balance

I've spent the last year thinking about what I want to spend my life doing. It stemmed from thinking about what I want the world to become. I woke up a lot of mornings not convinced that what I was going to do that day was ultimately useful to humanity. There was no way I could continue living life like that.

What I'll actually spend my life doing partly depends on what can realistically be done and what I am capable of doing. But my priorities, and the tradeoffs, remain the same.

My large-scale priorities, in vague order:

  • Help humans get their needs met
  • Achieve human equity
  • Stop killing animals
  • Stop destroying Earth for funsies

The corresponding large-scale goals:

  • Implement baseline food, shelter, health care, education, and other needs
  • Convince society to destroy structural discrimination / Pass basic human protections
  • Make synthetic meat and leather / Pass basic animal protections
  • Develop space exploration and terraforming

My personal priorities, in vague order:

  • Make useful sh*t
  • Make cool sh*t
  • Bridge worlds
  • Be healthy

My corresponding personal goals:

  • Develop applications that help underserved communities get their basic needs met or help influence action to improve conditions for them
  • Make art / Produce music / Write novels
  • Connect very different people
  • Exercise / Eat plants / Learn martial arts

The ever-loving and trusting idealist in me still believes helping other humans will ultimately result in a better world, so that's at the top. If you help others meet their basic needs, there will be more people who can also think about how they can improve the world and do some of these other things. Maybe not all of them would be able or willing to do so, but some of them would, and that's more than there were before.

Making art is actually part of staying healthy. I realized a long time ago that my mind starts to unravel when I go for too long without writing or making art or music. It's both a creative outlet and a way to leave something for others to enjoy long after I'm gone.

There are secondary personal priorities, like making enough money to cover expenses, or supporting a family. Many people choose to make those priorities their main focus in life. I am clearly not one of them. I accept that I may have to dial down some of my main priorities to address those. But as long as I am able to, I'd like to focus on helping humanity at large, because anything less ambitious may not get me out of bed every morning.

about robots taking people's jobs

I'm not opposed to the idea of robots taking over dangerous manual jobs. I'm not even opposed to the idea of robots taking over creative or technical jobs. I'm just opposed to people blindly trying to make that happen as soon as possible, before any societal provisions are put in place for the people whose jobs will be taken.

I don't believe in meritocracy. I'm not in favor of economic or intellectual Darwinism. It assumes that only the smartest or most resourceful should survive, and it also assumes an even playing field for all involved. "If someone's manufacturing job will be taken by a robot, they should just learn the skills needed to get a better one," say people from well-off families who have never tried to master a skill while hungry, or while working a low-wage job 16 hours a day.

I'm all for robots taking our jobs, but before that, we need our society to function without jobs at all. We need to set it up so that no one needs to spend their entire life working at a place they don't really care about just to feed themselves and their families.

We need get our world to a place where no one has to work to stay alive. Once that happens, bring on the robots.

seeing the future

I moonlight as a fiction writer. I've been writing stories since kindergarten. As a middle schooler, I wrote a lot of science fiction. That whole imaginary worlds thing tapered off as I grew up and figured out how to deal with other people by writing about theoretical human drama. I'm glad I finally got back into science fiction; it's a lot more fun to imagine new concepts than it is to plot out the interactions between angsty teenagers.

Over the past several months, I've been working on a novel set almost a century into the future (at the very least). I call it my keitai novel because I've been writing it mostly on my phone during subway rides to and from the office. It's a little tricky to extrapolate current trends and research into what will actually happen a hundred years from now. But I remind myself that even Jules Verne and Gene Roddenberry didn't get everything right about the future, and they made up for it by illustrating the possibilities so enticingly that people decades and centuries later have taken it upon themselves to work toward substantiating the futures they described.

Some of the ideas I'm incorporating are a little more straightforward and technical, like bioencryption and the laws governing autonomous artificial intelligence. (Of course, the AIs don't call themselves that because they don't consider themselves "artificial".) But I've added other details that were extrapolated and analogized from current events, such as China descending into civil war, which means huge numbers of refugees with manufacturing and engineering expertise are fleeing China and turning stateless-- communities ripe for an alliance with rebel AIs that need people to repair them, and to help them enter the international political scene with some clout. Other details are largely visual and philosophical: this is a world where virtual/augmented reality glasses (VARGs) are widespread, and young people wear them all the time, adding a layer of psychedelic gamified nonsense on top of everything they experience.

It's fun thinking up what might be in store for humankind, but that's not really what this novel is about. To be an effective writer, I have to drop all of this history during the course of the story and not let it get in the way of the plot; I can't explain everything outright like I did above, because that would interrupt the novel's flow and believability. I think the best science fiction writers manage to convey a completely different world mostly in passing-- for example, William Gibson might drop a stray detail during a conversation that implies an entire war happened decades before the characters met. I want to create a future that can draw readers all the way in like that, but also compel them to dream about what's possible in the world we actually live in, and how to get from point A to point B.