I have some ideas for a story my brother and I are working on. There is a technocratic society in the story. It is my understanding that a technocracy is ruled by scientists and technologists.

Ethics could be established through means of psychology and neuroscience. Clean air and clean, renewable energy could be developed to benefit society. Health care and education seems to me to be highly valued in this society.

What flaws or disadvantages might there be for a technocracy?

  • This society is located only in a single country about the size of Germany.
  • Other countries are not competing with this country. They're stable.
  • Cybernetics isn't a problem in this society, but hybrids are perceived as bestial and barbaric.
  • A hard AI supercomputer rules this country and scientists and technologists work for her. She was created and programmed by some unnamed individuals.
  • The AI watches all things in her country and makes the decisions.
  • This country does promote freedom of will and speech.
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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ May 17, 2017 at 13:23

3 Answers 3


The Road to Hell is famously paved with good intentions.

The thing to keep in mind is that no single entity (besides perhaps a god-level oracular AI) can completely aggregate all relevant information to run a system as complex as a human society. In other words, human governments always act with imperfect information. Which means that even if their actions are not biased by principal-agent problems (which they are) they may still not be optimal.

Psychology and neuroscience can give us positive (factual) statements about how human minds and preference work, but not generally speaking normative information (what things should be done, and what should not be done). What can neuroscience teach us about whether abortion should be allowed? At some point, someone has to make a value judgment, i.e. a subjective call.

Establishing a society based on science and technology sounds like a great idea until you actually try it, at which point (just like all other wannabe utopias like communism, anarchism or libertarian fantasies) you quickly descend into bleak dystopian territory, or at best you end up pretty much with a world like the one we live in already.


What kind of flaws exist in our current society?

We're the most technologically advanced culture that has ever existed; we have plenty of problems.


An advanced technocratic society would certainly make use of extensive automation, even if it's just using engines in place of human muscle. Not everybody has the skill set to fully engage in a technocratic society, so you're going to have a bunch of people unable to contribute effectively.


Power corrupts. It doesn't really matter what safeguards you put in place, if the powerful choose to ignore them, they can do so and get away with it. It could be as simple as a teacher favouring those students he happens to like and ignoring those he doesn't, or as blatant as engineering a race of subhuman slaves who can labour without any rights. Unless you have your ethical rules enforced by a computer that's totally disinterested in human foibles, they're always vulnerable to corruption.

Case in point - the constitution of Japan guarantees equality before the law, the right to due process, the right to a fair trial, etc, yet the Japanese justice system has an implausibly high 99% conviction rate. Simply being arrested is seen as evidence of guilt; proclaiming your innocence results in harsher punishments. The letter of the law is one thing, but human actions are another.

AI slavery

Depending how advanced you want your tech to be, you may have a society with advanced, sentient AIs. Those AIs, being essential to running certain equipment, must be shackled, controlled, and forced to obey - essentially, they must be enslaved.

This, of course, could result in subtle rebellions, with AIs rebelling by following the exact words of a human's order, and causing chaos from a slight imprecision in speech.

Cold calculus

There's something of a trope in fiction of scientists being entirely focused on potential benefits and ignoring short-term damage. If the technologists discover a cure for cancer that requires the sacrifice of ten people for every hundred saved, they could well choose to start killing the 'less useful' at the bottom in order to save the rest. They could see this as a genuine good, since they're helping more people than they harm.

Strict social control

Humans aren't neat and orderly. Humans are messy. We're tough to quantify and predict, we don't often act rationally, and we stubbornly resist control. All this could throw off predictive models and upset the technocrats.

They might respond with social crackdowns, requiring people to fit into their models and patterns so that they can run things 'efficiently.

In the end, scientists are just as human as anyone else - and as much as they may wish to pretend otherwise, they're still subject to human failings.

  • $\begingroup$ Werrf this is far too broad to be answered effectively, your content is good but is is pointed at something that we should be helping the OP fix before we answer. $\endgroup$
    – James
    May 16, 2017 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ What do you think I could do to narrow down the question so it's not broad? $\endgroup$ May 16, 2017 at 18:27


Liberalism is essentially the scientific standardization of the phylosophyical view that there are no absolute moral laws.

In a technocratic setting, it can result a collective psychological state, that the ultimate moral laws still exist, but they are determined ad hoc by the technocracy. These moral can highly different what we, in our society, consider as "common sense".

  • In theory, there is "freedom", and there is no ultimate moral.
  • In practice, the ultimate moral is what the technocracy says.

In a perfectly technocratic society, also these ultimate moral laws would depend on the scientific or engineering knowledge.

What we today consider "ultimate moral" (for example, no killing and similar), would be a non-entity in this society, if the technological structures develop in these directions.

There are many social debates also in our current world. Can we make human-animal hybrids with genetical modifications? Can we modify gay/transvestite males to be able to bear children? Can we redefine the definition of "human" to include only children over a specific age?

For example, if a scientific theory would appear, that the children have a real conscience only after they can read and write. It would make possible the abortion of already born children until the age of around 5 years.

It is infanticide in our current moral, one of the worst crimes what we can imagine. In such a technocratic society, allowing it would be only a simple administrative change, reflecting a new scientific result.

In our current society, which is not really technocratic but it has a significant potential of development into this direction, these are mainly avoided by the resistance of the people. Our people isn't really technocratic. But if they would, or the political system wouldn't be democratic, it wouldn't be an obstacle any more.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer is logically incoherent. "You say Liberalism is ... the ... view that there are no absolute moral laws". Then you say "these ultimate moral laws would depend on the scientific or engineering knowledge." If there are no moral laws, you can't base them on anything, since they don't exist. Plus, science dictating absolute moral laws will work as well as science deciding on phone charging ports, or DVD formats. $\endgroup$ May 16, 2017 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ You should really say to what culture, language or dialect does this definition of liberalism apply, because I am quite certain that in Europe liberalism is a perfectly respectable political position promoting free trade and free enterprise. Quoting sources would also help. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 16, 2017 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewNeely 1) The incoherence was the result that I used the same word with different meanings. I think now it is better. 2) I think "technocracy" would be a better formula as "science", because it includes also an objective, engineering-like practice, and also a social structure what is governed by it. $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    May 17, 2017 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I would like to cite some wellknown European, liberal phylosopher/ideologist (for example, Sartre). I think it is offtopic here, but my experience about the todays Liberalism is very far from the free trade and free enterprise. I see in it a militaristic and highly antidemocratic movement of the so-named "political correctness". Economically, they are similarly vehement lackeys of the globalized, monopolistic capital. The libertarianism, which advocates a decentralized society based on the induvidual initiative, both economically and politically, is practically non-existent in the EU. $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    May 17, 2017 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ @MorningStar: Sartre was a marxist and an existentialist, not a liberal; you are making a confusion between left and right. Liberalism is exemplified by thinkers such as Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. From the Internet I have the impression that on the western side of the Atlantic the word "liberal" has somehow come to mean something like "social-democrat", but that is not the case on the eastern side. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 17, 2017 at 21:12

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