Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.
Assume for the time being that it will forever remain beyond the scope of science to change Human Nature. AGI is also impossible, as is Nanotech, BioImmortality, and those things.
Douglas Adams mice finished their human experiment, giving to you, personally, the job of redesigning earth, and specially human society, according to your wildest utopian dreams, but you can't change the unchangeables above.
You can play with architecture, engineering, gender ratio, clothing, money, science grants, governments, feeding rituals, family constitution, the constitution itself, education, etc... Just don't forget if you slide something too far away from what our evolved brains were designed to accept, things may slide back, or instability and catastrophe may ensue.
Finally, if you are not the kind of utilitarian that assigns exactly the same amount of importance to your desires, and to that of others, I want you to create this Utopia for yourself, and your values, not everyone.
The point of this exercise is: The vast majority of folk not related to this community that I know, when asked about an ideal world, will not change human nature, or animal suffering, or things like that, they'll think about changing whatever the newspaper editors have been writing about last few weeks. I am wondering if there is symmetry here, and folks from this community here do not spend that much time thinking about those kinds of change which don't rely on transformative technologies. It is just an intuition pump, a gedankenexperiment if you will. Force your brain to face this counterfactual reality, and make the best world you can given those constraints. Maybe, if sufficiently many post here, the results might clarify something about CEV, or the sociology of LessWrongers...
It was Yudkowsky's Fun Theory sequence that inspired me to undertake the work of writing a novel on a singularitarian society... however, there are gaps I need to fill, and I need all the help I can get. It's mostly book recommendations that I'm asking for.
One of the things I'd like to tackle in it would be the interactions between the modern, geeky Singularitarianisms, and Marxism, which I hold to be somewhat prototypical in that sense, as well as other utopisms. And contrasting them with more down-to-earth ideologies and attitudes, by examining the seriously dangerous bumps of the technological point of transition between "baseline" and "singularity". But I need to do a lot of research before I'm able to write anything good: if I'm not going to have any original ideas, at least I'd like to serve my readers with a collection of well-researched. solid ones.
So I'd like to have everything that is worth reading about the Singularity, specifically the Revolution it entails (in one way or another) and the social aftermath. I'm particularly interested in the consequences of the lag of the spread of the technology from the wealthy to the baselines, and the potential for baselines oppression and other forms of continuation of current forms of social imbalances, as well as suboptimal distribution of wealth. After all, according to many authors, we've had the means to end war, poverty and famine, and most infectious diseases, since the sixties, and it's just our irrational methods of wealth distribution That is, supposing the commonly alleged ideal of total lifespan and material welfare maximization for all humanity is what actually drives the way things are done. But even with other, different premises and axioms, there's much that can be improved and isn't, thanks to basic human irrationality, which is what we combat here.
Also, yes, this post makes my political leanings fairly clear, but I'm open to alternative viewpoints and actively seek them. I also don't intend to write any propaganda, as such. Just to examine ideas, and scenarios, for the sake of writing a compelling story, with wide audience appeal. The idea is to raise awareness of the Singularity as something rather imminent ("Summer's Coming"), and cause (or at least help prepare) normal people to question the wonders and dangers thereof, rationally.
It's a frighteningly ambitious, long-term challenge, I am terribly aware of that. And the first thing I'll need to read is a style-book, to correct my horrendous grasp of standard acceptable writing (and not seem arrogant by doing anything else), so please feel free to recommend as many books and blog articles and other material as you like. I'll take my time going though it all.
As Eliezer makes the point that real utopias will be scary - certainly more scary that my latest attempt. Mainly they will be scary because they'll be different, and humans don't like different, and it's vital that the authors realise this if they want to create a realistic scenario. It's necessary to craft a world where we would be out of place.
But it's important to remember that utopias will not be scary for the people living there - the aspects that we find scary at the beginning of the 21st century are not what the locals will be afraid of (put your hand up if you are currently terrified that the majority of women can vote in modern democracies). Scary is in the observer, not the territory.
This is a special challenge when writing a fictional utopia. Dystopias and flawed utopias are much easier to write than utopias; when you can drop an anvil on your protagonist whenever you feel like it, then the tension and interest are much easier to sustain. And the scary parts of utopia are a cheap and easy way of dropping anvils: the reader thrills to this frightening and interesting concept, start objecting/agreeing/thinking about and with it. But it's all ok, you think, it's not dystopia, it's just a scary utopia; you can get your thrills without going astray.
But all that detracts from your real mission, which is to write a utopia that is genuinely good for the people in it, and would be genuinely interesting to read about even if it weren't scary. I found this particularly hard, and I'd recommend that those who write utopias do a first draft or summary without any scary bits in it - if this doesn't feel interesting on its own, then you've failed.
Then when you do add the scary bits, make sure they don't suck all the energy out of your story, and make sure you emphasise that the protagonists find these aspects commonplace rather than frightening. There is a length issue - if your story is long, you can afford to put more scary bits in, and even make the reader start seeing them just as the locals do, without the main point being swallowed up. If your story's short, however, I'd cut down on the scary radically: if "rape is legal" and you only have a few pages, then that's what most people are going to remember about your story. The scariness is a flavouring, not the main dish.