Technological progress is becoming so fast that we need scifi to understand the present. A prompt:

Our current economic system is already a superintelligent global AI. The utility function that it maximizes is shareholder value. The hardware it runs on is humans. This superintelligent global AI is a misaligned AI on which we cannot pull the plug. The not-yet-superintelligent tech-AI we have since 2023 will speed up the superintelligent global AI, very much as in the famous paperclip thought experiment. 1

I list some books that help me to understand these and related issues better. I’d be curious to know what you have on your list.


What can the collapse of former civilizations tell us about today? How fragile is our current economic system? How close are our societies (and the natural ecosystems in which they are embedded) to tipping points?

Flourishing (Efflorescence)

In the long run, how do we conceive of a flourishing humanity that lives in balance with the natural ecosystems on which our life depends?



Are our societies able to take global warming seriously as long as corporate interests dominate politics? Is rising inequality an inevitable consequence of our current economic system? Are capitalism and democracy compatible in the long run?


Why did humans evolve to cooperate? Why did humans evolve the ability to reason? In which societies and institutional frameworks does cooperation flourish? How do culture and psychology and economics influence each other?

Democracy, Oligarchy, Political Science

Why is democracy declining and authoritarianism on the rise? What conditions make democracy work? Can we employ modern technology to strengthen democracy?


In the wake of the murder of George Floyd there has been a fierce debate about systemic racism and how it manifests itself in the economy, in education, the military, police, etc. But what even is the system? In a first approximation, I would say the system is the law.

The Alignment Problem (Technology/Society/Ethics)

How does technology drive societal change? How can we align technology (and the economy) to human values?

Philosophy and Ethics

The paradox of market economies (epitomized by the slogan “Greed is Good”) is that markets work best if they serve intrinsic values. But what are intrinsic values and how can we agree on them? Even seemingly technical questions (how to account for externalities, which economic activities to include in the GDP, etc) ultimately are ethical questions. There is a widespread feeling that utilitarian ethics is not sufficient, but what are the alternatives?


History studies how societies change, a topic that was never more important than today.

(on my reading list (next summer))

  1. See Scott Alexander on the Moloch, Bostrom on superintelligence (and paperclips) and also this video with Schmachtenberger