[Creative Writing Contest] [Fiction] [Referral] A Common Sense Guide to Doing the Most Good, by Alexander Wales

by b_sen2 min read13th Sep 20215 comments

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Creative Writing Contest
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This is one of Alexander Wales' less-known stories, what with appearing under a pseudonym and not on his personal site.  (However, the pseudonym is publicly connected to his name and main works under explicit public rules of AO3, so I am not exposing any private information by making the attribution here.)

The story follows a young Superman deciding to use his powers to make money and donate the money to charity instead of the usual "caped superhero" deal, complete with discussion of the powers as relevant, so while it is Superman fanfiction it requires little - if any - setting knowledge to be comprehensible.  (It's hard to tell for me, as even knowing the basic premise of the Superman franchise is enough to produce illusion of transparency.)  Despite being under 8000 words, the story introduces a variety of EA concepts ranging from the time-value of money to cause saturation and ethical risks, so I think it would be a good fit for the contest's aim of finding short stories that spark interest in EA.

An excerpt, as with fanfiction there may be copyright difficulties with a full crosspost:

There were two words that Superman lived by, and they were “pay me”.

His time was auctioned off in blocks of five minutes. He didn’t need to sleep, so he stopped sleeping, which meant that there were 288 blocks of his time available per day, with ten blocks set aside for administration. It was rare that any of these blocks went for less than a million dollars, which meant that after his first full year in operation as Superman, he made over a hundred billion dollars. If he were a nation, he would have been ranked 63rd, just below Morocco.

Some of that money went towards administrative expenses. Man of Steel, Incorporated had a staff of two hundred, including accountants, attorneys, PR people, and over a dozen managers to make sure that everything was orchestrated down to the second. There were ethicists, engineers, and scientists on staff too, people to support Superman in less direct ways, whether that meant analyzing ethical risk for any contracts taken, pricing in the loss of utility inherent in taking certain contracts, building special equipment for Superman, or doing an analysis of Superman’s effects on the environments he traveled through. There were a handful of computer scientists as well, mostly there to make sure that the company could stay in contact with its primary asset, though some were used for data collection, visualization, and analysis.

Clark didn’t talk to people anymore. There were meetings, endless meetings, and he’d tried to attend them early on, but it was an enormous waste of time. He sent representatives where possible, and when it wasn’t possible, he did his own brand of teleconferencing through miniaturized equipment hidden away in his ear canal and stuck to his throat. The equipment was a unique engineering challenge, since it had to survive rapid, repeated acceleration and deceleration, as well as compensate for the extreme Doppler shifts the receivers and transmitters were subject to. MoSI had a standing contract with Iridium, one of the major satphone companies: MoSI got unlimited priority sat time, and in exchange, Superman gave them satellite inspections every six months, with close-up video of every part of the satellite. Repairs, deorbits, and launches were all charged for, of course, because he was running a charity.

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5 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:18 PM
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Thanks for posting this! I had read some of their other stuff, but hadn't come across this story

You're welcome!  It's certainly one of his less prominent stories.

While I like the story, I wouldn't recommend it for the contest, for spoilery reasons. Putting them into ROT13:

Vafgrnq bs bccbfvat Fhcrezna qverpgyl, Yrk Yhgube vasvygengrf gur znffvir RN nccnenghf ohvyg nebhaq hfvat Fhcrezna rssrpgviryl naq trgf n wbo nf Fhcrezna'f cflpuvngevfg, gurerol (nf orpbzrf pyrne va gur raq) nyybjvat uvz gb pbageby uvf jbefg rarzl gb qb uvf jvyy - n pevfvf gung jbhyqa'g unir rkvfgrq vs Fhcrezna unq fhpprffshyyl xrcg n frperg vqragvgl, be fgnlrq orybj gur enqne.

Vafbsne nf gur fgbel unf n zbeny, vg vf gung crbcyr jub qrfver cbjre jvyy frrx gb gnxr pbageby bire nal naq nyy fbheprf bs vg, ertneqyrff bs jung gur cbjre vf ynoryrq nf orvat sbe. Guvf vf n avpr yrffba, ohg V fhfcrpg gung vg vf tbvat gb or ernq nf 'RN [va cnegvphyne] vf ihyarenoyr gb uvwnpxvat ol znyribyrag sbeprf orpnhfr vg vf pbafrdhragvnyvfg, RN naq pbafrdhragvnyvfz ner gurersber obgu onq' juvpu vf abg ernyyl n zrffntr jr jnag gb fcernq.

I'm actually pretty happy for this warning to spread; it's not a big problem now(?), but will be if growth continues. Vigilance is the way to make the critique untrue.

OTOH you don't necessarily want to foreground it as the first theme of EA, or even the main thing to worry about.

My specific worry is about people coming to the conclusion that it is "a problem with EA," or "a problem with consequentialism," instead of "a problem with organizations," and thereby making people who hadn't heard of EA becoming more negatively (instead of more positively) inclined towards it.