Present Speculations

Letter from the Editor

The Latecomer believes the future depends on present speculation. The path that history takes is often prescribed by the stories we tell ourselves about it. Although we are constrained by reality, the choice between different possible futures is usually not a “scientific” one. What determines our final values is often cultural history, which blinkers us to more radical possibilities and dangers. These abstractions are guiding lights for what we eventually become.

All visions of the future are predicated on our continued survival. If we destroy ourselves prematurely we won’t have any future at all. But such risks are themselves speculative—what are the risks from technologies that do not yet exist? If you received empirical evidence that unaligned superintelligence presents a real risk, then it’s likely too late. Many existential risks need to be prevented from happening even once—we’ll be lucky if they remain hypotheticals.

The Latecomer is speculative, in that it assumes that we move toward goals that are birthed imaginatively but built scientifically. Speculation is the generator of positive futures, and insurance against catastrophic failure.

This first issue has plenty of strange futures. Allison Deuttman writes on how close we are to a future of molecular manufacturing, and what’s holding us back. In my interview with Steve Hsu we talk about the future of machinic and biological intelligence, and how they intersect. Casey Handmer makes the case that abundant green energy is not only going to beat climate change, but also unleash our technological potential.

We also have articles that explore the history of the future—how historical contingencies become permanent values. Almost fifty years ago James Yorke named the field of “Chaos Theory”—in his retrospective, he considers what chaos means for our prediction abilities. Jonathan Ratcliffe compares Russian Cosmism with contemporary Longtermism and illuminates their shared ideological ancestor. Finally, Xander Balwit interrogates the pricing of nature, and how we’ll value it when it ceases being productive.

Hopefully these articles educate our intuition about possible futures. Thanks for reading our first issue.

Matt Southey
Editor in Chief

About the author

Matt Southey

Matt Southey is the founding editor of The Latecomer.