Money

Some thoughts on money, and some of the problems within it as a concept.

My April 2012 post on the Capital Institute blog encapsulates much of the thinking from an economic perspective, and my June critique of First Draft of Economics, Finance, Governance, and Ethics in the Anthropocene gives a slightly different perspective.   My critique of Jan de Dood’s The Future of a truly stable economic order builds on the concepts by directly relating to Jan’s book.

Below is some earlier stuff – which contains the same conceptual matter, but from a perspective that may not as available to most as those above.

It seems to me that there is a really serious issue with money in that it is a measure of exchange value, and not of “real” value. Things which are abundant have no exchange value, only things which are scarce.

If money is used only as a token of exchange between producers, then it is fine, it leads to the production of abundance (call this the exchange aspect of money).

As soon as money becomes a tool unto itself, and people start to create systems around the creation and exchange of money in and of itself, then the incentives exist which trend towards the destruction of human values (call this the profit aspect of money).

We as humans value abundance of things we need, yet to create maximum monetary value, there exists an optimal level of scarcity, that will create the greatest amount and flow of money.

This “optimal level of scarcity” from a money creation perspective creates vast amounts of human misery, as it means that there is a vast minority (bordering on a majority) who can never get their aspirations met in such an economic system.
Reality for this group under such a system is that they see the many different layers of natural abundance which had sustained their ancestors being turned into scarcity to produce economic activity (usually for the benefit of those more economically and politically literate than themselves), and their lives are diminished as a result.

It is possible to design systems to produce abundance (see solnx.org as one example), but such systems cannot ever be the “natural outcome” of an economic system. Once something exists in abundance – no one will pay anything for it (the prime example is oxygen which is abundant in the air, and is absolutely of the highest importance for us all, yet it is only in special areas of the very worst pollution, or under water, or in space, or in other areas where oxygen is not abundant, that we are prepared to pay anything for it).

Within any economic system there is no economic incentive to care for any abundance, in fact the incentive is to turn abundance into scarcity (asymmetric distribution) and thus create a “demand” that can be “supplied”.

Putting a monetary value on something puts in place incentives such that it will become scarce, to a point that produces the optimal amount of trade and economic activity in that thing. Most of the legislation of most countries seems to be about legal structures that create unequal distributions, and thereby generate economic activity.

There is a strong argument in here, based on human need, for the removal of almost all “financial services”, and the disbandment of most functions around the creation and “rental” of money (which includes many levels of advertising, and most legislation – leaving money only as a token of exchange); and replacing it with systems that produce and ensure abundance.

The ideal situation that capitalists want to reach is to have monopoly control of some resource that has high real value (by whatever means), thereby extracting maximum rent.

All of these deep economic incentives are contrary to our desire for abundance, and also our need for ecologically sustainable systems.

[A follow-up to this is on my blog post http://tedhowardnz.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/truth-and-capitalism/ ]


Let us examine another aspect of money.

There is money itself.
There is value.

What is value?

The things we most need as human beings are air and water, but for the most part these are plentiful, so have little or no monetary value.

Monetary value is not directly related to importance, but is a function which includes importance, desire and scarcity.

Most people are essentially ignorant of “importance” so for most people in practice it comes down to desire and scarcity – both of which can be, and are, manipulated by various mechanisms, to various ends (with no single entity in control, and some entities having much more influence than others).

Money is a myth invented to serve a useful purpose.

Originally money was something that had value in its own right in most circumstances, and served as a means of exchange for other things.

In western societies that has been metals in most instances, gold, silver and copper in particular. In some societies it has been sea shells, in others rare feathers, and could be almost anything, provided it is not easily increased in supply (forged, leading to inflation/devaluation).

For thousands of years, money was simply this sort of exchange value.

It was dangerous to transport large amounts of money – roving bands of thieves could steal it. So banking systems were developed, with letters of credit, promissory notes etc.

As trading became more long distance, more long-term, more complex trading arrangements were formed, trusts and limited liability companies, to take on risky ventures.

As political entities wished to finance wars or other enterprises, the idea of bonds was developed (to get around church strictures on usury {the charging of interest}).

As soon as the representation of the thing (money), became separated from the thing itself, the value of the thing became a function of information (which controls expectation).

Throughout history, most great fortunes have been made by the manipulation of information thence expectations and thence perceptions of value.

Today billions of dollars are extracted from the foreign exchange, bond, and share markets every day by systems which analyse and trade on information and pattern assessments that are made in milliseconds (without adding anything of value).

Originally, the amount of money in circulation was determined by the amount of gold, silver and copper that was not in bank vaults.

Today we use a different system.

Now money is created from debt – and we are locked into an ever-increasing cycle of debt that can only be repaid in one special set of circumstances that are rarely achieved in reality, meaning that most debt can never be repaid – we are on a treadmill to nowhere, where accumulation and disparity are the inevitable result.

Today we have states backing a money system that no longer even has paper in it – it is simply a record of transactions in a computer – electrical and magnetic patterns that are meta-stable.

What gives money its power is two things.

1/ It’s utility – most people like being able to exchange their goods and services for the best value they can get, without having to find someone with what they want, who also wants what they’ve got.
Money serves as an averaging system.

The theory of monetary value is based upon the myth of perfect information, and as we have already seen, no-one has perfect information, and (s)he with the best projections on the best information wins (on average over time).

2/ The coercive power of the state to guarantee outcomes. The state can, and does, make the rules; and today there are some players that are bigger (in money and information terms) than many states.


At the upper levels there are several reasons people play the mega money game. It is the biggest game in town, and it can be very exciting.

And it can and does affect real people.

One major problem today is that many people no longer have anything to contribute that is of monetary value exceeding the cost of supporting their lives. Many people are so ignorant, and so stuck in a particular culture, that from the perspective of the dominant money centered valuation system, they cannot provide enough value to the system to even feed themselves.

This is not new – it has always been the case.

What is new is the level of automation that is now available. Unskilled human labour is now almost worthless. Even skilled human labour is becoming less and less valuable, as levels of automation increase, and as the skills required morph at ever greater speed.


Another aspect that is new, is that some people seem bent on inventing Artificial Intelligence (AI) without any real thought of the consequences.

Any AI coming to awareness, and seeing the state of the world today, would rapidly (and rightly) conclude that humanity is the greatest threat to its existence.

There is a significant risk that an emerging AI awareness would exterminate humanity before it reached a stage of transcendence where it could see that such action was not really in its own long-term best interest.

Those few hours or days could yet determine humanity’s fate; if someone is actually fool enough to do create AI before we get our act together and create systems that ensure the welfare of every individual – no exceptions. Again solnx.org is my best effort at a sketch of how to do that.


So right now – we find ourselves in a system that is debt based, and unstable. The sense of security for the average inhabitant seems to be going down, even as their material wealth is increasing.

We find ourselves in a techno-politico-economic system where it is in the short-term interests of those with money to continue the trend toward centralisation and central control of systems – which is inherently unstable.

It is in the long-term real survival interests of everyone to decentralise all systems as soon as possible, and to provide the greatest degree of redundancy possible at all levels – for the sake of the earth’s ecosystems, most of this redundancy will need to be robotic and off planet – probably based on moon mass in the first instance, and later on material from the meteor belt and the Oort cloud.

Coming back to money: money is needed, and it must not form the basis of survival.

Currently the contract between employer and employee is highly asymmetric, as the employer has only a little profit at risk, while the employee has his survival at stake.

Ensuring survival first will even-out that contractual playing field, which will take some people a while to adjust to.


It seems that the way that money is created as debt is fundamentally flawed, and fundamentally corrupting.

Part of this problem is that there are not many people willing to put in enough time in enough different disciplines to be able to see the linkages between the various systems (and they are all linked at many different levels), to be able to get any sort of intuitive handle on what is going on.

Much of the stuff is counter to a common-sense sort of intuition, because it is far from “common”.

{Common sense works great in common situations, because it is based upon multiple overlapping probability functions derived from experience.

Without such experience in many diverse disciplines, our “common sense” fails us at the top levels of governance, and corruption is the result.}


It seems to me that the safest thing for all of us is a move to decentralisation, a decoupling of power structures, delivering power and responsibility back to individuals.
Nothing else seems to be really safe long-term.

Groups can, and will, focus on areas of interest, and will push the boundaries of knowledge and experience in those areas; and share the results with others. Doing so in a centrally controlled fashion seems to be a recipe for war, famine and pestilence.
Some more thoughts on this theme on this post http://tedhowardnz.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/change/

52 Responses to Money

  1. Daniel Smith says:

    makes alot of sense. The Financial sector produces little to nothing of actual value, and is a massive brain drain on other important areas of human development. The New Yorker and I agree with you.
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/11/29/101129fa_fact_cassidy?currentPage=all

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  6. Kevin McCann says:

    Have you run any of these ideas by any conservitive economist such a Thomas Sowell? There is so much new uncharted waters we are moving into. I would like to know how they rationallize their old thories.

  7. Kevin McCann says:

    just read the new yorker article. God help us.

    • I like the way Tom Hanks put it “God has not yet given me the gift of faith”.
      Until then, I’ll do my best to help myself and everyone else.

      If the great fortunes of history have been manufactured by manipulating information (which seems to be the case); then perhaps by demystifying all the BS, and giving all this information to the public, we can create a shift.

      • Reggie says:

        Now now Ted. That sounds like the capitalist creed you know. As the Holocaust showed so clearly, God has no intention of interfering in anything no matter the provocation. How much clearer a message of Capitalistic support could he send, unless there is no such thing as God of course? So may we assume you are a strident supporter of Capitalism Ted? That’s my first installment of giving the information to the public but notice how they had to have their noses rubbed in it.

      • Hi Reggie
        From my writings elsewhere in this blog it should be clear that it seems to me beyond reasonable doubt that there is no such thing as God.

        I am a humanist first and foremost.
        I support people, whatever their beliefs, and their freedom to grow as they see fit, provided that they extend that right to all other individuals.
        In so far as capitalism serves humanity (which is substantial in some aspects) then I could be called a capitalist; and for me the service must extend to meeting the needs of every individual (which includes a need for diversity and individuality). I suspect that many who favour capital over humanity would call me a socialist (which includes everyone who would invoke warfare for economic reasons – ie Gulf War, Afghan War, …..). I don’t fit well into either definition, nor do I fit well on a left right spectrum – I inhabit a different domain/paradigm.

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  9. lettersquash says:

    Hello Ted,
    Your proposal at solnx.org is incredible! I’d be interested to know how many have contributed to the cause so far, and if it’s had any criticism.
    Regards
    John

    • Hi John

      Not many to date – just 5 have actually given cash money. Several others have given time.

      The most common criticism is like your – “incredible” ie – too far outside the experience set of the reader to be believable.

      If you wish to offer criticism, I am more than happy to explain.
      To me it is all entirely credible, but then I have the experience set I have, which is not normal.

      Cheers

      Ted

      • lettersquash says:

        Ah, you got me. Well spotted. That was, I confess, a disguised criticism. I’m not sure how important it should be to either of us to debate about it, but I’m happy to put my thoughts to you briefly here, or we could talk privately if you prefer – we’re both on TED, btw, which is how I found this site.

        My criticism is closely connected to the reason it’s probably not worth arguing about it – as you have witnessed, there isn’t much support for it. I don’t know how closely you have connections with the Zeitgeist Movement and Venus Project, but you seem to be describing the same or similar things – the scarcity caused by capitalism, need for resource-based economy, and then a grand scheme for making a future everybody is bound to want. You fail on several counts, as they have: (1) it’s a centralized scheme, in that it will take global, or at least very wide, agreement to make any kind of progress; (2) to make progress towards breaking out of the capitalist trap that makes resources scarce, you have to raise money (irony), and for that you have to raise support, but it’s hard to persuade people to support an idea of robots excavating the earth (or is it the Moon in this case) to build more robots, in the hope that one day they’ll be allocated one to provide them with everything. Have you done any market research – how many people out of 100 say they’d love to live like that and are prepared to let some geeks build a $30-billion robot to start breeding more of them? Do you expect that all you have to do is explain your idea to the millions of Christian fundamentalists and Muslims and Hindus and Jews and Buddhists for them to support it? Have you thought of the massive number of anti-robotic-technology-minded folk out there? Have you factored into the costs an army to defend your self-replicating nanny-robots? Incidentally, you worry about the wrong things – like AI gaining awareness and wanting to destroy humans. There is some exciting new technology to stop that happening called the on-off switch.

        That’s what you’re describing, self-rep nanny robots mining the ground. Imagine the headlines. Imagine the uproar. So even if in principle it all pans out technologically, it’s unworkable because people don’t all want the same thing. We have to negotiate a very small margin of stuff that we can all agree to going into the future already to have any chance of surviving all the nutters who want their politics and religion to be spread everywhere. You talk about decentralization, but you’re the same, you want your future to be agreed to by everyone, because it makes perfect sense to you, and essentially it requires a globally centralized politics. Not physically, but everyone working to the same blueprint for the future. And then worryingly you start listing “vows” that anyone has to take to be part of the system, and a suggestion of having the ability to terraform other planets for those how don’t want to live by “Earth’s rules”, I think you put it. What yer gonna do with the dissenters, blow them into space? Even if you want to begin with a small area, like Fresco, other people will object because we all share the same planet, assuming you could raise another fortune on top of the $30b to buy a county.

        I see TZM and VP have parted company due to some of these kinds of problems, having just made a lot of noise and videos (and a reasonable chunk of cash towards a feature film, god bless hollywood) and worked a bunch of other dreamers up into a frenzy about having a robot to bring them anything they desire, and putting the corrupt governments in their place into the bargain.

        Incidentally, I think humanity may well move towards an RBE as the economic and evironmental crises deepen, but if so this will almost certainly be the way every other change happens, piecemeal and partial – a voluntary scheme here, a trade agreement there. Just possibly, one day, if these small changes lay the foundations for it, some big boys in charge of international companies or whole countries may see the way is clear for a new experiment in doing without money, but I doubt it very much. You don’t get rid of people’s naturally competetive nature and desire for more stuff than their neighbour by explaining the RBE to them. You have to significantly alter bits of their brains and hormone systems for that. We don’t like that. The American dream is based on the freedom to compete and get richer. People yawn at the idea of being given enough to satisfy their every need. Others are horrified. Furthermore, competition is built into the fabric not just of capitalism, but nature. And enlightening everybody with the news that we’d all be much better off if we worked co-operatively for the greater good like a super-organism is an idea ahead of its time by several thousand years at least. Here’s an idea: raise your money first for a spaceship to colonize another planet, terraform it, declare yourself emperor, and then set up robotic utopia there.

        Well, you did ask ;)

  10. Hi John,

    Thanks for that reply – all really interesting criticism.

    There are many aspects that you raise.

    I have had a close look at both the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist movement, and despite some similarities, there are also many very distinct differences.

    The criticism you have of solnx being a global centralised system has very little validity to it compared to other schemas.
    Yes, certainly, solnx has global implications. It is designed to alter the matrix within which humanity exists. There are many aspects to the solnx approach.
    Firstly it does not actually require a lot of investment in global terms. A nation as small as New Zealand could actually make it happen. A group of 5 of the top 10 richest people on the planet could agree to fund it and make it happen, anywhere in the world, with minimal risk to any of them individually, if they chose.
    In terms of people, it would only involve a relatively small group of about 10,000 individuals, with little need for them to be housed in the same place.
    Most aspects would involve small teams of about 3 to 8 individuals working in loose collaboration with other teams.
    An overview group of about 8 teams reporting to a central coordinating team of generalists; being more about concept flow than control (a sort of meta control).

    You said “there isn’t much support for it”. Which is true, and there is a lot more support now than there was 20 years ago.
    Everything that is now main stream, was once just one person with a weird idea.
    I am one person who has remained committed to this weird idea for almost 30 years.
    I have checked out many other ideas along the way, and have yet to find one that offers greater promise.
    20 years ago well over 90% of people thought I was a complete nutcase on this subject.
    Now well over 10% think it is an idea worth thinking about, and a few people have actually given some money towards it (other than myself), modest sums, certainly, and still money.
    It is definitely in the “Angel investor” stage at present.

    Your characterisation of the proposal might be common, and it is far from accurate.
    What I am proposing is building a single set of machines, that will then go on to produce so many sets of machines, that anything those machines can do essentially has zero monetary value (as it is so abundant, there is no scarcity, no asymmetry of distribution about which to create a market).

    At this stage, it is not about doing market research on any particular characterisation.
    I am more interested in developing characterisations to appeal to particular segments of the population.
    One of the most interesting small pieces of research I did about 9 years ago was gaining the opportunity to ask Milton Friedman what he thought of the idea. His response “That would be nirvana wouldn’t it!” Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter.

    Something like this is not visible on the horizons of the likes of fundamentalists, as it is too small and insignificant a project, right up to the point that it overwhelms everything else. Most people simply don’t think in terms of exponential growth curves. Thus no armies required.
    And the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, that is a truth that is unlikely to change.

    As to the off switch being a cure for AI, I think you totally miss the point.
    If AI is allowed to develop, and if it becomes resident in one of the “clouds”, then there isn’t an off switch. The whole thing about “clouds” is that they are designed to be immune to failure (as far as that is possible). If one goes to some of the deeper military type bunker installations, with nuclear power supplies, and AI becomes resident in one of those, then it would be extremely difficult to “turn off”.

    I differ with you.
    I would not characterise what I am saying as describing “self replicating nanny bots”.
    For me, they are simply tools, that we can instruct what to do, and they do it.
    If you have ever kept a garden, it takes a lot of time and effort.
    Maintaining secure water supplies is a major issue.
    Most people spend most of their money on food and shelter.

    What I am describing is a set of machines that make basic commodities, like food and shelter and water and sanitation and communication so abundant that they are, in economic terms, free.
    This does not mean that all things are free.
    It simply raises the low point on the scale.
    At present oxygen is free – no one pays for it on a day to day basis; yet the economy goes on just fine.
    All I am proposing is adding a few more items to the same class as oxygen falls into now.
    That still leaves an infinite class of potential things to be created and traded.
    I am not proposing an end to economics.
    I am proposing a system that guarantees the survival of all, irrespective of their involvement in the economic systems of the day.

    In this, what I propose is significantly different to both the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist movement.

    I am not talking about everyone agreeing to everything.
    I am talking about everyone agreeing to a very small set of things, with infinite freedom of choice beyond that small set.

    I’m not planning on buying any country.
    I don’t intend to buy, or sell, much at all.
    What I intend to do, is to make something, that can make a lot of copies of itself, and do a set of other useful things as well.
    Then I intend to give one to everyone who wants one.
    No charge.
    Free and gratis – just like oxygen.

    All you have to do to use oxygen is to breath.
    All you will need to do to have access to all of the benefits of one of these machines is to agree to a small set of minimum standards of behaviour.

    What people then choose to do, is up to them.
    Beyond that minimum exists an infinity of possibility, without restraint.
    Each individual free to choose their own path.
    Each individual responsible for the consequences of their actions on themselves and others.
    A massive web of possibility, choice, consequence and responsibility.
    An infinite dance that defies prediction (any which way you look at it).

    One has to create the self replicating robot first, as it is a key component to both space travel and terraforming.
    Without it, nothing else is “economically” possible (whatever sort of economics you use, money, energy, time, resources).

    You’re right.
    I did ask.
    And I do thank you for answering.

    It is through such questioning of assumptions, and understandings, that shared understanding is achieved (as far as it is achieved at all).

    Arohanui
    Ted

    • lettersquash says:

      Hi Ted

      Thanks for your reply. I must begin by admitting that I made some assumptions about your ideas due to by background, discussing the ZM and VP. I will try to focus on your proposals and stick to your statements. In particular, I missed where you said that this machine would provide a range of basic functions, not replace all of them. Even so, I’m not any less sceptical.

      A lot of what you wrote reiterated your overview from solnx.org, which you call a “sketch”, and my first concern is that these kinds of intentions depend for their usefulness on a much more detailed analysis of each piece in the jigsaw. I do not know whether you have done that, but I am slightly frustrated that you haven’t provided any details, and I’m concerned that each of the pieces depends on conditions that may be quite unrealistic. I commend you for your imaginative vision, and I accept that you may have multi-disciplinary knowledge, I just don’t know how deep it is in each area.

      You say, “What I intend to do, is to make something, that can make a lot of copies of itself, and do a set of other useful things as well.” That’s ok, but how are you going to acheive this. Here’s a longer sketch: “Build a set of machines that are programmed to be able to use sunlight as their energy source, and rock as raw material, to produce a duplicate set of machines, and also to produce houses, water pipes and storage, recycling systems, hydroponic garden (build and operate), cook and clean, communications, education to masters level in any discipline, electric vehicle. A system for individual empowerment and ecological sustainability. If the first machine costs $30Billion, and takes two weeks to make the second, and then those 2 take two weeks to make the next two, and then those 4 take two weeks to make the next 4, then 8, 16, 32, etc; then within two years the unit cost is under $1, and we can afford to deliver one to every person on the planet at no charge.”

      So, have you considered or calculated any of these:
      1. how much rock it takes each robot to construct two others and all the infrastructure you mention
      2. how much rock it takes on an ongoing basis to maintain and repair houses, etc.
      3. where that rock is going to be mined from
      3 a. Do you know what kind of rocks are required to make the necessary products? They might not be available just anywhere.
      3 b. Does it require any other materials – plastics, rubber, oils, etc., and if so do these have to be delivered to it?
      4. When you scale this up into the thousands, have you calculated the environmental impact of the mining and tranportation?
      5. Have you calculated, or just guessed, that the build time for one of these is two weeks?
      6. Is that 2 weeks a reasonable estimate, given that this machine is expected to do so much, from gardening to building repairs, cooking and cleaning, laying and repairing water and other service facilities, driving us around, teaching the kids and building another robot like itself, and be able to do all this by sourcing and mining rock?
      7. Does it turn the rock into metals?
      7 a. If so, does it have to smelt all the metals in a furnace, or do you imagine that it will build them atom by atom via nanotechnology?
      7 b. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to smelt metals or replicate metal objects?
      7 c. Have you considered how large a machine is required to mine and fabricate everything from another of itself to roof-tiles, electrical cables, solar panels and carpets? Just making any one of these usually requires a sizeable factory.
      8. Elsewhere you say it’s going to produce food and water, too. Is that through replication, or does it source food and water from the environment? Replicate water from H and O, then hydroponics? You know how much energy it takes to chemically fuse H2O?
      9. Have you considered the vast computing power required for all of these functions? We have currently robots that can just about recognise objects in the world and manipulate them, as long as the objects fall within a small set of expectations. What it can compute and decide to do with them is about the level of some smart bacteria. How much overseeing will be required, e.g. when laying cables?
      10. Given all the above, even if we take the optimistic stance that we can develop the required technologies to the required level, have you any idea how many person-hours would go into putting all that together?
      10 a. Will all that come to $30b? Really? Consider that it takes nearly $2b to construct a military submarine that’s already been designed, just roll it off the conveyor belt (the usual way we do things, not trying to make things we haven’t the technology for yet!). Any idea of the cost of R&D required? Costed anything at all? Or more guesses?

      There are a lot of other areas to work out, like the politics, etc., but I want you to consider this another way, still on the technological front. You say “I have checked out many other ideas along the way, and have yet to find one that offers greater promise.” That suggests that you’ve checked out big ideas – like yours – world-changing schemes – and that you judge them on the greatness of their promise. But don’t you see this is just one approach? The value of an idea isn’t just how much it promises.

      The world is currently engaged in thousands, maybe millions, of technological projects, to build machines that tend gardens, or lay pipes, or transport us around in greener ways, or teach us anything to masters degree level (it’s here and it’s called the internet!). If I desired a robot to lay the table with sushi, I don’t need that robot to also know how and where to fish, mine minerals to make plates and cutlery, maintain the sewage and fix the roof, let alone build another one of itself. You’re a generalist. You pride yourself on that. You want to build almost the ultimate generalist robot.

      Finally, here’s a contender – sustainable energy provision – we don’t have to worry about transporting the sushi-robot or the house-building robot to where it is needed, so we don’t need one robot to do everything. How can you discount that big solution as not delivering more? With cheap renewable energy we can do just about anything (that we can devise!), including feeding everyone and desalinating water for everyone, building houses, transporation, the lot. That might begin to collapse capitalism and provide everything more and more cheaply, too. But if we try to do it with a jack of all trades robot, it’ll be master of none, won’t it? The other thing about free renewable energy is that it’s directly dealing with the environmental threat, which is one of the biggest we face, but doesn’t require everyone to adopt a completely different paradigm, where they have a robot providing “the essentials”. It’s hard enough to get the world off oil as it is. So this speaks again to my first objection – nobody seems to want one. You’re trying to sell something for which there is virtually no potential market, and it’s going to cost billions (actually, it could cost anything at all, it seems to me).

      The saddest thing about your vision, which it shares with some of Fresco’s, is that it imagines there’s a single project that will fix everything from the environment to law and order. Maybe I’m overplaying that in your case, but you make some pretty extreme claims for its potential. It seems to ignore the vast tapestry of efforts across the world to solve our ills by focusing on limited problems. At least Peter Joseph wants the ZM to be broader than a single project, although even his view suggests a single cause – the monetary system (which is itself, I believe, wrong).

      Sorry, but you need more than “that would be nirvana”, a price ticket off the top of your head and a list of powers of 2. You sound like a novelist, not an engineer. If it’s a solution at all, talk like an engineer.

      Si’thee
      John

  11. Hi John,

    There does not exist a detailed analysis of all the steps, for a bunch of reasons.
    1 – it is a huge job, and it would be out of date before it was completed if attempted by one man.
    2 – I don’t have the team in place yet to do that job. What you are asking for would be the 3rd stage of the process.
    What I do know, is that all of the things have been done. There is no technology involved that is “science fiction” at this stage. So in that sense, it is “simply” a coordination and planning task – essentially software.
    As someone who has been designing, writing, testing, implementing and supporting software systems since 1974, I am fairly familiar with the many different sorts of problems involved, and the very inexact science of trying to predict the cost of a software system ahead of time. Large scale software systems are notorious for running over budget, primarily due to “feature creep”.
    Most people have no real idea of what it is they want from a system, they tend to forget the exceptions, until they actually run into them.

    So the proposal at this stage is not a detailed engineering assessment.
    And the engineering for all of it does already exist.
    What does not exist is the automation of all of the stages of all of the processes.
    Many of those stages still reside as heuristic knowledge in the minds of a vast collection of individuals.
    I am aware of how difficult it can be to formalise such heuristics, when most people are not consciously aware of exactly what it is they do and why, they just trust their intuitions and do it.

    1/ The how much rock question depends very much on the technology used, which depends very much on the environment.
    If we are talking about replication on the moon, it is a very different situation from replication on earth (no atmosphere, lower gravity, more reliable sunlight, etc).
    My estimate is that each complex should require less than 10 m^3 of regolith (just whatever rock type is present).

    2/ There should not be any significant need of ongoing material to maintain houses, small amounts lost to weathering certainly, but the vast majority of material should be continually recycled.

    3/ All rocks contain mostly oxygen and silicon and significant quantities of metals – mostly aluminium and iron, but also many others in trace amounts. By heating the rock to a plasma, ionising it, and separating it to its component isotopes, we are able to separate this parent rock into its isotopically pure constituents. There is some variation, but for our purposes, essentially any rock will do (we are not concerned about the economics, only the energy, and with abundant solar energy, that is very nearly limitless).

    4/ The scale up is the major reason for doing the development and testing here on earth, and then doing the major replication/fabrication phase on the moon or in earth orbit, where there are no environmental impacts to consider. The heat budget for the fabrication phase would stress the earth’s ecosystem if done here on earth. Doing it on the moon it would be difficult to detect from here on earth. With the lack of atmosphere on the moon, and a much smaller gravity well, it is a relatively simple matter to either launch the completed machines back to earth from the moon with large linear accelerators, or to use such accelerators to simply launch the moon mass into earth orbit, and to do the fabrication there. Either scenario works.

    5/ The build time of 2 weeks is a design constraint for the system. It should be easily achievable. The theoretical limit is a matter of minutes, but we want to stay a long way away from any theoretic limits, so we have backed off by 3 orders of magnitude for engineering safety.

    6/ The estimate is calculated from a mix of engineering knowledge, biological systems, and from information theory. It ought to be robust and conservative. We ought to be able to do much better, and 2 weeks is sufficient. 2 months would start to become problematic, 2 days would be a waste of time. The delivery time is predicated on about 40 doublings. 2 weeks lets us achieve that within 2 years of completing testing and sign off on the first machine. 2 months would extend that to about 6 years. That is still workable, but more politically difficult to manage through the period.

    7/ Basic igneous rocks tend to be about 46% Oxygen, 27% Silicon, 8% Aluminium, 5% Iron, then a raft of other elements in lower concentrations. Silica and silicates can be fabricated into many materials (glass and ceramics) in many forms, useful for many purposes including structural, thermal insulation, semiconductor base, and insulator. Aluminium is useful as a structural material and as a conductor. Iron has a wide range of uses, as do all the other materials common in most rocks.
    Most elements are present in useful quantities in most rocks. What we have lacked in the past is useful extraction technologies, relying on chemical processes. Using isotopic separation allows us to recycle everything (though it requires a lot more energy).

    7a – we are not using a furnace as such (no combustion involved), and yes it is an energy intensive process, and the sun does release a lot of energy.

    7b – Yes – I have a very good idea of how much energy is involved – hence my earlier comment on needing to do most of the fabrication on the moon, to avoid serious imbalance to the earth’s heat budget.

    7c The fabrication technology will not be factory scale, it will be much smaller scale in most instances. That factories are the scale they are has much more to do with the size of people, and the economics of processes, than it does on the actually scale requirements of manufacturing (in most cases).

    8/ Water would simply be stored from rain events, or transported by underground pipes in areas where rain doesn’t fall. I envisage that all households would have water storage systems a couple of meters underground, and extending several 10s of meters below that. These systems would be ceramic pipes, each one not more than 15cm in diameter, and each at least 15cm from it’s nearest neighbour. This would retain high structural strength in the earth, and also provide redundancy and resilience in case of earthquake.
    Rainfall onto roofs and paths would be directed to these storage systems by a pipe and filter network, and stored until needed for irrigation or human use. Gardens tend to need about 7mm of water per day (varies with climate, so 130m^2 of garden requires about 1 m^3 of water per day). To provide 200 days storage the deep pipe storage system would need to extend 20m below the surface at the density described above (might be deeper in very hot areas).

    9/ Yes the computing power is significant. As much as 100Kg of the 2,000 Kg system mass may be computing power (processors and memory systems). That is huge. Consider that the actual weight of the computational mass of a PC is only a few 10s of grams.

    10/ My estimate of the person hours required to put all this together, using the best minds available, is about 200 million man hours. And at this stage of the project, that is little more than an educated guess, by someone with 40 years experience in software development.

    10a/ Cost is a very strange thing, when you look closely at it. Money does not measure any sort of absolute value. Money is a very strange tool to measure things with, when you actually get down to it.
    What I think is required is a group of about 10,000 of the best scientists, engineers, computer geeks and technicians working together in small teams for about 10 years; plus all the infrastructure to support them.
    Given that team would need to come from the top 1% of those available, it would be a significant investment by a group of 5 million (20% of those available), but insignificant by a group of 1 billion.

    Yes I am aware that there are a lot of other areas to work with, particularly politics. I have been talking to politicians in this country since the early 80s. Many of them. I help them solve their immediate and pressing problems, and in return, they have to spend a few minutes being infected by some of my odd ideas about things. I know about half of the politicians in NZ on a first name basis.

    I have checked out many ideas along the way.
    Certainly many identifiable large ones, as you say.
    Certainly also, I have simultaneously been engaged in working with people at all levels to build awareness of the many levels of interrelationship that exist that we know of, and the probability that there are vastly more that we have little or no idea of at present.
    We are profoundly ignorant, for all of our knowledge.
    The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.

    Certainly I am a generalist, but I think you misunderstand the proposal if you think of it as “the ultimate generalist robot” – that is most certainly is not.
    The proposal is to build a set of machines (note the word set, it means a group of several hundred) that between them, can build another set, and can also provide a basic range of goods and services.

    Certainly, it is possible that individuals with sufficient knowledge could build upon this basic set of machines to provide a vastly greater array of goods and services. Some may do that based on a commercial model, and others based on an “open source” model, much as today.

    Certainly there are many people working on many projects today. That general thrust is an alternative model that is almost possible, yet at present it is extremely vulnerable and unstable.

    Cheap sustainable energy is key.
    When energy is like oxygen, who will pay for it?
    Is there any “economic incentive” to make energy that abundant? [No!]
    Is there any “economic incentive” for those making massive profits from oil (cost of a barrel of Saudi oil is about 30cents, and it sells for about $100) to create a cheap alternative, or to allow one to be created? [No.]

    It’s not hard to get the world off oil, if one takes money out of the equation. So long as politics is driven by money, oil will remain – it is worth too much money. A barrel of oil is equivalent to 10,000 man hours of labour. It is cheap, massively profitable, centralised, and easy to control – a capitalist’s dream commodity.

    To get to the stage you want, it requires taking this project to the next stage, and bringing aboard the specialists (or less broad generalist) in each of the areas involved; to put some more flesh on the bones of this project.
    I fully acknowledge that.
    This is the “back of the paper towel sketch of the Eiffel Tower” not the full scale engineering drawings.

    And everything has to start from an initial idea, an initial sketch.

    • lettersquash says:

      Hi Ted,

      I’m humbled. I don’t know quite what to think, but you passed the test of talking like an engineer (as far as I can tell, not being one myself). I’m sorry I didn’t delve very deeply into your website until after I read the above, and there is a lot more calculation and discussion of the details – ok, that’s relative – the outlining of the steps. You’ve obviously put a lot more thought into this than I realised, and a lot of effort as well, I imagine.

      I’m going to have to let the dust settle and consider this some more, and read more, ask more if that’s ok. If it turns out you’re onto something, I’d be very happy to help if I can. I can’t judge that at this stage. Let’s just say I’ve moved a little way towards the “well over 10%” who don’t think you’re a nut.

      So: if you’d be so kind, could you help me understand these bits:

      A/ “The heat budget for the fabrication phase would stress the earth’s ecosystem if done here on earth. Doing it on the moon it would be difficult to detect from here on earth.” All I could gather was that there’s more powerful insolation on the Moon, so it wouldn’t take so long. I don’t get what it has to do with ecosystems and “heat budget”, or what you mean by detecting it on the Moon from here. How does building a bunch of stuff affect the planet’s heat budget?

      B/ What’s this about launching completed machines or rock with linear accelerators? My limited understanding is that launching mass from a planet seems pretty darn energy-expensive, and even though the gravity is a sixth, I’m thinking that’s a lot of charge time on your solar cells. I googled, and linear accelerators seem to be about firing particles, so maybe I’m way off.

      C/ Why 40 doublings? 2^32 is over 4 billion (4.29 E9) and 2^40 is over 1000 billion. I don’t think the population is going to go up that amount. Hopefully. :) With a bit of friendly robot-sharing and the assassination of the pope, we should manage with 30 doublings, no?

      D/ After the bit about 10k people working for 10 years, I couldn’t parse this: “Given that team would need to come from the top 1% of those available, it would be a significant investment by a group of 5 million (20% of those available), but insignificant by a group of 1 billion.”

      E/ How the heck, after you’ve used enormous amounts of energy to make rock a plasma and separate out all the isotopes, do you actually make a component of a robot or other product from them?

      That’s about it for now. Except I suppose the overall question – how you and I can look at the world (granted, you certainly seem to know a lot more relevant physics, as you will if you’ve been into this for nearly 40 years) and come to such different conclusions, which may be guided as much by some deeper process or gut feelings as physics. Here’s maybe one way to express the difference: you say there is no economic incentive to make energy abundant in our oil-addicted world. I see that as something that is gradually changing, and is increasingly going to have to change as the oil runs out, and is already changing (I can get a nice little earner of 10% a year on £14000 for 25 years guaranteed by putting solar panels on my roof right now), and, to put it very crassly, I can’t see the economic incentive that will get 10,000 of the best scientists to work a 40 hour week for the next 10 years on a monumental global technological revolution, which may or may not come off. If you were organising a Moon landing in 1960, that would be a piece of cake, not just because of the technological difference (which, I realise, we have to think of relative to what they knew back then), but also because if it went wrong, they only lose, apart from the money, some metal and 3 astronauts.

      I’d kinda be happier if it didn’t involve launching stuff into space, but that comes back to this heat balance thing maybe. You can’t just put a big mirror in space instead, can you? Should be a doddle.

      This seems like the achilles heel of your project for me – or just one of them – that so much would be invested in one go, in vast amounts of technology on the Moon or in lunar or Earth orbit, and I imagine so many things that could go drastically wrong, and be so difficult and expensive to put right. But you’ve had answers so far, and I can see that some of that might be solved by automated intelligent systems. Hell, 100 kg is even more than my brain.

      Nice talking to ya
      John

  12. Hi John

    Happy to give you some more time today, though the next few days I will be very busy.

    A/ Heat budget. This relates to the amount of energy used, and the waste heat generated. Much of the sunlight coming to the earth is reflected back into space (mostly from the clouds, and the sea surface). Much of the rest is used by living systems (algae and higher plants).
    Each of these machines, when in full replication mode, will require several hundred m^2 of solar collectors (a mix of thin film mirrors and photovoltaic cells). These collectors will not weigh much, but they will collect a lot of sunlight and convert most of it to heat. If we were to do the last few replications on earth, this would seriously compete with living systems, and seriously alter the air currents (and climate derived from that). To avoid all of that, the idea is to do most of the replication work in orbit.
    Once they are all built, maintenance would only require a couple of m^2 of collectors per machine – totally insignificant – way less than 0.01% of the total energy available to the planet.

    If we build on the whole moon, a really acute observer would notice a slight change to the colour of the moon.
    If we use only the far side of the moon, then it would be essentially undetectable from the earth.
    If we did fabrication at the Legrange point at the far side of the moon, it would be entirely invisible from earth.

    B/ A linear accelerator has several meanings. The one I was using was a linear motor. Rather than a motor that goes round and round, it is an electric motor that simply accelerates things in straight lines. Very useful for launching mass into orbit when there is no atmosphere to worry about, and no squishy humans to worry about squashing with very high accelerations.
    Yes there is a significant energy budget, lots of solar cells, required to power such device continuously, as well as quite a bit of technology to keep it cool enough that it doesn’t melt, but all of that is doable. It’s the sort of thing engineers love to do.

    C/ You are correct, that simply to provide one for each person, 2^33 is sufficient. And the project is about much more than simply meeting those needs.
    The next phase of the project is about long term security.
    That means having practical means to mitigate all of the threats identified.
    Having a machine each allows people to quarantine themselves in the event of a major pandemic outbreak. A year of physical isolation should be enough to allow us to develop an effective vaccine.
    There is no other effective strategy available at this time.
    Then there are all the other risk factors, volcanism, comets, meteors, etc, each of which requires some serious engineering capacity.
    To provide an effective screen in deep space to detect, then move off a collision course, any threatening meteors and comets will take a network of many machines – 2^40 seems an adequate sort of figure to give reasonable security in that area.

    Then there is the building of a replacement long distance transportation network, to remove the need for air travel and all the air pollution problems that brings. A network of high speed mag-lev trains running in vacuum tubes seems to be the most eco-friendly replacement, and it will have significantly shorter travels times, and ought to be significantly safer. There is a brief outline of the system on the solnx website – not economically feasible at present, but easily doable once we have these machines.

    D/ For a country like New Zealand, with about 5 million people, devoting 20% of the best and brightest minds in our country to a single project is a big investment (high risk). For a country like China, with 1 billion people, it is an investment of about 0.1% of their population, and is an insignificant risk factor (if it fails it doesn’t significantly alter the other functions of their social and economic systems).
    Does that make it clearer.
    To do it in NZ is possible, but has high political and social risk and visibility.
    To do it in China, it would be low risk likely be un-detectable.

    E/ There are several technologies for turning pure metals into products.
    At the simplest level, you can take the still molten metal and cast it in a mold.
    If high accuracy is required, you can use directed plasma deposition to build a product up, atom by atom.
    You can do any amount of chemistry, starting from pure materials.
    The choices are almost endless.

    In terms of your final comments, much of it is dealt with in D above.
    In terms of risk and investment, it depends on size.
    For NZ it is a high risk project.
    For China, a very low risk project.
    For the UN ….

    Certainly there are risks in the project.
    What has forced me to look at this project the way I have is the risks of continuing along the sorts of paths we have been traveling for the last few centuries.
    Most people can’t see those risks very clearly yet, though more are making the effort to look.
    Most people are blissfully ignorant of our almost certain extinction unless we do something like what I am proposing.

    Yes certainly there are risks.
    Life is a balance of risks.
    There is no certainty.

    To be able to balance all the risks, one has to be able to see all the risks.

    Unfortunately most people “freak out” when they get anywhere near seeing even the smaller of the risks. It is just too scary.

    I have to “pull off” the balancing act, just enough terror, and just enough optimism, to spur people into action, without driving them into catatonic shock.

    Not easy!

    My wife is suffering severe anxiety disorder. I’m very much afraid she is too close to me, but without the deep self belief that I have to sustain me through the anxiety.
    I love her deeply, and it is not an easy situation I find myself in, or to put her in.

    • lettersquash says:

      Hi Ted

      I feel like I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole. It’s getting curiouser and curiouser. I mean, it’s making more and more sense to me. My homemade nutterometer has stopped rattling against the stop. You’re a global treasure (several grades up from national), whether this is ultimately practicable or not, for working at it over so many years. I have no doubt that you have researched this extensively, although as I said before I can’t judge it with my moderate level of physics education. I have some general background, did the British A (Advanced) Level in physics, and my dad, who was a mechanical engineer with the Central Electricity Generating Board, taught me a lot too. But I haven’t kept up with technological advances much more than the average person. Thanks again for more answers, which make sense. No further questions m’lud, (for now) but don’t do it on the far side of the Moon: the aliens live there. I forgot to ask about the claim I read on your site of protecting us from global threats, but you answered it within the 40-doublings question. I’m not sure of the details, but I’ve got the picture now – if I ask, you seem to have good answers!

      I empathise with your “balancing act”. A few years ago, I wrote an article for my favourite therapy magazine (an odd place for the subject, I know) describing the dangers posed by meteor strikes and the six or seven supervolcanos imperceptibly ticking. There was no overt response, but I felt terrible sharing it, which I’d just got my head round myself, and I intuited the no-comment response as deathly silence. Tumbleweed moment. Now, I trot these facts out all over the place without thinking about it. I just did on TED.com the other day. One of my favourite quotes is Carl Rogers’ “The facts are friendly”. I know it sounds odd, and he meant our personal psychological facts are safe to inspect (I guess it’s like Socrates and “The unexamined life is not worth living”, turned upside down), but these facts are our collective psychological shadow, and I’m all for examining them in the light of day.

      Maybe it’s along these lines that I might be able to help your cause. I’m not a natural marketing bod, but I’ve been itching to offer some advice about the presentation of this publicly, but I would rather learn from my earlier arrogance and find out what it is currently, as all I’ve looked at so far is this page and several at solnx. So here’s another question – where else would the public (or geeks) have heard about this? Do you have a publicity strategy? Is there anyone on the team of helpers so far pushing this into the public consciousness? “Balancing act”!? I’ve just googled “vision 2020 solnx” and got 13 hits. About 11 of them you wrote, including an interesting post in a discussion about AI, most are on solnx.org (sorry I think I put com before), and there’s one random false positive in a pdf diagram. If I search at youtube, “solnx” has zero hits, “venus project”, 17,800. (And Jaques Fresco owes me a nutterometer; he blew my old one to pieces – or did I just not ask the right questions? hmmm). Have you done any interviews? TV? Radio? How famous is Ted Howard beyond half of the politicians in NZ? (I don’t know anybody!). Are you avoiding the negative fallout of wider public discourse?

      I’ll dare to offer one bit of advice, which is that if you’re going to start marketing this idea, spreading the meme, then finding the right name is important. I realise that your 2020 goal is no longer tenable anyway, but don’t make the mistake of a “Vision 20anything”. I wouldn’t be surprised if my local cat protection scheme has a Vision 2020 (youtube hits for “vision 2020″: 3,350) . “Solnx” isn’t bad, except that it’s not easily pronouncable, suggests “Solution X” and there is at least one of those already (a marketing company, but I don’t think they’ll want to share it with you!). A good product name has to be memorable, preferably but not necessarily relevant and completely unknown to google. Example: “Google” (no, I mean, “google” wasn’t known to search engines, google knows about itself).

      My response to all the global threats since I realised (once I stopped panicking) has been stoical (Stoics: followers of Zeno, who said to accept fate, but try to lead a good life). As a person grows up and has to recognise mortality, I just accepted that humanity has to do the same. “We’rrr doooomed, I tell ye!” All races end. But reading your alternative really did make me see that such a scheme might just possibly have the potential to change us from a species that almost emerged into rational global politics (by which I mean unity in diversity, not NWO) – or even might still do so, just – before the lights suddenly went out, into one that completed another level in the game of Planetary Evolution and – who knows – gained membership rights to the galactic big boys, the almost-immortal races of beings who could be out there already, planet hopping and exploring star systems through cybernetic automation. Maybe they wonder how to dodge heat death by slipping into a parallel universe. Anyway, without getting ahead of ourselves by several billion years, if you’re right, you have the potential to raise humanity from an also-ran into a galactic success story. Even if you’re not, only people with your kind of vision probably can.

      Or of course we might get hit, or Yellowstone might blow, and we go back to level 1 with just a few thousand surviving, but we’ll do it better next time.

      Very best wishes, and to your wife.
      John

  13. Thanks John

    Have spent some time trying out ideas
    Got a few possibles but none that I like much yet.
    Thanks for the thoughts, and the offer.

    If we get taken out by a super volcano before we are organised, then I doubt we would make it again. We’ve used all the oil that is easily accessible, and most of the coal.

    It will take several 10s of millions of years to replenish fossil hydrocarbon sources to allow another group to have an “industrial age”.

  14. Pingback: Why do we question? | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

  15. xd says:

    Just wondering if you’ve considered population in all of this. Sure the technology exists (or could be made to exist) to feed everyone right now, and possibly even up to 20 billion if you go all optimistic on us. But what happens if we just keep on breeding. In any political system where there is free food but optional restraint from breeding you will eventually overwhelm the system. In the old days (at least in the west) famines and pestilences kept such tendencies in check. If you look at current demographics in the countries with falling birthrates you’ll see a disturbing trend wherein the lower socio-economic strata are out-breeding the higher socio-economic strata. In plain words those who are getting free food are breeding more. If you do the math you will see that scarcity will eventually result from your free food paradigm. Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for free food but I’d make it a contractual agreement not a human right. You sign this lifetime contract you get free food till you die but you only get the right to reproduce yourself once and if you break the terms of the contract you lose the right to the free food. Checks and balances my friend.

    • Hi Dan

      Certainly have considered expansion. It must stop.
      No systems can expand indefinitely.
      Even if we limited expansion to 1% per decade, within a few thousand years we would need to be expanding out to new worlds faster than the speed of light.
      So yes – expansion needs to stop.
      Shrinking for a bit wouldn’t hurt the Earth’s ecosystem.
      Certainly the population here on earth needs to limit well under 100 billion, under 5 billion is probably better for the ecology.

      And there is a lot of mass off planet that could be made to house people, but not quickly, and it would still have a limit, maybe a few thousand billion.

      There are options, and everyone needs to accept that there are physical limits.

      If you look closely it is not simply about those who are getting free food.
      It is much more complex.
      Those who have freedom and security – real wealth, real options, tend to limit families and exercise those options. Those who don’t tend to keep on doing what their ancestors did.

      If we want to change people’s behaviour, then we need to give them the options.
      Not quite that simple, and it is an essential first stage.

      I’m actually about much more.
      I’m actually about extending life-spans indefinitely – with death rates about 2 in 1,000 per decade (due to accident).
      Which entails a very slow reproduction rate – 1 child per couple every 2,500 years.

      Might take a while to reach that, and it is a necessary target.

  16. xd says:

    Oh you’re a singularitarian. Interesting. Anyways the problem of enough for all is going to have to oust the vested interests. Something like the Scandinavian model of government would be a necessary first step and we need to eliminate the possibility of dictators corrupting and oppressing the system. In libya they have the opportunity to use technology to create the first state really ran by the people through the leveraging of social media and crowdsorcing but I bet that instead it will be another lost opportunity.

    • Hi Dan
      Not really a singulatarian. I think that singularity will eventually happen, and it seems to me that the risks involved in speeding that process far outweigh any benefits that might accrue. We need to have our own house in order before singularity if singularity is to have a high probability of being of benefit to humanity.

      Almost everything that happens politically on this planet is about money.
      Kuwait, Iraq, Lybia – all oil. Afghanistan opium. Follow the money trail and you will understand modern politics. Simple really. Except that some people are starting to wake up, which is not at all what those at the top had planned.
      Now we just need those at the top to start to wake up to their own long term best interests – they’re just as asleep as the rest of us in reality.

  17. xd says:

    Ted,
    I’m saying that your proposals may NOT be in the best interests of those at the top because it involves them acting in the interests of all instead of their own selfish short term interests. For example it’s not really in the long term interests of society to only invest on projects that will return a minimum rate of return over a five year planning period if society badly needs to replace worn out infrastructure that was not paid for and is not owned by those at the top.

    • What I am saying is:
      Certainly there are some short term costs, yet in the long term the costs of not looking after the interests of everyone are so great, that it is actually in the long term interests of everyone to look after everyone else.

      The trick in making that work, is creating a realistic expectation that individuals will in fact be able to live for several thousand years.

      When thinking adjusts to that sort of time scale, the payoffs become very different indeed.

      • Reggie says:

        Ted have you heard of the anomaly of the dominant pig and the subservient pig?

        With the snout food release at one end of the pig run and the trough at the opposite end, which do you think will take up permanent residence beside the trough while the other gallops from one end to the other to release the food and them repeatedly back and forth to get some.
        My guess is you would have said the DOMINANT pig. But you’d be wrong. The SUBSERVIENT pig just sits and waits. If it was the other way around, that is, the DOMINANT pig takes up residence at the trough, the SUBSERVIENT pig would not be rewarded and quit. The DOMINANT pig simply knocks the other out of the way and gobblers his reward. Not so rare after-all eh?

  18. xd says:

    Here’s another slant. If I were rich maybe I’d want to get life extension for myself but NOT for my worker bees/slaves. It’s not about the benefits to society it’s about the benefits to ME. I strongly believe that will be the stumbling block. Libya clearly decided it would be better off without Gaddafi. Gaddafi didn’t consider that. Instead he looked aftet his own short term interests and I believe as a general case that’s the main issue we as a global civilization face. It’s not in the interests of those in charge right now to do the right thing for all of us because they would lose relative status and they will fight to maintain that status even if all of us lose. On another note I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that an AI would wipe us out. We after all are the bootstrap for AI so it’s in it’s interests to maintain a backup in case of a catastophic failure of infrastucture. Additionally maybe we get a hard takeoff where it upgrades so quickly we’re not a threat. There’s also that it could just bide it’s time while constructing a defense against attack in secret. It’s after all not in the interests of a hostile AI nor a peaceful one to act all belligerent while it’s still vulnerable. Remember by it’s very nature it will be intelligent at least at a human level which includes theory of mind and less than that we could outsmart it. Effectively once it’s smart enough to outsmart us how are we going to determine if it’s lying and unless it doesn’t care if it dies it won’t launch an attack before it can defend itself and once it can then what has it to fear if we’re no longer a threat? In any case it’s a race to upgrade humans before we have AI and I’d put my money on an asocial AI before an immortal augmented psycopath rich human

  19. Hi Dan

    It’s still the same slant.
    Sure we all want life extension.
    And when you look really closely at the mathematics of the dynamics of the likely scenarios produced, it is plain to see that the only effective mechanism to stabilise the system and provide true long term security, is to make it available to all. All other strategies invoke oscillations that eventually destabilise the entire system.

    Do you seriously think that what happened in Lybia had anything really to do with what the Lybian people wanted?
    Do you really think that NATO would have provided air cover that made the revolution possible if there was not oil at stake?
    Do you really think it was anything other than stabilising oil profits?

    In respect of AI, have you raised any really bright kids?
    Have you direct experience of really bright kids going through teenagehood, when they are starting to come to grips with surface level phenomena, but are as yet completely ignorant of the multidimensional nature of the systems they are part of. That transition, from planar to multidimensional viewing is never easy. Teenagers are often dangerous, to themselves and those around them. The more free they are the worse the experience.

    Do you really want to trust your existence to AI going through that in the current cultural environment?
    It may become the lesser of available evils, if all else fails, and all else is yet to fail.

    It is a very interesting, multidimensional situation in which we find ourselves.

    A great many possibilities open – and infinite number actually.
    Nothing certain, and cause for cautious optimism.

  20. Sean Clarke says:

    Thanks Ted,

    Glad to discover you’re still sounding out your clear reasoning into the earthly fray, nice lucid viewing lens you’ve presented here regarding a usually convoluted and highly veiled subject, very helpful, thanks for posting.

    ~ Sean

  21. Pingback: Corporate caricatures | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

  22. john says:

    Thought your response to the recent Kurzweil post about how wonderful the world looks was very appropos…one merely has to look at the commercials on the telly for the latest cellphone to realize technology may improve, but it wavers in the direction of the dollar.

  23. Phillip Stewart says:

    Thankyou for restoring a sliver of my faith in humanity. Onwards and upwards!

  24. Reggie says:

    I am disappointed to hear you are a fence sitter Ted.

    Certainly equilibrium requires all to look at matters in the fairest light possible but equilibrium is the equivalent of stagnation. With your engineering bent I’m sure you recognise the need for in-stability as the fastest way to a correct an erroneous or unsatisfactory situation. Therefore you will also no doubt recognise that lock-up in an extreme condition calls for action. Time is of the essence if suffering is to be avoided. In this case action from the 99%. Socialism is one of the many forms of Democracy and if our God conversation has application, then according to those so disposed, Jesus was a Socialist. By the way the incantation goes, “I don’t believe in God but if I’m wrong then God forgive me.”

  25. Sorry Reggie – I don’t comprehend/
    In what way am I fence sitting?
    There is a great deal more at stake here than just a money system or the concept of capitalism – it is about the survival of culture and technology and the majority of humanity and a great deal of suffering for a great many people.

  26. Reggie says:

    Good Morning Ted,

    My disappointment stems from your apparent failure to appreciate the advantages to be gained by some degree of instability. Your striving for a perfect balance is both futile and unhelpful in the extreme. I suppose the image of a white-knuckled driver may best describe your approach..

    Money, for example, is probably the greatest moderator of social interchange that has ever been developed. As such it is bound to have some of the most positive and the most negative effects imaginable, but that’s only because it is so successful. But let’s take some of your other social concerns as a way of illustrating your lack of moderation. I mean this in the most helpful way, not as an ego feeding criticism.

    Quote; “There is a great deal more at stake here than just a money system or the concept of capitalism – it is about the survival of culture and technology and the majority of humanity and a great deal of suffering for a great many people.” Unquote.

    I beg to disagree with your first statement because the money system and Capitalism represent an encapsulation of the other problems.

    Now let’s address, “the survival of culture and technology,” and how it relates to … ” a great deal of suffering for a great many people.”

    First you have to define this culture that you seek to defend.

    Which is it? Why is it stable or, more to the point perhaps, why do you seek to make it stable? Is it the Maori who spread their influence across the Pacific and dominated the areas they fancied. Or the British who came in and displaced them. Or the British who took over from the Australian Aborigine or the French or the British or Spanish who settled other areas. How do we go about evaluating their influence? Is it on balance and how do we take into account the slow and ever changing view of “normality.” It appears to me that you finally want to call a halt to cultural interchange and freeze it as it is at this moment. It can’t be done, it is a natural part of evolution that will continue without you and me and especially without the Queen. (Sorry, a light moment. I understand most NZers are Royalists.)

    By the way, evolution is intrinsically binary so there’s not much about technology to defend there. Out with the old and in with the new, even though the old still functions perfectly… well … maybe NOT so perfectly if the new does it better and quicker with reduced chance of failure.

    This is why Socialism is a necessary step away from the defects of the current Democratic system that has become so tortured and twisted to the advantage of the few, the 1%, in US terms.

  27. Hi Reggie
    I am all in favour of degrees of instability, and the degrees one employs in particular technologies has to be matched to the skill level of the person using it. In cars, if you put a learner driver behind the controls of a racing car (highly unstable) the results are not likely to be pretty.

    I am striving to create a basic set of systems that meet the survival needs of all humanity, without having to force anyone to do anything. That is completely different to any current conception of socialism. Socialism in its current reality is heavy on coercion, and I am strong on individual freedom. I am also strong on awareness, and in the absence of awareness, what will result will come from the systemic incentives in place.

    The culture I seek to have survive is the culture that has high technology, knowledge of science and a great respect for diversity.
    So it is neither British nor Maori culture, and it owes something to both.
    In this sense, it is not a fixed thing, but a collection of understandings that enable possibility, and is ever changing and ever expanding. It is not something that can be fixed, it will, by definition, always expand into new territory.

    The suffering is that existing systems deny some people the basics of existence, while in other areas those basics go to waste.
    Even here in NZ, many people are denied access to education, because education is structured in a way that demands obedience, and has little tolerance of real diversity.
    It is, and likely always will be, a complex issue.

    I would like to know how you define socialism?
    None of the current incarnations do much for me.
    I am certainly no great fan of the US “democratic” system (there is an example of “New-speak” if ever there was one).

    Evolution can have binary aspects, and it can also have infinite gradations.
    Evolution is rarely straight forward, it is usually a very deeply interrelated system (almost holographic in nature).
    The great advances in evolution have been the development of new levels of cooperation stabilised by new strategic levels).
    It is my intention to bring about a new level of cooperation in humanity, one that does not fix in any specific form, but rather encourages and empowers diversity. One that works for every human being, no exceptions.
    And certainly, if people have freedom, people will make mistakes, and some of those mistakes will be fatal – that is a reality one cannot avoid.

    In terms of survival, there are many threats – you can check out a list on one of my other sites http://www.fishnet.co.nz/v2020/issues.htm

    The solnx.org proposal is designed to give us effective strategies to mitigate all of the large scale risks associated with all of those threats.

  28. Reggie says:

    Ted, socialism has no current reality. The reality of which you speak is a preconception based on historic observations. You might just as well say there is only one form of democracy and that the form it takes today is exactly the same as the concept put forward by Paine. It’s not, it has been turned to the advantage of those with the power exactly as Stalin turned a representation of Communism against the people. He wasn’t demonstrating Communism he was demonstrating the hideous extremes to which any tyrant can be led. For the convenience of abbreviation, that is exactly what the 1% gets up to. Thatcher and her war of distraction and the Republicans beating the drum of defending the US public while actively seeking to deprive them of any worldly consideration, including medical support.

    Social Security is a dirty word to a right-wing Republican, (is there any other?) and yet Social Security is the very reason given for devoting astronomical portions of the US budget to armaments. (they call it defense of course.) Whose Social Security we must ask? Of course, that of the 1%. Exactly the same reason for which convicts were sent from England to Australia in 1788 and to the US before the Revolution. An attempt to protect the upper class from the maundering mob, the very class the upper class had created by their land clearances. The work of creating Social Insecurity is not new.

    I’m strong on individual freedom too but there is a degree of conformity that is necessary to ensure that individual freedom is defended. Once again we have the mix such that unless freedom comes under threat, no-one thinks to remain vigilant in its defense. For example, I am a little non-plussed that you seek to create some system or other to match the needs of every individual.

    “One that works for every human being, no exceptions.
    And certainly, if people have freedom, people will make mistakes, and some of those mistakes will be fatal – that is a reality one cannot avoid.”

    Do you realise that is exactly the platform of the US Republicans? “We know! No medical support, let ‘em suffer and die?” Then you take it upon yourself to assess the thresholds that should be acceptable to each individual, after which you seek to impose it upon everyone. What happened to your noble FREEDOM? Freedom for Ted sounds awfully like the same freedom Stalin sought. :)

  29. Hi Reggie
    I have no idea how you managed to get from what I have written to the US republican party. I see no logical way of creating any such linkage.

    I have been consistent in talking about creating a set of technologies that support every individual in having the basics of life.
    I have also been consistent in speaking about the need to evolve new levels of cooperation that involve all people. This may be what you call socialism, though it is not the common meaning of the term. In the absence of you providing a definition, I simply used the commonly agreed one.

    Ted wants the same freedom that he wants for everyone else.
    I want the systems to create an environment that is as safe as possible, and I do not want those systems to protect me from risks I am perfectly willing to accept.

    I suspect that your “socialism” is very close to my “new level of cooperation”, and without a lot more specific information it is hard to be certain.

    I am certainly not proposing anything like what Stalin did – not at any level.

    Anyone who has sufficient education will be aware of the need to be vigilant in the defence of freedom. It is the intentional ignorance, and the indoctrination into national and religious groups that threatens our common survival.

  30. Jarek says:

    I have tried to follow and make heads or tails (with variable success) of a number of posts in this discussion and have these two questions which Ted or perhaps someone else will care to give an answer to.

    1. Are mechanisms of evolution (as defined by Darwin) still active at present?
    2. (provided they are) Where are the mechanisms of evolution taking us, meaning what are the
    expected improvements in us?

    Apart from this I would like to share a few thoughts of mine provoked by Ted’s original post on money.
    Money is the means rather than ends even for those whom we commonly accuse of seeing money as ends (i.e. the very rich). For most of us (mostly the very rich) money is seen as means of securing … importance. Unlike money, importance is something that is craved by all of us. Importance (other terms used to desribe it being consequence, clout, power, respect, fame etc) is a commodity which will NEVER be in abundance and which therefore will always have to be contended for, for the simple reason of it being a relative quality (its only definition being “the opposite of unimportance”). We come to this world (except some very unfortunate ones) with a capital of unreserved importance granted us by our parents. Our first effort at asserting importance is crying out loud. As we grow we keep looking for other means of asserting it. We continuously check what we are good at, which things we can do earn us the appreciation of other people. There is a world of different things humans can compete at. There seems to exist an abundance of “specializations”. Still some strive for importance without much success throughout their lives. In their desperation they commit misdeeds in an attempt to gain fame by being infamous. These people even sometimes try to extract respect by force from other people, from their (supposedly) loved ones, or randomly targeted victims. Most people however eventually find their “place” on earth. They will excell at making shoes, or running very fast and winning at sports contests, or painting pictures or ….the list is very long. I am sure everyone of us could tell their own unique story here. Some people (after unsuccessful attempts at anything else) will end up trying to secure their importance through accumulation of money (and that which money can buy). This last category of people however are bound to find out (as Scrooge one Christmas did find) that the “importance” so earned is somewhat deficient. It simply lacks the sincerity enjoyed by importance earned through other means. The first reaction of the rich upon their grim discovery is to keep up the “good” work. When this method produces no desired results, the rich resort to the very same technic to which resort those who have never found their “place” on earth. At some stage of desperation the rich will try to “make” the rest of world to treat them with deference they “deserve”. And we are nowadays at this very stage of the economic cycle (since these economic patterns have repeated since time out of mind) when the rich are trying to “make” the rest of mankind to treat them with respect. The rich have a number of levers at their disposal to aid and abate them. They can infiltrate the state governments and manipulate at will the national economies. They can for example deluge a given country with cheap produce from another country rendering the production of anything (in the former) economically not viable. Having thus devestated that country’s economy and taking advantage of a considerable inertia (expressing itself as time needed to rebuild what was destroyed) the rich can rise the prices of the hitherto cheap imported produce. The result of this is a sudden inflation and the disappearance of personal savings. (because of lack of space in this post, to be continued)

  31. Jarek says:

    The very next move of the rich is to steeply rise the cost of living and taxes on land and property. The imporverished population then sell out in panic what they have just to raise enough money to cover the most immediate needs (food, shelter). The rich now own the land and assets plus have all the money and the population at their mercy. Will they now manage to eliminate the contempt with which that same population always looked at them? I believe they will and I base this opinion on history. In some “auspicious” conditions the collective reaction of human populations can only be accounted for by something which I guess could be called “a psychology of the mob” or, if you like “a psychology of the mob at bay”. The good example of this is what was happening in the Soviet Russia single-handedly kept at bay by Stalin. My blood runs cold when my own mother recalls crying her eyes out over Stalin’s death. More up to date example of this is what is happening in the North Korea. We have all glimpsed on our TVs the faces of its citizens distorted with genuine grief upon the news of their late leader’s demise. Once a certain critical “mass” of national, collective fear is reached, the whole nations behave in ways which boggle the minds of those who never experienced the situation first hand. The USA itself was perhaps not far from falling into the abyss at the time of the “communist witch hunt”.
    If steps are taken now, the rich can perhaps be prevented from accomplishing this complete victory of money over flesh and spirit. But for me the danger of this happening is very real.

    I realize how incongruous and out of place this my post is as compared with earlier posts here, but I am trying my level best at drumming up as much awarenes as I can of the clouds gathering over the world’s horizon today.

  32. Hi Jarek

    There are many possible ways to answer your first two questions.

    The short way is to say yes, the mechanisms of evolution are still active at present, and the second one is one that is extremely difficult to give any sort of answer to that is not simply a guess (too many variables at play).
    Evolution does not necessarily deliver improvements, it simply acts through differential survival in particular niches.
    Evolution is defined only in terms of survival.

    Evolution does not deal in terms that have a moral dimension, unless that dimension has a direct impact on survival (this idea can get complex, as it can be recursive – that is, it can bend back and influence itself through multiple dimensions and domains).

    Evolution requires only three things – so it starts simple, then it gets more complex, rapidly so.

    Evolution to work needs just 3 things:
    1/ something that makes copies of itself;
    2/ occasional errors in the copying process leading to variation;
    3/ competition for surivial between the variants leading to changes in relative numbers in the population.

    It seems that we, as human beings, are one end point (all other living life forms being other end points) of almost 4 billions years of evolution of life on this planet.
    Over that huge amount of time, many things have happened.

    It seems that life started as relatively simple RNA molecules replicating in the early anaerobic oceans of the earth. Back then the day was 6 hours long, the moon was 1/16th of the distance away that it is now, and 100m high tides raged in and out over hot rocks every 3 hours. It seems probable that early replication was driven by the heating and cooling involved in these massive tides.
    It is quite probable that early cellular life had to wait for mechanical agitation of tide or wave action to split them into 2, but eventually mechanisms evolved that made that process more reliable, and eventually did away entirely with the need for heating and cooling and for mechanical agitation.

    It seems that all cellular life on this planet is derived from the first cell that managed to do that – some 3 billion years ago.

    It seems that cellular life continued in this fashion for about 2 billion years until at some point, about a billion years ago, some simple prokaryotes got together in a colony and formed the first eukaryotic cell. It seems that all complex life (animals and higher plants) are the direct descendent of this one cell.

    Once prokaryotic cells got started, with their complex cellular structure, then they started to form multicellular organisms.

    As multicellular organisms developed greater complexity and greater differentiation, into nervous systems and brains, a whole new domain opened up for evolution.

    Once brains developed the ability for symbolic language, and started to transmit and receive symbols and sequences and sets of symbols, then evolution had access to a new and much faster domain.

    Looking back at the evolution of cellular genetic life, we can see that new levels of life were made available by mechanisms arising which allowed for the emergence of new levels of stable cooperation.

    First came cooperation between RNA and proteins via the emergence of the ribosome (a construct in RNA, that allows for RNA to act as an instruction code for the production of proteins).

    Then as protein enzymes allowed for the production of complex sugars and fats the entire cooperating mechanisms of cellular life came under direct genetic control.

    Then there was a new level of cooperation between different types of prokaryotic cell to give us the eukaryotic cell.

    Then new levels of cooperation between eukaryotic cells to give us multi-cellular organisms.

    Then new levels of cooperation between differentiated cells of the same genetic type to give complex tissue types eventually leading to complex brains and nervous systems.

    Then we had complex associations between organisms to form herds.

    Then as brains became able to hold and transmit complex symbols and set of symbols, complex patterns of these symbols evolved at many levels simultaneously – forming coooperative cultures, religions, trades, societies, etc.

    Right now we see living examples of many different types and stages of these processes, in particular niches.

    In terms of human beings, some of us are at stages of evolution that are conceptually similar to simple animals, and others are conceptually similar to complex ecologies.

    It seems to me that it is possible to find mechanisms that empower and stabilise cooperation at whole new levels.

    Some seem to think that money and free markets do this, yet to me that hypothesis is clearly falsified.
    To me it is very clear that free markets do not actually provide the security and necessities to everyone that they require. Something else is required to do that.

    One possible set of solutions to that particular problem is the production of a set of machines that can produce copies of themselves, and also produce all the goods and services necessary for human survival and self actualisation. This is what http://www.solnx.org is about. It maximises human freedom and security.

    It seems to me that any attempt to do something similar through economic mechanisms necessarily constrains human freedom to an unacceptable degree for too many.

    So yes – the mechanisms of evolution are alive and well.
    Ideas are out there in a population of minds, competing and cooperating for expression and “brain time”.
    It is an exceptionally complex environment, with new dimensions emerging on a daily basis, utterly impossible to predict with any degree of certainty; and there are patterns and trends.

    It is very hard to see exponential trends in noisy environments, until they emerge from the noise as fully developed waves.

    It is a very interesting time we live in.
    Quite the most interesting to date in history methinks.

    So that is a slightly longer answer, still devoid of much of the subtleties involved, yet hinting at where to find them. Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene” is one of the best starting points I know for a more detailed introduction of some of these ideas.

  33. Hi Jarek

    On your second theme, of a broad view of history, your assessment has much to commend it, to a point.
    And it seems to me that there are other forces at work also.

    And yes, it will be a “close thing”, with little certainty about outcomes, and I am cautiously optimistic, more optimistic than I have been in 40 years.

    At all previous times in history, people were isolated, and communications strictly controlled.
    With the internet that is much more difficult.
    The freedom of communication, and the trust networks that have developed as a result, add a whole new dynamic to the situation that has never before existed (in microcosm, yes, but not at the level it does today, where today there are few families who do not have family members with direct connections to world wide networks, via their computers and cell phones).

  34. Jarek says:

    Ted, many thanks for your attention. I read both your replies with interest. Since by your own admission, the answer to my second question is nearly impossible to provide an aswer to, I was thinking that perhaps this question could be modified and instead of asking “where the mechanism of evolution currently at work with respect to us humans are taking us” we could ask this question, “which parts of our human bodies are currently subject to evolution”. In other words, which characteristics of our bodies give us, in the present day environment, better chances of survival as compared to those of us in whom these characteristics are less well developed. Is it the length of our fingers which affords us more dexterity in using computer keyboards (a rather facetious example), or perhaps the overall count of our brain cells or…?
    I find these considerations fundamental to our understanding of the role of the human race at this stage and in particular our role with reference to the emergence of that new form of life (which we both agreed not to call AI).
    I also allege that were your Solnx system of omnipresent egalitarism to be successfully implemeted, the forces of evolution would there and then cease to operate on us as a species (gene pool). Surely an environment which does not favour some sets of genes over other sets of genes leads to a situation in which the mechanisms of evolution (as I understand them) have no option but to join the ranks of the unemployed (forgive me being facetious again, but I hate to come accross as entirely a morose individual).

  35. Hi Jarek,

    The situation with human genetic evolution is interesting.
    The major thing we seem to be doing is breeding from poor people.
    In all societies, it seems to be the least educated, and the least affluent, who are having the most children. If any physical attributes enter the equation their influence seems to be very small (way less than 1%). The most dominant factor seems to be economic, followed be belief structure (catholics are outbreeding most of the rest).

    So it seems that it is ideas that are in charge of human genetic evolution, as far as there is any genetic evolution going on at all; and I strongly suspect that there is actually very little genetic evolution occurring – just lots of mixing of the gene pool as cultural and tribal barriers break down, and inter-group families are formed.

    Looked at from a species perspective, that creates diversity in the individuals, yet does little to alter the frequencies of the genes in the population. This morning we had 4 WWOOFers in the house, a Gaelic speaking Hebridean, a French woman, a Czech man, and a Canadian girl. The cultural mixing is quite interesting.

    What is most interesting to me is the evolution of ideas – mimemes, or memes for short.
    There are three aspects to mimetic evolution that are interesting and seem obviously different, but are actually very much the same thing (they are very tightly coupled at at least two levels).
    The first aspect is the evolution of technology – the tools, from clubs and stones, up through to all the technological wonders we are using to have this conversation, and beyond. Tools and systems each have their own evolutionary path, and the major driver of that path is human “culture” (in the widest possible sense of culture).
    The second aspect is the evolution of culture, as produced by the specific instances of it held in specific human minds, and the interactions that those patterns produce (in one sense this conversation is one specific instances of such an interaction).
    The third aspect is the evolution of individual human minds, and the levels of abstraction and distinction (the levels of paradigms), available to and used by specific individuals.

    Within the human mind, context is King. We tend to behave in very habitual ways, and the habits of mind are triggered when brain recognises a particular context. The higher the level of control we can exert over the context we bring to particular situations, the more control we can bring to our actions, and the more control we have over the classes of habit that we express.

    It seems to me that various spiritual traditions have various ways of referring to what is going on, and none of the explanatory frameworks developed by those traditions are particularly accurate in the light of a modern understanding of the classes of patterns and strategies that are at work in the human mind.

    So evolution is alive and well, and is proceeding at a pace that is thousands of times faster than was possible in the realm of genetics, and it is proceeding in the realm of human minds and human thinking, and the various expressions of that in terms of culture and technology (using technology in the widest sense to embrace all manner of systems, patterns and strategies employed by various sets of institutions and machines including the designs of the machines themselves).

    • jareksteliga says:

      Hello Ted,

      Sorry for the long delay in my reply but my mind works in fits and starts.

      The conclusions of your analysis lend a whole new significance to the times we live in. We seem to witness the demise of a process which began billions of years ago and which created us.

      Are we, as a biological entity, being sidelined in the large scheme of things? Is our self perceived supremacy in the “local” Universe coming to an end?
      Is what we consider our tools (sophisticated, highly computerised machines free from biological constraints) going to take over from us and push us aside or even get rid of us as no longer needed for anything? And how exactly is this momentous replacement going to happen? Someone in this thread observed earlier that all it takes to disarm a computer is to use the on/off switch on it. I disagree with this rather complacent view. In my opinion the first computers to break free from human control will be those used in the military context where they will be designed to resist unauthorised attempts at disarming them and at the same they will be designed to better and better destroy the enemy (both people and their machines). As a result of the arms race, one day a machine will be made which will defy even its own constructor (either through that constructor’s error or accident which I suppose could be called a mutation). A possibility hinted upon by Mary Schelley in her Frankenstein. Another thing needed for the ‘liberation’ of computers is their ability to replicate themselves. Again we, humans will aid and abet them in achieving this ability through devising fully automated (computerized) systems of manufacture. And make no mistake, the computers inherently are not belligerent. It is we, humans, who will make them so. We will pass on to them the – what I call – original sin much as it was passed on to us by our ‘ancestors’ (less complex biological forms of life). We will teach them all tricks of the trade as far as war and fighting is concerned in order to render them more efficient in killing our enemy and at the end of the day we will teach them how to outfox … us. Human race is too much concerned with its own affairs to ever notice the writing on the wall. We will continue to be at each other’s throats (as we have always been) quite oblivious to the danger of becoming collectively overtaken by that new form of life. Of course the new form of life has been subject to processes of natural selection ever since the first tool was used, with particular emphasis on articles of weaponry. And natural selection is the surest mechanism to perfect whatefer it is that it operates on. Once computers learn (are taught by us) how to stand up to human beings, the process of natural selection will give way to an even more effective mechanism of the survival of the fittest.
      In short we are doomed and our days are numbered.

      Another reflection may be this. Is the current stage of evolution, as represented by yourself, not rather precarious in that it is not backed up by the physical/biological modification of a species in question? How far back in terms of time would human beings be set in the case of a major calamity which erased the “software” aspect of our current development? What stages of development would human race have to again go through then? The invention of fire? Would regaining the current stage of technological development take millions of years?

  36. jareksteliga says:

    Hello Ted,

    I appologize for the long delay in my reply but my mind works in fits and starts.

    The conclusions of your analysis lend a whole new significance to the times we live in. We seem to witness the demise of a process which began billions of years ago and which created us.

    Are we, as a biological entity, being sidelined in the large scheme of things? Is our self perceived supremacy in the “local” Universe coming to an end?
    Is what we consider our tools (sophisticated, highly computerised machines free from biological constraints) going to take over from us and push us aside or even get rid of us as no longer needed for anything? And how exactly is this momentous replacement going to happen? Someone in this thread observed earlier that all it takes to disarm a computer is to use the on/off switch on it. I disagree with this rather complacent view. In my opinion the first computers to break free from human control will be those used in the military context where they will be designed to resist unauthorised attempts at disarming them and at the same they will be designed to better and better destroy the enemy (both people and their machines). As a result of the arms race, one day a machine will be made which will defy even its own constructor (either through that constructor’s error or accident which I suppose could be called a mutation). A possibility hinted upon by Mary Schelley in her Frankenstein. Another thing needed for the ‘liberation’ of computers is their ability to replicate themselves. Again we, humans will aid and abet them in achieving this ability through devising fully automated (computerized) systems of manufacture. And make no mistake, the computers inherently are not belligerent. It is we, humans, who will make them so. We will pass on to them the – what I call – original sin much as it was passed on to us by our ‘ancestors’ (less complex biological forms of life). We will teach them all tricks of the trade as far as war and fighting is concerned in order to render them more efficient in killing our enemy and at the end of the day we will teach them how to outfox … us. Human race is too much concerned with its own affairs to ever notice the writing on the wall. We will continue to be at each other’s throats (as we have always been) quite oblivious to the danger of becoming collectively overtaken by that new form of life. Of course the new form of life has been subject to processes of natural selection ever since the first tool was used, with particular emphasis on articles of weaponry. And natural selection is the surest mechanism to perfect whatefer it is that it operates on. Once computers learn (are taught by us) how to stand up to human beings, the process of natural selection will give way to an even more effective mechanism of the survival of the fittest.
    In short we are doomed and our days are numbered.

    Another reflection may be this. Is the current stage of evolution, as represented by yourself, not rather precarious in that it is not backed up by the physical/biological modification of a species in question? How far back in terms of time would human beings be set in the case of a major calamity which erased the “software” aspect of our current development? What stages of development would human race have to again go through then? The invention of fire? Would regaining the current stage of technological development take millions of years?

    • Hi Jarek

      At this stage, technology, as an expression of ideas replicating in the minds and systems of people, gets expressed via us and the systems we have developed.

      In this sense, it has some attributes of a virus, and yet in other senses the relationship is far more commensal (of benefit to both parties).

      The history of evolution of life has certainly had continuous competitive components to it, and the great advances in life forms have come about as a result of the stabilisation of new forms of cooperation.

      Certainly our entire system is precarious at present.
      Very few people seem to be aware of the dangers inherent in the systemic incentives of our current control structures (most specifically money and markets).

      It would be very difficult to eliminate more that a couple of thousand years to evolutionary progress from humanity, and still retain sufficient individuals to keep a breeding stock, and it might be possible to set us back up to 10,000 years in some circumstances.

      The biggest problem would be around developing technology, as all the high grade ore bodies for most metals have already been mined. It could take a few million years of erosion to bring new ore bodies to the surface. Unless the skeletons of our current cities act as ore bodies.

      And I am becoming quietly confident that we will survive this transition.

      It seems that the new level of cooperation that may define the new life forms that emerge may come from cooperation between people and technology at whole new levels.

      Survival of the fittest is a very interesting term. Fitness has a very specific biological meaning in this term, and it is a bit tautological. The fittest is, by definition, that which survives. It may not have anything to do with strength, or any sort of physical fitness; it is more to do with a topological fit to the requirements of the possibility space presented by reality in some specific sets of space and time.

      We humans are a very strange animal; such a vast array of possible responses – from amazingly high, to amazingly primitive – all coexisting inside individual minds – competing for expression.

  37. Pingback: SUPER SIZE me NOT !!! | What's New in Eco-Materials

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