Lessons From The Failure Of The Optimal Future Project?

It seems that there was already an effort to create a broad futurist platform called Optimal Future. There’s not much left of it: There’s one post in the Less Wrong forum entitled Creating an Optimal Future. And there is the main page of the Optimal Future project on the Wayback Machine internet archive. Let me just copy the whole Less Wrong starting post in here for convenience:

Creating an Optimal Future. It sounds very arrogant when I type it
out. A more reasonable claim would be that it is possible to create a
Less Wrong Future, but for reasons that will shortly become apparent
that felt like stepping too hard on other people’s shoes. I suppose
Working Towards an Optimal Future would be the best title for what I
have in mind.

Let me backtrack and start at the beginning. I am not a rationalist.
Well, I am not a rationalist as the term applies in this community. Not
completely anyway. I have only read some of the Sequences and, although
I’ve devoured HPMOR, I do understand and agree with a number of the
criticisms that have been leveled toward it.

But I am here because of that Optimal Future I have mentioned. The
way I see it, we are not currently on a trajectory that will lead to an
optimal future and I am fairly confident that you agree with me on that.
From what I have seen and heard from various online communities over
the years, quite a few people do agree with me on that.

But the problem is, a few thousand people visit Less Wrong regularly,
generating and evolving a unique memescape. And a few miles down the
information highway, another few thousand people post to Humanity+
mailing lists; building up a different memescape. There is some overlap,
naturally, but not nearly enough. And in another corner of the
internet, environmentalist factions sit in their own forums and discuss a
different set of problems affecting (trans)humanity’s future. In yet
another corner, socialists imagine utopias built on free access to
nanofabricators (while anarchists imagine a similar utopia sans the

All in all, there may be near to a million people looking at future
problems and solutions. But as long as they do so in small fringe
groups, the solutions they can think up are limited. Worse, “junk” memes
start sweeping into the community, harming recruitment and giving the
underlying philosophies a bad name. To push the metaphor about as far as
it can go: these communities tend to get a bit inbred over time.
And a million voices fail to affect policies in any way, because for
all the hopes and fears they share they fail to coordinate and
collaborate. Meanwhile, the world continues to move along a sub-optimal

Which, finally, leads us back to Optimal Future. In discussing the
problems above with friends, we hit upon an obvious solution: build a
place where all futurists and people who care about the future (but do
not self identify as futurist) can discuss the relevant topics and
hopefully find novel solutions through combining memes that one wouldn’t
normally think to combine.

Which is why I am here now. The site has been built, but then that
was always going to be the easiest part. The hard part is building a
diverse and active community. That’s where you come in. LessWrong is one
of the most active future thinking communities on the web, and also a
fairly controversial one. Having you as part of the community could make
a lot of difference to us. In exchange we can offer you a wider
audience and some new perspectives.

So if you are curious as to how a Friendly AGI designed by anarchist
would be different to one designed by Greens, feel like scaring
communists with what horrors a corporate paperclip maximizer could
commit, want to see how wide the spectrum of transhumanists really is,
want to learn about cryptography or sousveillance, or feel like debating
the pros and cons of open sourced AIs, come on down to
optimalfuture.org and take a look at the bigger picture.

Now, there was a lot of criticism on the Less Wrong thread and only a rather moderate amount of cautious enthusiasm for it. I don’t really know why the project failed. That’s what I want to find out here. And if we can find the reasons behind the eventual disappearance of the Optimal Future project, then we might adjust our own community in order not to suffer the same fate.

If there is a generic lesson to take from this, then it’s that it is really hard to pull off any kind of successful “meta-community”. Maybe we should look for examples where such meta-communities have actually been quite successful. And if there aren’t many of those, then the lesson might be that collaboration between different project and communities should be facilitated in a way other than creating a meta-platform. Bilateral collaboration efforts might be the best way to move forward in that case. But at this stage, this would be a premature conclusion. What we need now is data about how we can succeed in our tasks to:

  • Support individual futurist projects
  • Facilitate effective collaboration between different futurist projects

Or we could move even further and ask which of both is more likely or needed to move us towards a better future.


From experience, is possible.

With a simple Facebook group and four volunteers we got people from RBE communities, transhumanists, occupy supporters, and even new age groups.

The reason it fell was infiltration by an unnamed group which got one of the main volunteers into seed the intrigue. I saved the group from a takeover by a political movement from Spain, but this other group was more heinous, more organized. For the well being of the other participant groups, “New Nations” had to die.

Trolls, infiltrates, political spammers/operators from opponent groups. All those are the ultimate tragedy. Beware, mark my words.

The Facebook group “New Nations” never went over 100 members. Why then would I say was quite successful? Because it was integrated almost fully by the leaders themselves of other groups.

It was a launching platform for their own groups, and was not bullying the participants. It was certainly not to promote “a one and single group”. And most importantly, every member that was also a leader was granted full permission and voice. The “UN” approach, where the leaders made the decisions for the sake of all.

You can not try to unite different groups without speaking to the leaders, or you will not be taken seriously, or even been polite.

You can’t even attract without surrender some power too. Take for example TPV, they are now considering having a website of their own to chat.

In brief, the key is to talk DIRECTLY among the leaders, and negotiate.

Your story sounds plausible. Infiltrators can do great harm, so great care has to be taken not to allow infiltrators to gain any significant power over the community. They have to be isolated and excised quickly.

And yes, TPV is trying to create a hub for the different transhumanist parties. This happened quicker than expected, but I think it’s good that is happened so fast. So, coordinating the transhumanist parties is something that this platform does not have to do!

We can focus on something else entirely.

Let’s gain some distance first. What about meta-communities? I think meta-communities are only successful if the different communities all realize a need for collaborating on a higher level. When the impulse to form such a meta-community comes from within them, from multiple different sources at once, then it’s likely that the creation of a meta-community will be accepted.

But if it’s “just another website” that attempts to unite different communities, those communities will rightfully ask: “What’s the point of that?” Because they basically have nothing to coordinate, because they are different disjoint communities without common projects.

A meta-community might emerge naturally out of bilateral cooperation between two different communities. That would be a solid base for a community network. Connecting different communities with weak ties does not create a meta-community. After the first solid bilateral cooperation, more bilateral partnerships could join the network. Also, multilateral partnerships might emerge, giving the network the structure of a hypergraph:

Once you got a solid hypergraph, you have effectively a meta-community.

But this shows: It’s almost impossible to start out with the intention of being a meta-community. You need to have at least a concrete pair of communities that you want to bridge. That is the minimum.

So, what about not trying to be a meta-community, but simply a community with its own focus. A community that would offer the services of a meta-community platform as second thought. Now what could be the first thought? I think it might be the following:

There are many interesting ideas and projects, but many get stuck somewhere. We want to change that. We want to lead projects from their earliest stages until their completion, ideally. We need to create a community that provides the skills, knowledge, and resources that can do that. That would be the primary orientation of the platform. What do you think about that?

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All those comes with people. Its the ouroboros eating itself. Unless, you manage to gather people with projects alike, before they join your community. Then you only need a minimum of volunteers to coordinate the first connection, or a software doing it automatically.

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This is very interesting. Here is an idea that maybe is involved in making meta-communities fail:
I find often in groups like those you mention, and even in physics which i study, that people that study or work on something tend to think that what they do is “everything”. Many transhumanists think of their ideology as the umbrella term for everything worthy, similarly for many green supporters, and TZM, and TVP, and socialists, etc. They all think of themselves already as the meta-community that everyone should join as a subcategory. I mean, this seems like it is very common, not just in social movements. I hear people studying condensed matter physics saying that what they study is essentially everything, similarly with particle physicists that say that as everything is made of particles, everything is a sub-discipline of their field, in effect. Similarly with cosmologists, and with quantum information theorists, and with computer scientists (for Stephen Wolfram, literally everything is computation), cognitive scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, category theorists.

It is everywhere! Now, we should try to understand this. I think the reason this happens, is not because these people are not clever enough to “see a big-picture”. I think they are all very clever, and they all have valid coherent views of the world, which connect lots and lots of their experience, and makes lots of sense as a consistent framework and world-view. These are all very good world-views, with many people having worked on them for years, so it makes sense that they see it as being able to explain everything, because more or less it does.

We are here confronted with the fact that many views of the world are all equally valid, however they are all so different that people in them cannot collaborate effectively. As I said, I see this everyday in politics and in science.

From this, I have independently concluded what you seem to have concluded also, that a meta-community may not really be possible, at least as a thing that is designed on the outset, as for it you would have to somehow create a world-view that encompasses all of the other valid world-views, and that is extremely hard, if not impossible.

On the other hand, I think we should let the meta-community aspects emerge themselves over time, realizing that, just like with the fractal society, a full coherent picture and effort over the whole noosphere may never be achieved (and I don’t think we want it anyways). On the other hand, collaboration is fostered on a case by case basis. When we find two world-views which can be connected in some way, they should. This connection may be such that the two world-views are subsets of a more powerful one that includes both, or it may be a weaker connection such as some aspects of each world-view overlapping and so they can collaborate on efforts on that.

There maybe people who dedicate themselves to bridge ideas, generalists, interdisciplinarians, people who work on holistic views, and systems thinking. These people will help bridge a lot of gaps, but we can’t expect them to bridge everything.

I think these different degrees of collaboration will work similarly to the fractal society idea, but for ideas, and it is probably the best, or at least a good, option, for the same reasons discussed for the former.

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