[Request blog post from Stuart Armstrong, who prompted me to write about a utopia. I interpreted that statement to mean “Ozy’s utopia which is designed for Ozy”; if this really bothers you, imagine that there are lots of other interesting cities doing things differently elsewhere. I am blatantly ignoring scientific plausibility here.]
I wake up on my own when the sun is beginning to turn the horizon pink. We have, of course, figured out how to skip sleep without any penalties to mental and physical health, and many people never sleep, but I enjoy the dreamy feeling of falling asleep and waking up, and so make sure to set aside two or three hours a day for sleep.
I look at myself in the mirror. My body is smooth and hairless, except for my eyebrows and the hair on my scalp; those are naturally silver. Thanks to our awesome transition tech, my chest is flat and muscular, my features androgynous. I make a note that my semipermanent backpiece– a tribute to Lucifer from Paradise Lost– is starting to fade, and I should either get it touched up or decide what I want to replace it with. I dress in blue jeans, a black T-shirt, and a leather jacket (it was, of course, grown in a vat; we don’t eat cows).
I wave at my housemate, who’s eating a muffin for breakfast. I don’t have to eat breakfast, because my NutriPump gives me a steady stream of calories through the night. I woke up comfortably full. I usually set it to turn off during the day, because I like eating lunch and dinner, but when I’m really absorbed into a project I will skip eating entirely. My housemate prefers to get all her calories from food, so she sets her NutriPump just to monitor and correct any nutritional deficiencies.
Our house is designed for group living. We each have our own apartments with a bathroom and a private study/workroom, but the kitchen and living room are shared. Architects designed the house to maximize the possibility that housemates would run into each other in the common areas, to promote incidental socialization. I don’t know exactly how they did it, because I haven’t studied architecture yet.
My other housemate comes down, yawning sleepily. He likes having more money than most people do– I think it mostly goes to hiring a maid once a week and to his habit of leaving hundred-dollar bills on street corners to watch people be ecstatic about finding them. So he works one of the absolutely necessary jobs that most people won’t do for free. He monitors an automated shoe factory. It turns out tens of thousands of shoes a day and has three employees.
I make myself my morning cup of green tea and open my laptop, which has an automatically generated to-do list in the corner of the screen.
My first activity of the day is exercise. We haven’t quite figured out how to do without exercise yet. Honestly, I think it’s just lack of motivation: most people get plenty of exercise from everyday life, such as by walking or biking to and from public transit stops, playing with kids or dogs, and active hobbies like cooking and gardening. (Of course, we also have nifty accommodations for the physically disabled, including those who are tired by walking a long way. No one looks at you funny if you’re using an electric scooter or wheelchair.)
But I personally like the feeling of achieving something I couldn’t before, so I head to my workroom to do some tumbling, gymnastics, and yoga. The nearest gym is ten minutes away and I don’t like having to travel that far, so my workroom is mostly set up for exercise. We have really good soundproofing, so I’m not waking the downstairs neighbors. I enjoy how strong and capable my body is. I’m not as transhuman as a lot of people, but I have been modified for grace and strength.
After exercise, I check in with a friend who’s recently gone through a bad breakup. We haven’t managed to eliminate romantic travails; sometimes you love someone who just doesn’t love you back. But we’ve made it easier in a lot of ways: everyone has friends; our appearances are modifiable enough that you don’t have to be single just because you’re ugly. There’s the safety that you’re probably going to find someone, which eases heartbreak; no one is ever your only chance at love. And it makes me feel good to be able to help someone. I listen to my friend talk about their feelings for a while, then agree to get lunch next week.
I work on my homework for a bit. I’m a bit of a perpetual college student. Right now I’m taking Latin, discrete mathematics, history of medicine, and quantum physics. The class is mostly online, with in-person discussion sections at a coffeeshop twice a week; of course, that’s just what I prefer, and there are a bunch of different classes for people who learn things in different ways.
I do some writing. I’m working on an extremely obscure fanfiction with an audience of four people. But honestly becoming more famous would just be tiring. I’m happy pleasing four of my friends and maybe another person who stumbles across it and finds it wonderful.
I’ve put it off long enough: it’s time to start preparing for the festival. We might not have quite as many holidays as a medieval peasant, but it’s definitely getting close, and our holidays are far more elaborate. Some people do nothing but plan and execute holiday festivals. It seems incredibly tiring and stressful to me, but they just seem to thrive on it.
The upcoming festival is for Geek Pride Day, and I’m signed up to improv a character (they’re from a modern movie, you wouldn’t have heard of it). I run through my spaced repetition deck of obscure facts about my character’s backstory; there’s always one person who takes pride in tripping you up. I note down a few more lines I might want to try using; it’s always a good idea to have some patter scripted out for those routine conversations. My female housemate is making my costume, which is good, because I don’t have a head for crafts.
That evening, I check on my child in the artificial womb. He still kind of looks like a freaky alien, but his vital signs are fine. I pet the glass of his womb; although I know it’s just a reflex reaction, I imagine that he’s waving at me.
Once my son is born, I’m going to set aside a lot of things I currently do to focus on him. That isn’t required, of course; children grow up fine if their parents have lots of hobbies, or even a full-time job of thirty hours a week. But I think it’s really cool to watch a person grow and show him all the good things about the world, and I’d like to be able to focus on that. And it’s not like my projects can’t be put on the backburner. I work a lot because I like to, but most of my work doesn’t pay; I live on my basic income.
Outside the hospital, I meet my girlfriend. She’s a scientist. She’s free to work on whatever interests her, without having to scramble for grant money or p-hack results out of her experiments; all her papers are freely available to anyone who wants to read them. For this reason, we’ve made a lot more scientific discoveries than we did in the past. We gossip about how the crowdfunding of CERN’s latest particle accelerator is going. Particle accelerators are expensive enough that they can’t fund it from their basic incomes, the way my girlfriend buys her chemicals. But it looks like there are enough science fanboys with spare cash that it’ll get funded.
We walk two blocks and go past five or six excellent little restaurants, before eventually deciding we want to go to the salad place. We live in a dense city, so there’s a restaurant to cater to any taste within walking distance. The salad place is owned by a guy who really really likes making salads. There are also automated restaurants with fast but predictably crappy food, produced by machine. Of course you order with an app and pick up the food yourself. Waiters get paid more than my housemate the factory manager does, and thus are only employed at the sort of restaurant where the bill comes to a thousand dollars or so.
I’d love to linger over our salads, but my phone dings to remind me that a movie I wanted to see is out today. My girlfriend and I go to watch it together.
Normally my girlfriend and I would take a late-night walk, but at midnight tonight there’s a show out on the water. It’s pretty crowded, and if you want a good seat you have to cough up a few hundred bucks; people have enough disposable income that inherently scarce things get really really expensive. But there’s always a lot of standing room, and it still looks beautiful from far away.
An orchestra plays. Lights glitter. Fountains shoot water into the air. A mist descends, and rainbow lights dance across it; they resolve into clips of nature, famous movies, the stars. Fireworks explode in the background. The creators are free from worries about hunger, thirst, homelessness, disease; they are free to do whatever they want, and they choose to make beautiful things, to pursue excellence and art for art’s sake, to make things that others marvel at and to marvel at others’ creations in return.
Taymon A. Beal said:
Why aren’t there robot maids? Tech level too low?
There are robot maids, which most people use, but he wants a human maid for some reason.
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Good news for your utopia – the pill for exercise may be closer than you think. Mammals are actually somewhat unusual in their exercise response – most ectotherms have little to none (exercise never cause improvement, except some limited evidence of small enurance gains), but some birds seem to have the ability to gain all the benefits of exercise without doing anything in particular (this usually occurs immediately prior to migration). I’m aware of some rodent trials showing promising results already.
Ha, I was going to post about this as well! Recent article on the subject: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/06/a-pill-to-make-exercise-obsolete
(Really though, the pretty strong body modification thing seems to contradict “We haven’t quite figured out how to do without exercise yet.” Remember — getting stronger and such in response to exercise, and the reverse, isn’t some law of physics or something; it’s an evolved response to avoid wasting energy on muscles you don’t use. As such, there has to be some way of replicating the effect manually.)
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The disclaimer said I was blatantly ignoring scientific plausibility!
The actual motivation for this is that I personally have much less of a grudge against “people have to exercise” than “people have to eat and sleep, having a baby involves having to be pregnant, transition tech sucks, and I personally have motor skills disabilities,” so my utopia continues to have exercise but not the other things. 😛
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Yes, I just sort of implicitly assumed you meant blatantly ignoring scientific plausibility in the direction of assuming more things are possible, rather than fewer. 😛
A utopia where there is still the necessity for exercise would be a dystopia for me, so make it “people who like for some strange reason to torture themselves have the right and facilities to engage in self-torture sessions while the rest of the sensible populace just take [Magic Procedure for Good Results of Exercise Without Exercise] and go everywhere in their personal transport pods which both protect them from the weather and allow them to carry loads that are more than they can carry in their arms” and it is more my speed 🙂
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This made me so so happy
This gave me the warm fuzzies 😀
It’s good to have more of these utopias floating around, so we can see a world to aim for.
PS: this is Stuart, which I realised was not immediately obvious from the avatar.
It’s absurd to create emotionally loaded images of scientifically implausible utopias “so we can see a world to aim for”.
That’s not realism, it’s a bait-and-switch tactic.
The real future will contain considerable amounts of injustice and victimization of innocent individuals without their consent, including severe torture. Hell, even in this utopia, the kid in the pod is a non-consenting participant who never got a choice in the matter and will suffer years of non-autonomy in this system. They didn’t even thing of relying on the copying of consenting self-aware entities instead.
Also this scenario falls short of many of the things that are used as a justification by x-risk reducers why we shoudn’t care about the torture and victimization implied in the x-risk reduction narrative, e.g. it falls massively short on generating pleasure or happiness. Which means it doesn’t even have the usual utilitarian rationalization why victimizing more innocents is allegedly moral.
I don’t blame Ozy for writing a fantasy how they would want to live, and the real future will be even less utopian than this. But this is not worth torturing any innocent vicitms over, let alone the expected quintillions that the x-risk reducers tell us we should accept as real-world collateral damage.
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But we’ve made it easier in a lot of ways: everyone has friends
And that’s the usual problem with utopias: the creators assume huge underlying problems have been solved then obsess over details (what wages are waiters paid?)
How does “everyone has friends” work? Because that ain’t happening in our current world, so I’d like to know how that was solved. Compulsory friends – everyone is assigned a random draw of three people that they must be friends with (for social harmony purposes)? Paid companions – it’s a job to be a Professional Friend and you get trained and licenced just like a therapist? Everyone has been given gene therapy pre-birth to make them all sufficiently extraverted and likeable and gregarious that they make friends? Psychotherapy and counselling for post-birth people who can’t make friends themselves naturally? Personality modification – this is getting into sinister waters now – everyone is modified to have maximally agreeable personalities so there is no friction or individual differences that would result from someone being naturally prickly, aloof, reserved or shy? Would you like to be modified so your personality as it presently exists would be the “improved” version that fits for maximum social harmony and socialisation, Ozy? I wouldn’t!
“We’ve cracked the problem of loneliness, no bother, never mind how we did that, now let’s talk in detail about exactly how we can get a salad in the Future Utopia!”
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I know that comes across as snarky but “in the future, restaurants are run by people who like cooking” – no, really? Just like today! “Everyone has friends” – so tell me more about this and less about “people who like making salads tend to make salads so if you want a salad, you can go to a place run by a guy who likes making salads, if you don’t want to make a salad for yourself”.
The answer is “this post is full of things which are personally salient to me, and as it happens right now ‘people have to do work they hate’ is really salient, so I sketched out what a society where people didn’t have to do that would be like.”
With regards to the “no friends” issue: American society (and I believe Anglosphere society more broadly, although I have less ability to speak to that) is set up in a lot of ways to make friendship more difficult. People work long hours, people live in single-family homes with huge yards which means that seeing friends is a huge endeavor, people are far more likely to watch television than to go to a bowling alley or a coffeeshop or a book group, and intimate male friendship is often highly stigmatized. (Notably, people are far less likely to be friendless in college than later in adult life.) So a huge chunk of the problem is solved by not making it ridiculously hard to have friends.
I think there’s also a role for specific programs targeting friendlessness. My understanding is that many countries, including Britain, have already begun fairly successful programs for groups at high risk of friendlessness, such as elderly men, where the government subsidizes the creation of sports teams, book groups, etc.; those ought to be expanded. I can imagine the creation (and destigmatization!) of something quite like a dating site, but for friends; this seems like a natural outgrowth of the culture actually valuing friendship in the way it currently values romantic relationships. That helps the people who have very unusual preferences, for whom finding friends is mostly a very complicated matching problem. Access to high-quality therapy and medication for the socially phobic is probably going to help a lot. In the worst-case scenario, I suspect befriending lonely people would be a fairly common volunteer opportunity; of course, people who are friends with you out of altruism are far worse than regular friends, but it could be a way of bootstrapping yourself to actual friendship.
Do I think that would solve literally 100% of friendlessness? Probably not. But I suspect it could reduce friendlessness to maybe a thousandth of what it is right now, which is something I’m pretty comfortable rounding off to “everyone has friends.”
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Man, I would hate this utopia. I don’t like having to decide what to do with myself, and I thrive on externally-imposed chaos. I like that my job is hard, keeps me really busy, and has set expectations about when I need to be there. I don’t think I’m a complete anomaly here — I think some flow-related research shows that people are least happy on Sunday mornings, when they don’t know what to do, and actually pretty happy at work.
I’m not complaining! I enjoyed reading this. I’m just fascinated by how different people’s preferences can be.
Ozy, if you haven’t, you might enjoy reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Pacific Edge, which is his attempt to realistically imagine a utopian society.