This was written for the Vignettes Workshop.[1] The goal is to write out a detailed future history (“trajectory”) that is as realistic (to me) as I can currently manage, i.e. I’m not aware of any alternative trajectory that is similarly detailed and clearly more plausible to me. The methodology is roughly: Write a future history of 2022. Condition on it, and write a future history of 2023. Repeat for 2024, 2025, etc. (I'm posting 2022-2026 now so I can get feedback that will help me write 2027+. I intend to keep writing until the story reaches singularity/extinction/utopia/etc.)

What’s the point of doing this? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • Sometimes attempting to write down a concrete example causes you to learn things, e.g. that a possibility is more or less plausible than you thought.
  • Most serious conversation about the future takes place at a high level of abstraction, talking about e.g. GDP acceleration, timelines until TAI is affordable, multipolar vs. unipolar takeoff… vignettes are a neglected complementary approach worth exploring.
  • Most stories are written backwards. The author begins with some idea of how it will end, and arranges the story to achieve that ending. Reality, by contrast, proceeds from past to future. It isn’t trying to entertain anyone or prove a point in an argument.
  • Anecdotally, various people seem to have found Paul Christiano’s “tales of doom” stories helpful, and relative to typical discussions those stories are quite close to what we want. (I still think a bit more detail would be good — e.g. Paul’s stories don’t give dates, or durations, or any numbers at all really.)[2]
  • “I want someone to ... write a trajectory for how AI goes down, that is really specific about what the world GDP is in every one of the years from now until insane intelligence explosion. And just write down what the world is like in each of those years because I don't know how to write an internally consistent, plausible trajectory. I don't know how to write even one of those for anything except a ridiculously fast takeoff.” --Buck Shlegeris

This vignette was hard to write. To achieve the desired level of detail I had to make a bunch of stuff up, but in order to be realistic I had to constantly ask “but actually though, what would really happen in this situation?” which made it painfully obvious how little I know about the future. There are numerous points where I had to conclude “Well, this does seem implausible, but I can’t think of anything more plausible at the moment and I need to move on.” I fully expect the actual world to diverge quickly from the trajectory laid out here. Let anyone who (with the benefit of hindsight) claims this divergence as evidence against my judgment prove it by exhibiting a vignette/trajectory they themselves wrote in 2021. If it maintains a similar level of detail (and thus sticks its neck out just as much) while being more accurate, I bow deeply in respect!

I hope this inspires other people to write more vignettes soon. We at the Center on Long-Term Risk would like to have a collection to use for strategy discussions. Let me know if you’d like to do this, and I can give you advice & encouragement! I’d be happy to run another workshop.

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I think this is great. I especially like the discussion of propaganda, which feels like an important model.