I dreamt a dream within a dream and found myself with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander, Pythagoras, and Musk. We were gathered around the table in Pythagoras’ home, laughing, drinking, talking. Pythagoras raised his goblet for another toast.
“Fellow seekers, we are most fortunate on this most auspicious night to enjoy the benefaction of Mr. Elon Musk’s most convenient time machine!”
“Here, here!” we all cried.
“Plato,” he continued, “we are grateful for your work, The Republic, for its dedication to blueprinting an ideal society. Socrates, we are grateful for your inspiration. Aristotle, we are grateful for your legacy, and Alexander, for your execution. Musk, we are most grateful for your invention! Let us take this opportunity to explore and inscribe the ideal society, with Master Musk’s input adamantly considered.”
Everyone took another sip, and looked back at Pythagoras.
“Musk, my friend...”
“Given your understanding of Plato’s Republic, in conjunction with your understanding of our world several thousand years from this moment, what would you advise we do?”
Musk smiled, and proceeded to speak.
Musk began, "Plato's Republic is brilliant insofar as it justifies our need for the leaders of a society to be philosophers - that is, academics, intellectuals, scholars. It is the year 2018, our world is more interconnected than ever, and our rulers are not individual people, but legal entities, multinational corporations - what Plato would call the 'merchant class' - hegemonically stifling our collective evolution. This is one problem that Plato did not entirely foresee. A solution, and opportunity, lies in technology."
"What are you envisioning?" I interrupted.
Musk paused and took another sip. "Educational technology. Socrates, would you agree?"
"I would," he replied.
"Plato, you were right to infer that education is the x-factor, if we will, in succeeding at society, you might say," Musk continued. "Technology may as well be the y-factor, so to speak. In the year 2018, we share images and sounds at the speed of light itself, and this bears massive, positive implications for education - yet we have not capitalized."
"What sort of educational technology do you have in mind?" Pythagoras asked.
"I envision a universal, global academy that effectively leverages information technology to maximize learning everywhere, all municipalities, all countries, all disciplines."
We all kept listening.
Socrates interrupted Musk.
“And how are we to finance such a technology?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“I know nothing, but one true, justified belief that I own concerns the concept of ownership as it relates to the concept of justice. Justice is the means by which we agree to divide resources on a table. Justice is the discipline through which we determine who is owed what. Injustice is a function of debt - someone owes someone else something, or someone is owed something by someone else. That idea in mind, I can speculate that this global, educational technology would be quite expensive to build, maintain, and refine. It would involve all members of all cities, states, and empires to agree upon a just method of payment. Yet, I assume that in the year 2018, our world is yet divided by different modes of speaking and different items of value.”
“That is correct,” Musk replied. “Language is not the issue so much as currency is, though. Ideally, we would have a universal world currency, as well as a global UBI...”
“What is currency, and what is a UBI?” Alexander asked.
Elon Musk paused, and downed another swig. "Currency," gulp, "is the practical essence of value, a mathematical nomination attributed to the fair market worth of something."
"Yes, and no. The ancient world knew currency as coin, until paper money, until digital money. Currency is the means by which one acquires value, or capital, and 'UBI' is Universal Basic Income, or a guaranteed recurring income of currency for all."
"And what would that encompass?" asked Alexander the Great.
"It would encompass a guaranteed amount of shelter, medicine, food, and education," replied Musk. "It would encompass a slice of the pie we call society."
Pythagoras chortled. "And what if there are too many more particpants than there is pie?"
"I doubt that is the case, especially with our expected technological output."
"What is that figure?" Plato asked.
Musk sparked a joint, and took his time.
"That figure," dear Plato, "is enough for everyone to afford philosophizing all day, every day. The Sun produces enough clean energy to power everything on Earth - including all technology and civilization - including artificial intelligence. We are creating a Sun of our own - the Quantum Computer - and a Moon, if you will, to accompany it - AI. Such technology can build cities, manage waste, grow and cook food, as well as create and distribute medicine. We have the opportunity to harness solar, computing, and AI power to automate the process by which all humans' needs are perfectly addressed, leaving us with a cornucopic surplus of time to spend learning, socializing, creating, and celebrating, never having to worry about crime, hunger, disease, suffering. The future from this standpoint looks quite bright."
"Then what is in our way?" Pythagoras asked.
Musk passed the joint and continued. "I'll use 21st-century tongue here. Big Oil can prevent solar power's triumph and ubiquity, and it can destroy the environment and extinct humanity. A Quantum Computer in the wrong hands is exponentially more lethal than an Atomic Bomb because it can be used to hack virtually anything, including a power grid. And of course, AI can resolve to exterminate humanity, or at the very least enslave, in a way that doesn't address our fundamental needs, making us suffer."
"It would seem that a solution to your third problem," Aristotle announced, "is an ethical framework that would ensure any machine could never commit such wrongs."
"Yes. An ethical operating system."
Aristotle interrupted Musk.
“Ethics is the philosophical school of thought concerning what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad,’ and how we can rationally discern between the two. I taught my son, Nicomachus, that ethics is a matter of balance to achieve virtue, which leads to happiness, to thriving. For every element of personality, there is a virtue and a vice. The vice can be excess or deficiency. For instance, there is the deficiency that is poor self-esteem, the excess that is arrogance, and the virtue that is the golden mean between the two - pride - "
"I think you are making matters too complicated," Socrates interjected.
"I would agree," stated Plato.
"Virtue, ethics, morality," Socrates continued, "is a matter of ownership. What we call 'wrong' or 'immoral' or 'evil' is the result of theft. 'Murder,' for instance, is the stealing of a life. 'Lying' is the stealing of truth. Justice, therefore, is a function of rightful property distribution, in terms of the body and mind alike."
"That's all great," said Musk, "but from the standpoint of defending humanity against the potential perils of AI, we must be more specific. The devil's in the details. For example, consider a self-driving car - a fully automated means of transportation. In this scenario, the car must choose between killing a world leader versus killing 10 civilians. It has 2,500 milliseconds to decide. What is the equation? What is the right choice?"
There was a long pause.
"Enter utilitarianism," I said, casually.
"Utilitarianism, to the best of my knowledge, is economics times ethics. A transactionalization of 'right' and 'wrong.' In the mind of a utilitarian, 'right' is a function of pleasure, or happiness, whereas 'wrong' is a function of pain, or unhappiness. So ethics is a matter of maximizing happiness for all and minimizing pain for all."
"Interesting," said Aristotle.
"In the example of a self-driving car, what I would recommend is a form of programming that accounts for the net-happiness-effect as a result of an accident. Of course, this prospect opens a whole can of worms as to how we determine the amount of pleasure or happiness to be derived from one individual or group versus another. I just do not know the answer."
"None of us do," said Musk.
"If I may," began Plato, "I would contend that, regardless of whether ethics is a matter of ownership or a matter of utility, pleasure, or happiness, what we can all perhaps agree upon is that, in the year 2019 on Earth, there seems to be an opportunity, within the century, to lay a framework for a global society devoid of crime. Is that a fair assessment?"
"Yes and no," I said, "but, mostly, yes. That is the dream, certainly."
"The dream seems far from our reality. Our reality is a world in which too many suffer too much and too often. It is the best and worst of times indeed. Murder, rape, starvation, all evils, are rampent. The Kali Yuga is indeed upon us. But the night is darkest before the dawn, and there is an opportunity to transform this reality into the dream. We can create a world without crime - always misdemeanors, we are human after all - but no crime..."
"But how?" they all cried concurrently.
"Step one is defining crime. Step two is offering public workers financial incentive for eliminating crime. Imagine D.C. becoming the new Wall Street. Imagine Senators who make seven-figures in return for achieving certain crime-contingent milestones for which their voters elected them - such as eliminating homeless in you-name-it. We employ the government, after all, so it's about time we start managing and motivating them effectively."
Plato shrugged. "I suppose the reality is merchants will always be merchants, and will never be philosophers. Merchants should never rule, only philosophers."
I responded, "It doesn't matter. The structure of this system is such that the merchants must behave like philosophers, must obey reason and pay respect for empirical evidence, if they are to succeed. Because the only way to eliminate all crimes is by thinking like a philosopher - analyzing every angle imagine."
"If I may..." Aristotle began.
“Governance,” Aristotle continued, “can take one of three primary forms: democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three forms. Democracy is the fairest in theory, but if the majority of voters are more vicious than they are virtuous, then democracy cannabilizes itself. On the other extreme, we have monarchy, which - in theory - could be supremely more efficient than democracy, provided that the one individual, with total power, is the most virtuous and least vicious person for that job. As a mean, we have aristocracy, whereby the king and the people alike bestow a considerable sum of their power and trust upon a select, elite group of individuals. Of course, if said group is more vicious than virtuous, then society is dealt an equal degree of injustice. These three forms considered, the question at hand then concerns which of the three would be most conducive toward eliminating all crime on Earth.”
Alexander stood. “Monarchy is ideal but equally unrealistic. From what Musk has shared with us, Earth in the year 2019 AD is dominated by aristocratic rule, but, correct me if I am mistaken, teacher, but would its perversion not be denominated by ‘oligarchy,’ and, given the state of affairs, would it be safe to conclude that this form of governance is not suitable, either?”
“I would not disagree with your reasoning,” replied Aristotle.
“Then I cannot help but infer that democracy is our only hope.”
“Democracy is a possibility,” said Socrates, “but provided, and only provided, that education ensures every voting party is wise, just, and hence competent, to engage in the democratic process.”
Everyone at the table seemed to agree.
After a long pause, Plato stated, “Perhaps, then, in summary, we can agree upon democracy and education as key ingredients. But how do we achieve such an end?”
“Again. Technology,” cackled Musk.
"How do you mean?" asked Plato.
Musk auspiciously grinned. "I mean, leveraging technology to accomplish democracy, on a globalized scale, is easy. Blockchain, 256-bit encryption, ID verification, decentralized streamlining. I'm not concerned with that. The real challenge, the ultimate problem, in many ways, is orchestrating education, by means of technology, to ensure that democracy doesn't succumb to any tragedy of the commons. In the year 2019, education is outdated by hundreds of years. Education needs to be educated, which, seemingly, is a catch-22. Regardless of the workaround, here's what needs to happen.
"Education needs to embrace virtual reality - the means by which you can see someone else, and speak with that person, in a digital setting. In terms of curriculum, 21st-century education is long-overdue for a 21st-century upgrade. Core subjects are physical education, mathematics, reading/writing, history, science, social studies, art. Our core curriculae must accommodate the full spectrum of intelligence - of personal development. Physical education must be replaced by 'health' - physical health and mental health alike. Finance, philosophy, and career development must be their own core subjects as well. Law and politics might as well be added to the mix. There must also be a core teaching of rudimentary life skills - cooking, mechanics, social intelligence. We must apply a precise leveling system, if you will, to each of these core areas of learning, and we must not limit someone by their age to their level. For instance, if you are six years old but are proficient in algebra, you should be placed at - say - 'mathematics level seven.'
"Financially, practically speaking, we must pay teachers, of any level, at least $100,000 per year, and progressively, globally speaking, we must judge the quality of our global civilization in terms of how educated its members are, by rethinking how we test and gauge learning development. If we master education, then we master democracy, then we master justice - and only in that order. Technology is truly the key to this mastery because technology empowers our civilization to conquer time and space alike."
"So what you are suggesting, if I understand correctly, is rule by intellect?" asked Plato.
"More or less. Intelligence conquers all."
"I tried that with Athens," Plato continued. "I tried convincing the politicians to allow the philosophers - the wisest, most intellectually advanced members of society - to rule, and I failed. Quite miserably."
There was a long pause. Finally, Alexander spoke.
"I may know why."