A reason to see the future

post by Eneasz · 2014-09-05T19:33:42.298Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 22 comments

I just learned of The Future Library project. In short, famous authors will be asked to write new, original fiction that will not be released until 2114. First one announced was Margaret Atwood, of The Handmaiden's Tale fame.

I learned of this when a friend posted on Facebook that "I'm officially looking into being cryogenically frozen due to The Future Library project. See you all in 2114." She meant it as a joke, but after a couple comments she now knows about CI, and she didn't yesterday.

What's one of the most common complaints we hear from Deathists? The future is unknown and scary and there won't be anything there they'd be interested in anyway. Now there will be, if they're Atwood fans.

What's one of the ways artists who give away most of their work (almost all of them nowadays) try to entice people to pay for their albums/books/games/whatever? Including special content that is only available for people who pay (or who pay more). Now there is special content only available for people who are around post-2113.

Which got me to thinking... could we incentivize seeing the future? I know it sounds kinda silly ("What, escaping utter annihilation isn't incentive enough??"), but it seems possible that we could save lives by compiling original work from popular artists (writers, musicians, etc), sealing it tight somewhere, and promising to release it in 100, 200, maybe 250 years. And of course, providing links to cryo resources with all publicity materials.

Would this be worth pursuing? Are there any obvious downsides, aside from cost & difficulty?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by orthonormal · 2014-09-05T20:39:36.207Z · score: 38 (38 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do not tempt Eliezer to make the last chapter of HPMOR available only in the event of a positive Singularity.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-09-05T20:48:12.194Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right, it should only be available to people who have signed up for cryonics.

comment by AlexSchell · 2014-09-07T18:47:09.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I have signed this cryonics contract" isn't perfectly correlated with "I will be around after time t", so to get the incentives right he should just make it available far in the future.

comment by Dorikka · 2014-09-06T15:32:09.429Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I...think you just went a long way towards doing that. ;)

comment by CellBioGuy · 2014-09-07T15:42:55.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excellent, now we get 80 different endings from second-order fanfiction writers!

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-09-05T21:14:09.769Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nah, he'll finish and release HPMOR soon enough. It's Tengen Toppa Rationality 40K he's saving for that case.

comment by MaximumLiberty · 2014-09-05T23:13:03.120Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This proposal seems like taking advantage of something like the conjunction fallacy. The conjunction fallacy is where you assign a higher probability to more specific conditions than you do to more general conditions. I think that happens because people are more easily able to construct a story with more specific facts. Here, I think the fallacy is placing greater value on a future benefit that is specific than one does on the entire class of future benefits that includes the specific one. "I want to be alive in 2114 so that I can read that great Atwood book" is logically less valuable than "I want to be alive in 2114 so that I can experience all of the valuable things that I chose to experience then." But it is a whole lot easier to anticipate and set a value on reading that one book. Or, put another way, it is harder to get lost before coming to a conclusion when looking at the specific.

But maybe I am wrong about the basis of the conjunction fallacy. I couldn't find a name for the specific cognitive bias I think I see here. Nor could I find a name for the more general class that would include both the conjunction fallacy and this thing. I assign a high probability to me missing relevant information simply because I'm ignorant of where to look.

To net all of that out, I am thinking that it would be an effective tactic to market surviving into the distant future by promising very specific benefits.

Max L.

comment by Roxolan · 2014-09-06T11:24:00.535Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it's a logical fallacy at all. I mean, anyone who changes their mind about cryonics because of the promise of future Margaret Atwood is probably not being very rational, but formally there's nothing wrong with that reasoning.

I'm an Atwood-reading robot. I exist only to read every Margaret Atwood novel. I expect to outlive her, so the future holds nothing of value to me. No need for cryonics. Oh but what's this? A secret Atwood novel to be released in 2114? Sign me up! I'll go back to suicidal apathy after I've read the 2114 novel.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-07T17:06:26.749Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Instead of what the future offers me, I will enjoy all that I have to offer to the future. That includes tomorrow, but some distant days as well.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-09-06T14:04:56.187Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly, I would say all (or almost all; extremes tend to be tricky) discussion of "why cryonics" is just incentivizing seeing the future contrasted with the disadvantages of signing up or not signing up. So far as I can think, any reason given for signing up, no matter how trite, involves an incentive to see the future.

Want to be cured from a disease (be it AIDS or death)? See the future. Want to experience a post-Singularity world? See the future. Want to not be utterly annihilated for eternity? See the future.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying your point is bad. I think we should take time, when discussing cryonics, to emphasize the good reasons for sticking around for the future. Most of us probably aren't signing up just cause we're afraid of death and we want a teddy bear to hold when we die. Cryonics isn't just an alternative to believing in an afterlife, and treating it as such is fatal. So, I think we should discuss the incentives for seeing the future. We already do that around here quite a bit.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-12T20:39:18.022Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics isn't just an alternative to believing in an afterlife, and treating it as such is fatal.

I think cryonics as highest-probability afterlife is the biggest reason. That does dwarf everything else.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-09-06T04:53:34.263Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But why would I want to read one of Margaret Atwood's books? Although there might be some humor value in contrasting her estimates about what the target audience for her books will be like with how history actually turns out.

comment by shminux · 2014-09-06T07:25:06.258Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake is actually well worth the read.

comment by Eneasz · 2014-09-06T05:48:44.331Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

200 years from now, you probably wouldn't even want to read any of Eliezer's books (or whoever your favorite author is right now). I'm fairly convinced all fiction is contemporary and fades in relevance in a matter of decades. But would a promise today of another Eliezer work in the future motivate you to sign up for cryo?

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-09-06T11:18:11.854Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People regularly enjoy reading (slight adaptations of) ancient Greek literature.

Some people enjoy literature that's even older, but those myths tend to be confusing due to a complete lack of similar reference frames and tropes that are unrecognizable to us.

That's about as far as I remember fiction being documented, but when told skillfully, "the story of when Graak singlehandedly killed a woolly rhino" might also be rather compelling.

comment by Vulture · 2014-09-07T18:14:53.449Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read (a rather patchy translation of) the Epic of Gilgamesh and found it pretty gripping.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-09-06T06:17:01.100Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because it's not like anybody today reads books from over 200 years ago.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-12T20:37:48.571Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of fiction which is popular when it is contemporary is not read 200 years later, but that's not a sign that fiction is contemporary and loses perceived value over time, it's a corollary of Sturgeon's Law. 90% of everything is crap, and that extends to 'fiction which is currently popular'. No one thinks that Twilight will be popular and lasting; the penny-dreadfuls and most Victorian novels weren't. Dickens was, though. Most of the plays of the Elizabethan era were bland and samey, and other than Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, only Shakespeare has had any lasting popularity.

What exactly will be lasting and popular from our time, I don't know; it probably won't include Eliezer or Harry Potter. But some things will; that's reliably true.

comment by Eneasz · 2014-09-15T02:02:07.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, but honestly, try reading Dickens or Shakespeare today. Maybe I'm just an uncultured philistine, but it's not what I would call good. If they weren't so highly regarded I'd never choose to read them myself, and certainly wouldn't recommend them to friends.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-09-15T09:27:48.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For DIckens, I'm totally with you. His style doesn't suit modern tastes at all, and I'm unclear on why he continues to be well regarded. Shakespeare, though, is absolutely accessible to modern audiences and still very good, when read correctly; unfortunately, grade school English teachers rarely do, and most people never have any other experience with him. The language can be a small stumbling block, but the comedies particularly have very little that actually gets in the way (also, you can assume anything you don't understand is a sexual pun, and you'll be right about 80% of the time). To be fair, I'm a linguistics geek and may enjoy the archaic double-entendres more than most, but Beatrice and Benedick's snark-sniping in Much Ado About Nothing remains hilarious regardless of culture.

comment by zereyaqob · 2014-09-08T08:09:38.932Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's an interesting thing to do but I must also point out that at some point singularity will boom and the work of today's artist or writer would be of small value to the society in a couple of decades. We also don't know how the future will shape up so the chances of producing something worth providing for the future is in doubt. But it's totally do-able for the coming 3-5 years.

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-09-06T02:55:09.382Z · score: -3 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought about saying that I want to see "the future" because Neoreaction might succeed and I would find myself in a high-tech aristocracy right out of 20th Century science fiction. But then I remembered something I saw on TV in what must sound like the before-times to you youngsters. I watched this miniseries about the Holocaust in 1978, during my last semester of high school:


I remember a scene where one of the characters in a women's concentration camp says she wanted to survive the war because she anticipated that Europe would become Communist, and thus according to her beliefs, she would find herself in more socially equitable environment. It didn't quite work out that way after a few decades, however.

If I had to bet on social trends over the next 300 years, I would favor something like Neoreaction as the social model because the Enlightenment's social model in the bigger pictures deviates from long term norms, while Neoreaction has something like regression to the mean working in its favor. This prospect must put the feminist women who have signed up for cryonics in an interesting predicament: Do they want to survive, only to spend their resumed lives in a conservative, patriarchal society which wouldn't tolerate the behavior they took for granted in the early 21st Century?