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Utopia?! Get real!

For centuries or even millennia, people have dreamed of Utopia. It’s understandable of course. Who wouldn’t want a better life for themselves and others?

The technological singularity seems to hold out a tantalizing possibility of a Utopia here on Earth sometime in the twenty-first century. But hold on a minute. Get real!

It’s all too obvious that humans simply aren’t equipped to build a Utopia or even to live in one. We just can’t handle perfection. We’ve evolved to live in an imperfect world – one that’s not really suited to our needs. When you’re made out of dirt, perfection is always going to remain out of reach.

Humans do manage to achieve greatness from time to time. But then we mess it up.

We discover how to split the atom, then spend the next 60 years pointing nuclear missiles at each other and shouting “You’re an idiot!” – “No, you’re an idiot!” We launch the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit but have to patch it up with duct tape to get it working properly. We build a global computer network that enables instant communications and then devote half of it to advertising Viagra and the other half to showing Gangnam Style videos.

If humans were invited to a meeting of intergalactic intelligences, then we’d turn up late in a used spaceship, borrow someone else’s pencil to take notes, then blow a raspberry at a crucial moment in the discussion. Everything about human society is cobbled together at the last minute and held together with sticking plasters.

Even if we had a Utopia, it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. Someone would still be writing rude words over the walls. After all, one person’s Utopia is another’s Dystopic nightmare.

In my opinion, it’s time for us to grow up as a species and admit that Utopia is never going to happen. Even if the Singularity arrives as predicted it’s going to create just as many problems as it solves. Every opportunity brings a new problem and every silver lining has a cloud, if you look hard enough. And with increased leisure time and longer, healthier lives, there’s going to be plenty of time for looking.

We could have abundance, immortality and super-intelligence and still wish for things to be different. The truth is that being human (or transhuman) means spending the rest of eternity blundering in the dark, cobbling together and muddling through. Personally, I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

About the author:

Steve Morris is looking forward to the coming Singularity, but can’t help wondering if lawsuits, patent disputes and health & safety legislation are also accelerating exponentially to a point at which they will negate any technological advancement. When not worrying about this, he reviews tech products at S21 and rambles aimlessly at Blog Blogger Bloggest.

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  • Well humans do have lots of failings. A big failing is perhaps the inability of some humans to see the almost certainty of utopia, which we are approaching: “It’s all too obvious that humans simply aren’t equipped to build a Utopia or even to live in one.”

    Perhaps this is one reason why humans are being redefined via terms such as “H+” or “Transhuman.” The point is we are leaving behind the outdated human baggage regarding racism, homophobia, idiocy or any other human failing. We are becoming more than human, the Singularity is all about Transhumanism, it is about transcending limits.

    I agree many humans are not equipped to contemplate utopia, but technology will solve that via augmented humans who are ill-equipped.

  • Another point is that intelligence is a relatively new phenomenon for the human race. The idea of civilization is not very old. It is only recently humans have largely abolished slavery, or given equal rights to women. The mistakes humans have made and continue to make are purely due to our intellectually immature state. We are mere children, we are learning, we stumble when trying to walk. Initially we could only crawl but now we are learning how to walk therefore we often fall and graze our knees, but we are progressing. One day we will walk without stumbling and then we will run; shortly afterwards our intellectual capacity will become supersonic. It is a mistake to think the current culture of humans is the sole representative of human civilization forever. We are changing, we are evolving.

  • Your talk of “augmenting humans who are ill-equipped” … “to contemplate utopia” sounds scarily Orwellian. Anyway, here are my thoughts on your comments:

    1. Diversity isn’t going away, and is likely to increase as intelligence increases. So I don’t believe that we could even agree on what constitutes utopia.

    2. A physically-based universe destined to undergo a slow heat death doesn’t seem like the ideal environment for a utopia.

    3. Every new scientific discovery and technological invention throws up unexpected problems. The greater the rate of progress the greater the unintended consequences. The idea that “technology will solve that” seems to wilfully ignore the lessons of the past.

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  • Yes at first glance, from the viewpoint of current culture, augmenting humans who are ill-equipped could seem Orwellian but a Big Brother scenario is a very mistaken viewpoint. The augmentation would be entirely voluntary, perhaps I could have worded my views better. My point regarding augmentation is that the augmentation will seem so attractive people will take it without being forced. For example imagine if you gave away free iPads with a free internet connection, people would very happily augment themselves with this technology. Here is good link http://goo.gl/7Tvzg regarding illiterate Ethiopian children teaching themselves how to read and write in foreign language (English) via free tablets with no teachers. Augmentation in a super-intelligent epoch via super-intelligent beings could merely be a few very wise and compelling words, but this would not be a brainwashing type of compulsion. Extreme intelligence will facilitate extremely clear expression. Humans are naturally receptive to clarity.


    I think humans are blending very harmoniously thus despite the diversity, for example, between Gay or Straight people and Black and White people, we now are more likely to live in harmony. Gay marriage is now permissible in some parts of the world when formerly being Gay was actually a crime. This harmonisation of diverse people will continue, people will continues to blend and intermix despite their differences. We are developing into a multicultural world where people don’t hate other people due to differing skin colour.

  • Amen brother.

  • I think what Steve meant by diversity was diversity of thought, ideas, philosophies, how ought we to live, et cetera. I agree with him in that I doubt we could even agree on what constitutes utopia. Perhaps we can via a utilitarian view, but I doubt it. You’re right the benefits of technology far outweigh the problems however there will always be problems as long as intelligence/consciousness exist. Just new and less severe ones 🙂

    I agree with you on the heat death of the universe. To many non-transhumanist atheist use that or accidents as a reason not to fund aging research, brain preservation and generally won’t support the fight against death and cyborgization. First off indefinite life spans is better than 70 measly years. Second, having millions or billions of years of existing with technology we can as you said solve the heat death of the universe “problem.” I understand skepticism and I am one, but we have to at least try to solve the death problem with technology. It disturbs me they have given up and have twisted views of death. They are in the way of progress.

    Eliezer is right: But then most atheists also succumb to comforting lies, and make excuses for death even less defensible than the outright lies of religion.” They think the world is the way it is and we can’t change it so just accept suffering, disease and death.

  • (Apologies for coming so late to this party)

    I find myself partially agreeing and disagreeing with Steve Morris and Singularity Utopia regarding both the unreality and inevitability of a utopia.

    I’ve thought quite a lot about my own interest in utopia, and my grudging admission that it may not be as easily realizable as I once thought, despite undeniable acceleration of technical improvements. More importantly, I think the discussion has been too general on both sides to know precisely what the objections and criticisms are. Even more importantly, how do these discussions help contribute to a resolution that we consider worthwhile or actionable?

    Here are three possible descriptions of utopia that I’ve struggled with (I am absolutely positive that these fail to scratch the surface of plausible alternates, but hopefully still provide a basis for productive debate):

    1) Frictionless interaction between all living and non-living entities as a by-product of absolute abundance

    2) Framework of infinite interdependence allowing mutually-beneficial outcomes in all interactions through purely peaceful means

    3) Acceptance of the universe(s) as perfect from an infinite-dimension perspective, including the tendency to perpetually look toward improvements

    Alternative 1) at first glance is quite appealing, but the shine quickly fades on closer inspection. Essentially, each entity would be capable of wielding infinite power through infinitesimal effort via inexhaustibly leveraging technology. Effectively, we become gods (“I but will it, and it is so”). However, the gods we would become would likely be as fallible as those in the collective of human mythology. True, there is nothing to stop me from taking my ball of technological omnipotence and creating a new universe, except that I won’t have anyone there to appreciate it but me. It will be about as satisfying as playing chess by myself. Wait, with technology, I could create an admiring audience! Hmm, but why would that be any more satisfying? I would gain the worship of inferior beings, or if they be my equals, they would likewise run from me to create their own universes. With the ability to opt-out of interaction, this alternative turns out rather dull in the end, and a dull utopia is no utopia at all. My guess is that Steve’s stance was a cautionary opinion regarding this as a goal which might not be as desirable upon further reflection.

    Alternative 2) is scant on details, but shows some promise. The lack of abundance isn’t truly as much a result of material or energetic scarcity, as it is scarcity of satisfying options. If we can use technology to model options so that we are essentially playing perpetually infinite games, I might be able to pull for such a utopia. There is effort, but effort that yields satisfaction.

    Alternative 3) is likely the least appealing to present company (or indeed to the vast majority of pretty much any group, except perhaps enlightened Zen Buddhists) as it tends to imply that we’ve already reached utopia, only that realization isn’t evenly distributed. Current dissatisfaction (suffering) is only a side-effect of believing oneself to be separate from all that is.

    I must say that I very much enjoy thinking about what specific implications that this discussion has on me in the short term, as well as for my far-reaching descendants.

    I just finished reading Nexus: Humanity Gets an Upgrade, by Ramez Naam (on Socrates’ recommendation – Thanks!), and I am blown away by the depth of thought. Even so, I think that Ramez underestimates both how quickly such technology will be available, and how transformative it will be (but if I were to write that book – as if I was capable! – I’d have opted for the same conservatism just to make the story more widely palatable). The biggest challenge I believe humanity faces through this period of accelerating change is relinquishing our cherished sense of order and control.

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  • Someone

    Too true. There’s two sides to every coin, can’t have yin without yang and vice versa. That’s why utopia in any form will never exist. Not just because humans eventually mess it up. Humans themselves are messed up BECAUSE we think we’re above it all.

    Everyone has different ideas of what perfect is, everyone will still be judgmental, etc. Perfection itself has flaws so that further proves it doesn’t exist.

    Immortality doesn’t exist for anything in the universe either, what makes us so special? Nothing is what.



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