AI (Artificial Intelligence) and poverty vs freedom

Posthuman Network – Khannea Suntzu 9/11/15 AI and employment

A report in the Guardian Artificial intelligence: ‘Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods and the rest of us’

I have been saying, since 1974, that we need to change our dominant means of evaluating value, if we value life and freedom.

Markets were a useful mechanism for measuring value when the vast majority of things were genuinely scarce.
In an age where the class of goods and services that can be delivered in universal abundance is growing exponentially, a market based measure fails.
Markets require both human desire and scarcity to function. Anything that has zero scarcity (universal abundance) has zero market value (by definition). If you doubt this, just think of oxygen in the air. Oxygen is, arguably, the most important thing for any human being (deprived of it for just a few minutes and most people suffer damage that degrades their systems below the limit of restart and recovery – ie they die). And yet the market value of this most valuable substance is zero – because we all have what we need.

From the perspective of most things being scarce, having no interest in the small class of things that are universally abundant makes a certain sense.

However, we are now in an age of exponentially expanding computation and automation. Such automation creates an exponentially expanding set of universally abundant goods and services, which by definition have no market value.
Such an expansion actually reduces the class of things that are marketable, and as such destroys economic value, even as it meets human needs.
Therefore, such expansion of automation will be resisted by the dominant paradigm of market values (money).

Those paradigms (and they are many) that have equated liberty with markets (because for much of history most liberty has existed around markets) now become the greatest threat to their own highest values.
Many (most) of those who value individual life and individual liberty as their highest values, and have (quite accurately) determined that throughout history, market freedoms have been the greatest determinant of individual freedom, now find it difficult (near impossible) to separate the concept of markets from the concept of freedom. The two have become conflated through historical association.

Yet the logic is undeniable.

When one can separate out the concepts of liberty and the concepts of markets into their component parts, and see them in a context of exponentially expanding information and automation systems, one sees the intersection point, where the utility delivered by markets crosses the axis and becomes a negative value – on a steep exponential trajectory.

So yes – if one equates employment with liberty (as our dominant social paradigm does), then automation does logically lead to poverty for the masses.

If, however, one can separate the concept of market exchange, from the concept of automated production, and one steps entirely outside of the concepts of markets, prices and profits, and deals only with the values of individual life, and individual liberty, in a context of automated and distributed production of goods and services, then what one sees is very different picture.

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Evonomics – Love Hayek, love Darwin

Love Hayek, Love Darwin

Hi David,

I align with a lot of what you wrote, and of Hayek’s premises, but Hayek is missing many of the key elements of the conceptual puzzle (or at least does not make them explicit in this piece).

Looked at from an information perspective, evolution encodes strategies at different levels, genetic, cultural, individual, and each is averaged over different time scales, and must be applicable, at least to some degree, to all the significant events encountered over those time scales.

Once one understands the work of Axelrod, and the recursively applicable nature of the need of raw cooperative strategies to coopt stabilising strategies to prevent cheats from taking over, then all of history can be viewed through this lens, and seen as a strategic arms race between ever more abstract levels of strategies that can be broadly classified as cooperative or cheating (with the cheating strategies having a predatory aspect).

So in this aspect, I suspect we strongly align.
Evolution happening at the three separate levels.

But, and it is a big but, we may diverge significantly on the nature of that environment.
It is entirely possible that for most of human history, small groups lived in times of relative abundance, essentially without competition, and only periodically did competition become a major element.
How could that be?
Nature has many ways of dealing death and destruction – extreme weather, volcanism, earthquake, pandemic, comet and meteor strike. Anything less than enough to cause complete extinction doesn’t appear clearly in the fossil record. Thus populations could be reduced to 10% or less with relative frequency – every century or two, and there would then follow a century or two of relative abundance as the population rebuilt to the previous carrying capacity.
Between them all, it seems entirely possible that life for humans fell into a sort of stochastic sweet spot, that meant that for much of the time, there was no need of competition, and thus extended “space” for cooperative systems to evolve their requisite attendant strategies.

So that is one way in which Hayek’s view of evolution seems a little less than adequate.

At another level, in terms of the strategic arms race between strategy sets, it seems that there is considerable advantage for the dominant social “class” to maintain the lower “classes” in a more raw cooperative state, and thus keep them vulnerable to the dominant group’s “cheating strategies”. There is room for infinite regress in such an arms race, and there do in fact seem to be many levels of such at play in the world today.

So those are my two main criticisms of the view of evolution as a mechanism expressed.

Going to the specifics of the three levels of systems.

It seems that at the genetic level, one can see information about the nature of strategies required to survive the variety of conditions actually present (at the frequencies encountered) encoded into all aspects of evolved systems. And the strategies present are for the most part those most closely available in the space of all possible strategies. Wolfram’s work indicates that there may in fact be an infinite class of classes of strategies that work as stabilising strategies, and most of them lie far away in the depths of strategic complexity – and we now have automated systems exploring such strategic depths.
So our bodies come with likes and dislikes that have worked in practice over evolutionary time.
As one example, a liking for sweet things sent us to fruits, which over most of our evolutionary history were valuable sources of a wide collection of nutrients. Now that we have sugar water in supermarkets, that particular heuristic doesn’t work so well.
Same goes for many other heuristics that served our ancestors well in very different environments, most have now been exploited and subserved to the service of profit, and at cost to the health and welfare of us as individuals.

This brings me to the major fault in Hayek’s thesis, that profit is an effective symbol for telling us where we can make the best contribution.
In environments where almost everything is genuinely scarce, then a strong case can be made that profit does encode a strong signal of benefit.
In environments that contain universal abundance, then the profit signal fails.
The more items that exist in the class of universal abundance, the less utility is encoded in the profit signal and the more frequent become suboptimal outcomes.
When one considers oxygen in the air, a strong case can be made that it is the single most valuable commodity to any human being, yet it has zero value in a market. That is because markets can only ascribe value to things that are scarce, and have exchange value. Markets cannot deliver a non-zero value to universal abundance of anything.
So people have come up with ideas like “intrinsic value” in an attempt to counter the destruction of abundance. The notion of intrinsic value is flawed, in a complementary way to that which the notion of market value is flawed.

So this leaves us with two very distinct classes of problem.

One class of problem is how do we develop signals that actually give a strong measure of real value? This leads in to a whole class of enquiry into the degrees to which each of us as individuals allow the genetic and cultural values of our past to dominate our present determination of “value”, and the degree to which we consciously override those, and the risk/benefit profiles associated with different strategies and contexts.

The other class of problem is around how do we develop signals that allow us to give non-zero values to universal abundance? I live in a freehold house, with solar power, largely automated gardens, and I am vegan. As an economic agent I have very little value. As a human being I have spent over 40 years deeply in the enquiry into the nature of the strategic mechanisms present in our environment, and the nature of changes required to deliver an environment that empowers potentially very long lived individuals to live a very long time with as much freedom as possible. Once one removes age related loss of function and risk of disease, there are many other classes of risk present (to both life and liberty) that require effective mitigation strategies.

The pursuit of profit was a reasonable signal generator in times of genuine scarcity.
We now live in an age of automation that could provide universal abundance of a large and exponentially growing set of goods and services; but the pursuit of profit actively works against the emergence of any universal abundance (as we can see with the expansion of “intellectual property” laws – which are nothing more or less than a prohibition on the free sharing of information in the name of profit).

Today our ability to process information is doubling in under a year.
All systems that rely on information should be halving in price on that sort of timescale.
They are not.
People should be experiencing a doubling of perceived wealth and security on that sort of timescale.
They are not.
The system is being manipulated, at recursively expanding levels, to deliver profit, over delivering life and liberty to every sapient entity.

I make the assertion that any individual who values their own life and liberty, can most powerfully (on the long term, in an environment with strong signal transmission and signal fidelity – ie people will not forget that you cheated them, and will pass such information to their friends, and they to theirs, etc) ensure such life and liberty by taking all reasonable steps to ensure the life and liberty of everyone else.
In an age of automation, each time we get an effective strategy fully automated, it can be shared with everyone within a few minutes, and can be selectively applied to contexts as they see fit.

With relatively little effort, we could develop and deploy such systems world wide.

Distributed cooperation, at a global scale.
Distributed production and distribution, at a global scale.
Distributed security, information, automation.
Valuing individual life and individual liberty, at a global scale.

And individual freedom is not freedom from the consequence of choice.
Freedom demands a responsibility for the consequences of choices – it is about as far as one can get from the notions of whim or fancy.

And empowering individual choice necessitates an acceptance of the exponentially expanding diversity that must logically result.
Provided that diversity values the life and liberty of others, then it must be given liberty to go where it will.

Sure, as human beings we all exist in a cultural context, a context of communication, and we cannot be bound by any constraints from the past, and nor do we entirely ignore the past. The past is often, and not always, a good predictor of the future.

[Addendum 26 Nov 2015 – Correlation does not imply causation.   If quantum mechanics tells us anything, it is that the past does not cause the future, and it is highly correlated with the future.]

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Ideapod – No more religion – addition

Ideapod – the question of faith

in reply to Jim Olsen – November 06, 2015

What do you mean by faith Jim?

It seems that this reality within which we find ourselves is sufficiently complex that we must all adopt heuristics (rules of thumb, things that work in practice) at many different levels, to simplify things to a level that we can act reliably.
In this sense, we can be said to have faith in certain heuristics in certain contexts.

It seems that we need to be able to re-evaluate the utility of any heuristic if either the context changes, or we are confronted with sufficiently strong evidence of heuristic failure.
It is often difficult to recognise a change of context.

So in this heuristic sense, we all need faith at an operational level.

If one takes faith to mean the practice of ignoring evidence in favour of some pet belief, then it seems clear to me that is to be avoided, and it is something we are all prone to at many different levels.

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Evonomics – Self interest – collective interest

Evonomics – This New Version of the Invisible Hand Can Improve Our Economy

How to align self-interest with collective interest

While all of that is true enough in a sense, it fails to take the next step in looking at the strategic context of economic systems generally, and the failure of classical assumptions at that level.

Evolution is a topic best understood from many domains simultaneously.
It is important to get a feel for genetic evolution, and the sorts of physical contexts that were present and the frequencies of different classes of high impact events (like meteor strike – size frequency/impact scale, large volcanoes – size frequency/ impact scale, etc), and the roles of such things in the broader strategic mixes that can evolve and stabilise.
Understanding some of the details of the biochemistry of evolution gives one an appreciation for the profound subtlety and interconnection that can emerge.

It is also important to understand complexity theory, and the general classes of complexity that can exist, and the cost/benefits of attempting to compute costs and benefits in the different classes of complexity. David Snowden’s Cynefin framework is a simple but very effective approach to understanding complexity, both in terms of the sorts of constraints present in different types of complexity, and the sorts of strategies that are most efficiently applied. He uses four categories, simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. All living systems seem to contain mixes of all classes of complexity. Sorting out which is which, and how one responds, is important. Our computational resources are finite, don’t waste them on chaotic domains.

It is also important to understand the exponentially expanding role of cooperation in higher levels of evolved systems. It is, to a good first order approximation, accurate to characterise all major advances in the complexity of living systems as the emergence of new levels of cooperative strategies with attendant strategies to prevent being overrun by cheats. And there is always something of an “arms race” with cheating strategies. Axelrod did some amazing pioneering work in this domain, and Wolfram has pushed the deeper boundaries.

Competition makes sense when there is genuine scarcity, and real competition cannot be avoided.
Cooperation always pays higher dividends when genuine abundance is present.
People are evolved for both modalities.

It seems clear to me that all modern economics is based in a scarcity modality, with specialisation and trade of surplus.
Through most of human history scarcity was real, and trade was of genuine benefit.
We are now in an age of automation that gives us the technical capacity to provide abundance to all.
Anything universally abundant has zero market value (by definition – just think of oxygen in the air, arguably the single most important substance to any human being, yet of no market value due to universal abundance).
Automation has the ability to deliver universal abundance of most goods and services to everyone.
That would break our market based system of values.

The question becomes:
What is more important, money or human life and freedom?

That is the question of our age.
Right now, the clear answer for most people is money, because they perceive scaricty.
I suspect that will change, rapidly, as people become aware that the images of scarcity and austerity that are their experiential reality are present purely to keep the market based system of money working, and for no other reason.
It is the value we give to money that traps us in scarcity – paradoxically.

Once one is able to see outside the box of money, the view is very different.
Real abundance, and the cooperation and security that come with it, are a real possibility, and by no means a certainty.

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Bulletproof vegetarian

Can Vegetarians Eat The Bulletproof Diet?

I went strict vegan (no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, mussels etc) over 5 years ago, after being sent home to die with aggressive metastasised melanoma (in lymph and liver after 3 operations). The evidence suggested I needed to get calories from animal products under 10%, and when I did the numbers I was over 80%, so the easiest way for me was to say none!
I have been healthier than at any other time in my life (since getting rid of the tumours – that the medical system said were untreatable).

As a biochemist by training over 40 years ago, it seems to me that there are a lot of half truths and untruths out there in the cause of getting people to spend money, rather than a real focus on health and wellness.

Most people are chronically short of vitamin C. A 70Kg goat makes about 10g per day of vit C under normal conditions, and upwards of 100g per day under stress. Recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are enough to prevent the chronic deficiency disease of scurvy, but not sufficient to allow the immune system to function at peak efficiency when required. A varied, plant based diet (over 90% of calories from plants) and most of those from raw food, is far healthier that most modern diets, provided the water supplies are clean, and one is not risking serious viral or bacterial infection from eating contaminated raw food (such risks vary hugely from place to place). If travelling eat cooked food and boiled water, and take at least 4g per day of vit C. I take about 18g per day, in 2 x 9g doses (pure L-Ascorbic Acid), and have done for almost 5 years.

[followed by]

Hi Judy
I was dealing with the results of 55 years of a largely meat diet, and an immediate diagnosis of “nothing known to medical science that can extend the probability of your death” which was given as “could be dead in 6 weeks, a 50% change of making 5 months and a 2% chance of seeing 2 years”.
After doing a lot of reading, and with the background of my training as a biochemist, and looking as objectively as possible at the evidence available, I stopped eating animal products, and went raw vegan with high dose vit c. It took 3 months for the tumours to go. They came back after just a few days of reduction in vit C. The last time I reduced vit c, I got a tumour (excised and examined – same melanoma type). That was almost 5 year ago. Since then I have not missed a day, two doses, at least 5g per dose – most often about 9g per dose.
I remain largely vegan (though sometimes when eating out I am certain I have eaten things that while the seller claimed they were vegan, actually contained animal products, particularly dairy products in sauces – though the quantities were small).
No more tumours.

Sure, any broad dietary theme can be deficient in specifics. And being as varied as possible within a theme reduces the risks of deficiency. And being as knowledgeable as possible about the probabilities associated with different specific needs in different contexts of the needs of ones own body specifically and of groups more generally is useful.

And in the context of someone who is facing immediate risk from cancer, I strongly advise removal of all animal products, adopting a varied and as raw a diet as possible (however foul it tastes), and supplementing with high dose vit c, and minimal doses of other vitamins and minerals (vit C is the only vitamin that is usually safe in mega-doses, and one needs to stay hydrated – always take it with water).

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In it together

4-6 November ’15 ~Q of Day~ What is Together & What is It?

Is it time within the lives of the generation of people on Earth that exist today, to re-calibrate the ethics of distribution, if all humans are morally ethical beings and in it together?
What is ‘together’ and what is ‘it’?

Lots in this question.
All humans can be moral and ethical beings, and we can also be very selfish and competitive beings – which we are depends very much on context.

As to what is the “it” that we are in “together” – that is a very good question.

At one level the it seems to be a gravity well, created by a ball of largely molten rock with a thin solid skin on the surface, which has an even thinner layer of water over most of it, and a scum of various life forms in and around the wetter bits.

At anther level, it seems that we are each part of social system that is evolving at an exponentially increasing rate – with a vast range of individual levels of knowledge and awareness about the nature of those social/cultural and individual evolutionary processes, and the wider biological and physical context.

So “it” seems to be a rapidly changing set of physical, cultural and individual processes, most of the interesting aspects of which contain aspects of levels of awareness of the many levels of processes at play.

Ideas like “right” and “wrong” seem to this individual to be simplistic notions that we have to teach children, but all adults need to get past as soon as possible, and accept that all actions have complex sequences of impacts in reality, and we are all in this massive dance with the consequences of everyone else’s choices, as well as our own – and most often none of them go exactly as anyone planned. No one can predict all the outcomes of any choice with 100% certainty, so ideas like right and wrong have no real validity. And we can aim to be cooperative, and make reasonable efforts to take the needs of others into account when we make our choices.

It seems that in conditions of relative abundance, cooperation is a far more powerful strategy than competition, and that is very much dependent on context. If things really are scarce, and only a few can survive, then competition will win out. That seems to have been common enough in our evolutionary past that we all come equipped with both general classes of strategies at both biological and cultural levels.

We seem to have the possibility of creating systems that will ensure abundance, and thereby ensure that fundamentally cooperation will always be the most appropriate strategy – and within that cooperative context, there can be interesting competitive systems.

So yes – plenty of room for diversity, variation, debate, levels of understanding.

And for me it is not a matter of recalibrating the ethics of distribution, so much as it is a matter of automating and decentralising the means of production, such that there is no need of distribution. The concept of distribution comes from a centralised mode of thinking. If you decentralise (personalise) and universalise production, then there is no distribution issue.
It is a matter of transcending, going beyond, the ideas of the past, and into new and vastly more powerful paradigms.

[followed by]

Hi Judi

I wonder at your claim “I no longer have a sense of pulling together with everyone to keep the social ship afloat”, as I think that is precisely what we are doing here.

Here we are not constrained into thinking the “ship” should be any particular shape, or be going in any particular direction.

Here we are able to consider turning the “ship” into modular coracles with communication networks and solar power systems that would allow the “ship” to split into as many units or reform into as many units as its occupants deemed necessary (both individually and collectively) on an “as needed” basis.

Here we are not as constrained by our cultural pasts in our considerations of what might be most beneficial to all in our future, where we might need to reinforce some constraints and where others can be relaxed..

So I definitely see you as “pulling together with everyone”, and maybe in the sense of a “lead dog” connected to the team by a “long bungy”.

I see us as a herd of cats exploring what cooperation and freedom might mean, in contexts simply unavailable to most at present, yet not too far from becoming real possibilities.

[followed by]

I’m kinda with you Andrew

The path forward has to be such that it can become clear to even the 1% of the 1% (in fact to everyone) that it is in their own long term self interests to be cooperative at the highest of levels.

It seems clear to me that such a path is in fact achievable, and it requires dispelling quite a few myths that are currently unquestioningly accepted as truths by many people, so is not a simple or certain thing, and it does seem both possible and even probable.

And there is an old saying along the general lines of “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean the bastards aren’t out to get you!” ;)

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Economics – Smith or Darwin

Evonomics – We Had It All Wrong. Adam Smith Isn’t the True Father of Economics

It was Darwin!

Yes Darwin’s insight was deep, and we have gone so much deeper into the power of evolution, levels of strategy, competition leading to cooperation, exponential increments available from higher level cooperation etc.

The power of cooperation, and the vulnerability of cooperatives to cheats, and the sorts of classes of strategies that must be deployed to prevent cheating are now well understood.

Our current economic models seem designed to protect and preserve cheating within the existing frameworks.

Where one genuinely puts a product to a market, and the characteristics of the product are clear and visible to all, then a market can set a fair price and everyone benefits (such things are rare in today’s world).
It seems that there is a vast amount of effort in our society to distort and hide the actual characteristics of products, to focus on the near term benefits to the exclusion of long term risks.

We are a fundamentally cooperative species, being forced into thinking we are creatures of competitive self interest.
Sure we can all compete when required, and the vast majority of us will cooperate if it seems like a reasonable idea in the circumstances (and in circumstances of relative abundance, it is always a reasonable idea).

We could be using the cooperative principle, with advanced distributed technology, to develop decentralised and distributed trust networks to empower universal cooperation.
Such things are technically possible and mathematically stable, and they have the attribute of breaking existing monetary and legal systems as a side effect of delivering universal abundance of most goods and services (and thence are resisted at many “conservative” levels within culture and society).

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