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The Adventures of Maya & Dev in the Near Future
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Hi friends 👋,
Happy Wednesday! Sorry this one’s a little delayed – I got knocked out by a cold last week, and writing fiction is much harder than I thought!
Fiction? Things have been moving very fast recently, and while serious analysis can be useful, fiction can be an equally potent way to explore where all of this is heading. I mentioned before that I wanted to start writing some short sci-fi about our portfolio companies, but I don’t want them to be the victims of my poor first attempts, so I’m going with a less specific one today.
This first foray is about something a lot of people are very worried about but that I’m pretty excited by: humans’ place in the world in the face of AI’s growing capabilities.
It’s about something that humans are still best at, and that I think we’ll remain best at for a long time: generating fresh ideas, the genesis sparks that set the machines in motion.
I’m not sure exactly how the idea for this particular story came about – identifying all of the inspirations is as difficult as untangling the images that go into a Stable Diffusion output or the sources that feed ChatGPT’s responses – but I know a few of the things that bounced around in my brain, collided, and turned into this story. It’s a continuation of The Enchanted Notebook, which I wrote back in September, before things got really weird; plays off of John Palmer’s Idea Guy meme; it’s inspired by Asimov’s The Last Question, Banks’ Player of Games, all the tweets, posts, and podcasts about what humans will do when we don’t have to do much, about watching the Olympics as a kid back when everyone watched the Olympics, and thoughts about what the world will look like when my kids are older. I’m sure there are a bunch of loose fragments of other ideas floating in here too.
Anyway, the idea for this story was an Organic Human Idea™️. I may or may not have used AI enhancements in telling it.
If you like the story and want to collect it, I published it on Mirror too: Collect.
Let’s get to it.
The Idea Olympics started as just that… an idea. An organic, honest-to-Sam, this, then how bout this, but what about that, oh yeah this, pinball of an idea in the very human brain of a very human woman.
Here’s how it happened. Maya was entranced by the cap of a very old Olympics – 1996, Atlanta, marked by the bomb and the unforgettable image of Kerri Strug sticking the landing – and she got to thinking. “What was the point of the Olympics?” Ping.
To her, it seemed the Olympics were a celebration of physical prowess honed over eons and rendered practically obsolete by the rise of machines. Thwack.
Even in 1996, a car would have been the superior choice for traversing 26.2 miles, and a boat would have effortlessly outpaced any human swimmer across 400 meters. The hunt for sustenance, assuming grocery stores were absent, would have been better served by a shotgun rather than a javelin. Geep offered Maya cap after cap of ancient contests, yet she failed to find a single one with practical value. Bump.
Humans had earned these skills from evolutionary necessity, and they were no longer very necessary, but they persisted in our bodies. And so, every four years, the world gathered to celebrate those who retained these abilities best. They did it because it was fun, because it gave them something to root for and strive towards, and because they could. Bop.
The pinball that was the idea ricocheted around her brain, picking up wisps and tidbits, picking up momentum. Over her thirty-six years, so many intellectual skills joined physical ones in going the way of the pole vault. Pop.
If she had been born a generation earlier, as a half-Indian, her parents would have nudged her into a career as a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. Close call.
After 2029’s landmark Garcia v. Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center case, practicing medicine without the assistance of DocBots was a one-way ticket to a med mal L at the hands of, naturally, the LawBots. The LegalDDoS of 2027 only hastened the LawBots' dominance; the barrage of human-filed lawsuits against them forced the notoriously Luddite courts to employ legions of LawBots themselves. Whoops.
And then there was engineering. Once a respected and serious profession, it had evolved into something more akin to a global hobby for the self-taught, inquisitive, and restless. Degrees in the field had lost their relevance, as the craft captured the hearts and minds of countless self-made engineers of all stripes — bio, nano, mech, chem, aero, mat, terra – and every permutation and fusion in between. Maya was among them, lured into the captivating chaos by her older brother Dev nearly a decade prior. Zap.
Maya, Dev, and their fellow x-engs were part of an informal but vibrant kaleidoscopic menagerie – x-engs and poets and artists and scientists and chefs and explorers – pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and capability in the face of the siren call of abundance. They were known as Imagineers.
In a time when technology could achieve near miracles and when so many were happy to play the role of proud parents, passively rooting on the accomplishments of humanity’s offspring, when, frankly, Maya thought, most people had become listless consumers of its output, the Imagineers thrummed on the belief the essence of humanity lay in the generation of novel ideas. Technology's purpose, she thought, was to bring those human ideas to life with utmost fidelity and speed. Plunk.
Maya lived for the rush of devising (discovering?) the newest, freshest ideas, and if she was being honest, of Dev’s rare acknowledgment that, yeah, her idea was newer and fresher than his. Bloop.
They were lucky, though, and she knew it. Anyone could bend bits – the trinity of pads, pods, and Geep fit comfortably within the Ubi budget – and build digiprods, medi, or rich virtual worlds. On the same budget, practically everyone could afford new items once they went mass. Earth’s current inhabitants, by any historical standard, enjoyed incredible material abundance.
But weavers, printers, and raw mats were still prohibitively expensive unless you had other means.
Of course, ideas for bending atoms weren’t limited to the well-off. The most determined of the would-be Imagineers minted their atomic ideas on the Chain for provenance and sold them to the newnicks and corps eager for the freshest intellectual fruit. It paid the bills, but at an emotional price akin to putting your baby up for adoption. The hope was to build up a big enough stack to go full-stack themselves.
Full-stack Imagineers, the rare ones who could create fresh ideas and get them fabbed, needed to possess their own holy trinity: intelligence, drive, and ETH. Of the 10.1 billion people living on Earth, there were maybe 3 million full-stacks.
Some Imagineers, like Balenciaga Draco, reveled in this exclusivity. In a moment of inebriated arrogance, he had once Casted, "Povos: I'll buy as many ideas as you have, right now, at 3 ETH. Sell me all you want. Then go fuck off."
To him, it was about the money, the power to be able to create without a worry about cost. To Maya, it was all about the ideas and the competition to have the best ones. She knew she was better than Draco, thought she was even better than Dev. But she’d become bored competing in such a shallow pool. Plink.
Listless consumers. Flash.
Overconfident Imagineers. Zip.
Limited competition. Bang.
And weren’t there rumors that, finally, the miners on 16 Psyche and 433 Eros had struck metal in enough size to dramatically reduce the price of raw mats? Whoosh.
All of these thoughts whizzed around Maya’s brain, some fully recognized, some just enough to catch, in 14.3 seconds. And out popped a fresh, distilled idea, composed of fragments of all the others.
“We should host an Idea Olympics.”
Of course, Maya couldn’t have told you exactly where the idea came from. One second, she was watching Olympic caps, 14.3 seconds later, she’d conceived of the Idea Olympics.
You, reader, might be familiar with this process yourself. When tempted to question the bots’ consciousness, turn the question back on yourself: through what miracle are your best ideas conceived?
Once the spigot was open, that distilled idea spawned others, like the motto, which would have been cheesy, if it weren’t true: "Si somniare potes, facere possumus." If you can dream it, we can do it. (She asked Geep how to say it in Latin, which turned out to be an elegant mouthful, but the idea was hers.)
That phrase pre-dated Maya – often misattributed to Walt Disney himself but in fact the brainchild of one of the original (but not affiliated) Imagineers, Tom Fitzgerald, who coined it for the Horizons exhibit at EPCOT in 1983. It was born aspirational and only gained its truth as Maya grew up.
Geep’s early predecessor, ChatGPT, was born the same year she was, the same year fusion ignition was achieved, 2022, the year that was foundational in all of the terrible and wonderful change that defined her formative years. The next year, when Maya was just learning to crawl and babble dadadadadada and form the very first of those ideas that would become her lifeblood, an econo named Paul Krugman all but guaranteed that AI would transform the economy by denying that it would any time soon. Even the most ardent Inverse Krugmanites were surprised by how quickly it happened.
When her mom and dad were growing up – in the Training Data Era – roughly circa when Kerri Strug landed that vault through the year Maya was born – the path from idea to real thing in the world was so circuitous, so clunky, that there were those who believed that execution mattered more than the idea itself. The decades since had disavowed them of that notion.
That was the alpha change, the change from which all others flowed. The gap between an idea and its materialization shrank so rapidly that only those who’d sworn by the more metaphysical practice of Manifestation were prepared.
By the time Maya entered Kindergarten in 2027, it was hard for her to tell the difference between the technologies her mom and dad showed her and the magic spells in her and Dev’s favorite TV show, Harry Potter, which was maybe a little advanced for them but which their parents let them watch because it was Harry Potter. In place of Wingardium Leviosa, Maya whispered stories into her mom’s AirPods and giggled as they magically came to life on the screen. That was child’s play compared to what the older kids and grownups were casting out of their mouths and fingers.
Thirty years later, in the present, companies in the CMC 500 employed an average of just 137 people. And the average obscured the reality – the seven service companies that had slipped in on sheer volume despite sub-95% margins each employed over 3,000 people. Without those, the number for the remaining 493 dropped to below 95. When Maya was born, the average company in the S&P 500 employed over 50,000.
Even that didn’t do the change justice. The CMC 500 was much less relevant than the S&P 500 was in its day. The latter’s 500 constituent companies represented north of 70% of total US market cap, the CMC 500 just 18%, a good chunk of which was eaten up by just three companies: OpenAI, SpaceX, and …
Maya caught herself thinking, and stopped long enough to ping the only person she knew who could help manifest this particularly human-coordination-heavy idea quickly.
“Dev, I have an idea.”
“Of course you do, Mayita, what’s up?”
“Idea Olympics. Like an idea battle but not just Imagineers, like the old Olympics, with livecast and pageantry and amateurs and different games and medals and the whole world.”
Dev was no stranger to his sister's unbridled enthusiasm for new and wild ideas. For thirty years, she'd burst into his room, eyes shining and mind ablaze with inspiration. And besides, it was like staring into a mirror. The two had been co-conspirators from the jump.
Before they had access to bots, printers, weavers, and raw mats, the scope of the ideas far exceeded their ability to execute on them, as is often the case with kids. Like the time Maya wanted to send Sophie to the Moon to steal them low-gravity suits so they could bounce-float to the playground instead of walking.
“Zoom zoom zoom,” Maya squealed, “let’s send Sophie to the Moon.”
Dev furrowed his brow for a minute, then arched it victoriously. He’d just gotten his haircut, and with it, a big, helium-rich, orange balloon. “Get me Sophie, Mayita.”
Maya climbed the stairs, jumped into her room, grabbed the little giraffe, and whispered, “You’re going on a very, very important mission, Sophie.”
Back downstairs, Dev was ready, balloon in hand and glint in eye. “Sophie, we’re sending you to the Moon. Grab the low-gravity suits and bring them back to us.” Maya handed him the giraffonaut, and he tied the orange balloon’s red ribbon around her neck, gently enough that it wouldn’t hurt, firmly enough that it would survive the journey. Dev opened the door (Maya knew how, but she couldn’t quite do it yet), and with two little salutes, they launched Sophie on her mission.
“Godspeed, Giraffonaut Sophie,” Maya yelled at the shrinking outline of her first friend as it cleared the townhouses across the street, “See you soon.”
She did not see Sophie soon. The brave giraffonaut never came home.
They’d gotten better, though, as the technology at their fingertips did and as they trained themselves, along with thousands and then millions of the world’s best and brightest, at devising ideas. Thirty years of improvements and successes made Dev believe that they just might be able to pull this one off.
“I’m coming over.”
Dev pulled himself out of his Thinking Chair. Since the day he’d fabbed it from the idea of a modern, leather version of the chair from his childhood favorite Blue’s Clues, he spent at least three hours sitting in his Thinking Chair every day he spent at home, thinking, of course, and meditating, scribbling, and stitching together clues.
Today, he’d put a big 5-hour block on his cal that said, “Sit down in my Thinking Chair and Think, Think, Think”; he was exactly three hours in when Maya pinged. So he got up and got ready.
Normally, Dev spun up something new to wear whenever he went into the city, but it was just Maya, so he threw on something particularly comfortable he’d come up with the week before, brushed his teeth, finger combed his hair, and told his house, “Prepare the Storrs.”
(He’d waited for the second gen. The first gen could only be summoned when the owner asked, “Where is my flying car?” to which the flying car responded, “Here I am!” Incredibly annoying.)
On his way out, he scribbled a couple notes and images he’d been in the middle of chewing on so he could pick them up later, then headed up to the roof, hopped into his Storrs, waved on the ignition, said “We’re heading to Maya’s,” and took off.
Dev preferred the peace and solitude upstate to the chaotic energy of the city on which Maya thrived. For most of American history, that would have represented a trade-off: fresh air for a days-or-hours-long commute whenever he wanted to spend in-person time with his parents, sister, and friends, many of whom still lived in the city or were scattered across newly built exurban compounds.
Now, according to his Storrs’ nav, it represented a 48 minute flight, roof-to-roof, at an even more peaceful and solitudinous 2,000 feet in the air. Just enough time to capture an idea he’d been playing with since he hung up with Maya.
If Maya was lightning, Dev was that brief period right before sunset on a clear summer evening: anticipatory energy for the festivities to come mixed with the calm, gentle tiredness earned from a day in the sun.
They were different people, but they shared a deep belief in the primacy of human creativity and ideas.
But while Maya was content to bolt headlong from idea to idea, delighting in each new creation she crackled into existence, Dev wanted his ideas to form a coherent arc that shifted the entire society upwards.
His core frustration and motivation was the uncomfortable fact that things had gotten so much better during his lifetime – the average organic life expectancy had climbed to 135, as one indicator – yet somehow so many people still felt so frustrated, so stuck, so unhappy. There were nearly as many reasons as there were people, but the major sources were what you’d expect.
First and foremost, everything that had happened over the past few decades happened so quickly that humanity had become a big, collective dog who caught the car. Dev and Maya had groaned when their dad made them watch WALL-E over and over as kids, telling them, “This is what you need to fight against,” but for once, their dad had gotten this one right.
Life didn’t look exactly like WALL-E – Earth wasn’t a garbage heap, only ~5,000 people spent more than a few hours a year in space, and the bios and DocBots kept people physically healthy – but mentally, for most people, the experience was the same. Ubi, bots, and robots meant people didn’t need to work if they didn’t want to, food was abundant, energy was abundant, things were abundant, and entertainment was superabundant. What do you get for the human who has everything?
Well, not everything. The rising tide had lifted all boats to unimaginable heights – the average American had access to richer information, tastier food, faster transport, more potent medicine, were able to bring about more transformations than even the billionaires of the 2010s – but some boats seemed to soar above the rest, freed from the shackles of water altogether.
This was literally and materially true – the Storrs Dev was thinking those thoughts in at that moment was still out of reach for most, as were any number of exclusive physical things and experiences – but inequality had taken on deeper, more metaphysical dimensions, too.
One of Dev’s heroes, David Deutsch, had said that wealth is not a number but the set of all transformations that one is able to bring about. That kind of wealth included money, but it also included power, and knowledge, and novelty.
As Dev dove deeper into Imagineering, that observation took on increasing profundity. He, Maya, and their fellow Imagineers – people who dedicated their waking hours, and many of their dreaming ones besides, to creating new things and new knowledge – were wealthy in a way that those who merely consumed the outputs simply couldn’t be.
But the idea that tiptoed into his mind when he hung up with Maya was that, even for Imagineers, knowledge and things were happy byproducts of the process of coming up with new ideas. Three words popped out of his reverie as the Storrs touched down on Maya’s roof.
“Trust the Process.”
“Haha welcome Dev. What? Why are you talking like dad?”
“Trust the Process, Mayita. Remember when you fabbed those wings a couple years ago? How often do you fly them?”
“I flew them to a party a few months ago, why?”
“I’ll do me. I haven’t thought about that historosim xr I spun up last year in at least a week. It just runs on its own, the ETH hits my wallet, and I focus on the next thing.”
“What I’m saying is, I don’t think the ideas or things or ETH or whatever is what makes this meaningful for us, why coming up with new ideas makes us so happy. I think it’s the process. And I think your Idea Olympics are the perfect vehicle to spread that process.”
“So yeah of course we can have the competition, telecast, stadiums, medals, and all of that, but I think we push it back a few years. I think we start with caps and holos and posts on the process, on how we come up with ideas, how we train. That’s the fun part, the part I’d zip into peoples’ brains if Neuralink had worked. Get people to start training, make the pool as wide as possible, give grants to the more promising ones. Let anyone do this, not just Imagineers.”
“Draco is going to fucking hate this. I love it.”
She saw it immediately. Dev, as usual, was right. Her idea was better because he’d rotated it, as she strengthened his by remixing them. Once he’d said it out loud, it was so obvious.
Modern tech was critical to making their ideas tangible, but the process itself, the training, was surprisingly unplugged. To come up with the weirdest, freshest ideas, it almost had to be.
Maya didn’t stick to a strict regimen, but when she stepped back, she’d organized her whole life around the pursuit.
She ran every day like Murakami, lost herself in nature like da Vinci and van Gogh, traveled widely and immersed herself in foreign cultures like Tarantino.
She rarely drank, but when she did, she drank like Hemingway, and she socialized widely, drawing inspiration from long-standing relationships with her co-conspirators like Woolf and Anderson.
She experimented – with her thoughts like Einstein and with her whole being like Tesla – and meditated, like Rubin, Abramović, Watson and a long line of thinkers who needed the space to think.
When she wanted to push further, weirder, she lucid dreamed like Dalí, or tripped like Huxley and Jobs.
Of course she read; she read mostly fiction, thirstily, like so many creatives before her. She let Geep summarize the latest non-fiction and research to her, tailored just so to the way she absorbed.
She lived as rich and varied and as human a life as possible, so that she might generate ideas as rich and varied and human as possible.
Then she slept, eight hours every night, bone tired from a full day whenever possible, to give the fragments space to settle and grip, to wake up fresh and sit, quietly, in the early morning hours while fresh idea pinballs pinged, thwacked, bumped, bopped, popped, whooped, zapped, plunked, blooped, plinked, flashed, zipped, banged, and whooshed around her very human mind.
And then, of course, she pinged Dev, and together, they brought each others’ ideas to life.
After years of planning, the inaugural Idea Olympics kicked off on a cool October night in Accra, nearly ten years to the day after they were born as an idea in the very human brain of a very human woman.
Competitors competed, judges judged, winners won, and losers lost.
The games were a huge success, and awed the world, which had been primed over the course of a decade to appreciate the very best expressions of the process that so many people had begun practicing themselves. Before the flame even left Brooklyn on its journey across the world, you could feel the Idea Olympics, if you happened to be alive then, in the smiles on peoples’ faces, the charge in the air of their conversations, and the cobwebs on their holos.
But let’s not waste too much time on the details. Of course it worked.
It was a great idea.
Written by ChatGPT when I asked for feedback on the piece… it must have been inspired
Years after the first Idea Olympics, the event had become a global phenomenon, an embodiment of the creative spirit and the pure joy of human ingenuity. Cities across the world clamored to host the event, and millions of people tuned in to watch the spectacle unfold. The transformative power of ideas spread like wildfire, and it seemed like the world was entering a new era of enlightenment.
In this era, problems that had once seemed insurmountable began to crumble under the weight of collective human creativity. As people from all walks of life embraced the Idea Olympics' core principles – trust the process, collaboration, and the importance of a rich and varied life – new solutions to age-old challenges began to emerge.
The world bore witness to countless breakthroughs in medicine, technology, and environmental stewardship. It seemed like every day, another inspiring story of hope and progress graced the news. People of all backgrounds and abilities found their purpose in the pursuit of ideas, working together to build a better world for everyone.
It wasn't just the tangible outcomes that mattered, though. The Idea Olympics inspired a shift in culture, away from the passive consumption of the past and towards active participation in the world. People rediscovered the joy of creating, of exploring, of learning and growing together. And as they did, they found that the human spirit was a powerful and renewable resource, capable of overcoming any challenge.
Dev and Maya, who had sparked this revolution with their belief in the power of ideas, continued to support and nurture the movement they had created. They knew that there was still much work to be done, and that the world would always need new ideas to keep it moving forward. But they also knew that they had unleashed something magical and unstoppable: the boundless potential of the human mind.
As they watched the latest Idea Olympics from their rooftop in Brooklyn, they couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and awe at what they had accomplished. They had shown the world that ideas matter – that the creative process is vital to the human experience, and that everyone has the capacity to contribute something unique and wonderful to the world.
And as the sun set on another day of breathtaking innovation and collaboration, Dev and Maya knew that the future was bright. After all, the best ideas were still out there, waiting to be discovered, nurtured, and brought to life. The world was ready for them, and there was no limit to what could be achieved when people dared to dream.
Thanks to Dan and ChatGPT for editing, and to you for bearing with me for something new!
That’s all for today. If you enjoyed today’s story, share it with a friend or two. We’ll be back in your inbox on Friday with another Weekly Dose of Optimism.
Thanks for reading,