By @SimonCocking

Artificial Intelligence expert tries to create Utopian settlement and it all goes horribly wrong.

Dylan Evans  @evansd66  was a successful academic robotics developer, when he wondered if there was more to life, and what would happen in the event of a catastrophic event in the future, which could wipe out large numbers of humanity. From there the idea took root to see what it would be like to live through this scenario. Eventually he quit his job, sold his house, advertised for volunteers, and found some where remote in Scotland to realise this idea.

As he dryly notes in the introduction, this all eventually ended very badly, with Evan’s himself having to spend time in a mental asylum. With such a spectacular introduction you’d be hard pushed not to be hooked and curious to know what happened next ..

Evan’s acknowledges that he created some of his own challenges to the potential success of the project. He limited the amount of time participants could spend on the project to 3 months, there was a hazy definition of how much the outside world could be engaged with. Was it ok to do a weekly run to Tesco for example? Finally he was both a participant, project manager, and bankrolling the initiative.

From here on you could almost say ‘sit back and watch it all inevitably unravel’. One thing in Evan’s favour is that he clearly realises this, and admits it took him several years before he was even able to discus and write this story. This is to the good of the book, as he applies some seeringly honest self criticism and honesty in terms of what a flawed concept it was.

For the reader, much like watching Titanic, it makes for a fascinating read, even though we know our narrator is going down with the ship. It’s no spolier alert to mention this, as the story begins from the mental asylum he finally got himself admitted to, as the logical and necessary conclusion to the project for him.

As a bonus for our readers we tracked him down to his current location in Antigua, Guatemala, and asked him a few questions about the whole experience.

Q: UCC, Cork, how did you find living in Cork, Ireland, after your UK experience?

A: After the Utopia Experiment I moved to Ireland and spent five years there. I met lots of great people, including the woman who is now my
wife. So in many ways Ireland was good to me. But I always seem to get in trouble, no matter where I am, and Ireland was no exception. While
working at University College Cork a female colleague accused me of sexual harassment after I showed her a scientific paper about fruitbats having oral sex. That was devastating, and I ended up taking the University to the High Court, where I won a historic victory. But the whole process was very stressful.

Q: Afterwards you went to the US, Central and South America?

A: For the past year I’ve been living in Guatemala. I love it out here. The people are very warm and friendly, and so is the climate. Plus I can survive out here on what I earn from writing, because the cost of living is quite low. Last but not least I’m fascinated by the history of the great pre-Columbian civilizations, such as the Aztecs, the Maya and the Inca. I’m currently working on a novel set in Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala when it was part of the Spanish empire.

Q: Understandable it took you a few years before you were ready to write about it. What good things did you take away from it?

A: It took me a long time to write the book because I felt ashamed of what happened. I started off with such grand ambitions, and didn’t achieve any of them. Even worse, I went mad and spent a month in a psychiatric hospital. It took me a long time to get over this sense of shame, and to summon up the courage to tell the truth about what happened. Interestingly, the things I felt most ashamed about before, now seem in retrospect quite funny. I guess the most important lesson I learned is that it is still worth following your dreams, even if they do turn into a nightmare. And I’m no longer afraid of the future.

Q: Do you think the future negative events will still happen? Renewables are more mainstream. Question, can we be more positive about our future based upon emerging tech solutions?

A: I still think there is a chance that global civilization might collapse this century, and that an energy crisis might play a role in such a disaster. But I no longer think this is very likely. When I started the Utopia Experiment in 2006, I thought there was a fifty per cent chance of a global collapse occurring by 2016. I now think there’s about a ten per cent chance of something like this happening by the end of the century. In other words, it’s still a risk, but not nearly as big a risk as I used to think. One of the reasons why I am more optimistic is the increasing role of renewables in meeting our energy needs. There’s still a long way to go, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.


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