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8 June 2022

Pre-publication review: The Singularity Principles

Filed under: books, Singularity, Singularity Principles — Tags: — David Wood @ 9:23 am

I’ve recently been concentrating on finalising the content of my forthcoming new book, The Singularity Principles.

The reasons why I see this book as both timely and necessary are explained in the extract, below, taken from the introduction to the book

This link provides pointers to the full text of every chapter in the book. (Or use the links in the listing below of the extended table of contents.)

Please get in touch with me if you would prefer to read the pre-publication text in PDF format, rather than on the online HTML pages linked above.

At this stage, I will gratefully appreciate any feedback:

  • Aspects of the book that I should consider changing
  • Aspects of the book that you particularly like.

Feedback on any parts of the book will be welcome. It’s by no means necessary for you to read the entire text. (However, I hope you will find it sufficiently interesting that you will end up reading more than you originally planned…)

By the way, it’s a relatively short book, compared to some others I’ve written. The wordcount is a bit over 50 thousand words. That works out at around 260 pages of fairly large text on 5″x8″ paper.

I will also appreciate any commendations or endorsements, which I can include with the publicity material for the book, to encourage more people to pay attention to it.

The timescale I have in mind: I will release electronic and physical copies of the book some time early next month (July), followed up soon afterward by an audio version.

Therefore, if you’re thinking of dipping into any chapters to provide feedback and/or endorsements, the sooner the better!

Thanks in anticipation!

Preface

This book is dedicated to what may be the most important concept in human history, namely, the Singularity – what it is, what it is not, the steps by which we may reach it, and, crucially, how to make it more likely that we’ll experience a positive singularity rather than a negative singularity.

For now, here’s a simple definition. The Singularity is the emergence of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), and the associated transformation of the human condition. Spoiler alert: that transformation will be profound. But if we’re not paying attention, it’s likely to be profoundly bad.

Despite the importance of the concept of the Singularity, the subject receives nothing like the attention it deserves. When it is discussed, it often receives scorn or ridicule. Alas, you’ll hear sniggers and see eyes rolling.

That’s because, as I’ll explain, there’s a kind of shadow around the concept – an unhelpful set of distortions that make it harder for people to fully perceive the real opportunities and the real risks that the Singularity brings.

These distortions grow out of a wider confusion – confusion about the complex interplay of forces that are leading society to the adoption of ever-more powerful technologies, including ever-more powerful AI.

It’s my task to dispel the confusion, to untangle the distortions, and to attract much more serious attention to the Singularity.  The future of humanity is at stake.

Let’s start with the confusion.

Confusion, turbulence, and peril

The 2020s could be called the Decade of Confusion. Never before has so much information washed over everyone, leaving us, all too often, overwhelmed, intimidated, and distracted. Former certainties have dimmed. Long-established alliances have fragmented. Flurries of excitement have pivoted quickly to chaos and disappointment. These are turbulent times.

However, if we could see through the confusion, distraction, and intimidation, what we should notice is that human flourishing is, potentially, poised to soar to unprecedented levels. Fast-changing technologies are on the point of providing a string of remarkable benefits. We are near the threshold of radical improvements to health, nutrition, security, creativity, collaboration, intelligence, awareness, and enlightenment – with these improvements being available to everyone.

Alas, these same fast-changing technologies also threaten multiple sorts of disaster. These technologies are two-edged swords. Unless we wield them with great skill, they are likely to spin out of control. If we remain overwhelmed, intimidated, and distracted, our prospects are poor. Accordingly, these are perilous times.

These dual future possibilities – technology-enabled sustainable superabundance, versus technology-induced catastrophe – have featured in numerous discussions that I have chaired at London Futurists meetups going all the way back to 2008.

As these discussions have progressed, year by year, I have gradually formulated and refined what I now call the Singularity Principles. These principles are intended:

  • To steer humanity’s relationships with fast-changing technologies,
  • To manage multiple risks of disaster,
  • To enable the attainment of remarkable benefits,
  • And, thereby, to help humanity approach a profoundly positive singularity.

In short, the Singularity Principles are intended to counter today’s widespread confusion, distraction, and intimidation, by providing clarity, credible grounds for hope, and an urgent call to action.

This time it’s different

I first introduced the Singularity Principles, under that name and with the same general format, in the final chapter, “Singularity”, of my 2021 book Vital Foresight: The Case for Active Transhumanism. That chapter is the culmination of a 642 page book. The preceding sixteen chapters of that book set out at some length the challenges and opportunities that these principles need to address.

Since the publication of Vital Foresight, it has become evident to me that the Singularity Principles require a short, focused book of their own. That’s what you now hold in your hands.

The Singularity Principles is by no means the only new book on the subject of the management of powerful disruptive technologies. The public, thankfully, are waking up to the need to understand these technologies better, and numerous authors are responding to that need. As one example, the phrase “Artificial Intelligence”, forms part of the title of scores of new books.

I have personally learned many things from some of these recent books. However, to speak frankly, I find myself dissatisfied by the prescriptions these authors have advanced. These authors generally fail to appreciate the full extent of the threats and opportunities ahead. And even if they do see the true scale of these issues, the recommendations these authors propose strike me as being inadequate.

Therefore, I cannot keep silent.

Accordingly, I present in this new book the content of the Singularity Principles, brought up to date in the light of recent debates and new insights. The book also covers:

  • Why the Singularity Principles are sorely needed
  • The source and design of these principles
  • The significance of the term “Singularity”
  • Why there is so much unhelpful confusion about “the Singularity”
  • What’s different about the Singularity Principles, compared to recommendations of other analysts
  • The kinds of outcomes expected if these principles are followed
  • The kinds of outcomes expected if these principles are not followed
  • How you – dear reader – can, and should, become involved, finding your place in a growing coalition
  • How these principles are likely to evolve further
  • How these principles can be put into practice, all around the world – with the help of people like you.

The scope of the Principles

To start with, the Singularity Principles can and should be applied to the anticipation and management of the NBIC technologies that are at the heart of the current, fourth industrial revolution. NBIC – nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech – is a quartet of four interlinked technological disruptions which are likely to grow significantly stronger as the 2020s unfold. Each of these four technological disruptions has the potential to fundamentally transform large parts of the human experience.

However, the same set of principles can and should also be applied to the anticipation and management of the core technology that will likely give rise to a fifth industrial revolution, namely the technology of AGI (artificial general intelligence), and the rapid additional improvements in artificial superintelligence that will likely follow fast on the footsteps of AGI.

The emergence of AGI is known as the technological singularity – or, more briefly, as the Singularity.

In other words, the Singularity Principles apply both:

  • To the longer-term lead-up to the Singularity, from today’s fast-improving NBIC technologies,
  • And to the shorter-term lead-up to the Singularity, as AI gains more general capabilities.

In both cases, anticipation and management of possible outcomes will be of vital importance.

By the way – in case it’s not already clear – please don’t expect a clever novel piece of technology, or some brilliant technical design, to somehow solve, by itself, the challenges posed by NBIC technologies and AGI. These challenges extend far beyond what could be wrestled into submission by some dazzling mathematical wizardry, by the incorporation of an ingenious new piece of silicon at the heart of every computer, or by any other “quick fix”. Indeed, the considerable effort being invested by some organisations in a search for that kind of fix is, arguably, a distraction from a sober assessment of the bigger picture.

Better technology, better product design, better mathematics, and better hardware can all be part of the full solution. But that full solution also needs, critically, to include aspects of organisational design, economic incentives, legal frameworks, and political oversight. That’s the argument I develop in the chapters ahead.

Extended table of contents

For your convenience, here’s a listing of the main section headings for all the chapters in this book.

0. Preface

  • Confusion, turbulence, and peril
  • This time it’s different
  • The scope of the Principles
  • Collective insight
  • The short form of the Principles
  • The four areas covered by the Principles
  • What lies ahead

1. Background: Ten essential observations

  • Greater tech power enables more devastating results
  • Different perspectives assess “good” vs. “bad” differently
  • Tech breakthroughs are unpredictable (timing and impact)
  • Potential complex interactions make prediction even harder
  • Changes in human attributes complicate tech changes
  • Competition can be hazardous as well as beneficial
  • Some tech failures would be too drastic to allow recovery
  • A history of good results is no guarantee of future success
  • It’s insufficient to rely on good intentions
  • Wishful thinking predisposes blindness to problems

2. Fast-changing technologies: risks and benefits

  • Technology risk factors
  • Prioritising benefits?
  • What about ethics?
  • The transhumanist stance

2.1 Special complications with artificial intelligence

  • Problems with training data
  • The black box nature of AI
  • Interactions between multiple algorithms
  • Self-improving AI
  • Devious AI
  • Four catastrophic error modes
  • The broader perspective

2.2 The AI Control Problem

  • The gorilla problem
  • Examples of dangers with uncontrollable AI
  • Proposed solutions (which don’t work)
  • The impossibility of full verification
  • Emotion misses the point
  • No off switch
  • The ineffectiveness of tripwires
  • Escaping from confinement
  • The ineffectiveness of restrictions
  • No automatic super ethics
  • Issues with hard-wiring ethical principles

2.3 The AI Alignment Problem

  • Asimov’s Three Laws
  • Ethical dilemmas and trade-offs
  • Problems with proxies
  • The gaming of proxies
  • Simple examples of profound problems
  • Humans disagree
  • No automatic super ethics (again)
  • Other options for answers?

2.4 No easy solutions

  • No guarantees from the free market
  • No guarantees from cosmic destiny
  • Planet B?
  • Humans merging with AI?
  • Approaching the Singularity

3. What is the Singularity?

  • Breaking down the definition
  • Four alternative definitions
  • Four possible routes to the Singularity
  • The Singularity and AI self-awareness
  • Singularity timescales
  • Positive and negative singularities
  • Tripwires and canary signals
  • Moving forward

3.1 The Singularitarian Stance

  • AGI is possible
  • AGI could happen within just a few decades
  • Winner takes all
  • The difficulty of controlling AGI
  • Superintelligence and superethics
  • Not the Terminator
  • Opposition to the Singularitarian Stance

3.2 A complication: the Singularity Shadow

  • Singularity timescale determinism
  • Singularity outcome determinism
  • Singularity hyping
  • Singularity risk complacency
  • Singularity term overloading
  • Singularity anti-regulation fundamentalism
  • Singularity preoccupation
  • Looking forward

3.3 Bad reasons to deny the Singularity

  • The denial of death
  • How special is the human mind?
  • A credible positive vision

4. The question of urgency

  • Factors causing AI to improve
  • 15 options on the table
  • The difficulty of measuring progress
  • Learning from Christopher Columbus
  • The possibility of fast take-off

5. The Singularity Principles in depth

5.1 Analysing goals and potential outcomes

  • Question desirability
  • Clarify externalities
  • Require peer reviews
  • Involve multiple perspectives
  • Analyse the whole system
  • Anticipate fat tails

5.2 Desirable characteristics of tech solutions

  • Reject opacity
  • Promote resilience
  • Promote verifiability
  • Promote auditability
  • Clarify risks to users
  • Clarify trade-offs

5.3 Ensuring development takes place responsibly

  • Insist on accountability
  • Penalise disinformation
  • Design for cooperation
  • Analyse via simulations
  • Maintain human oversight

5.4 Evolution and enforcement

  • Build consensus regarding principles
  • Provide incentives to address omissions
  • Halt development if principles are not upheld
  • Consolidate progress via legal frameworks

6. Key success factors

  • Public understanding
  • Persistent urgency
  • Reliable action against noncompliance
  • Public funding
  • International support
  • A sense of inclusion and collaboration

7. Questions arising

7.1 Measuring human flourishing

  • Some example trade-offs
  • Updating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Constructing an Index of Human and Social Flourishing

7.2 Trustable monitoring

  • Moore’s Law of Mad Scientists
  • Four projects to reduce the dangers of WMDs
  • Detecting mavericks
  • Examples of trustable monitoring
  • Watching the watchers

7.3 Uplifting politics

  • Uplifting regulators
  • The central role of politics
  • Toward superdemocracy
  • Technology improving politics
  • Transcending party politics
  • The prospects for political progress

7.4 Uplifting education

  • Top level areas of the Vital Syllabus
  • Improving the Vital Syllabus

7.5 To AGI or not AGI?

  • Global action against the creation of AGI?
  • Possible alternatives to AGI?
  • A dividing line between AI and AGI?
  • A practical proposal

7.6 Measuring progress toward AGI

  • Aggregating expert opinions
  • Metaculus predictions
  • Alternative canary signals for AGI
  • AI index reports

7.7. Growing a coalition of the willing

  • Risks and actions

Image credit

The draft book cover shown above includes a design by Pixabay member Ebenezer42.

15 May 2022

Timeline to 2045: questions answered

This is a follow-up to my previous post, containing more of the material that I submitted around five weeks ago to the FLI World Building competition. In this case, the requirement was to answer 13 questions, with answers limited to 250 words in each case.

Q1: AGI has existed for 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?

The Global AGI safety project was one of the most momentous and challenging in human history.

The centrepiece of that project was the set of “Singularity Principles” that had first appeared in print in the book Vital Foresight in 2021, and which were developed in additional publications in subsequent years – a set of recommendations with the declared goal of increasing the likelihood that oncoming disruptive technological changes would have outcomes that are profoundly positive for humanity, rather than deeply detrimental. The principles split into four sections:

  1. A focus, in advance, on the goals and outcomes that were being sought from particular technologies
  2. Analysis of the intrinsic characteristics that are desirable in technological solutions
  3. Analysis of methods to ensure that development takes place responsibly
  4. And a meta-analysis – principles about how this overall set of recommendations could itself evolve further over time, and principles for how to increase the likelihood that these recommendations would be applied in practice rather than simply being some kind of wishful thinking.

What drove increasing support for these principles was a growing awareness, shared around the world, of the risks of cataclysmic outcomes that could arise all too easily from increasingly powerful AI, even when everyone involved had good intentions. This shared sense of danger caused even profound ideological enemies to gather together on a regular basis to review joint progress toward fulfilment of the Singularity Principles, as well as to evolve and refine these Principles.

Q2: 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?

One of the key principles programmed into every advanced AI, from the late 2020s onward, was that no AI should seize or manipulate resources owned by any other AI. Instead, AIs should operate only with resources that have been explicitly provided to them. That prevented any hostile takeover of less capable AIs by more powerful competitors. Accordingly, a community of different AIs coexisted, with differing styles and capabilities.

However, in parallel, the various AIs naturally started to interact with each other, offering services to each other in response to expressions of need. The outcome of this interaction was a blurring of the boundaries between different AIs. Thus, by the 2040s, it was no longer meaningful to distinguish between what had originally been separate pieces of software. Instead of referring to “the Alphabet AGI” or “the Tencent AGI”, and so on, people just talked about “the AGI” or even “AGI”.

The resulting AGI was, however, put to different purposes in different parts of the world, dependent on the policies pursued by the local political leaders.

Q3: How has your world avoided major arms races and wars, regarding AI/AGI or otherwise?

The 2020s were a decade of turbulence, in which a number of arms races proceeded at pace, and when conflict several times came close to spilling over from being latent and implied (“cold”) to being active (“hot”):

  • The great cyber war of 2024 between Iran and Israel
  • Turmoil inside many countries in 2026, associated with the fall from power of the president of Russia
  • Exchanges of small numbers of missiles between North and South Korea in 2027
  • An intense cyber battle in 2028 over the future of an independent Taiwan.

These conflicts resulted in a renewed “never again” global focus to avoid any future recurrences. A new generation of political leaders resolved that, regardless of their many differences, they would put particular kinds of weapons beyond use.

Key to this “never again” commitment was an agreement on “global AI monitoring” – the use of independent narrow AIs to monitor all developments and deployments of potential weapons of mass destruction. That agreement took inspiration from previous international agreements that instituted regular independent monitoring of chemical and biological weapons.

Initial public distrust of the associated global surveillance systems was overcome, in stages, by demonstrations of the inherently trustworthy nature of the software used in these systems – software that adapted various counterintuitive but profound cryptographic ideas from the blockchain discussions of the early and mid-2020s.

Q4: 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, if at all?

Between 2024 and 2032, the US switched its politics from a troubled bipolar system, with Republicans and Democrats battling each other with intense hostility, into a multi-party system, with a dynamic fluidity of new electoral groupings. The winner of the 2032 election was, for the first time since the 1850s, from neither of the formerly dominant parties. What enabled this transition was the adoption, in stages, of ranked choice voting, in which electors could indicate a sequence of which candidates they preferred. This change enabled electors to express interest in new parties without fearing their votes would be “wasted” or would inadvertently allow the election of particularly detested candidates.

The EU led the way in adoption of a “house of AI” as a reviewing body for proposed legislation. Legislation proposed by human politicians was examined by AI, resulting in suggested amendments, along with detailed explanations from the AI of reasons for making these changes. The EU left the ultimate decisions – whether or not to accept the suggestions – in the hands of human politicians. Over time, AI judgements were accepted on more and more occasions, but never uncritically.

China remained apprehensive until the mid-2030s about adopting multi-party politics with full tolerance of dissenting opinions. This apprehension was rooted in historic distrust of the apparent anarchy and dysfunction of politicians who needed to win approval of seemingly fickle electors. However, as AI evidently improved the calibre of online public discussion, with its real-time fact-checking, the Chinese system embraced fuller democratic reforms.

Q5: Is the global distribution of wealth (as measured say by national or international Gini coefficients) more, or less, unequal than 2022’s, and by how much? How did it get that way?

The global distribution of wealth became more unequal during the 2020s before becoming less unequal during the 2030s.

Various factors contributed to inequality increasing:

  • “Winner takes all”: Companies offering second-best products were unable to survive in the marketplace. Swift flows of both information and goods meant that all customers knew about better products and could easily purchase them
  • Financial rewards from the successes of companies increasingly flowed to the owners of the capital deployed, rather than to the people supplying skills and services. That’s because more of the skills and services could be supplied by automation, driving down the salaries that could be claimed by people who were offering the same skills and services
  • The factors that made some products better than others increasingly involved technological platforms, such as the latest AI systems, that were owned by a very small number of companies
  • Companies were able to restructure themselves ingeniously in order to take advantage of tax loopholes and special deals offered by countries desperate for at least some tax revenue.

What caused these trends to reverse was, in short, better politics:

  • Smart collaboration between the national governments of the world, avoiding tax loopholes
  • Recognition by greater numbers of voters of the profound merits of greater redistribution of the fruits of the remarkable abundance of NBIC technologies, as the percentage of people in work declined, and as the problems were more fully recognised of parts of society being “left behind”.

Q6: What is a major problem that AI has solved in your world, and how did it do so?

AI made many key contributions toward the solution of climate change:

  • By enabling more realistic and complete models of all aspects of the climate, including potential tipping points ahead of major climate phase transitions
  • By improving the design of alternative energy sources, including ground-based geothermal, high-altitude winds, ocean-based waves, space-based solar, and several different types of nuclear energy
  • Very significantly, by accelerating designs of commercially meaningful nuclear fusion
  • By identifying the types of “negative emissions technologies” that had the potential to scale up quickly in effectiveness
  • By accelerating the adoption of improved “cultivated meat” as sources of food that had many advantages over methods of animal-based agriculture, namely, addressing issues with land use, water use, antibiotics use, and greenhouse gas emissions, and putting an end to the vile practice of the mass slaughter of sentient creatures
  • By assisting the design of new types of cement, glass, plastics, fertilisers, and other materials whose manufacture had previously caused large emissions of greenhouse gases
  • By recommending the sorts of marketing messages that were most effective in changing the minds of previous opponents of effective action.

To be clear, AI did this as part of “NBIC convergence”, in which there are mutual positive feedback loops between progress in each of nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech.

Q7: What is a new social institution that has played an important role in the development of your world?

The G7 group of the democratic countries with the largest economies transitioned in 2023 into the D16, with a sharper commitment than before to championing the core values of democracy: openness; free and fair elections; the rule of law; independent media, judiciary, and academia; power being distributed rather than concentrated; and respect for autonomous decisions of groups of people.

The D16 was envisioned from the beginning as intended to grow in size, to become a global complement to the functioning of the United Nations, able to operate in circumstances that would have resulted in a veto at the UN from countries that paid only lip service to democracy.

One of the first projects of the D16 was to revise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the form initially approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, to take account of the opportunities and threats from new technologies, including what are known as “transhuman rights”.

In parallel, another project reached agreement on how to measure an “Index of Human Flourishing”, that could replace the economic measure GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as the de-facto principal indication of wellbeing of societies.

The group formally became the D40 in 2030 and the D90 in 2034. By that time, the D90 was central to agreements to vigorously impose an updated version of the Singularity Principles. Any group anywhere in the world – inside or outside the D90 – that sought to work around these principles, was effectively shut down due to strict economic sanctions.

Q8: What is a new non-AI technology that has played an important role in the development of your world?

Numerous fields have been transformed by atomically precise manufacturing, involving synthetic nanoscale assembly factories. These had been envisioned in various ways by Richard Feynman in 1959 and Eric Drexler in 1986, but did not become commercially viable until the early 2030s.

It had long been recognised that an “existence proof” for nanotechnology was furnished by the operation of ribosomes inside biological cells, with their systematic assembly of proteins from genetic instructions. However, creation of comparable synthetic systems needed to wait for assistance in both design and initial assembly from increasingly sophisticated AI. (DeepMind’s AlphaFold software had given an early indication of these possibilities back in 2021.) Once the process had started, significant self-improvement loops soon accelerated, with each new generation of nanotechnology assisting in the creation of a subsequent better generation.

The benefits flowed both ways: nanotech precision allowed breakthroughs in the manufacture of new types of computer hardware, including quantum computers; these in turn supported better types of AI algorithms.

Nanotech had dramatic positive impact on practices in the production of food, accommodation, clothing, and all sorts of consumer goods. Three areas particularly deserve mention:

  • Precise medical interventions, to repair damage to biological systems
  • Systems to repair damage to the environment as a whole, via a mixture of recycling and regeneration, as well as “negative emissions technologies” operating in the atmosphere
  • Clean energy sources operating at ever larger scale, including atomic-powered batteries

Q9: What changes to the way countries govern the development and/or deployment and/or use of emerging technologies (including AI), if any, played an important role in the development of your world?

Effective governance of emerging technologies involved both voluntary cooperation and enforced cooperation.

Voluntary cooperation – a desire to avoid actions that could lead to terrible outcomes – depended in turn on:

  • An awareness of the risk pathways – similar to the way that Carl Sagan and his colleagues vividly brought to the attention of world leaders in the early 1980s the potential global catastrophe of “nuclear winter”
  • An understanding that the restrictions being accepted would not hinder the development of truly beneficial products
  • An appreciation that everyone was be compelled to observe the same restrictions, and couldn’t gain some short-sighted advantage by breaching the rules.

The enforcement elements depended on:

  • An AI-powered “trustable monitoring system” that was able to detect, through pervasive surveillance, any potential violations of the published restrictions
  • Strong international cooperation, by the D40 and others, to isolate and remove resources from any maverick elements, anywhere in the world, that failed to respect these restrictions.

Public acceptance of trustable monitoring accelerated once it was understood that the systems performing the surveillance could, indeed, be trusted; they would not confer any inappropriate advantage on any grouping able to access the data feeds.

The entire system was underpinned by a vibrant programme of research and education (part of a larger educational initiative known as the “Vital Syllabus”), that:

  • Kept updating the “Singularity Principles” system of restrictions and incentives in the light of improved understanding of the risks and solutions
  • Ensured that the importance of these principles was understood both widely and deeply.

Q10: Pick a sector of your choice (education, transport, energy, communication, finance, healthcare, tourism, aerospace, materials etc.) and describe how that sector was transformed with AI in your world.

For most of human history, religion had played a pivotal role in shaping people’s outlooks and actions. Religion provided narratives about ultimate purposes. It sanctified social structures. It highlighted behaviour said to be exemplary, as demonstrated in the lives of key religious figures. And it deplored other behaviours said to lead to very bad consequences, if not in the present life, then in an assumed afterlife.

Nevertheless, the philosophical justifications for religions had come under increasing challenge in recent times, with the growth of appreciation of a scientific worldview (including evolution by natural selection), the insights from critical analysis of previously venerated scriptures, and a stark awareness of the tensions between different religions in a multi-polar world.

The decline of influence of religion had both good and bad consequences. Greater freedom of thought and action was accompanied by a shrinking of people’s mental horizons. Without the transcendent appeal of a religious worldview, people’s lives often became dominated instead by egotism or consumerism.

The growth of the transhumanist movement in the 2020s provided one counter to these drawbacks. It was not a religion in the strict sense, but its identification of solutions such as “the abolition of aging”, “paradise engineering”, and “technological resurrection” stirred deep inner personal transformations.

These transformations reached a new level thanks to AGI-facilitated encounters with religious founders, inside immersive virtual reality simulations. New hallucinogenic substances provided extra richness to these experiences. The sector formerly known as “religion” therefore experienced an unexpected renewal. Thank AGI!

Q11: 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 2022?

In response to the question, “How much longer do you expect to live”, the usual answer is “at least another hundred years”.

This answer reflects a deep love of life: people are glad to be alive and have huge numbers of quests, passions, projects, and personal voyages that they are enjoying or to which they’re looking forward. The answer also reflects the extraordinary observation that, these days, very few people die. That’s true in all sectors of society, and in all countries of the world. Low-cost high-quality medical treatments are widely available, to reverse diseases that were formerly fatal, and to repair biological damage that had accumulated earlier in people’s lives. People not only live longer but become more youthful.

The core ideas behind these treatments had been clear since the mid-2020s. Biological metabolism generates as a by-product of its normal operation an assortment of damage at the cellular and intercellular levels of the body. Biology also contains mechanisms for the repair of such damage, but over time, these repair mechanisms themselves lose vitality. As a result, people manifest various so-called “hallmarks of aging”. However, various interventions involving biotech and nanotech can revitalise these repair mechanisms. Moreover, other interventions can replace entire biological systems, such as organs, with bio-synthetic alternatives that actually work better than the originals.

Such treatments were feared and even resisted for a while, by activists such as the “naturality advocates”, but the evident improvements these treatments enabled soon won over the doubters.

Q12: 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 a second country of your choice, which rights are better and which rights are worse respected in your world than in 2022, and why/how?

Regarding the famous phrase, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, all three of these fundamental rights are upheld much more fully, around the world, in 2045 than in 2022:

  • “Life” no longer tends to stop around the age of seventy or eighty; even people aged well over one hundred look forward to continuing to enjoy the right to life
  • “Liberty” involves more choices about lifestyles, personal philosophy, morphological freedom (augmentation and variation of the physical body) and sociological freedom (new structures for families, social groupings, and self-determined nations); importantly, these are not just “choices in theory” but are “choices in practice”, since means are available to support these modifications
  • “Security” involves greater protection from hazards such as extreme weather, pandemics, criminal enterprises, infrastructure hacking, and military attacks.

These improvements in the observation of rights are enabled by technologies of abundance, operated within a much-improved political framework.

Obtaining these benefits involved people agreeing to give up various possible actions that would have led to fewer freedoms and rights overall:

  • “Rights” to pollute the environment or to inflict other negative externalities
  • “Rights” to restrict the education of their girl children
  • “Rights” to experiment with technology without a full safety analysis being concluded.

For a while, some countries like China provided their citizens with only a sham democracy, fearing an irresponsible exercise of that freedom. But by the mid-2030s, that fear had dissipated, and people in all countries gained fuller participatory rights in governance and lifestyle decisions.

Q13: What’s been a notable trend in the way that people are finding fulfilment?

For most of history, right up to the late 2020s, many people viewed themselves through the prism of their occupation or career. “I’m a usability designer”, they might have said. Or “I’m a data scientist” or “I’m a tour guide”, and so on. Their assessment of their own value was closely linked to the financial rewards they obtained from being an employee.

However, as AI became more capable of undertaking all aspects of what had previously been people’s jobs – including portions involving not only diligence and dexterity but also creativity and compassion – there was a significant decline in the proportion of overall human effort invested in employment. By the late 2030s, most people had stopped looking for paid employment, and were content to receive “universal citizens’ dividend” benefits from the operation of sophisticated automated production facilities.

Instead, more and more people found fulfilment by pursuing any of an increasing number of quests and passions. These included both solitary and collaborative explorations in music, art, mathematics, literature, and sport, as well as voyages in parts of the real world and in myriads of fascinating shared online worlds. In all these projects, people found fulfilment, not by performing better than an AI (which would be impossible), but by improving on their own previous achievements, or in friendly competition with acquaintances.

Careful prompting by the AGI helps to maintain people’s interest levels and a sense of ongoing challenge and achievement. AGI has proven to be a wonderful coach.

A year-by-year timeline to 2045

The ground rules for the worldbuilding competition were attractive:

  • The year is 2045.
  • AGI has existed for at least 5 years.
  • Technology is advancing rapidly and AI is transforming the world sector by sector.
  • The US, EU and China have managed a steady, if uneasy, power equilibrium.
  • India, Africa and South America are quickly on the ride as major players.
  • Despite ongoing challenges, there have been no major wars or other global catastrophes.
  • The world is not dystopian and the future is looking bright.

Entrants were asked to submit four pieces of work. One was a new media piece. I submitted this video:

Another required piece was:

timeline with entries for each year between 2022 and 2045 giving at least two events (e.g. “X invented”) and one data point (e.g. “GDP rises by 25%”) for each year.

The timeline I created dovetailed with the framework from the above video. Since I enjoyed creating it, I’m sharing my submission here, in the hope that it may inspire readers.

(Note: the content was submitted on 11th April 2022.)

2022

US mid-term elections result in log-jammed US governance, widespread frustration, and a groundswell desire for more constructive approaches to politics.

The collapse of a major crypto “stablecoin” results in much wider adverse repercussions than was generally expected, and a new social appreciation of the dangers of flawed financial systems.

Data point: Number of people killed in violent incidents (including homicides and armed conflicts) around the world: 590,000

2023

Fake news that is spread by social media driven by a new variant of AI provokes riots in which more than 10,000 people die, leading to much greater interest a set of “Singularity Principles” that had previously been proposed to steer the development of potentially world-transforming technologies.

G7 transforms into the D16, consisting of the world’s 16 leading democracies, proclaiming a profound shared commitment to champion norms of: openness; free and fair elections; the rule of law; independent media, judiciary, and academia; power being distributed rather than concentrated; and respect for autonomous decisions of groups of people.

Data point: Proportion of world population living in countries that are “full democracies” as assessed by the Economist: 6.4%

2024

South Korea starts a trial of a nationwide UBI scheme, in the first of what will become in later years a long line of increasingly robust “universal citizens’ dividends” schemes around the world.

A previously unknown offshoot of ISIS releases a bioengineered virus. Fortunately, vaccines are quickly developed and deployed against it. In parallel, a bitter cyber war takes place between Iran and Israel. These incidents lead to international commitments to prevent future recurrences.

Data point: Proportion of people of working age in US who are not working and who are not looking for a job: 38%

2025

Extreme weather – floods and storms – kills 10s of 1000s in both North America and Europe. A major trial of geo-engineering is rushed through, with reflection of solar radiation in the stratosphere – causing global political disagreement and then a renewed determination for tangible shared action on climate change.

The US President appoints a Secretary for the Future as a top-level cabinet position. More US states adopt rank choice voting, allowing third parties to grow in prominence.

Data point: Proportion of earth’s habitable land used to rear animals for human food: 38%

2026

A song created entirely by an AI tops the hit parade, and initiates a radical new musical genre.

Groundswell opposition to autocratic rule in Russia leads to the fall from power of the president and a new dedication to democracy throughout countries formerly perceived as being within Russia’s sphere of direct influence.

Data point: Net greenhouse gas emissions (including those from land-use changes): 59 billion tons of CO2 equivalent – an unwelcome record.

2027

Metformin approved for use as an anti-aging medicine in a D16 country. Another D16 country recommends nationwide regular usage of a new nootropic drug.

Exchanges of small numbers of missiles between North and South Korea leads to regime change inside North Korea and a rapprochement between the long-bitter enemies.

Data point: Proportion of world population living in countries that are “full democracies” as assessed by the Economist: 9.2%

2028

An innovative nuclear fusion system, with its design assisted by AI, runs for more than one hour and generates significantly more energy out than what had been put in.

As a result of disagreements about the future of an independent Taiwan, an intense destructive cyber battle takes place. At the end, the nations of the world commit more seriously than before to avoiding any future cyber battles.

Data point: Proportion of world population experiencing mental illness or dissatisfied with the quality of their mental health: 41%

2029

A trial of an anti-aging intervention in middle-aged dogs is confirmed to have increased remaining life expectancy by 25% without causing any adverse side effects. Public interest in similar interventions in humans skyrockets.

The UK rejoins a reconfigured EU, as an indication of support for sovereignty that is pooled rather than narrow.

Data point: Proportion of world population with formal cryonics arrangements: 1 in 100,000

2030

Russia is admitted into the D40 – a newly expanded version of the D16. The D40 officially adopts “Index of Human Flourishing” as more important metric than GDP, and agrees a revised version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, brought up to date with transhuman issues.

First permanent implant in a human of an artificial heart with a new design that draws all required power from the biology of the body rather than any attached battery, and whose pace of operation is under the control of the brain.

Data point: Net greenhouse gas emissions (including those from land-use changes): 47 billion tons of CO2 equivalent – a significant improvement

2031

An AI discovers and explains a profound new way of looking at mathematics, DeepMath, leading in turn to dramatically successful new theories of fundamental physics.

Widespread use of dynamically re-programmed nanobots to treat medical conditions that would previously have been fatal.

Data point: Proportion of world population regularly taking powerful anti-aging medications: 23%

2032

First person reaches the age of 125. Her birthday celebrations are briefly disrupted by a small group of self-described “naturality advocates” who chant “120 is enough for anyone”, but that group has little public support.

D40 countries put in place a widespread “trustable monitoring system” to cut down on existential risks (such as spread of WMDs) whilst maintaining citizens’ trust.

Data point: Proportion of world population living in countries that are “full democracies” as assessed by the Economist: 35.7% 

2033

For the first time since the 1850s, the US President comes from a party other than Republican and Democratic.

An AI system is able to convincingly pass the Turing test, impressing even the previous staunchest critics with its apparent grasp of general knowledge and common sense. The answers it gives to questions of moral dilemmas also impress previous sceptics.

Data point: Proportion of people of working age in US who are not working and who are not looking for a job: 58%

2034

The D90 (expanded from the D40) agrees to vigorously impose Singularity Principles rules to avoid inadvertent creation of dangerous AGI.

Atomically precise synthetic nanoscale assembly factories have come of age, in line with the decades-old vision of nanotechnology visionary Eric Drexler, and are proving to have just as consequential an impact on human society as AI.

Data point: Net greenhouse gas *removals*: 10 billion tons of CO2 equivalent – a dramatic improvement

2035

A novel written entirely by an AI reaches the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and is widely celebrated as being the finest piece of literature ever produced.

Successful measures to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, coupled with wide deployment of clean energy sources, lead to a declaration of “victory over runaway climate change”.

Data point: Proportion of earth’s habitable land used to rear animals for human food: 4%

2036

A film created entirely by an AI, without any real human actors, wins Oscar awards.

The last major sceptical holdout, a philosophy professor from an Ivy League university, accepts that AGI now exists. The pope gives his blessing too.

Data point: Proportion of world population with cryonics arrangements: 24%

2037

The last instances of the industrial scale slaughter of animals for human consumption, on account of the worldwide adoption of cultivated (lab-grown) meat.

AGI convincingly explains that it is not sentient, and that it has a very different fundamental structure from that of biological consciousness.

Data point: Proportion of world population who are literate: 99.3%

2038

Rejuvenation therapies are in wide use around the world. “Eighty is the new fifty”. First person reaches the age of 130.

Improvements made by AGI upon itself effectively raise its IQ one hundred fold, taking it far beyond the comprehension of human observers. However, the AGI provides explanatory educational material that allows people to understand vast new sets of ideas.

Data point: Proportion of world population who consider themselves opposed to AGI: 0.1%

2039

An extensive set of “vital training” sessions has been established by the AGI, with all citizens over the age of ten participating for a minimum of seven hours per day on 72 days each year, to ensure that humans develop and maintain key survival skills.

Menopause reversal is common place. Women who had long ago given up any ideas of bearing another child happily embrace motherhood again.

Data point: Proportion of world population regularly taking powerful anti-aging medications: 99.2%

2040

The use of “mind phones” is widespread: new brain-computer interfaces that allow communication between people by mental thought alone.

People regularly opt to have several of their original biological organs replaced by synthetic alternatives that are more efficient, more durable, and more reliable.

Data point: Proportion of people of working age in US who are not working and who are not looking for a job: 96%

2041

Shared immersive virtual reality experiences include hyper-realistic simulations of long-dead individuals – including musicians, politicians, royalty, saints, and founders of religions.

The number of miles of journey undertaken by small “flying cars” exceeds that of ground-based powered transport.

Data point: Proportion of world population living in countries that are “full democracies” as assessed by the Economist: 100.0%

2042

First successful revival of mammal from cryopreservation.

AGI presents a proof of the possibility of time travel, but the resources required for safe transit of humans through time would require the equivalent of building a Dyson sphere around the sun.

Data point: Proportion of world population experiencing mental illness or dissatisfied with the quality of their mental health: 0.4%

2043

First person reaches the age of 135, and declares herself to be healthier than at any time in the preceding four decades.

As a result of virtual reality encounters of avatars of founders of religion, a number of new systems of philosophical and mystical thinking grow in popularity.

Data point: Proportion of world’s energy provided by earth-based nuclear fusion: 75%

2044

First human baby born from an ectogenetic pregnancy.

Family holidays on the Moon are an increasingly common occurrence.

Data point: Average amount of their waking time that people spend in a metaverse: 38%

2045

First revival of human from cryopreservation – someone who had been cryopreserved ten years previously.

Subtle messages decoded by AGI from far distant stars in the galaxy confirm that other intelligent civilisations exist, and are on their way to reveal themselves to humanity.

Data point: Number of people killed in violent incidents around the world: 59

Postscript

My thanks go to the competition organisers, the Future of Life Institute, for providing the inspiration for the creation of the above timeline.

Readers are likely to have questions in their minds as they browse the timeline above. More details of the reasoning behind the scenarios involved are contained in three follow-up posts:

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