What the future will look like

post by avantika.mehra · 2021-11-14T00:54:47.866Z · EA · GW · 3 comments

The alarm rings — gentle, cascading sounds, increasing gradually in volume, to softly rouse you from your REM cycle. The sound radiates from micro-speakers distributed around your room; the 360° soundscape makes it sound like the walls are singing, beckoning you to take on a new day.

You wake up rejuvenated, and peel off the neuro-pellets from the side of your head, that quietly stimulated delta-waves in your brain through the stages of deepest sleep, accelerating cognitive regeneration while you explored a different world — one that hasn’t been touched by humans yet.

“Aliza, play today’s Robinhood Snacks podcast,” you tell your voice-enabled smart-home device, one that you built yourself in minutes from a DIY-kit you found online, because you know better than to install big-tech listening devices in your own home.

The podcast continues to play as you enter the bathroom — the audio syncs across the house, switching on and off as you enter each room to conserve energy. Speaking of energy, you wonder how much you saved yesterday. You click into an app, and a giant dashboard tells you you hit this month’s goals — “Huzzah! Check your texts for a special reward.” Amazing, they’ve sent you $10 in cryptocurrency for being a good energy citizen.

Your phone knows what to do with rewards — you’ve trained it well to manage personal finances. 10% goes to your favourite social cause — AI Safety Research. You volunteer with a local nonprofit that is working to keep humans and machines safe from each other by aligning their goals, and you’re their top contributor. 50% is distributed across your investment portfolio with predetermined weighting, and you use the remaining 40% to invest in metaverse assets — last time you bought a tiny bit of land in Decentraland-Iceland, and it’s looking beautiful, so you buy a few more square-feet. In September, the developers ship property-owners special VR-headsets that click into your neuro-pellets, creating the most dazzling multisensory Northern Lights experience, transporting you to the 2020s when the lights were scintillant and unclouded by pollution and space-dust.

The podcast ends, and you add a small tip for the creators before going to make breakfast — people who don’t tip creators are so rude, you think. The fridge displays the recommended breakfast items — based on your caloric history, the weather, and your previous meals — but you pick frozen waffles because it’s Friday and it’s been a long week. Quickly you project different outfits on ARfit, a closet assistant that shows you what you would look like in a range of outfit combinations — you only go into the office once a week, so you want to look good. Ugh. You forgot to order this week’s fit, so you call the nearest warehouse listed on lastminute.com and ask for expedited shipping on item-number JS823GJ. Ten minutes and a two toasted waffles later, it is at your doorstep. The vacuum-packing inside the delivery drone left the shirt creased… you shrug. Nothing a bit of steam-ironing can’t fix.

Your phone beeps, the calendar app reminding you to call a driverless car for pickup. But a beautiful summer day awaits, and you can’t think of a reason not to enjoy it. It is decided — you will walk to work.

You put on your AR-enabled glasses — they’re fancier than what you would usually wear, but that they were solar-powered and DuckDuckGo-enabled justified the purchase. You see a homeless man across the street, outside the Safeway, an AR QR-code hovering above his head. You surreptitiously scan it with your phone, and it takes you directly to checkout, with a meal in the cart, ready for delivery to his precise geolocation. Why not, you reason, completing the anonymous one-click checkout.

The next street is lined with shops of all kinds, selling everything imaginable — groceries, clothes, shoes, antiques, toys… toys! It’s your niece’s birthday tomorrow, and the little AR Cryptopuppy bobbing up and down in the window is adorable. “How much for the doggy in the window,” you chuckle, and click it to find out. “Enjoy the little blockchain-based collectible,” you write in the message at checkout, and schedule-send it to her for tomorrow.

As you continue your walk, the morning sun dances on the sidewalk in crescent-shadows, an omnipresent reminder of the massive coordinated effort between world superpowers to harness the energy of the sun to power the millions of servers and central-processing units that make the world go round. For a second it hits you — the scale at which humanity is operating, the audacity of the species to interface directly with the Sun, the technological prowess your generation has inherited from millennia of humans preparing for such conquests, and you are distracted by the wafting aroma of fresh bread.

“Enough capitalism for today”, you decide, as you click off your AR-glasses, and get ready for a new day of work.

The purpose of this vignette is to provide a techno-optimistic vision of the future. Too often, futuristic fiction focuses on machines as the centerpiece of the narrative. Or human characters' lives are no longer relatable, because advanced technologies have radically transformed them. The disparity in experience and relatability between readers and characters can cast a dystopian shadow on the futuristic universe, making frontier-tech seem unattractive - almost creepy.

The vignette shows that advanced technology can substantially improve the quality of human life without radically disrupting it, and serves as a symbol for what can be achieved if we continue to prioritise the safe development of technological systems.

We need human-centered, techno-optimistic literature to frame the scope of possibility for future creators.


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comment by MarcSerna · 2021-11-14T08:53:12.942Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I really liked the story. Think of doing more!

Replies from: avantika.mehra
comment by avantika.mehra · 2021-11-14T21:49:28.981Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, appreciate the comment! :)

comment by dogcomplex · 2021-11-15T03:55:05.875Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A bit too much crypto jargon - hopefully by then we will have gotten over micro-commoditization enough that both the buzz words and perhaps even the payments themselves simply blend into the background, following a attention-based social-democracy policy you set long ago which you never have to think much about after.

Also, how much could it possibly cost to buy an AR cryptopuppy program anyway? It should be basically free when so easily replicable, even if the creator was making huge profits om their time spent. Everything in this story should be basically free for that matter - and the homeless man should be able to get that meal without asking, when its true cost is probably fractions of a penny when energy is that plentiful. I'm fine with the libertarian micro-payment future only insofar as it makes things more efficient and removes middlemen price gouging, but that's not the case when it's creating NFT DecentraLand artificial-scarcity IP detached from reality - that's just asking for a new dystopia. By this point prices for anything on the human-level should be so crazy low as to not need thinking about for anything society can produce without realistic scarcity concerns (which would be very few things below geoengineering-level, if we're already at Dyson spheres/swarms). I do see money continuing as a social-score kind of thing by then, but that should be almost completely divorced from material scarcity unless we do something very very dumb.

Those rants aside, great vignette and yes these optimistic future visions are important! I personally think you're not far off - just a question of time. The crypto stuff might even be a nearer future thing, though I expect it'll be a lot more dystopian, especially as it interfaces with both our current system and our current scarcities, while opening new doors for deregulation.