Utopia and dystopia

Founders Fund recently released a podcast series called Anatomy of Next. The series consists of 5 sessions, one on each of nuclear energy, biological engineering, robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

There are two common themes which unite each of these areas. The first is that the adoption of these technologies each represents a big change from our current status quo. The second is that they each carry the potential for big positive and negative outcomes.

However, when the potential for big change comes together with the possibility for big positive and negative outcomes, we tend to focus our attention on the downside risks rather than the upside potential. Big change means moving into the unknown, and our fear of the unknown makes us default to thinking about the negative outcomes.

The podcasts attempt to go beyond this default inclination by highlighting not only the dystopian, but also the utopian possibilities brought about by each of these technologies. For example, nuclear energy could destroy the world, but it also has the power to solve our energy problem. Biological engineering could create a race of superhumans that dominate over non-superhumans, but it could also be used to cure all sorts of diseases. Robots could kill us, or they could take care of our repetitive tasks so that we focus on creative ones. Virtual reality could turn us into isolated individuals who try to escape the real world, or it could provide us with a great source of entertainment while also letting people interact with others thousands of miles away in a way that allows for many more use cases than the phone and video calls that are currently available to us.

Most important, as the podcasts emphasize, it is humans who will decide which outcomes will prevail. As Irish statesman¬†Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

You can listen to each of the podcasts here.

Also published on Medium.