Do you want to write a Sci-FI Economics paper? A call for co-authors

SF-ECON-city

The Science Fiction Economics Lab encourages contributions to economic theory and economic policy underpinning fictional economies. By “fictional economies” we mean economies that:

  1. Do not exist in fully realized form, but are nevertheless internally coherent and could, in principle, come to pass.
  2. Are radically different from the economy we do have.

As a part of the Lab’s maiden voyage, we organize a brainstorming session on November 12th 2019 on the campus of Université Libre de Bruxelles. Its purpose is to produce abstracts for papers to be written and published during 2020. We call on anyone interested in writing such papers to come forward. We will help authors with similar interests and complementary expertise find each other, and assist with the search for a publisher.

We invite contributions from a wide range of disciplines including – but not limited to – economics, social science, philosophy, history, design. We encourage Interdisciplinary contributions, and especially welcome applications from science fiction authors and readers. No credential is required apart from a keen interest in the issue at hand. We place no restriction on the contributions’ topic: examples of what we are looking for include value theory, fiscal and monetary policy, industrial organization, environmental policy, competition policy, economic history.

We encourage authors to draw inspiration from fictional economies depicted in science fiction novels. For example, in Walkaway Cory Doctorow shows us some small-scale economies based on public- and common goods, and peer production. How is that economy micro-founded? How are incentives tuned? What does behavioral economics have to do with it? Would it work at scale? If not, why not? What kind of policies might support it, or vice versa hinder it?

To apply, write a simple letter of intent to alberto@edgeryders.eu. Explain:

  1. Who you are (one paragraph).
  2. Why you are interested in being part of the Science Fiction Economics Lab (two paragraphs).
  3. What you would like to work on (maximum four paragraphs).
  4. Whether you plan to be in Brussels on November 11-12 2019 for the Lab’s maiden voyage.

We will be in touch with everybody who applies, and invite a limited number of contributors to our brainstorming session in Brussels.

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I’m adding my introduction here in response to Alberto’s call for posting.

I’m Jason Cole. I’ve been an educational technologist for the last 25 years, working with a range of schools and for profit businesses I’ve been working on my first novel part time for a few years and I’m almost ready to publish. I’m a lifelong science fiction reader who loves economic fiction including Cory Doctorow’s work, Charlie Stross’ Singularity series, Neal Stephenson’s Baroque cycle, Cryptonomicon, and The Diamond Age, and of course the post-scarcity economics of Star Trek. Reading in economics is also a hobby. I recently finished Mariana Mazzucato’s “The Value of Everything” and Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”.

I’m interested in joining the Science Fiction Economics Lab to both help improve my own writing and to help create new thinking around economics. My fiction tries to explore alternative means of organizing human production and resource distribution. The central thematic conflict in my book (and the plan for the series) is the struggle for the creation of a human-centered economy based on true accounting for biophysical limits and externalities.

We all know the limits of the current economic system and we can see the looming crises as we run into the biophysical and human limits the it ignores. Ironically it was Milton Friedman who said “Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.” We need a better class of ideas lying around.

I’d love to join the Lab to work with other smart, creative people to explore ideas for new economic models so the ideas can be lying around as we pass through the coming crises. As my friend Jamais Casicio put it in a recent talk “This is a remarkable point in history. Our past theories and practices have failed us. The futures that we imagined we’d have, that we’d hoped for, have been washed away in front of us. We can see with greater clarity than ever before the interwoven consequences of our decisions, and we are now left with the most terrifying of opportunities: We have to create something new.”

While I have some ideas, I’d love to explore a set of questions with the other participants. What if every human had intrinsic economic worth? What might a monetary system that reflected biophysical reality rather than feudal and colonial hegemony look like? How might we align systems with outcomes (health, happiness, welfare) rather than outputs (medicine, entertainment, money)? What might the political and cultural path to get us there entail? What stories would we tell during and after the transition? What will the struggle look like?

In the imagined economics I want to explore in my books, I assume energy and human ingenuity are the ultimate economic substitutes. With enough energy, we can create any material goods we wish. Building a currency based on energy production But until we have cheap fusion or a Dyson swarm, energy is a constraint. Human ingenuity can reduce the need for energy to achieve outcomes through scientific exploration, psychological understanding and cooperative forms of organization. Decisions are based on principles of commons management and cooperative planning.

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Exactly right. And our job is to make sure some ideas other than neoclassical economics are lying around. Today I was at the DECODE event in Turin, and Bruce Sterling (@bruces) pointed out that the room was full of fringy interesting people, structurally similar to Eastern European bohemians in the 1980s. “Then you are going to find yourself leading a Velvet Revolution, you will find yourselves ministers of something or other because there is no one else remotely qualified for the job of being élites in the new regime, and you’ll be glad you talked to each other”.

Well. I would like the Sci-Fi Economics Lab to be the economic corner of that.

Welcome, @JasonCole!

On Alberto’s request. one more letter of intent, edited for brevity:

I am Giorgos - a proud member of the new Greek diaspora. Shortly after my PhD, I left academia behind to work in the industry, working very hard to not become a manager. Which is becoming a problem, caring about people and how they work (i.e. in a fulfilling way or not), but not about post/turbo-capitalism and it’s hierarchies. At least it seems to be working out for now: I am lucky and happy to work in a flat company. (We have no managers, we unbundled the tasks of the last one - our former CEO - a year ago.) There, I am involved in understanding and evolving our so-called ‘flatland’. That is, engaging and enabling people, solving problems, creating tools, playing with concepts and practices. (All that while I’m also working as a senior system designer.) In a very real sense, I am working with what Cory Doctorow calls ‘the coordination problem’. Even more so, in a way similar to Walkaway’s ‘Belt and Braces’ inn (or at least I try). I’m one of the lucky ones.

I would very much like to work with the Science Fiction Economics Lab. I may have cheated by name-dropping Walkaway already. Yet in case it is not clear, the economics was my favorite part of Walkaway, one that doesn’t go away despite the intervening years. It resonated because it’s radical and yet plausible, in a way that other sci-fi is not. It is this plausibility that pokes at the geek inside me, to find it in real life and make it work. And I am doing exactly that, to the degree that I can. Yet I think it would be more fun doing it together, not to mention more efficient :slight_smile: .

Having said all that, unfortunately economics is not my topic. What I will be bringing to the table is rigorous analysis from distributed systems:

  • p2p systems
  • social graphs
  • smart grids
  • systems-of-systems

In the past, I have published on maximizing happiness in matchings (think kidney exchange programs), as well as making renewables work financially on a local level (think micropayments before blockchain was cool).

In the last few years I have been studying and working on something completely different: what motivates people and how successful communities work. This includes a variety of topics:

  • designing decision making processes,
  • conflict resolution,
  • ways to lower the bar to participation,
  • achieving more fair outcomes.

Trying to describe my interests, let me give you a list of (presumably) relevant works of fiction - some big on utopia, some handling economics - that piqued my interest. (It is my hope that everyone reading this will find at least one surprising entry :slight_smile:).

  • Bruce Sterling, The Caryatids (2009)
  • China Mieville, Iron Council (2004), The Last Days of New Paris (2016).
  • Ian M. Banks, The Culture book series
  • Star Trek: Next Generation (TV)
  • Maoyu (anime, 2013)
  • Log Horizon (anime, 2013)
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This did surprise me. Welcome, @gyrgir!

Thanks for your intro, @gyrgir I think I might disagree that economics isn’t your area of expertise! If you’re working on coordination problems, social graphs and smart grids, I’d argue you’re an economist.

I haven’t read the Last Days of New Paris. Just added it to my reading list. Looking forward to meeting you on Monday.

FYI - I’m arriving on Sunday evening if anyone wants to get together for a beer.

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Hi @JasonCole ! Thank you for the encouragement, that helps :slight_smile: . Maybe we need a new type of economist, the same way we decided we need a new type of leadership. (And who could predict that those ones would come out of MMOs these days, leading guilds etc? Exciting times!)

I keep your comment about every human having intrinsic economic worth, and the consequences of this bold statement. Spot on!

Unfortunately I will one of the few that cannot make it to Brussels :frowning: .
I hadn’t planned for it and a snap decision has both economic and environmental costs if you are starting from Scandinavia.

Meet you online soon, and meanwhile have a nice Belgian beer for me too!

Hello all! Just arrived in Brussels and now that I’ve managed to get some caffeine into my bloodstream, I’m getting around to posting.

I run a nonprofit called Free Machine and Cory Doctorow is one of our advisors – when I saw what you had got him up to, my partner/co-founder and I bought tickets to Brussels. So:

Personal introduction My background is in experimental and participatory performance. For about a decade, I made work within a fine art context, with and about the relationship between humans and technology, developing structures that invited participants to interrogate the politics of their lived experiences. As I was doing my graduate work at Carnegie Mellon, I became interested in game design, and went to work for a VR startup in Los Angeles, which is where I found myself when the 2016 US election cycle hit. I felt that I needed to close the gap between my politics and my work, and I co-founded Free Machine together with a collective of artists, designers, and civic researchers. We make narrative experiences that function as platforms to educate, engage, and organize folks around a critical left technopolitics. Our first project is called Future Perfect: A Postcapitalist Adventure. We are currently at work on a set of programs gathered under the umbrella title, A Public Option for AI. My dayjob is at Institutefor the Future, where I research and design engagement programs around themes including the future of work, critical approaches to smart cities, and data equity. In fall 2020 I’ll begin National Science Foundation-funded work on a Ph.D at Arizona State University in Human and Social Dimensions in Science and Technology.

My interest in the Lab SF, as Donna Haraway glosses it, is more than just science fiction–it is speculative fabulation, structural feminism, string figures. I believe passionately that SF is a necessary set of tools in the business of bending the future towards equity, inclusion, sustainability, and abundance. To metabolize an adversary’s insight: politics is downstream of culture. (This is Breitbart’s mantra.) And the minimum viable product of culture is a story. So this is one important function of SF: to translate the dryness of social science into the marshes of imagination and emotion, where it must go in order to transform philosophy and theory into a movement. The capacity to render (as Cory Doctorow does so masterfully) the abstract into the human is necessary for movement-building.

Of course, SF impacts not only the audience but the author. By casting our gaze into a world that is not our own, we jettison near-term political baggage (can this pass a vote in Parliament today?) in favor of visionary inspiration (what could our country look like in 15 years if our wildest dreams were realized?). This invites deeper, more meaningful questions to be asked and attempted. The possibility-space for problem-solving opens dramatically, and one finds oneself provoked by what may be found there. So, these possibilities are why I am drawn to the SF Economics Lab: the chance to catalyze provocative social science speculative thinking, and to translate visions of a more just and equitable future society into a form where they might root down into a popular movement.

Prospects for work with the Lab I am deeply interested in how data is conceptualized at various levels: by cultures, by academia, by industry, by government, and by individuals. I believe that there is potential for catalyzing popular social movements around the concepts of data rights and data ownership, as data takes on an ever-more central role in economies worldwide. Data cooperatives, trusts, unions, guilds, and/or any other associational configuration – these are proposals and phenomena that I wish to explore together with economists and other social scientists within a speculative framework. I believe that by defining various speculative future economic systems based on different configurations of ownership, rights, and commodification of data, we can expose the politics implicit in the decisions we make individually today, and envision how we could enact our politics through collective organized power in the future.

I am also interested in exploring speculative futures premised on cooperative structures, particularly in relationship to machine learning systems. For the last year I have been collaborating with SF author Cadwell Turnbull on the development of what will become an anthology of short SF stories, written by different authors but sharing a future world in which collectively-owned AI are commonplace. We imagine these stories as a collection of use cases and cautionary tales, aimed to illustrate what a machine learning system owned and governed by its stakeholders might look like. This is a topic I would also be interested in collaboratively exploring.

Besides these specific topics, I am very interested in facilitation. As part of the development of my collaboration with Turnbull, I’ve lead workshops with the Tech Workers Coalition to envision different cooperatively-owned and -operated products and services in city-specific future settings. As in: come up with some cooperatively-developed AI products that might arise in Chicago in the year 2035, given the historical, social, and environmental qualities of that city. In fact, I am coming to the SF Economics Lab launch from New York, where I lead another of these workshops (called Imagining Common Futures) as part of the Platform Coop Conference there.

My work at Institute for the Future involves me doing research on a particular sector or issue, then processing that information into future scenarios in the form of not just written reports/papers, but objects (‘future artifacts’), performance (protests from the future), and immersive role-playing experiences. I would be extremely excited to work with the SF Economics Lab to imagine ways of translating the output of discrete papers/projects into public/stakeholder engagement.

Thrilled to join you all, and looking forward to meeting at least some of you in person over the next few days.

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Yay! Welcome @bengansky, welcome back @jean_russell, welcome all! :star_struck:

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Looking forward to meeting you @bengansky. I’m hanging out in the centre of Brussels tonight if you are around.

Hello everyone. I still don’t know if I have been accepted to the brainstorming tomorrow, but am in Brussels at the moment so hope to meet you all.

Who I am

Jorge was born into a family of artisans and salespeople in Puerto Rico, studied to be a diplomat in Washington DC, and came of age during the 2008 global crash and the rise of the digital economy. For the past 8 years I have worked as an ethnographer and strategist, for clients in places like São Paulo, Lyon, Guangzhou, and Jeddah. The output varied, but most projects have involved understanding emerging systems and behaviors, often demystifying the technologies and cultural context underpinning them. This has always been guided by actively supporting communities that foster social justice, freedom of expression and democratic mobilization - such as Fearless Cities North America, The Feast, and Digital Democracy. A moment of reckoning two years ago led me to Berlin to co-found Coliga, a values-led startup offering infrastructure for freelancers, cooperatives, and de-centralized organizations. I’m currently focused on supporting projects innovating food systems and food culture, as well as health - including mental and sexual health.

Why I’m interested in Science Fiction Economics Lab

As a design researcher and activist, I’ve always incorporated Science Fiction into my work and the use of speculative methods to reveal narratives to guide us. Recently, I’ve become preoccupied with the experiencing and sensing of the future - not just thinking about it was rational modeling but also subconscious somatism - as an integral part to fight the dystopia and provoke change. This is informed by my role in leading recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and thinking of how to spark bold thinking in the middle of a crisis. In a larger frame, it directly related to piloting alternatives that might help us avert or minimize the worst of climate collapse and the domino effect in politics and society.Given that these topics all relate to the way people derive livelihoods, consume resources, and create well-being - in essence, economics - I’m interesting in speculating on what these responses might be and even piloting some of them.

Areas of interest to work on

There are two themes areas that I’m interested in, within the context of my current research on peripheries and edges: developing work around black/grey economies and the spaces/institutions they operate in or around of.

Townsquares of the post-collapse

Many depictions of the world post-crisis are famous for how the portray the post-collapse order, often responding to tropes of the Wild West or the Medieval period: the tavern owners, the blacksmith/technologist recovering leftover technology, the doctor making do. What can we learn about the institutions and archetypes that live on in the collective imaginary of the post-apocalypse?

The Smugglers

Many sci-fi stories hinge on the figure of the ‘smuggler’ - the person operating in the grey zones between authorities, safe zones, or inhabited areas. political economy around key ‘smugglers’ (including pirates and bandits) in science fiction lore, and attempt to understand the role attributed to ‘black markets’ and ‘outlaw’ areas within the context of future economies.

Furthermore, and in line with the frame of experiencing the future, I’m keen in working to transform or present any research or paper through a variety of media, from performances and installations to speculative exercises. For example, my most recent work was a two-week art residency called Peripheral Intuitions in Berlin. In short, it was an attempt to model alternatives to the present and the future through art, workshop, and healing experiences.

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Accepted, accepted! Come along tomorrow, we’ll take it from there. And welcome :slight_smile:

Hi Everyone!

Adding my submission to the call here:

Who you are (one paragraph).

I am an award-winning member of the Association of Professional Futurists and a NextGen Foresight Fellow from Toronto. My research (e.g. Building Brave New Worlds: Science Fiction and Transition Design) is entrenched in how science fiction can inform the design of complex systems in the future. My most recent keynote was for Business Finland and the Office of the Finnish Prime Minister on Utopias.

My creative practice includes making story-based speculative designs and experiential futures to help organizations and the public better understand complex emerging issues. My most notable work is "The Only Three Trends That Matter’ which featured Job Ads from the Future, and introduced a systems-based minimum specification for future-proofing. This piece has influenced organizations such as research institutes to adjust their approach to the future of work. As a practitioner, I integrate my worldbuilding and storytelling techniques into strategy and business model innovation across a wide range of industries.

Why you are interested in being part of the Science Fiction Economics Lab (two paragraphs).

The approach and objectives of the lab are closely aligned with my work and research. I am currently working on speculative designs and research papers without institutional affiliation. I also believe we will get further, faster if we work together and I appreciate the opportunity to combine my efforts with others.

What you would like to work on (maximum four paragraphs).

I believe there is an opportunity to reimagine corporate governance and board structures, the individuals they are comprised of, and how they measure success. This may include reimagining profit and performance, without necessarily discarding the concept of profit altogether. Though B-Corps and social enterprises are a step in the right direction, those structures are not getting adopted by multinational corporations — the worst environmental and social offenders. We need tangible transition pathways to the future that demonstrate how organizations might evolve beyond existing power structures. When possible, I would also like to create digital speculative design artefacts to communicate my insights and ideas broadly.

I would also like to explore what a balanced economic system may look like, focusing on missing roles in society. For instance, should we have lobbyists and what might an ethical counterpart look like?

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Hello, @Leah, welcome!

Aloha,

First, we’d like to thank @alberto for starting this topic.

Who you are (one paragraph).
A collaborative couple who very recently joined Edgeryders.

University of California San Diego Bachelor of Arts - BA Visual Arts - Film, Video, Photography and Communication Summa cum Laude, Regents Scholar

Humboldt State University Master of Fine Arts - MFA Directing for Film and Theatre

We both received Jacob K. Javits Fellowships to pursue our MFAs, Directing for Film and Theatre. We are the only collaborative couple in the history of the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship to both receive this award.

Why you are interested in being part of the Science Fiction Economics Lab (two paragraphs).

As screenwriters, freelance writers, media producers, PTSD Counselors, educators & Improv Theatre Directors we seek to employ collective unconscious archetypes, pre- and perinatal psychology & social psychology for transformation of society.

The genre we feel best enables this is Cyberpunk and to that end we have written an original feature length screenplay we now wish to rewrite and include an appropriate economic model.

What you would like to work on (maximum four paragraphs).

We’ve read the discussions and feel closely aligned with the ideas of “ Townsquares of the post-collapse ” and “ The Smugglers ” as explained by Jorge. These fit quite well with the cyberpunk world scenarios we’ve created for our RPG.

Developing new narratives supporting analysis of root causes of symptoms of dysfunctional system widely perceived as normal. BAU neo-lib economics seem to lie at the core, very close to foundation, as a reification of underlying patho-psychology.

Since we utilize RPG worlds to work out our stories adding appropriate economics would help us a great deal. When we write we first imagine our characters in-world and then merely report what happens.

Whether you plan to be in Brussels on November 11-12 2019 for the Lab’s maiden voyage.

Cannot make it, unfortunately. We’re on Maui and just joined here and only just found out about it. We are very interested in participating online.

Respectfully,
Usal

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Welcome to both halves of @Usal! I am intrigued by your RPG take on the Lab’s activities, can you say more about the games you develop?

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@Usal I’m also very intrigued by the PTSD counseling you mentioned. Does it involve role playing by any chance? How does it inform your activities?

Thank you @alberto for the welcome! Not sure if what we do is properly game development. It feels more like we use those tools to develop a world within which to place our stories and to define our characters within the roles required by narrative structure.

It seems a big part of game development involves the game engine or game mechanics, the rules of the game. We use either the Savage Worlds rules or the 2 Hour Wargames rules for this, depending upon the scenario we wish to play out.

There is a sub-genre of RPG referred to as “narrative role playing” where part of the game is developing a story collaboratively between the GM & players rather than just rolling the dice for combat & movement. We are most interested in this aspect. It seems that some people turn this into speculative fiction, back-story or fluff, to expand on the nature of the worlds the games takes place in. Games Workshop in particular publishes many novels of stories that take place in their gaming worlds. Also, sometimes characters created in the novels end up becoming models with game statistics making them playable in games. Inquisitor and Rogue Trader specifically work this way.

However, these game worlds lack intimate detail, such as specific dialog clues between characters and even the psychological profiles that would put a player “in character”. This is one place where we do a lot of development. We use Jungian archetypes with Freudian psychologies as extended by Melanie Klein and W.R. Bion.

Also, the games themselves tend to be confined within narrow conceptual terrains, no doubt to make the rules easier to implement. The settings are fabulous in a superficial way, something resembling the eye-candy in recent Hollywood “cyberpunk aesthetic” productions like the Scarlett Johansson Ghost in the Shell & the latest Blade Runner. In this sense, they seem to us to lack a certain dimensionality, they don’t feel like complete worlds and more like a Disney Land set with stock animatronic robots and the story literally on railroad tracks. This is another place where we do a lot of development to make it more realistic by opening up possibilities for surprises.

And, we seek to develop a true narrative structure. In the past we experimented with non-linear and experimental structures and audiences found them confusing while totally missing the point. After more research, we came around to the same structure used by Hollywood to create blockbusters with true global appeal. Wondering why this singular structure appeared so successful, further research revealed deep psychological reasons why this was so and convinced us to use this structure. No RPG we’ve been able to find develops such a satisfying narrative. So, we do a lot of development around the narrative structure. We make the distinction that we do not work within a “formula” but rather drape the meat of our narrative on the skeleton of a universally recognizable structure.

One more thing, we do a lot of development on the scenario, the set up, the main through-line of the story. We ask, “What’s at stake?” & “What must the lead character overcome personally?” & “What drives the characters?” so that they seem forced to take certain actions and say certain things due to these parameters.

Much of this is readily accessible in the mundane everyday contemporary world but we wish to occupy the future. And a future as an extension of contemporary BAU does not exist, in our opinion. So merely taking everyday people and transporting them into the future does not seem possible. The future can’t hold them or sustain their dysfunctional personalities. We wish to write about transformed people living in a world of loss. To do this, we’ve found using RPG & TT gaming tools useful.

We recognize that this would then lend itself to developing scenarios for RPG & TT game play as well as LARP environments but have yet to explore that. Savage Worlds seems more available to this type of expansion than Games Workshop. We’re open to exploring that direction. To date we’ve only developed an original feature length screenplay that we wish to rewrite.

To look at this from a larger perspective, we feel that the world needs new stories & not just cold data presented in graphs & charts by a scientist. Not enough people appear convinced of the state of the world or what is needed to have a future. The path we’ve chosen is narrative story telling evolved in a collaborative setting extending beyond ourselves.

People proved they can change what they are. Internalized narratives helped change what people are. Every change people have made in the last 200,000 years is merely a prologue to the change they must make now.