The Future of Life Institute (FLI) invites individuals and teams to compete for a prize purse worth $100,000+ by designing visions of a plausible, aspirational future including artificial general intelligence.
This post gives an overview of the contest and our reasons for running it. For full details on how to enter, visit worldbuild.ai.
What is Worldbuilding?
Worldbuilding is the art and science of constructing a coherent and relatively detailed fictitious world. It is frequently practised by creative writers and scriptwriters, providing the context and backdrop for stories that take place in future, fantasy or alternative realities.
Overview of the Worldbuilding Contest
This contest challenges entrants to use worldbuilding to explore possible futures for our own world.
Worldbuilding in this context is not prediction so builds need not reflect the most probable scenarios but they must be a) plausible, b) aspirational and c) consistent with a set of ground rules:
- The year is 2045.
- AGI has existed for at least 5 years.
- Technology is advancing rapidly and AI is transforming the world sector by sector.
- The US, the EU and China have managed a steady, if uneasy, power equilibrium.
- India, Africa and South America are quickly on the rise as major players.
- Despite ongoing challenges, there have been no major wars or other global catastrophes.
- The world is not dystopian and the future is looking bright.
[Edit]: The ground rules are a set of assumptions designed to constrain the build in such a way that shifts participants' focus to figuring out how exactly we might avoid power upsets, wars, and catastrophes as AGI arrives; since these are precisely the challenges we will face in the near-future.
For definitions of plausible and aspirational, scroll to "Your Mission" here.
How to Enter
Applications comprise of four parts:
- A timeline from 2022 to 2045. For each year, you must you specify at least two events that occurred (e.g. “X invented”) and provide one data point (e.g. “GDP rises by 25%”). Participants are encouraged to fill all the data points on the timeline but entries will still be accepted and judged (though at a disadvantage) if fewer than 23 years are provided. Submissions will be disqualified if fewer than 10 years are provided.
- Two “day in the life” short stories of between 750 and 1000 words. These should recount a day in the life of an individual somewhere in the world in 2045. The stories can focus on the same individual or two different individuals.
- Answers to the following prompts. Each answer must be fewer than 250 words.
- AGI has existed for years but the world is not dystopian and humans are still alive. Given the risks of very high-powered AI systems, how has your world ensured that AGI has remained safe and controlled, at least so far?
- The dynamics of an AI-populated world may depend a lot on how AI capability is distributed. In your world, is there one AI system that is substantially more powerful than all others, or a few such systems? Or are there many top-tier AI systems of comparable capability? Or something else
- How has your world avoided major AI/AGI arms races and wars?
- In the US, the EU, and China, how and where is national decision-making power held, and how has the advent of advanced AI changed that, if at all? (max 500 words)
- Is the global distribution of wealth as measured by national or international gini coefficients more or less unequal than 2022’s, and by how much? How did it get that way?
- What is a major problem that AI has solved in your world and how did it do so?
- What is a new social institution that has played an important role in the development of your world?
- What is a new non-AI technology that has played an important role in the development of your world?
- What changes to the way countries govern the development and/or deployment and/or use of emerging technologies (including AI), if any, played an important role in the development of your world?
- Pick a sector of your choice (education, transport, energy, communication, finance, healthcare, tourism, aerospace, materials etc.) and describe how that sector was transformed with AI in your world.
- What is the life expectancy of the most wealthy 1% and of the least wealthy 20% of your world? How and why has this changed since 2022?
- In the US, considering the human rights enumerated in the UN declaration, which rights are better respected and which rights are worse respected in your world than in 2022? Why? How?
- In a second country of your choice, which rights are better and which rights are worse respected in your world than in 2022? Why? How?
- What’s been a notable trend in the way that people are finding fulfilment?
- One original non-text media piece, e.g. a piece of art, video, music, etc., that brings your built world to life through vivid visual and/or auditory storytelling. The piece must have been created after the launch of the contest (01/01/2022) and videos / pieces of music must be no longer than 5 minutes in length.
These four parts should cohere with one another, with (e.g.) the short stories referencing or explaining some of the institutions or technologies introduced in answers to the prompts.
The deadline to enter is 15 April 2022. Finalists will be announced on 15 May 2022 and the general public will be invited to give feedback. The winning builds will be announced on 15 June 2022.
Why FLI is pursuing this project
FLI is frequently pegged as an "existential risk organisation" (or something to that effect) but reducing expected large-scale (catastrophic, extinction, dystopic) risks from transformative technologies represents only half of the organisation's mission. We also aim to promote the development and use of these technologies to benefit all life on Earth. The worldbuilding contest is in large part inspired by this second part of the mission.
We have four main goals for this project:
- Encourage people to start thinking about the future in more positive terms.
- Receive inspiration for our real-world policy efforts and future projects to run / fund.
- Identify potential collaborators from outside of our existing network.
- Update our messaging strategy.
1. Thinking positively about the future
To be able to steer the technology's trajectory in a positive direction, we need to know what we're aiming for. To know what future we would most like, we must first imagine the kinds of futures we could plausibly have.
Unfortunately, not nearly enough effort goes into imagining what a good future might look like. Mainstream media tends to focus on the dystopias we could end up in. This contest seeks to change that by encouraging entrants, the FLI team and others to start thinking more optimistically.
We are still debating various options for scaling the competition's impact such that it can meaningfully influence perceptions and attitudes towards the future on a larger scale. Options include coordinating with screenwriters and film makers to produce fiction based on the winning builds and/or publishing some of the short stories in significant media forums / outlets.
2. Receive inspiration for our policy efforts and other projects
The contest requires entrants to submit relatively detailed roadmaps that span from the present day to (a desirable) 2045. We're hoping to receive some inspiration for our real-world policy efforts from these roadmaps, e.g. answers to questions like "how has your world avoided major AI/AGI arms races and wars?" and "how has your world ensured that AGI has remained safe and controlled?" may point towards some interesting policies that we could investigate and then possibly advocate for. There is precedent for this - several ongoing FLI policy initiatives were born at a previous worldbuilding event, the 2019 Augmented Intelligent Summit.
Similarly, and more broadly, these roadmaps may provide ideas for new projects / initiatives that FLI could run or fund.
3. Identify potential collaborators
We're always looking to discover and work with new and diverse talent from both within and beyond the EA and extreme risk communities. We're excited to connect with technical and policy-oriented individuals whose great ideas we might not have otherwise come across. We're also keen to uncover creatives as they're currently under-represented in our network and we're increasingly excited about the power of storytelling for science and risk communication.
4. Improve our messaging
Risk communication is hard. There are all sorts of traps. For instance, if we paint too vivid a picture of the risks and thereby boost imaginability – as dystopic films do – we risk triggering an "all-or-nothing" mentality where people are sensitive to the possibility rather than the probability of bad outcomes, and so may develop an opposition to the technology or application in question.
A classic risk communication strategy is to pair negative messages with solution-oriented and positive messages. Importantly, a solution-oriented message is not sufficient to counterbalance the (undesirable) psychological impact of a negative message; saying something to the effect of "don't worry, there's so much we can do to limit the probability of a bad outcome" doesn't provide the listener with a good reason for tolerating any level of risk in the first place.
But it's difficult to articulate positive messages about the future, artificial intelligence, transformative technologies, etc. because not enough effort goes into thinking about what a good future with (e.g.) artificial general intelligence could look like. What could it actually consist of? We're hoping the winning world builds will provide us some ideas, and that we can incorporate these into our messaging.
Other Important Details (including prizes)
The prizes are:
- First prize: $20,000
- 2x second prizes: $10,000 each
- 5x third prizes: $2,000 each
- 10x fourth prizes: $1,000 each
- Judges' discretionary prizes: Up to 5 prizes of up to $2,000 each.
If you'd like to attend a worldbuilding workshop or you need help finding team members, scroll to the bottom of the homepage.
All questions not answered on the FAQ page should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Post updated on 21 January 2022. Edit indicated in the body of text.