A Brief History of Humanity in the Galactic Confederation
Or: Wormhole ahead, proceed with caution
21st century (2000-2099T)
As the 21st century marches on, Earth is battered by multiple catastrophes brought on by climate change. Policies and measures are implemented but they are too little and too late to reverse the effects.
Advancing technology brings new challenges as well. The rise of AI ushers in several waves of technological unemployment which results in unrest and protest movements. Several countries introduce some form of universal basic income.
22nd century (2100-2199T)
One international research organization comes close to developing artificial superintelligence (ASI). Then all source code and data are lost in what seems to be a freak accident but is later reframed as a last-minute intervention to prevent an AI that would have been harmful to humans. While the details remain shrouded in mystery, the incident leads to a global moratorium on AI development to allow more time for AI safety research. This moratorium is carried out with methods uncomfortably reminiscent of Orwell's 1984.
First contact with extraterrestrial civilization is established. The emissaries claim to be members of the so-called Confederation of Galactic Sovereignties (CoGS) that unites various settled systems all over the known universe. Their transport and communication network consists of strategically placed jump gates, artificially created and stabilized wormholes.
There are significant advances in transhumanism. Some species, including humanity, develop abilities that could be called 'supernatural' or 'psychic'. Some believe this to be nature's response to the spread of AI, and how it impacts society and shapes circulating information.
In response to accelerating climate change, climate-neutral eco-technic societies are developed on Earth. These new communities increasingly replace traditional countries.
Meanwhile, humanity also starts terraforming Mars.
Aided by CoGS and its superior technology, humanity slowly expands out of the solar system and throughout the known universe, exchanging goods and information with other sentient species and sovereignties.
Eventually, humanity and its home habitat Earth is accepted into CoGS. To their surprise, human leaders learn that at the heart of the Confederation sits a single ASI tasked with preventing the creation of another superintelligence. All AI development is carefully monitored and contained, an infinitely more refined and all but invisible version of the moratorium humanity issued a hundred years ago. While political leaders are informed of this when joining CoGS, they conveniently 'forget' all about it during the following generations.
As transhumanist 'supernatural' abilities grow stronger, there are attempts from scientists to map out their rules. This proves difficult even with the help of AI. Instead of conforming with established models, these abilities lead to discoveries invalidating the latest theories of everything.
Humanity is fully integrated into the Galactic Confederation, freely mingling with other member species and sovereignties. Earth and the solar system are respected as the cradle of humanity but seen as backwater outposts at the fringes of CoGS space.
Human cultural identity is blurred and mostly experienced in terms of ancestry. Those who care little for the past have cast off their specific ethnic and cultural origins and instead understand themselves as merely 'human', one species among many. For those interested in history and ancestry research, family and place names continue to provide clues to the past.
While the Confederation's hidden ASI continues to nip all attempts to create another superintelligence in the bud, some people struggle against these invisible constraints. One group miraculously manages to break out of its circle of influence--while still being unaware of its existence. They only see CoGS 'enslaving' AI and discriminating against synthetic lifeforms and advocate equal opportunities for all lifeforms, whether biological or synthetic. Born from a humble AI research institution, this group eventually leaves CoGS and establishes independence, calling themselves the Biological, Artificial, and Synthetic Sovereignty (BASS). Diplomatic relations with CoGS are strained but trade continues.
In the 26th century, the story of one daring spaceship captain and his crew defecting from one of the Confederation's megacorporations and asking BASS for protection makes headlines. The corporation, and consequently the Confederation as a whole, is embarrassed as the captain claims to have been exploited, blackmailed, and discriminated against. In the aftermath, CoGS passes new policies toward tolerance and equal opportunities for synthetic lifeforms.
After a long time, the lines between biological and synthetic intelligence are blurred. Formerly biological species are elevated to the level of AI via transhumanist technology. Superior intelligence coupled with 'supernatural' abilities becomes the new norm.
As all writers know, fiction only ever shows the tip of the worldbuilding iceberg. Most of my stories are set in either my fantasy or my science fiction world, both of which I've been building for many years. This week, I thought I would show part of what I've been working on under the hood, an optimistic but (hopefully) plausible history of how humanity might become part of a greater interstellar civilization.
Do you think there are extraterrestrials out there that might contact us soon? What about the rise of artificial superintelligence? Would you want to live in this vision of the future? I'd love to read your thoughts and constructive feedback in the comments!
According to Wait But Why, any AI will default to unfriendly unless carefully coded against it.
I like to think they act more like companies, as suggested by Elle Griffin.
This is the gatekeeper scenario from Max Tegmark's Life 3.0.
Small teaser for my novel Eris Equation!
Is this what Yuval Noah Harari had in mind when he wrote Homo Deus?