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.
You stated “But yet, despite 100’s of years of exponentially growing technology and automation what today is is free due to a lack of scarcity? Nothing.”
Not true, and what is happening is really interesting.
The ability of computers to copy digital information has made many sorts of information free. Wikipedia is free information, far more comprehensive and up to date than my copies of Encyclopaedia Britannica and The Oxford English Dictionary. I still have both those things, as a backup against societal collapse, but I don’t actually use the books any more – the free online data is better.
The only thing maintaining any value in information is laws we have created purely and simply to maintain that value. We call them “Intellectual Property” laws, but that is a misnomer. All they are in reality is profit protection laws.
We are now making laws that artificially create scarcity – which is what IP laws do.
The _only_ reason for those laws is to prop up a market based system that would collapse without them.
In respect of horses, there are very few horses involved in transportation today – so a few for specialist groups – like anti-technology groups, horse racers, and people who love horse riding and horse trekking. And the number of horses now is tiny compared to the number of horses 100 years ago.
As to energy being scarce, what nonsense.
Sure we need to stop using oil, but there is so much profit in oil, when Saudi oil costs 40c/barrel FOB the port, and is worth the best part of $100/barrel, it is a licence to print money, and will never be voluntarily released in a system based on market values.
There is no shortage of solar energy.
There is ample for everyone to have a great standard of living. But solar is distributed, and cannot be centrally controlled and therefore cannot be manipulated to extract monopoly rents (as oil can). So it has been resisted, yet is still growing with a two year doubling time (steady for the last 30 years). My house is solar powered. I don’t pay much for energy.
Looking at the solar system as a whole, there is enough solar energy for every individual to have more energy than humanity as a whole currently uses.
Energy is abundant.
The technology to harness it is kept scarce. It could easily be on an 8 month doubling, rather than a 2 year doubling, but that would bankrupt the oil corporations too quickly.
Our existing system is much more about the needs of capital than it is the needs of individual people (all individuals, without exception).
Use of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be a viable intermediate strategy to transition away from exchange values. It does, as you say, put some value onto individuals, but it still uses a market system that is fundamentally founded in scarcity, so requires poverty to work.
We are just seeing the first generation of digital manipulation of matter. This generation is little more than children’s toys, and already those toys are threatening many markets. By the time we get to gen 4 machines, exchange values will be virtually meaningless,
Capitalism is rapidly nearing the end of its social utility.
If you take a look at the logic of it, it is an inescapable conclusion.
And I get how difficult it is to stand outside the system, and look back at it with any degree of objectivity, when it is such an integral part of our culture. It is hard to do. I do get that.
I didn’t realise it was so expensive to get internet in the “Land of the Free”.
Here in New Zealand, I pay less today for phone and internet than I paid 30 years ago for phone alone (about $100 per month). And my internet is 35MB down and 12MB up – so a reasonably quick VDSL link.
Free just means I’m not paying for it.
Just like you can accept that you use air, but you don’t pay for it. That is a free good.
That is what a free good is.
And I can see that this is unlikely to go anywhere, as you have not interpreted what I have written in anything like what I intended, or what seems reasonable.
It seems you are intent on portraying me as some “straw man” you can demolish.
Nothing like what I am proposing has ever been tried (I promise).
You are not joining the concepts into a coherent picture.
And I do get how difficult that is.
So it is not all that surprising that you have written what you have, and that it is as unrelated to what I wrote as it is.
Information is now the largest part of most economies. When you break apart all the component costs of products, into what is paid to people to actually make something vs what is paid to people to process information (words, numbers, images etc), then information processing is growing as a share of GDP and has been consistently. The cost per unit information is dropping, but the quantity of information is growing faster than the cost has been dropping (and both are on double exponential curves).
You stated “So you are using a special class of product, “information” which has always been an insignificant part of the economy, and you are using this as your argument that “we don’t need an economy to value the physical goods and service”
Do you see how stupid that position is?”
If that was what I was saying, you would be correct.
But that is not what I am saying.
What I am saying is that many information systems are now in the class of “free goods”, and that this is because it costs more in transaction costs than the product is worth, by several orders of magnitude in many cases, that it simplest just to give it away as a “free good”.
I am also saying that the class of such information products is growing exponentially.
I am also saying that we are seeing the first crude instances of physical production going digital. We are seeing simple 3D printers. The common ones just use extruded plastic. Less common and more expensive ones come with a combination of extrusion and cutting technologies. Least common and most expensive come with LASERs and sintered metals that allow 3d production not simply of shape, but allow of alloy composition.
Current resolutions are mostly around a few microns, and dropping. In a few years (not many years) we will be seeing machines with resolutions of a few nanometres. When that happens, and we can print all the machines that are involved in all aspects of the production of that machine – the game changes. Then we have fully automated production of any physical material (including the mining/refining/production/recycling system itself).
At that point, most goods and services that most people actually want and need drop to zero scarcity.
At that point, the production of food, housing, transport, communication, energy, healthcare, all acquire the same characteristic that oxygen has in the world today.
At that point, the concept of markets, as a defining tool of value in human society drops to a close approximation to zero.
Sure, there will always be a class of goods and services that are scarce.
If you want a particular person to service some particular need of yours, then that may not be going to happen. You may need to accept a replica delivering a substitute, and most people will be unable to detect the difference.
We will not all be able to have a set of original van Gogh oils hanging on our walls, and the copies we can have will be indistinguishable by any human sensory apparatus from the original (copies perfect at the molecular level).
Sure there is only so much space on the surface of the earth.
And right now we have hybrid systems, that partly involve money, and partly involve community agreement (in terms of building and resource consents where applicable). And there are many classes of things for which no building or resource consents are required, as they are considered part of “life as normal”.
I suspect that trend will move further away from the involvement of money and will involve an expansion of the class of “things allowed as normal” more towards public discussion and agreement about the sorts of things that are not allowed, and the sorts of risk mitigation strategies one is required to put in place to do unusual things.
And I suspect that different communities will evolve different boundaries on the sorts of thing they allow and disallow, and that all communities will operate on the principles of valuing human life and human liberty – so anyone will be able to travel most places and find all the essentials of life readily available there.
There is ample energy, and ample matter, available to make such things possible, for every person.
And there is a test of reasonableness here.
There are boundaries.
There are quite large classes of actions within which there is freedom of choice. Outside of that class, there are more tightly imposed boundaries of control – just as now (from a certain perspective).
And if someone is really into engineering, and really wants to do something really big, with a lot of energy, then they may need to go elsewhere in the solar system (or beyond) to do that. That all seems reasonable and logical and rather simple to arrange.
There are many different factors that mediate the dispositions of particular individuals and communities to make the decisions that they do.
We are dealing with complex systems here that are capable of responding with some set of vectors in some set of dimensions, and there will be dispositional prior probabilities associated with any particular set of vectors (and all systems contain stochastic elements, so nothing is entirely certain).
You stated “Do you think we are going to build bridges for “free” in the future? Build power systems to provide power to the world for “free” in the future, because information is now a lot cheaper to transport?”
It is clear to me that we already possess the capacity to produce systems that collect energy, and produce goods and services in a fully automated fashion, such that we could produce machines that maintain themselves, and deliver any product or service that they are programmed to deliver.
In such a system, if a bridge needed to be built, then the group with responsibility for that area would simply specify the type of bridge (from the set available), or ask the engineering community to submit ideas on a new design, and when a design was chosen (by whatever individual or community process) the machines would build it (unless some group of enthusiasts wanted to take it on as a project).
Each time some group completed and tested a new design for a new product or service it would be added to the set of available things.
You asked “Do you think we are going to build a billion cars, and plains and boats, for “free” soon?”
Yes (Except for planes – few people will want them, as most will prefer high speed maglev for long distance – much faster.)
I am confident that if we decided to commit significant resources to such a project, we could deliver one such system to every person on the planet within 15 years.
And there can never be any economic justification for such a system, because, by definition, the system itself, and any product or service it can produce, will be universally abundant, and therefore have no market value.
So it has zero value in market/economic terms, yet meets most human needs for goods and services – including all the essential ones.
If that does not demonstrate the logical conundrum involved in using markets as a measure of value, nothing ever will.
You said “Scarcity is not poverty” then went on to talk about hours.
Have you ever bought an hour on the open market?
Let’s keep the conversation real.
You cannot understand the nature of poverty looking at any single good or service in isolation.
One needs to look at the economy as a whole, and the distribution curves that define the amount of money individuals have, and the prices for essential goods and services.
When one looks at those, one sees that, as currently structured, market based systems will result in distributions of money that see some people with insufficient money to purchase enough to survive in relative comfort, and must exist without goods and services that they need, that do in fact exist, but that they cannot get because they don’t have enough numbers.
That is what I mean when I say that markets must have poverty to exist, as they are currently structured.
Look at the work of economists like Robin Hanson. Robin and I disagree about many things, but not about the logical outcome of market forces.
You stated “Because time and space, and matter is all finite, and limited, we will always have to allocate their use to whatever produces the best value for us” and yet you have already admitted that we don’t need to allocate oxygen – yet it is finite too, in exactly the same way as time, space and matter are.
There is no shortage of space or energy or time or matter.
We live on a ball of matter that contains about a trillion tons of matter per person.
I don’t know about you, but my reasonable needs stretch at most to a few hundred tons of matter – for a nice house, nice gardens, water storage, solar power, batteries, a few toys, all the maintenance machinery, recycling systems. A thousand tons tops. But lets say I’m really extravagant and need a million tons, it’s still only a millionth of my share of the mass of this planet.
We are not short of matter or energy or ways of doing things.
We have lots of geeks, like me, who delight in creating automated systems.
And a great many of us are not doing so, because under a market based system, all that happens to most is the displaced people end up unemployed for a while, then on low wage jobs.
Someone with my skill and experience set has no real difficulty getting paid employment, but great difficulty in doing stuff that I am ethically comfortable with.
It is relatively easy for me to make a lot of money putting people out of work, I just refuse to do it.
It is much more difficult to make money by creating goods and services.
You just described beautifully the failure conditions of capitalism – you simply failed to see it as such.
” and when we machines that do everything better, most people won’t be able to sell their time for anything worth the trouble” – which is the definition of poverty for the disenfranchised masses.
We seem to agree – that capitalism is on a road to failure.
The logic is inescapable, competition can only get us so far.
The next step requires a new level of cooperation that markets and capital are logically incapable of providing.
While I can see some merit in the systemic path you have outlined Curt, it still leaves many sets of issues unanswered. And it may be part of a transition framework.
With decentralised automation, the systemic changes are actually far greater than envisaged.
We already have a vast range of access rights to land, from private Torrens title, to public domain, with a vast spectrum of shared spaces in between. I suspect we will see the evolution of whole new classes of boundary conditions, with even more overlapping sets of domains than we see presently.
And long term, I don’t see exchange values (capitalism) having anything like the dominant role it currently does in decision make processes.
It seems clear that we are seeing whole new classes of decision support systems emerging – from Snowden’s “SenseMaker” and it’s ilk to systems like unu.ai. And both examples are in their infancy at present, and both point to whole new classes of systems.
Agree Victor, that if the ideas of valuing human life and individual liberty have any real meaning, then we need to develop systems that ensure that no one is ever hungry (or sick or cold or threatened by any other person or system) except by individual choice.
I give $300/month to international food aid, and have done for decades.
Most of my time goes into conversations to raise awareness of the logical problems with our current systems, and what sorts of systems we might adopt that actually empower individual life and individual liberty universally. And it is a long slow process.
No Curt – you are making a classical mathematicians mistake. Human demand is not infinite. Most people (the vast majority) have quite restricted demand curves. It is actually both feasible and practical to meet those demands.
The notion of abundance is not at all naive.
Just think of air.
The oxygen within every breath you take (approx 20% by vol) is arguably the single most valuable thing to any human being, yet it has no market value.
There is a case that amply disproves your assertion.
Universal abundance can be present, at no cost. It is “simply” a matter of appropriately organising the systems.
And there are real limits.
It is not possible for humans to breed in an unrestricted manner. If we tried, within 3,000 years we would have hit the limit of expanding through the galaxy at some significant fraction of the speed of light, just to try and find new energy sources.
And right now, there is far more matter, space, time and energy than humanity reasonably needs. All that is required is an appropriate systemic environment.
I believe the piece of the puzzle that is explicitly missing from your assertion set, is how, in the absence of any meaningful degree of scarcity, does one set a price for anyone to spend this Universal Basic Income on. That is the thing that both Victor and I keep bringing up.
Your last attempt was to say that demand is infinite.
That is false.
All social research shows that demand is actually quite limited.
Sure people can come up with creative ways to push demand up, but most people catch on to such tricks over time, and demand comes back down to reasonable levels.
And sure, most people will want some toys and some travel and a secure dwelling. And some people like to travel light. These average out to quite well understood distributions and numbers.
My plan is to generate systems that deliver abundance of all essentials to everyone. I agree with you that is a necessary outcome. What individuals do after that, provided they stay within the value sets of respect for the life and liberty of all other individuals (and the consequential respect for the environment and shared spaces etc), is entirely their choice – within some quite respectable energy budgets.
True, some locations will be preferred over others, the area of land available is limited, and most people don’t actually need or want much land, and probably half the land will be held in commons management and available for the reasonable use of everyone. And before you start shouting “tragedy of the commons”, take a look at Elinor Ostrom’s work – for which she got the Nobel a few years back, and which essentially disproves Hardin’s hypothesis.
And I expect that there will evolve many different solutions to these allocation issues, from many different sets of values, and that most of those value sets will have little to do with market demand, and much more to do with other metrics of social contribution.
How we do it is very simple in a sense.
I have been working with computers for over 40 years, and running a software company for the last 29 years.
What we do is create a set of machines, that use sunlight as their power source, and local rock as their raw material, and can create from that a duplicate set of machines, and anything else we program them to create. If it takes that set of machines two weeks to make the second set, then within two years one can be given to every person on the planet (with quite a few left for major geoengineering projects).
No market based system will ever create such a system, because it would create such radical abundance that everything it produced would have no exchange value.
So from a market based perspective, an exchange based perspective, such a machine has no value (actually worse than that, it destroys the value of every good and service it can supply).
So while we have the technical knowledge and ability to build such a set of machines, it will not happen within any incentive structure that puts market values above human values.
Anything such a machine could make would have the same value as oxygen in the air. And it would be able to make and deliver an extensive and rapidly expanding set of goods and services (over 80% of everything on the current market within a decade of starting with a much more restricted set).
Most people have little appreciation of what technology is, and what it can do. Fewer still have intuitions that can deal meaningfully with exponential signals. Our brains come with linear predictors, and it takes a lot of work to retrain them to work with exponentials, particularly when the doubling times get down under a year (and shrinking).
One last time, before I give up.
Where do you think the O2 in our atmosphere came from?
The answer is CO2.
We know how to turn CO2 into O2 [its what plants do when you give you give them sunlight, and nutrients – most of the oceans are nutrient limited deserts in this sense].
The issue we have at present is that no one is taking any sort of overall responsibility. People are much more interested in making profit than they are in supplying everyone with all they need and a great environment to enjoy.
And it is true, as Hayek said, that in times of genuine scarcity, profit is a signal that tends to deliver public benefit. But what he didn’t address (but Freidman did shortly before his death) is that in cases of universal abundance, profit actually works against the interests of the majority. Robin Hanson has done all the numbers on this, if you care to check his work out.
You made the absolutely absurd statement “Air is very much going to be added to the list of limited supply. It’s not an example of how we remove the limits, it’s a perfect example of how technology allows us to turn a currently abundant resource, into a limited resources.”
Sure we tend to use and destroy stuff we don’t value.
Sure we need to alter substantial fractions of many ecosystems from how they were, to systems that support people rather than what they supported before. And we have gone about as far as we need to go in that direction.
Now we need to acknowledge that we need to preserve and respect substantive examples of other ecosystems, and use our amazing technology in ways that are of real benefit to all.
Profit is a very weak signal generator compared to technologies like sensemaker
I have noticed that the new 8TB drives are much smaller than my original 10MB HDD, or even the older 100K Floppy Disk Drives, or the even older tape drive I have on my RCA CDP1802 (ETI660 kit).
Yes our demand for data storage is growing, and the amount of mass it takes to store that data is shrinking faster.
Try and actually come up with real examples of things you want that are scarcer for you than they were for your grandfather, then do the other list – things you want that are more abundant for you than they were for your grandfather. I think you will be quite shocked if you actually do it.
It is true that there is no end to the creativity we can use to make our lives better, and part of that creativity is in using less mass and energy to produce those outcomes.
We don’t actually need a lot of mass or energy to live quite amazing lives, doing whatever responsibly interests us.
I lied – I didn’t give up.
We can say the same thing of your argument Curt – you simply do not understand what we are saying.
The problem is far deeper than you identify.
The solution you identify does not deal with the deeper issues.
Markets are measures of exchange value. We must have an unfulfilled desire for some good or service for exchange to have value.
You claim that there must always be unmet desires, and that man’s desires are unlimited. That may be true of a very tiny fraction of humanity, but not for the vast majority. To a useful first order approximation, your assumption has been disproven by vast amounts of research and experiment.
The sociological literature is very clear, that most people have quite limited desires.
I actually have total control of about 35 acres of land (under private Torrens title – debt free). I don’t need it. It’s a fallback strategy in case of system failure, but little more. I have ample public land within a few minutes walk, that I can walk through, enjoy, admire. Within an hour’s cycle is over 20,000 acres of public reserve that I can freely explore. Less than a mile away is the Pacific Ocean, which I can freely travel (as can anyone else with the desire).
There is more than enough to meet the reasonable needs of everyone, if we choose a set of technologies that make it available to everyone, and mitigate any adverse effects of our actions.
The notion of money as a store of value is a strange one. It works only because people believe it will work. All that actually exists at any instant is the goods and services available in that instant. Some goods decay relative slowly, so hold value reasonably well over time, most decay quite quickly. In most cases it really is a matter of “use it or lose it”. Services not used in that instant have no value, the opportunities of their existence are lost. Money, as a store of value, is little more than an expectation of goods or services being available for exchange at some future time. If someone makes the goods and services you expected to pay for freely available to all (via distributed automation, not through any sort of centralised coercion), then is anyone worse off for their money having no value?
They may not have money, but they have more goods and services available than they would do if their money had retained value.
Money only makes sense when viewed as transactions over time. Equilibrium theory is a nonsense. The system is in a constant disequilibrium.
Money, as it exists in modern society, is a very complex set of relationships, of many different things. Not much point in trying to replicate dozens of text books in a Facebook post.
And all forms of money are based in the idea of trade, of scarcity, of exchange.
We now have technologies emerging which make almost all forms of trade redundant – at least for the vast bulk of goods and services.
Sure some few things will remain scarce. Most noticeably land. Most societies will probably develop different ways of allocating land, and, as has been common throughout history, current occupancy will hold considerable sway.
We are not short of mass.
There are billions of tons of mass per person.
If anyone wants more space than is available on Earth, then building orbital habitats with vast amounts of space is relatively easy – using mass from the surface of the far side of the moon, the impact would be invisible from Earth. 1% of the Moon’s mass could deliver 100 acres per person in large spinning (centripetal gravity simulation) habitats. That’s rather abundant space, if individuals feel a need for such space – I strongly suspect that few will. Most people enjoy living quite close to other people most of the time, and having space to play in from time to time.
Once we have fully automated and replicating production facilities, building such habitats is a relatively trivial exercise in engineering.
We are not short of energy.
The sun converts 600 million tons of hydrogen to helium every second. That is enough energy to give every person as much as humanity as a whole uses currently, and still have plenty to spare. By any reasonable measure, that qualifies as abundance (far more abundant than air, which already has zero market value).
So we are not short of energy.
Given mass and energy, any material thing can be constructed, given an appropriate set of tools and instructions. We don’t quite have all the tools yet, and we are rapidly approaching the point at which we will. (I have run a software company for 29 years, and I did attend the 25th Foresight conference on Nanotechnology and the Future held at Google’s headquarters a few years ago, so I am not entirely ignorant on such matters.)
No system of exchange can deliver effective interpersonal signals when exchange has no value! Basic Income is no help if there is no need of money.
We need other measures, other sorts of signals.
There is no shortage of possibilities, there seems to be an infinite set.
Elinor Ostrom’s work is really worth looking at, in the most abstract sense one can muster.
We have no shortage of models to choose from, many proven over centuries, many others showing equal logical validity.
You confuse things.
Yes – I agree, that we all have a desire to make things better, to explore, to create, to improve.
This laptop I am using, is capable of infinite creativity. With the NAS box on the nearby table is 8TB of storage. The total system mass is a couple of Kgs, power consumption perhaps 150W at full power.
I have a few other machines in the house (I do run a software business) one of which has 16 parallel math coprocessors.
When I started working with computers, the degree of processing and storage capacity I have in this house didn’t exist on the planet. What did exist weighed many tons and consumed gigawatts of power.
The point of this is, that we are rapidly working out ways to do far more with far less. That trend seems likely to continue to the point that we will be able to saturate the human sensory network to capacity with a few grams of mass working on a few watts of power. The body will take a bit more, but only a few tons, and a few kilowatts.
Point is, the trend over time is clear – we are getting a lot more for a lot less matter and energy.
The hunter gatherer lifestyle required about 1 square mile per person (and yeah, I know it didn’t scale linearly with numbers, and it is a rough estimate). Developing agriculture reduced that to a few acres, and modern intensive horticultural methods are reducing that even further. The limit seems to be somewhere near 100 m^2 per person at present. The car I have today is far faster, safer and more energy efficient than the one I had 45 years ago.
We have this knack of figuring out how to do more with less, at everything we do.
And yeah, sure, it is nice to go travelling occasionally, and if we apply some serious engineering technology to the problem (using maglev in vacuum tunnels), then we should be able to achieve efficiencies that are orders of magnitude faster and more energy efficient that today’s airline travel (and safer).
So once again, your assumption set doesn’t hold together, when you actually check the numbers.
Our current systems are very wasteful, they are not optimised for recycling, because they are based on human labour, not automated processes.
We can do a great deal, with very little. Abundance beyond the wildest dreams of 99% of the population, on any metric you care to name that doesn’t involve danger to others or control of others.
I get that our brains are hard wired with linear comparators, and it takes decades to retrain them to work effectively with exponential trends.
I get that what you say seems like common sense (and in a very real sense it is) and it is not reality. We exist in a time of exponential change (even the rate of exponential change is changing exponentially in some realms). Under such conditions, the past (as an exemplar) is not a good predictor of the future. Heuristics that have worked for our ancestors for thousands, millions, of years, fail.
We have the opportunity for universal abundance, and all the benefits that come with that, and it is by no means certain.
Ideas, such as those you are expressing, need to change.
If they don’t, the future isn’t so pretty.
And I am more optimistic for our future now than at any time in the last 55 years, and it is by no means a done deal. There is still a significant probability that it will all go belly up.
We don’t see evidence of hordes of high tech societies amongst the stars.
The risks associated with this level of transition to high level cooperation seem to be substantial, and not insurmountable.
I have actually been quite explicit about what I see as needing to happen. We need to put some serious development effort into creating a set of automated systems that can use solar power and local regolith to make a duplicate set of machines, and, at least initially, a basic range of goods and service to support individual lives. Then we set it to replicating until we have enough to give one to each person, then we do that.
If we want to have degrees of freedom, we need to decentralise production of all essential goods and services.
Security resides in massive redundancy.
And sure, we are using more power for computers.
And sure we will use a lot of energy, and we can do that in a way that has less impact on our surroundings. I think my energy use peaked about 20 years ago, flying aeroplanes, racing cars, all that sort of stuff. These days I’m more into cycling and golfing when not at a keyboard, or on various committees working on fisheries or water management or wildlife projects. I think my energy use in computers has probably peaked, and is on the decline now.
So yeah – it is complex.
Not all trends are even in all aspects of society, and I can certainly see that the energy used for computation by most people will stabilise at a relatively low figure, less than a kW in the not too distant future, and reducing thereafter. Once you take exchange out of the equation, much of the current usage falls away.
And we really need to get some serious engineering capacity, to be able to mitigate some of the really large scale (low frequency risks).
Quite a few half truths in what you say.
Sure, none of it is here yet. That is actually the point.
What I am asserting, is that if we, as a society, put just 20% of the expenditure we are currently putting into defence, into putting together the sort of self replicating system I have described, it could be reality within a decade.
And certainly, most current 3D printing technology is little more than children’s toys (LASER sintering excepted, and it isn’t cheap). So yes, the technology is in its infancy, and there will be at least two sigmoid curves of technology before it becomes seriously disruptive, and it is possible to accelerate the temporal aspect of that process by application of resources.
And yes, there are decentralised aspects to how the market system works, and there are also some highly centralised aspects to how the system works.
So yes, it is a very complex set of systems. It is not possible to predict many aspects of that system with certainty, and some aspects (which include sufficiently large numbers) can have a certain degree of predictability, within certain contextual constraints). I strongly suspect we are operating under different degrees of contextual constraints.
Actually, if you look at the exponential trends, robotics, solar, 3D printing are showing signs of changing things. And the difficulty most people have is that our intuitions tend to be linear, and most people use linear analysis. And any exponential dataset can be made to fit a linear trend line. The real issue is that in a noisy environment, where noise is at the 5% level, it only takes 5 doublings for an exponential to swamp the system after it emerges above the noise level. With doubling times now below 10 months, that is only 4 years. One needs to use tools that can detect exponential signals very much quicker, if one is looking for a reasonable lead time (20 years). Ray Kurzweil has been publishing such exponentials for about 3 decades now. His track record is quite good. He tends to spot things at least 20 doublings from saturation.
David Snowden’s “SenseMaker” (Cognitive Edge) tools offer a similar toolset for the social domain.
I agree that it is a very complex environment we find ourselves in, with multiple players only very loosely constrained.
We agree about a lot, and there are some subtle and significant differences.
I’m not worried about equality. I am concerned that every individual is empowered with the tools and energy to do whatever they responsibly choose – where responsibility is defined as taking reasonable actions to mitigate any risks to the life and liberty of others (which as a consequence means taking reasonable care of the environment that supports us all, etc).
Empowering freedom in this fashion does not lead to equality, it must logically lead to diversity. And it is a diversity born of individual choice, not of economic necessity.
And I get such a thing is a long way from the common experience, and people will need to be helped to transition into it, and it does seem to be achievable.
Within the limits of reasonable care for others, I really don’t care what others do, provided they leave me in security to do as I choose, and interact with whomsoever I choose, who returns such a choice.