The World of Becoming Monday

Becoming Monday cover image

The book is a fictional story about the emergence of a sentient AI, set in the medium future where we are past the machine learning revolution, but prior to a true technological singularity event. For those interested, this essay details out a bit more about the state of the world and how it got there.

Technology & Its Impact

Certain technological advances have already occurred:

  • Special-purpose (non-sentient) AI is ubiquitous.
  • Drone and robotic technology is significantly improved, inexpensive to produce, and commonplace.
  • 3D printing has improved, although not to “magic box” level, and has become the de-facto manufacturing method for many goods.
  • We have developed efficient, longer-term energy storage, which unlocked non-carbon/non-nuclear energy generation. This has slowed global warming to an acceptable degree such that the global economic and political system still functions.
  • We have high-speed, wireless networking across most of the planet.
  • Fast global transportation through sub-orbital flights and high-speed trains have become accessible and commonplace.
  • have developed and miniaturized effective, non-invasive, brain-computer interfaces (trodes) that can translate conscious and subconscious signals.
  • A highly decentralized virtual reality system (VNet), with a robust virtual economy, has subsumed and overtaken the Web.

The creation of sophisticated, specialist (non-sentient) AI technology had a widespread impact across all industries, from the most menial to high-end services. Human manual labor is gone, unless voluntary or in territories where technology is rejected. Large standing human armies are defunct, replaced by robotics and human oversight. The hunger for raw materials is high and has shifted away from fossil fuels towards ingredients for 3D printing/manufacturing. Leveraging AI/robotic advances, corporations have begun to scratch at space exploration for natural resources, but this is very early and still largely undeveloped. Helping the environment, however, we have also gotten better at breaking existing things back down into their atomic parts. While there is increased nano-level manufacturing, nano-technology has not gotten to the point of self-replicating or highly programmable nano-machines.

While standards of living have risen overall, much remains unchanged, just as the fundamentals of human life were not radically transformed by 20th century inventions such as airplanes and microprocessors. People still seek love, comfort, health, and meaning. The transition years, with waves of unemployment and political instability, were challenging and violent. However, the book’s decidedly-optimistic take is that, unlike with the industrial revolution, the planet manages to avoid world wars and generally steer away from dystopia and fascism (see Government below).

Many jobs have been taken over by AI/robotics, but jobs requiring intuition, creativity and empathy remain very active for humans, often augmented with AI capabilities. A lot of people are on basic income (see VNet below) and seek new ways to spend their time and find meaning. General levels of education are higher and more democratized, although inequality still exists as some reject education either by choice or environmental pressures.

The overall world has become more educated and affluent, and population growth has slowed. We’ve gotten much better at managing resources through AI/robotics, which has a particularly large impact on Africa and parts of Asia. Goods continue to move across a global supply chain. Food and water scarcity is largely gone, except where there is a political and cultural breakdown. This is partially due to improvements in de-salinization technology, but also the creation of large mega-states (see below) that reduce regional struggles over power and resources. Land and energy are no longer commodities to fight over.

At the time of Becoming Monday, the worst of the political instability and violence is over. This is not to say that the world is completely at peace. Acts of terrorism continue to be a problem (see NetPol below). Tension between powers (particularly the NetPol alliance, China and Russia) remains. There continue to be anti-technology revolutions, from the tiny (a family or a community trying to return to the land and a simpler way of life) to the large, with regions the size of small countries going through waves of chaos, especially if driven by religious fervor.

VNet

VNet is a protocol, not a service. It is composed of many virtual realities built upon the protocol. Its success was enabled by good timing, as AI advances increasingly ate human employment, the creation of the VNet Basic Income ahead of slow-moving governments, and critical advances in non-invasive human-brain interfaces with lightweight devices called “trodes”. Copying the wise example of Satoshi Nakamoto (creator of Bitcoin), the VNet creators stayed strictly anonymous (it is unknown if they are still living at the time of the book). Thus VNet is an ecosystem anyone could and can join, and there was no company for the large tech incumbents to acquire and either co-opt or kill.

Those who wish to build virtual realities (VRs) on top of the protocol must contribute processing power and storage capacity to the massively decentralized network. The peer-to-peer storage mechanism operates at the VR level, rather than the user level, and how storage you are required to contribute to the system is calculated by the size and complexity of the VR.

The VNet protocol sets the rules for such things as user authorization, user data encryption and storage, basic communication, user and VR settings and directories, teleportation, basic user and VR reputation, and transactions of virtual goods including currencies. VNet provides a default currency, vCoin, but supports third-party currencies as well.

The protocol is highly extensible, as long as one adheres to the underlying rules. One can design and build both 3D immersive virtual realities (VRs) as well as other services and applications on top of VNet (which supports 2D visual and text-based interfaces as well). VRs can completely customize their own physics, permissions, monetization, game rules, and more. A robust open source community exists for VR and other VNet service components, but private industry also thrives, with countless marketplaces, tools (including AI bots), applications, utilities, etc. available for use from your VNet interface.

However, if one tries to break, bend or work around the underlying rules, the protocol is ruthless in denying compatibility (no “great firewall of China” is possible). Once VNet hit a certain critical mass, this had the effect of essentially fixing in place the underlying protocol. Attempts to extend it have failed, and attempts to get to the creators and the underlying code have also failed.

Trodes and trode-compatible VNet access devices are made by private companies. Once you are in VNet, you are in VNet. However, your performance still depends on the computing power of the VR you are visiting, network bandwidth, and the quality of your access device.

Human users can have multiple personas and control over anonymity, but they only have one account, which is automatically created upon their first access of VNet and secured by unique brain signals interpreted by trodes. There is no concept of a VNet “life”. While fraud and manipulation exist inside of VNet, one can only force someone to do something by threatening their corporeal body. Thus crime around VNet still exists in the physical world.

VNet has been a more ruthless leveler of global human society than the World Wide Web proved to be, although income inequality remains a broad reality. It did not solve core human problems of xenophobia, racism, ignorance, but VNet did enable more global inter-mingling than previous iterations of the Internet. The protocol has helped history’s steady, albeit uneven, march towards greater tolerance. The world continues to see outbreaks of misinformation, with all the negative consequences humanity has been dealing with since the advent of mass and social communication. This has gradually improved as people have gotten better at matching reputation with information sources, but misinformation, bias, and tribalism remain unsolved problems.

Government & Business

Governments, as known in the 20th and early 21st centuries, faced a hard reality as technology swept through employment, how services were delivered, and tax revenues.

Title proof / proof of exchange of ownership had already started to move out of the hands of government and into decentralized computing records (chains) even before VNet became ubiquitous.

When the monetary aspect of economic activity shifted to VNet, increasingly using the virtual currency vCoin, money became untrackable and unauditable. The creation of goods became harder to tax as 3D printing+robotic assembly improved in capability and popularity. Real estate was one of the few remaining assets a government could reliably audit. Government faced a huge financing shortfall at the same time it was needed for fewer things.

Government-sponsored healthcare became redundant, and private insurance upended, as medicine switched from extraordinarily expensive to cheap. AIs/robotics took over diagnosis, treatment, and drug development. In many places (depending on access to raw materials), you could 3D print your own medicine. You could maintain your own health records, and an AI could instantly absorb and append.

Welfare had shifted to VNet in the form of the VNet Basic Income (VBI), which took advantage of the slow adoption of a universal basic income by traditional democratic governments. A very small percentage of total vCoin economic activity was withheld and shared out evenly to active accounts. This was automatically handled and built into the protocol, so outside of human (or AI) manipulation. The amount you received rose if your basic reputation score went above a certain level. VNet Basic Income also reinforced the spread and use of the currency. Because everyone got vCoin, they wanted to spend vCoin. While vCoin farming/abuse does exist, driven by organized crime, it is rare because the amounts are small and users are physically limited to one account.

In most of the world, private industry is a mixture of huge conglomerates and small businesses, but more people run or work with small businesses. Large, globe-spanning companies can be run with very few actual humans. Many people have opted out entirely and rely on VNet basic income, with differing degrees of their attention spent in the virtual versus physical worlds. People continue to debate the impact of virtual worlds on human mental health.

The combination of AI/robotics, basic income support, and VNet has not changed human desires for income, wealth, and status. However, it has led to more flexibility in how and what people worked on. It has led to an increase in socially-good activities (helping the sick/elderly, giving back to the community, teaching, the arts, etc.).

Geographic regions now compete on network connectivity, not just economic opportunity and living conditions. High bandwidth mesh capability was widespread, but there was a natural migration of people to areas that were more secure and offered strong bandwidth. That in turn brought more resources into those local economies and tax bases, which then led to more to reinvest. While there were still haves and have-nots, the human condition of “have not” had become considerably better.

There is still a need for public safety, security and military capabilities. At the nation-state level, humanity has not overcome its vulnerability to demagogues and authoritarians. At the individual level, there is still crime in the real world — theft, murder, fraud (a lot of fraud moved into VNet). You could protect yourself physically via inexpensive weak-AI robotic security. Even though, with AI assistance, the world has gotten more sophisticated about treating mental health, there is also an ongoing problem with violence by a few disrupting many, made easier by technological advances.

The combination of these effects led first to a hollowing out of middle levels of government, and then the merging of entire nations into larger mega-states.

With the gradual depletion of role and income, governments weakened. As tax incomes dropped and services became redundant, those in power didn’t react quickly enough to block VNet while they still could. Once it became pervasive, those with wealth and influence had their own economic interests in it (including those in government), and it became a self-reinforcing phenomenon.

The broad regional security and economic alliances of Europe, North America, and ASEAN gradually evolved into meta-nations. The EU became Neutral Europe, and included the UK and Australia (as contiguous borders were no longer as relevant). North America called itself Pan-America, and has started to absorb some South American states. Much of the Middle East merged into a collective, the Muslim Alliance, which also eventually incorporated Pakistan. The region gradually, but inconsistently, moved beyond Shiite/Sunni schisms and religious violence.

These new meta-states had broad constitutions and oversight of military (including control of nuclear and biological weapons) and intelligence operations, although NetPol (see below) outgrew its political oversight.

Some nations held out and remained intact along historical borders: Russia, China, Japan and India in particular. The smaller, formerly Soviet states were absorbed by Russia, Neutral Europe, and China. China eventually, and controversially, absorbed the Koreas and became known as Greater China. At first, Africa lagged behind, but then took advantage of technological improvements to solve land and water management, rural healthcare, and education challenges. Most African countries have merged into the African States.

Within the mega-states, local community governance was still very important for people, and across the world still existed in a range from the very democratic to the very autocratic.

In military security, weaponry got smaller and more automated. Standing human armies shifted to robotic/drone capabilities, which were inexpensive to keep on standby and highly mobile. Outside of the major nation states, militaries started to look more privatized — contractors to government rather than run by the government itself.

Most nations, whether old or a new meta-state, increasingly needed to share intelligence to prevent breakouts of terror, especially given that money was now almost impossible to track. It was also now easier and cheaper to create weapons of mass destruction, both biological and non-biological. Most people were willing to trade privacy for safety/security, and so AI surveillance was a commonplace.

NetPol

The pressure for increased security and oversight began with the riots and violence caused by job loss and societal disruption during the transformation years. The need to share data and build out surveillance capabilities led to the creation of a multi-nation-spanning intelligence agency called NetPol. It began slowly and then accelerated with the merger of traditional intelligence agencies (starting with American and European). It was then augmented by the absorption of the large technology infovores, whose advertising/data aggregation business models were disrupted by VNet. These companies first diversified revenues into government/NetPol support and then were entirely merged in, bringing their enormous data repositories and AI capabilities, as well as greater agility and a passion for growth.

NetPol thus became its own globe-spanning behemoth, sitting across Pan-American, Neutral Europe, the African States, Japan, and India. Today, there is theoretical governmental oversight by these countries, but the reality is NetPol has become its own bureaucracy and power base. Basic civic liberties still exist in these nations, but they are weakened, especially in terms of privacy, search, seizure, and the right to a fast trial.

Greater China, ASEAN, Russia, and the Muslim Alliance each maintain their own intelligence capability, although they coordinate with NetPol on matters of importance.

NetPol has a dual purpose: to prevent terrorism and to provide oversight over weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear, and AI/robotics/drones). Through broad AI surveillance, they track people and goods (including oversight over the large network of 3D printing/assembly services). However, NetPol is limited within VNet, which is decentralized and has strong protections for individual data control and anonymity. NetPol tries to overcome this, leveraging their history with the absorbed tech giants, by providing tools and services, and trying to persuade people to exchange online privacy for utility/ease/entertainment. NetPol does some of this under the pretext of private companies and is largely successful.

NetPol enforces oversight of technology regulations/protections through regulation and compliance audits (with threat of jail and/or loss of physical property), and sometimes with more direct/violent methods if the security risk is deemed high and urgent. The lines between what public safety governments provide, and NetPol provides, have blurred, and in some cases shifted to NetPol. Thus civil liberties have also weakened, although the average person would not notice.

Society across much of the world lives under a strange dichotomy where VNet offers tremendous freedom, (optional) privacy and safety, whereas the real world feels more dangerous (even if the worst of the violence is over) and you are tracked almost everywhere.

NetPol worked aggressively to block the rise of artificial general intelligence (general purpose and sentient AI). This is grounded in legitimate fear, but also power preservation. Indeed, the early days of AI were marked by some terrible incidents where either AIs ran out of control with poorly designed optimization algorithms, or AIs were used by humans for criminal and violent purposes.

As an organization, NetPol is one driven by fear and suspicion: fear of the unknown potential of AI, fear and suspicion of humanity and the technological democratization of mass-destructive capability. While NetPol is like any bureaucracy, seeking preservation and growth of its own power, it is truly a mission-driven culture. They believe they are doing the right thing, providing for public safety and security, and thus believe the end justifies many unpleasant means. However, NetPol as a general rule, works to stay in the background, both in terms of oversight and enforcement, to maintain general public acceptance of their role.