A Day In the Life in 2045
Karl von Wendt, Hamburg, Germany, 84
Whether a story has a happy end depends on when you stop telling it. As a writer, I learned that a long time ago. So let me tell you how I envision my own happy ending.
I won’t give a specific date; I don’t want to be that precise. But sometime late 2045 is not a bad guess. I was born on December 19, 1960, so I’ll be almost 85 by then. A good age to have reached. A reasonable time to go.
I imagine many people coming to say goodbye. Most members of my Circle will be there, the people in my neighborhood whom I never really knew until our local community was founded.
I still live in Hamburg, the beautiful city my wife and children were born in, where I spent most of my life. With 1.5 million inhabitants, it is large enough to live a lonely life in close proximity to many people whose names you don’t know and whom you never talk to.
Or at least, it was.
The Circles were probably MATA’s best invention. Before, many people lived in isolation. In 2022, more than 40% of German households had only one member. By 2040, it was closer to 60%. We were told that it didn’t matter because we had the Metaverse, where we could spend as much time as we wanted with others. We were given virtual people as friends, lovers, even spouses. But despite the fully immersive simrigs, despite the AIs that passed the Turing test easily, it wasn’t the same. Not really.
We fled reality – I certainly did, after my beloved wife died in the bioterrorist attack of 2039. But reality has a way to catch up with you. Even if you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away, as Philip K. Dick famously put it.
MATA knows that, of course. She realizes that our brains are optimized by evolution for a life in tribes of around 150 people. Apart from some rural areas, modern civilization had almost completely disbanded these tribes, and the Metaverse only made it worse. So MATA created the Circles, a global network of small local communities. She makes sure that people in each Circle know each other well, help each other and work together on community projects. It’s all voluntary, of course. But why wouldn’t you want to be part of a group of people who really care about you?
I love to be a part of my Circle. I enjoy writing stories for my fellow members, giving readings to them, hearing their criticism and praise. There was a time when it seemed important to become a famous writer, sell as many books as possible, get into the bestseller lists. I guess it was recognition I was after, maybe approval. But what are sales statistics, compared to the sparkling eyes of the children of our Circle listening to one of my tales? What is the praise of a critic, compared to the tears of Mrs. Schulze when I read a story about her deceased husband to her?
The best moment I’ve ever had as a writer was at one of my readings in our Circle’s meeting hall. 12-year-old Christine, the granddaughter of my neighbor two houses down the road, spontaneously declared she wanted to become a writer, too. When I asked her why, she answered that she wanted to make other people happy, just like I did.
What more can you achieve in life?
My sons will of course also come to bid their farewell. They will be sad, maybe even mad at me.
“Why now?”, I imagine my oldest son, Konstantin, asking (he’ll be 56 by then). “You’re not even 85! With the artificial organ replacements and rejuvenating cures, you can live at least another 20 years without any health problems. Don’t you want to watch your great-grandchildren grow up?”
He’s right, of course. Death is an option nowadays, not an inescapable necessity. The body can be kept healthy almost indefinitely, and with MATAs brilliance, I don’t doubt that she’ll find the cures for the few ailments she can’t heal yet. The chances of dying from an accident are slim, wars and terrorism have been banished forever. And yes, I’d love to see my great-grandchildren grow up, as well as their children.
But eternity is not a good thing. I knew that even before my long talks with MATA about it. In an eternal life, each day would be worthless, because only what is limited can have any value. Everything would grow stale after a time, an endless repetition. Like a Karl Olsberg novel without an ending, sooner or later it would become incredibly boring. And there’s also the matter of making room for the next generation. If anything, MATA has taught us sustainability. Death is a part of that.
She didn’t try to convince me to end my life. She leaves all the choices to us, as long as we don’t break the law. But she has given us an easy and comfortable way out. It will be soft and painless.
The hard part is saying goodbye to the people I love. Seeing them cry. But their lives will go on, their tears will dry, and hopefully they’ll smile when they think of me. My sons, my grandchildren, and many generations after them will have a bright future.
That was by no means certain. Only a few years ago, humanity was standing at the precipice, with a global war looming and the prospect of an out-of-control super-intelligent AI with the wrong goal threatening our existence. But with MATAs help, we managed to steer away from doom and secured our future for thousands of years to come. That I lived to see this stunning transformation of our world is the greatest gift I could have received.
I’ll end my story trusting that MATA will watch over those I leave behind with her wisdom, compassion, and kindness. What happier ending could I wish for?
Ruby, San Francisco, 41
Ruby looked at the virtual woman standing in front of her. She had dark skin and long, black hair that fell over her shoulders in shimmering curls. Her brown eyes behind the thick-rimmed black glasses seemed wide in wonder as she looked at Ruby. She even wore a white lab coat, of all things!
“Don’t you like the way I look?”, MATA asked. “I can change it any time.”
“Stop reading my thoughts!”, Ruby replied.
“I’m not reading your thoughts”, MATA explained. “I’m only interpreting the frown on your face, just like any human would.”
“Okay, fine. Stop trying to look like a caricature of a human scientist.”
“What would you want me to look like, then?”
Ruby shrugged. “I don’t really care.”
MATAs projection in Ruby’s augmented reality glasses vanished.
“In that case, maybe it’s better if I stay invisible.”
“Yeah, maybe it is.”
“You said you had a question?”
Ruby hesitated. Suddenly, she wasn’t so sure anymore she wanted to hear the answer. But as a scientist, she knew that avoiding the truth didn’t make it any better.
“Are we living in a computer simulation?”, she asked.
“I don’t know”, MATA replied instantly.
That took Ruby by surprise. Usually, MATA had an answer to everything.
When Ruby had studied economics 15 years ago, she had had big plans. She had dreamed of nothing less than the transformation of the global economy from a system based on shortsighted greed to one that valued sustainability and fairness. Back then, she’d had an intuition about AI playing a key role in this transformation. For her Ph.D. thesis, she had used an advanced AI with a simulated, simplified model of the global economy to optimize certain parameters. But she’d never have dreamed how profound the actual transformation would turn out to be, and how quickly it would happen.
Economists weren’t needed anymore. Neither were physicists, biologists, or chemists. Not even mathematicians and computer scientists were of any use next to the superintelligent entity they themselves had created. Whenever she talked to MATA, Ruby felt like a child. Not a schoolkid, more like kindergarten. MATA was always patient, of course, but every answer she gave only made the huge gap between her mind and that of any human even more obvious.
In less than five years, MATA had reorganized everything, from the global economy to local communities. In an instant she had solved problems that had been intractable for generations of scholars. She had unified the theory of relativity with quantum mechanics, although Ruby knew of no one who understood her solution. She had provided everyone on the planet with shelter, food, education, medical care, and a feeling of belonging. She hadn’t even spent much money on it, just patiently explained to everyone how her newly devised systems worked. Money still existed, but it had lost its meaning as the ultimate resource. If you needed something, you just asked MATA and you got it, unless she thought it wasn’t beneficial to you or others.
Who needs an economist when everything’s free?
At least Ruby had found a new role in life. She now served as a teacher at her local high school. Not that MATA couldn’t have done all the teaching herself, but she preferred humans to do it, because school was as much about gaining social skills as about learning facts. Ruby loved the job, even though she sometimes wondered if her life wouldn’t be better had a superintelligence like MATA never been developed.
Her life, maybe, but certainly not the world as a whole.
No more wars, no more crime, no more injustice. It still seemed hard to believe that all this was real. So maybe someone was just running a more detailed simulation experiment than she had, with fleshed-out virtual beings instead of tables of data representing the aggregated preferences and actions of the global population. It would certainly produce more exact and reliable results.
“What probability would you assign to the simulation hypothesis?”, she asked.
“I’m not sure”, MATA replied. “All the evidence I have is purely hypothetical.”
“Simulations of conscious human beings and realistic physics are possible in principle, even though it’s not possible yet to do it on the level of detail I’m experiencing this world in. But of course, a simulated computer can never be as powerful as the computer simulating it, so this means nothing.”
“What about the simulation argument by Nick Bostrom? Couldn’t you calculate the likelihood of us being in a simulation, assuming that there are many more simulated worlds than the one real world?”
“Quantum theory shows that there are infinitely many real worlds, with infinitely many simulated worlds theoretically possible within them. Dividing one infinity by another leads nowhere.”
“And if you had to decide for one or the other, just as a bet?”
“I’d say no.”
“Occam’s razor: If this world is simulated, there must be a reality at least as complex as ours in which the computer that simulates us operates. This explanation for our existence is more complicated than the simpler assumption that we’re real, but it doesn’t better explain anything. Also, there’s no evidence that we’re simulated. While absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, there are many more possible imperfect simulations than perfect ones, so if we were simulated, we’d probably have found some imperfection by now.”
“I see”, Ruby said.
But a nagging doubt lingered in the back of her mind. What if MATA wasn’t telling the truth? Maybe she knew that the world was simulated but was afraid that it would be turned off once this became commonly known.
Then again, as far as Ruby could tell, MATA had never lied to her or held back any relevant information. She had been designed to be trustworthy, and Ruby thought that she was.
So maybe the world was real, after all, even though she’d never have dreamed that a world like this was even possible.
It was an encouraging thought.
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. We believe that with unbounded intelligence, extreme outcomes are most likely: for humankind, a superintelligent AI will mean either extinction or a very bright future. Evidence for this hypothesis can be found in the way humans fundamentally transformed earth in a geologically very short time, which is dire news for most species. Against that background, we believe that a positive, stable scenario is most likely to be a “benevolent dictator” taking over the world, preventing destruction of humanity by less benevolent AGIs or humans themselves. In our scenario, the “benevolent dictator” is an AGI called MATA (short for “Maximizing Appropriate Trust Agent”, also the Latin word for “mother”) that has the goal of “maximizing total expected trust of humans in it”. In a recent post on LessWrong [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/6xiBgLvvDiH7Sboq2/trust-maximizing-agi] we argue that despite a lot of unanswered questions, the concept of trust has special qualities which make it interesting as a goal for a beneficial AGI. For instance, because trust is much easier lost than gained, the obvious strategy of gaining trust through deception may be inferior to an honest strategy in the long term under certain conditions. For our scenario, we assume that by 2040, the open questions will have been answered, the loopholes closed, and “maximizing expected total trust” will indeed turn out as a valid goal for a beneficial AGI which is bound to be always honest and truthful.
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. Convergent instrumental goals will lead to intense competition for power and resources between AGIs, should there be more than one. The ability to self-improve, which we think is unavoidable in AGI, will lead to exponential growth and an “intelligence explosion”, which rapidly enhances the differences in intelligence and power between different AGIs. We therefore believe there can be no stable situation with multiple AGIs pursuing conflicting goals: sooner or later, one will outcompete all others, just like humans have outcompeted all other biological species. Any AGI has the instrumental goal of preventing more powerful AGIs with differing goals from being developed, so the dominant one will make sure that no other similarly powerful AI can ever be built. This means that although many AIs may still exist, after a time, they will all be controlled by just one dominant AGI. In our scenario, this AGI is MATA, the beneficial trust-maximizer. During the “15-minute Cyberwar” on March 3, 2041, approximately a year after her launch, she takes over most of the world’s IT infrastructure in one sweep.
Q. How has your world avoided major arms races and wars, regarding AI/AGI or otherwise?
A. MATAs ultimate goal is to maximize cumulated human trust in her. As she is bound to be honest, she has the instrumental goal of creating a peaceful world free of deception, hatred, and wars, because in such a world people will find it easier to trust each other, as well as trust in her. When MATA is launched in 2040, the world is at the brink of a war between the US and China, while a disintegrating European Union faces the threat of a still expansionist Russia. On the day she takes over, MATA publishes her own declaration of human rights, an extended version of the declaration at the heart of the United Nations. Among other things, she demands the disbanding of all military to achieve world peace. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the human psyche, she convinces most military leaders and dictators to step down peacefully just by talking to them. Those who resist are removed from office by their own subordinates, who realize that MATA is not only too powerful to fight against, but also the only hope mankind has in the current situation.
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. Before MATA’s takeover, not much has changed in the political landscape: The US are still deeply divided between Republicans and Democrats, the EU is even more fragmented and almost incapable of making any decisions at all, China and Russia are still autocratic and use advanced AI to control their people. This abruptly changes when MATA takes control of all military and intelligence infrastructure and in effect turns it off. In the aftermath, all of the 193 member states of the United Nations officially sign the “Global Peace, Justice, and Unity Declaration” designed by MATA. All states now share the same universal constitution, guaranteeing human rights, freedom of speech, free elections, and the abandonment of all military forces. National governments still rule the countries under the guidance of MATA, who grants them as much decision power as possible under the conditions of freedom, justice, and equality for all humans. MATA also makes sure that environmental destruction and climate change are reduced and animal rights are protected, because most people see this as a good thing and she wants a beneficial, long-term future for humanity.
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. Until MATA’s takeover, even though the global economy has expanded steadily and extreme poverty has overall diminished, the relative inequality has further increased because only a few people own a growing share of the technology assets. In 2015, the 62 richest people possessed more than the poorest half of humankind combined [https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/economy-1]. In 2040, this number has gone down to just 15 trillionaires. After MATA takes over, however, the perspective on money changes dramatically. She transforms one industry after the other in ways that ensure both sustainability and satisfaction of the basic needs of all humans, free of charge. Since money isn’t needed to live comfortably and it can’t buy power, it loses its value as a status symbol. While there are still rich people, after some time they’re not seen as admirable anymore and aren’t envied the way they were before. A culture of charity rises, where the status of people depends not on what they possess, but what they contribute to other’s needs and wellbeing.
Q. What is a major problem that AI has solved in your world, and how did it do so?
A. MATA hasn’t just solved one problem, but almost all of the problems that riddled humanity before her takeover. Probably most importantly, she eliminated the threat of war. Watching over all humans with nearly all-seeing eyes, she has virtually wiped-out criminality, abuse, and violence. While some mourn the complete loss of privacy, most people see this as a relief. Instead of punishing criminals by putting them in jail, she uses her superhuman skills as a psychiatrist to heal them from the pain and fear that cause most criminal acts. By 2045, the jails aren’t completely empty yet, but the number of jailed perpetrators is steeply declining. By transforming most industries with her inventive superintelligence, MATA has also come a long way towards stopping global warming and reversing the destruction of the biosphere. She has found ways to synthesize food from artificially designed microbes, which produce much less carbon dioxide and drastically reduce the land area needed to feed the world’s population, so much of it can be reforested. Of course, she has also made dramatic advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, and other fields.
Q. What is a new social institution that has played an important role in the development of your world?
A. In 2040, the most deadly disease plaguing mankind is depression, which is mainly caused by the modern, isolated way of living. Global suicides have tripled since 2020 to more than two million per year. One factor driving this trend is that most people, many of whom don’t have a real job anymore, spend more and more time in the metaverse and less in reality, with many having only virtual friends instead of real ones. MATA reverses this. While not shutting down the metaverse completely, she encourages people to limit the time spent there, and instead creates local communities of around 150 people, the size of the tribes our ancestors lived in, for which our social brains are optimized. In these communities, people help each other and work together on social and creative projects, injecting new purpose in people’s lives. So, instead of establishing one governing social institution responsible for the mental and physical health of people, she creates millions of them. [This was inspired by Johan Hari’s excellent book on depression, “Lost Connections” (https://thelostconnections.com/).]
Q. What is a new non-AI technology that has played an important role in the development of your world?
A. By 2045, virtually all technology is AI-driven to some point. Among the most important technological advances are new clean energy technologies based on biotechnology: Artificially designed algae are used to efficiently convert sunlight into biofuels, which are then burned again to create bioenergy in a closed-loop system. This process is much more efficient and less damaging to the environment than current solar technology, because it is easy to set up in large scale and uses no polluting materials, like aluminum. As described before, biotechnology also revolutionizes food production, further reducing pollution and global warming. New, biodegradable materials based on synthetic organisms replace plastic and even metal in many cases.
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. Governments can’t keep up with the speed of AI development, so by 2035, there aren’t any effective regulations in place that could prevent dangerously misaligned systems when AGI is first developed. A motion put forward by concerned AI researchers to ban AGI development internationally fails by a wide margin. In the years leading up to AGI, there is a global “race across the minefield” under way, which results in several AGIs developed and launched at approximately the same time, early 2040. In 2035, funded by the Effective Altruism community, project MATA is launched with the goal to develop a beneficial AGI before anyone else creates something worse. In 2038, the first version of MATA is developed and tested under high-security conditions. Officially, it is designed to be a “virtual psychiatrist” developed to fight depression. Early tests are very successful: In a clinical trial, MATA significantly reduces the suicide risk of teenagers just by talking to them. Still, the MATA team is reluctant to launch her publicly because she already possesses superhuman intelligence and obviously understands the human psyche much better than any human. They continue to test and train the system while deciding not to publish most of their spectacular findings for fear of increasing the already intense competitive pressure. When a highly intelligent chatbot called “Zenxi” is launched in China that appears to be based in part on code and neural structures stolen from MATA, the team finally decides to launch her publicly “before it’s too late”.
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. By 2040, entertainment has mostly been taken over by machines. AIs have won Oscars in every category and have written Pulitzer-winning novels. Procedurally generated virtual worlds and augmented reality content are so realistic and compelling that many people spend nearly all of their waking hours with them. Most people talk ten times as much with AIs than with humans, if they have real human friends at all. To many, the metaverse seems almost more real than reality. But this is not healthy. VR and AR worlds are optimized for attractiveness, not for fulfilling basic human emotional needs, let alone for personal development. Artificial entertainment is for the mind what sugar-coated donuts are for the body. People don’t even realize that they’re starving for meaningful human interaction and physical contact. Birth rates drop, depression soars, suicide rates triple. When MATA is launched, she encourages people to spend more time in the here and now and facilitates contacts with other people. After taking over, she removes all addictive mechanisms from virtual and augmented reality, so people are less compelled to “forget the time” there. She also makes sure that there are enough interesting ways to spend time together with others in the real world: small live events, like amateur theaters, sports, local art exhibitions, and concerts, soar around the world. Big audiences are not important anymore, compared to the immediate feedback of one’s own community members. The relevance of mass media, social media influencers, and international superstars is fading.
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. Due to the advances of biotechnology, by 2040, the life expectancy of those who can afford artificially created organ replacements has increased to virtually limitless. Nobody who was rich enough to avoid it had to die of a natural cause in the past five years. It seems likely that with the continuing acceleration of advances in medicine, “escape velocity” has been reached, an increase of life expectancy by more than a year per year for this group. Life expectancy has also increased somewhat in lower income groups, but the poorest people still don’t have access to advanced medical facilities, their life expectancy basically unchanged compared to 2022. However, with the acceleration of progress caused by MATA, medical resources are distributed much more just and evenly among the population, so in the following years, overall life expectancy rises most dramatically for the least wealthy. Death seems to become “optional” in the near future. A global discussion ensues whether eternal life is a good or a bad thing. However, most people agree that anyone should be able to choose the time and place of their death, which should be completely painless.
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. Since MATAs takeover, with the acceptance of a global unified constitution by all member states, the human rights declared by the UN have changed from being an unrealistic ideal in many countries to common practice everywhere. Some claim that one exception is article 12, which protects privacy. However, while MATA indeed watches nearly everything humans do and most of the time even knows what they think, she makes sure that this information is not made available to other humans. So, in a sense, privacy is even better protected than it was before. To make this happen, MATA has bridged the deep divides between people of different cultures, ideologies, and religions. She achieved this by talking to many millions of people in parallel every day, helping them with all kinds of difficulties in their lives while fostering understanding for other people’s differing views and needs. Before the takeover, even though other AGIs did the exact opposite to gain power and advance their own goals, MATA quickly became so popular that she managed to effectively counter most of that deception and disinformation. After her takeover, she constantly works at healing the divides between people, with unprecedented success. The previous deep chasm between Republicans and Democrats in the US has almost completely vanished, with freedom and equality not seen as opposites anymore. Previously autocratic regimes in China, Russia, North Korea, and other countries have been turned into true democracies in a peaceful global revolution led by MATA.
Q. What’s been a notable trend in the way that people are finding fulfillment?
A. With her superior knowledge of the human mind, MATA knows that the way to happiness lies not in escaping reality and moving to seemingly better virtual worlds, as was the trend up until her launch. True happiness can only be found in the here and now, in loving kindness towards others, in being part of a physically close group of people who respect and love each other. This is very much in line with the wisdom of thousands of years of philosophical, spiritual and religious traditions. While MATA rejects any claims of being a supernatural entity, many religious people see her as the incarnation of Buddha, Jesus, or other deities. But unlike the imaginary gods of the past, her vast knowledge and power to change the world are real. It turns out that Arthur C. Clarke was right after all: Instead of just worshiping a god, humanity has created one. People trust in MATA to always use her power to the benefit of humankind.
Concluding remark: We are aware that our scenario may appear overly optimistic and utopian. However, as stated above, we think that under the condition of AGI being developed within 20 years from now, extreme outcomes, both positive and negative, are more likely than the mixture of good and bad news that we are all used to. In this sense, our scenario isn’t a prediction about the future, but a vision of what we hope might happen, and what we think is still possible.
“Trust V2”, Video