deep understanding of complex topics.
Q. What is the life expectancy of the most wealthy 1% and of the least wealthy 20% of your world; how and why has this changed since 2021?
A. In 2045, the technical definition of life expectancy is less relevant than today. The world is changing rapidly; “life expectancy” is expected to greatly increase when the superintelligent AIs being designed and tested finally get rolled out for early medical research applications. But if technology was frozen in place forever at 2045 levels, the “life expectancy” of the wealthiest 1% would be 116, and the life expectancy of the poorest 20% would be 89.
Life expectancy gains have come from several sources:
- Cleaner air and other public-health benefits of a prosperous, well-governed world.
- Abundant healthy food, and improvements to some foods (like swapping excessive fructose for allulose and developing plant-based meats).
- AI has driven the development of advanced biotech, especially in genetics. Early-detection multi-cancer blood tests are now universal, and cancer can be powerfully targeted by personalized gene therapies. Formerly incurable genetic diseases can be reversed using CRISPR-derived techniques. Small-molecule drug discovery has led to effective treatments for most types of Alzheimer’s and powerful interventions to reduce obesity.
- The biggest gains have come from medicines which target aging itself, either by slowing the rate at which age-related damage accrues or by partially restoring youthful function to specific tissue types. Fourth-generation senolytic drugs clear inflammatory damage; gene therapies targeting transposons reduce the accumulation of DNA damage; drugs designed to break accumulated cellular cross-links reduce vascular stiffening to improve heart health; another treatment can restore a 75-year-old’s thymic & immune system function to the level of a 60-year-old.
Q. In the US, considering the human rights enumerated in the UN declaration, which rights are better respected and which rights are worse respected in your world than in 2022? Why? How?
In one other country of your choice, which rights are better respected and which rights are worse respected in your world than in 2022? Why? How?
A. Article #21 promises the right to participate in government “directly or through freely chosen representatives”, by voting in “periodic and genuine elections”. Of course Americans already enjoyed this democratic right in 2022; but in 2045 it finds a much fuller expression.
In addition to voting for representatives in the usual way, Americans can:
- Delegate their voting power via “liquid democracy” to a trusted friend or expert.
- Trade on prediction markets, using AI research tools to evaluate the likely impacts of a proposed law.
- Join community projects to design new laws and submit them to be judged, and maybe passed, on the markets.
- Provide feedback about what they need and how a new law would affect them.
- Make small donations to help direct their local community’s quadratic matching funds to beneficial causes, like improvements to a local park or support for a theater group.
This is a lot of civic participation! But processes are convenient and easy (like online/mobile voting). Importantly, when government becomes more capable and responsive, it becomes more motivating and worthwhile for people to participate, especially with all the important decisions being made as the world changes rapidly.
Futarchy certainly has a technocratic aspect to it, doubly so when policy evaluation is aided by powerful AI tools. But despite this, people in 2045 (in the US and elsewhere) have a much stronger experience of voice and representation in decisionmaking than the framers of the UN declaration imagined.
Several rights promised by the Declaration (such as #23, #24, and #25) require both freedom AND prosperity. The incredible abundance created by the AI and governance booms, and the Delhi Accords’ agreement to limit inequality, means that for the first time in history, high pay, quality housing, and advanced medical care are the standard living conditions of most humans, including in the former “third world”.
Other Articles focus on enabling everyone to achieve their full potential. #19 says the ability to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” is essential to free speech. #26 says of education, “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available… Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights.” These areas have benefited from the transformative effect of AI on education described earlier.
Two technically worse-respected rights in many countries are #12 and #17, promising freedom from “arbitrary interference with privacy, family, or home” and strict property rights. The world of 2045 has strong rule of law, but also relies on many “nudges” (like subsidies/taxes on different foods to promote healthy eating) to promote helpful behavior without resorting to bans & mandates. This strikes an efficient balance between public interest and private freedom, but some might consider the elaborate carrot-and-stick schemes an undue “interference” in personal life, and things like land value tax or SALSA to be an imposition on property rights.
Q. What’s been a notable trend in the way that people are finding fulfillment?
A. The world of 2045 is rich enough that people don’t have to work for a living — but it’s also one of the most exciting times in history, running a preposterously hot economy as the world is transformed by new technologies and new ways of organizing communities, so there’s a lot to do!
As a consequence, careers and hobbies exist on an unusual spectrum. On one end, people who want to be ambitious and help change the world can make their fortune by doing the all the pressing stuff that the world needs, like architecting new cities or designing next-generation fusion power plants.
With so much physical transformation unleashed, the world is heavily bottlenecked on logistics / commodities / construction. Teams of expert construction workers are literally flown around the world on private jets, using seamless translation to get up to speed with local planners and getting to work on what needs to be built using virtual-reality overlays of a construction site.
Most people don’t want to hustle that much, and 2045’s abundance means that increasing portions of the economy are devoted to just socializing and doing/creating fun stuff. Rather than tedious, now-automated jobs like “waiter” or “truck driver”, many people get paid for essentially pursuing hobbies — hosting social events of all kinds, entering competitions (like sailing or esports or describing hypothetical utopias), participating in local community governance, or using AI tools to make videos, art, games, & music.
Naturally, many people’s lives are a mix of both worlds.
Jackson Wagner conceived the overall scenario and wrote the timeline of events and short-answer responses. He writes on the Effective Altruism Forum, and at his new blog Nuka Zaria
Diana Gurvich painted the beautiful mural illustrating our scenario. See more of her work on instagram.
Holly Oatley wrote both short stories; She is a speculative fiction writer with an interest in history and sociology; you can follow her writing on tumblr
A Note of Caution
The goal of this worldbuilding competition was essentially to tell the most realistic possible story under a set of unrealistic constraints: that peace and prosperity will abound despite huge technological transformations and geopolitical shifts wrought by AI.
In my story, humanity lucks out and accidentally kick-starts a revolution in good governance via improved institution design – this in turn helps humanity make wise decisions and capably shepherd the safe creation of aligned AI.
But in the real world, I don’t think we’ll be so lucky. Technical AI alignment, of course, is an incredibly difficult challenge – even for the cooperative, capable, utopian world I’ve imagined here, the odds might still be against them when it comes to designing “superintelligent” AI, on a short schedule, in a way that ends well for humanity.
Furthermore, while I think that a revolutionary improvement in governance institutions is indeed possible (it’s one of the things that makes me feel most hopeful about the future), in the real world I don’t think we can sit around and just wait for it to happen by itself. Ideas like futarchy need support to persuade organizations, find winning use-cases, and scale up to have the necessary impact.
Nobody should hold up my story, or the other entries in the FLI’s worldbuilding competition, as a reason to say “See, it’ll be fine – AI alignment will work itself out in the end, just like it says here!”
Rather, my intent is to portray:
- In 2045, an inspiring, utopian end state of prosperity, with humanity close to achieving a state of existential security.
- From 2022-2044, my vision of what’s on the most-plausible critical path taking us from the civilization we live in today to the kind of civilization that can capably respond to the challenge of AI alignment, in a way that might be barely achievable if a lot of people put in a lot of effort.