Louis Clarke

9 karmaJoined Mar 2023


I see that the compilation and distribution of "civilisational reboot manuals" is already on the list. I love the concept, but think this scope should be significantly expanded to include stress testing and refinement of the drafted content. This would verify whether the most important facets of knowledge and technology are covered, and if the detail and style are such that they can be followed. I heard this suggested by Lewis Dartnell (author of "The Knowledge") on the 80,000hrs podcast, and think it would be great to really run with it. A fun, high-profile and potentially profitable way would be through a televised competition format, where teams of "survivors" have to try rebuild as much of the tech tree as possible (or reach a set technological achievement), with a "civilisational reboot manual" as their guide.

The mechanics of such a competition would need thoughtful planning to get a working balance between being sufficiently realistic of civilisational collapse scenarios (number of people, resources on hand etc.), have an acceleration mechanism to model decades of rebuilding within a season length, and be watchable. Challenging, but I don't think it would be a show-stopper (terrible pun, sorry). 

Benefits of this could include: 

  • Raising awareness of various existential risks. Perhaps each season/team could model a different collapse scenario such as nuclear winter, engineered pandemics, AI misalignment and so on, with the opening sequences explaining the likelihood of these events occurring and what action needs to be done to prevent them. I acknowledge that broadcasting to a potentially global audience could be a reputational risk to EA, and would have to be managed carefully.
  • Stress testing many of the assumptions we have around collapse and rebuilding scenarios.
  • An opportunity to get funding and visibility for larger scale testing of proposed technologies and solutions. E.g. for a "nuclear winter" scenario, trialing some of ALFED's research on simple greenhouse construction, seaweed/mushroom farming and the like.
  • Learn where the gaps are proposed civilisational reboot manuals, as there are likely some we cannot anticipate until they are tested realistically. In my head I see someone trying to recreate a particular machine or chemical process, but one small component isn't described in sufficient detail and everything grinds to a halt. 
  • Study what skill sets are needed amongst "survivors" and what governance structures work well, to ensure both progress and relative harmony. Some of these may be counter-intuitive.
  • Experiment whether the provision of select tools/technologies dramatically accelerate the tech tree rebuild. For example, a good blacksmith's anvil is very difficult to make from scratch, but once you have one it lasts nearly forever and facilitates the creation of innumerable useful items. These could be then be included in "reboot kits" along with the manuals themselves.

An incubator team could refine the concept and goals, perhaps do some limited trials, and then pitch to various networks or streaming services.