Stories of utopia are valuable because they give us a vision to aim at.
Stories that assume new technology will lead to a better world are anti-valuable. Those stories are the concrete truck of good intentions. The truck used to pave the route to hell. The stories inspire people — into creating things without any awareness of negative impacts. These inspired "builders" are often even oblivious to the idea that there might possibly be negative impacts! I've seen this play out with social media, with ML, and blockchain just to name a few HN relevant examples.
A good dystopia story seriously acknowledges some threat, and shows what it is viscerally like to live in that world, and perhaps how it came to be and what we might do about it.
A good utopia story seriously acknowledges some system problem or threat, and shows a way in which it is overcome on a large scale.
I would argue that we need a healthy balance of dystopian and utopian stories but we also desperately need more complex stories. The human brain is already primed towards very basic linear cause and effect, when in fact we are embedded within very complex systems (social, economic, etc) that have very non-linear cause and effect loops.
The blindness you mention here is one that I often see as trying to create change with a very very limited set of causes and effects in the implicit theory behind it. I also think that much of the polarization towards "good actors" versus "bad actors" is a result of overly simplistic stories.
I'm not exactly sure how to create stories that help us build the capacity for understanding and appreciating how complex systems operate, but I think we desperately need them.
I don't think it's that nobody can understand things anymore, or even that people don't want to, I think people simply don't want to limit their potential sales by making things too difficult to understand. Big studios don't make movies like The Hateful Eight (which I thought was great because it didn't have good guys) because they don't appeal to enough people, and writers don't write with nuance anymore because you get the most impressions if you simply pander to a specific political camp.
We have these massive "story engines" but only the simplest stories can have predictable universal appeal.
It had a $50M budget, that is pretty big, just not in the blockbuster category.
But I simply don't think that blockbusters have ever or will ever care about more complex movies (there are obviously exceptions but not a significant amount). It's simply a numbers game, you make bland stuff that attracts the lowest common denominator and pays the bills with very little risk and then put the money you're left over with to pay for movies with higher risk.
This is exactly what I was starting to work on. Until May of 2016 when I realized our "story dissemination systems" were completely failing due to ~oblivious technologists with utopian visions (Zuckerberg is a great example — "oh lets just connect the world up without thinking about how this system will be used to manipulate and destabilize everything we care about"). No matter how valuable a story is, it doesn't matter if no one sees it because our systems show people less valuable things instead (it also doesn't matter if society collapses).
So I've been focusing on addressing dissemination issues every since, though I still personally care more about explaining complex systems. I think there is lots of opportunity to improve in this space, and I'll be back on it when and if this whole dissemination failure is sufficiently addressed.
> The science section suggests that, rather than Homo sapiens (Wise Man), we might be better described as Pan narrans (Storytelling Chimpanzee).
But it takes a particular set of problems and outlines some comparatively interesting solutions that one can explore. I'd hope that a novel version would go into some externalities of the tech described, but as a short story it does the visioning well — and that's valuable in combination with some great dystopian threat modeling.
The ones that try tend to not really give us things to aim at, as opposed to things to avoid. "The cure is worse than the disease" comes to mind. They end up being a collection of the pet quirks of the author, often nasty ones.
For some reason some people seem to take dystopia and cynicism as meaning we should give up on technology altogether and go back to living in caves. That is a false dichotomy. Please, hold some nuance. It's true that corporations and governments have shown themselves eager to abuse technology. The blame for that lies with those organizations, not with writers who merely notice the trend.
I think we can come up with some technical solutions to align the incentives of these organizations with the people they should be serving. To me, most dystopian fiction is pointing out the gap between that and internet refrigerators. Utopia is hard, let's go shopping.
In fact, it was HN that introduced me to this writer.
As for dystopic, I'd describe his works as... ananthropic. There are no people in his books, just collections of matter ambulating around according to their phenotype and the laws of physics. It's stark realism taken to its depressing conclusion. Fascinating stuff, though.
Edit: Fixed some broken causality.
"Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." — James Nicoll
That has to be intended as a joke, right?
Everyone pollutes; when we breathe, when we shit, let alone when we drive or fly, so there is no hard boundary between normal and "sinful" activities. The rest of your comment is simply wrong; Pigovian taxes and auctions are dynamic, so can adjust to any change in price levels, and in any case money supply is governed by central banks, not by polluters.
How're those checks and balances working out for you these days?
Like in SF, no one says "oh, you need to show hope in dealing with religion!" That's because among that crowd, religion is beyond the pale and doesn't need to be appeased. There are other things, but there's an awful lot of true groupthink today, and since the culture is so connected, its easier to shout down or tire contrarians.
In this analogy, a steady diet of disaster shows has already convinced you that running like hell is pie-in-the-sky thinking and quite impractical, so anything you hope to do has to be prefaced with the acknowledgement that you can only manage a slow walk, and even then you can only expect to move a maximum of 15 meters.
> Not all of us, mind you. Some folks perceive their contextual status with relative accuracy: they’re better than the rest of us at figuring out how much control they really have over local events, for example. They’re better at assessing their own performance at assigned tasks. Most of us tend to take credit for the good things that happen to us, while blaming something else for the bad. But some folks, faced with the same scenarios, apportion blame and credit without that self-serving bias.
> We call these people “clinically depressed”.
All I ever read anymore is how the dark forces of technology are coming to steal my private information and break into my house via my IOT.
Now I want to go buy Terri Favro's book, just because she's apparently not a total downer.
Of course optimism goes out the window when we need to figure out how people will defraud the company, or when a change that would make employees’ lives better is considered. Very conditional optimism, you know.
Yeah, I'm not taking advice about the future from someone who still thinks a flatscreen TV is somehow different from a plain TV.