Skeptics Post – ethical problems making a living – updated  Post by Katherine including the question- Can we ever hope to make a living in a blameless way?

Post on NZSkeptics site

At every opportunity I engage people in conversations about the need to replace our reliance on scarcity based markets as measures of value with a shift to abundance based values, empowered by fully distributed and fully automated means of production.
One conversation at a time.

[followed by]

Hi Susan,
Depends how you define “make a living”.
If you define it as being an actor in an exchange based system of values (markets – be they capitalist or communist or any other ‘ist), then no.
If however, one can see the exponential expansion of information processing that has been happening consistently since 1890, and one superimposes the expansion of that trend onto our ability to manipulate matter, then one can see a rapidly approaching end to the relative scarcity of goods and services that made markets seem such a good idea, and the emergence of universal abundance of all essential goods and services being supplied by various levels of fully automated systems.

In such an environment, every individual can experience the true freedom to self actualise in any way they responsibly choose. Responsibility in this sense includes the idea of showing reasonable respect for the life and freedom of every other individual. And the idea of reasonableness has intentionally fuzzy boundaries that complexity theory requires.

The paradigm is radically different from our current market based paradigm. There is no payoff for anyone in convincing people (via marketing) that they need some good or service that they don’t. The incentive for everyone is to cooperate in ways that maximise the freedom of all.

It is a fundamentally different modality of existence, and it is a natural “next step” in the recursive application of the paradigm of evolution by natural selection to third level abstraction.

[followed by]

How it relates is like this.
If we accept that we have to get goods and services by exchange, then there must always be incentives within the system to reward exploitation of others, and to ensure that some are denied goods and services that could easily be supplied.

If however, we choose to fully automate the production of goods and services, and also choose to ensure that every individual has whatever they reasonably choose, then no one needs to do anything that they are at all unhappy about doing, because all of the essential aspects of survival are handled by fully automated systems.

It is a natural outgrowth of the exponential expansion of “price performance in computation” which has been on a double exponential trend since 1890 and is currently doubling every 10 months.

Put another way, the only reason that anyone need experience any lack of any material need of survival in today’s world is the failure of the vast majority of individuals to seriously questions the basic assumptions that underlie market values (money).

Markets were really useful and practical tools when most things were genuinely scarce.
Today we have the practical capacity to fully automate any system of production and delivery.
That means we could deliver to everyone whatever they reasonably want.
The reason we don’t, is that our systems of conceptual understanding are, for the most part, still based in the scarcity based paradigms of exchange that underlie money and markets.

Our conceptual and social systems of organisation have not caught up with our technical ability to automate things.

And I have owed and operated a software company for the last 30 years, and started working with computers 43 years ago. So I have a bit of practical, as well as theoretical, experience to call upon.

If you didn’t have to work, but could freely associate with whomever you chose, and could cooperatively work with whomsoever reciprocated a desire to so work together, the nature of the choices available to you, and the likely consequences of those choices, would change significantly.

The single greatest barrier to the emergence of such a system is the very idea of money. One of the major influences of monetary value is scarcity (the other being desire or utility – which are different versions of the same thing at a higher level). If there is no scarcity (like oxygen in the air) then it matters not how useful or desirable something is, it has no monetary value. Thus markets, in and of themselves, will always work against the universal delivery of abundance of anything.

Not many people can see that yet.


[followed by]

Hi Katherine,

Actually, the mathematics and logic of games theory and evolutionary theory is a bit more complex than that, and we as individuals are a lot more complex than that.

For cooperative modes of association to be stable (and not be destroyed by “cheating” strategies) they must have associated strategies that effectively prevent invasion by cheats (Axelrod got his science medal for demonstrating this in the 60s). There seem to be an infinite class of sets of such strategies available. At higher levels of abstraction there can be something of an evolutionary “arms race” develop, proving the truth to the old adage, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

And if one looks back at the many levels of evolution of new levels of complexity, it does seem to work (as a first order approximation) that the emergence of new levels of complexity are the result of the stabilisation of new levels of cooperation.

So it seems clear that we as human beings have many levels of context dependent behaviours. If the context is such that there is enough for everyone, then cooperation is the most beneficial strategy to adopt (and most of us do).

If however, it seems that there is not enough, and someone has to miss out, then we can all be highly competitive.

We currently live in an age of exponentially expanding ability to automate things. Every year our ability to automate more than doubles, which should deliver ever increasing security, but it doesn’t because we live in a paradigm that evolved in times of genuine scarcity (our quite recent cultural past). The major reason anyone on this planet experiences any material scarcity, is the needs of the paradigm of markets and money, it has nothing to do with our technical ability to meet those needs.

It is the “cultural drag” of ways of thinking that worked well for our grandparents, but are not serving us nearly so well in our exponentially changing world, that are now our greatest danger.
Markets require scarcity to work.
Scarcity invokes competitive rather than cooperative thinking.

So yes – tricky situation.
I am cautiously optimistic that we will get through this most dangerous period in human history, and it is by no means a certain thing.

More people need to start seriously questioning the assumptions that they didn’t even realise were assumptions (they have simply accepted them as cultural truths).


[followed by]


Creativity, diversity, originality can only flourish if people bring acceptance to the necessary diversity that must result.

If people are constrained by the agreement of others, if they are unwilling to challenge the assumption sets that define their experiential reality, then there can be no originality, no progress.

The first person to see that the world we live on wasn’t flat and at the center of the universe, but was round and just another blob of matter like and unlike many other planets, did not have the agreement of others. Such is true of any new, and more accurate in some substantial aspect, model of reality, and our place within it. Such is true of any new way of being or doing anything.


[followed by]


Hi Katherine,

It seems to me that as this exponential trend in technology moves our manufacturing capabilities towards molecular level manufacturing, we will substantially reduce our “footprint” on non-human ecosystems.

I expect we will reach a condition where automated recycling of everything is just such a fundamental part of how we live that no one even thinks about it consciously.

I suspect we will have about half of the land surface and perhaps as much as 20% of the water surface in highly modified human habitats, but the rest kept basically as park and reserve areas that people can visit but not substantially modify.

Under such a system, we should be able to feed everyone a largely plant based diet (see and still enjoy the sort of freedom of experience and travel that those making over $200,000 a year can enjoy now, but not using the technology we use today. High speed travel may be by maglev trains in vacuum tubes rather that jet airliners, but the outcome is similar (trains are actually faster, half an hour to anywhere). Gas guzzling V8s will be the preserve of petrolheads (of which I was one), but not a regular method of transportation. And similar things like that.

Once we start looking at what the reasonable needs of people are, and ensuring we have developed automated systems to meet them all, and then giving every individual the freedom to do whatever they responsibly choose to do with that freedom – where responsibility involves taking reasonable care to mitigate any risks to the life or liberty of anyone else, or to the environment that supports us all, then I expect to see a flowering of creativity and diversity the likes of which have never been seen.

It is simple enough in a sense, and it does require transcending a few ideas that have held cultural sway for quite a long time.

I expect the human population on this planet will stabilise at something under 12 billion, most of whom can expect to live very long lives – thousands of years. A time where age related risk of death is negative (the older you are, the less the likelihood of your dying in an accident).

Money will be a quaint historical artefact studied by historians.

We will share this solar system with non-human AIs. Plenty of mass and energy for both classes of life form, provided that the old biological urges to reproduce as much as possible are limited in the outcome (practice as much as anyone wants, but no more than one child per couple per 5,000 years – as 5,000 years should be about the average lifespan due to accident of some sort).

Plenty of interesting problems to consider that do not scale in any sort of linear fashion with computational ability (ie where being lucky is just about as useful as being smart).

[followed by]


Hi Mark,
Just extension of existing trends, just not using linear projections (not many of the trends are actually linear, it is the predictor circuits of our brain that are heavily biased to linear interpretation) – something that takes a bit of practice to overcome.


[followed by]

Hi Mark,

The evidence sets I use are basically the same ones Ray Kurzweil is using. I can’t give anyone the evidence I have of 50 years of involvement with evolution theory, games theory, computer systems, AI, etc. I’ve probably averaged close to 4 hours a day reading for over 50 years. There is a lot of stuff in my head.

The exponential trends of computational performance have been solid for 120 years. Good enough for Ray to get 86% accuracy on predictions made 25 years in advance.

And there are always many uncertainties in evolution. One cannot predict who will do what when, and one can make reasonably accurate predictions about the sorts of classes of things that will emerge. Like Ray predicting the emergence of search engines, but not that it would be Sergei and Larry or that they would call it Google (actually I used Altavista for 3 years before Google showed up, but Google was so much better, and prior to that I used Dialog, but that was before the Internet).

The logic of the possibility of life extension was clear to me in 1974 (as I finished undergrad biochem). I knew the classes of problems that needed to be solved, but not who would solve them or how. I have a much clearer idea now as to by when. It’s not far away. Solving the last two issues might not be that technically difficult, but making such a thing public is a problem of a different class.

So yeah – you don’t know me. I’m just some guy writing on a website. And I do have a lot of internet history including a website that is over 20 years old, where I wrote about such things.

[followed by]

Mike Densem

Hi Mike,
The harsh reality of my situation is that there seems to be no easy way to get anywhere near what I am pointing to except by mixing metaphors, and trusting that some people will be able to see it.
I spent a couple of years reading and working through examples from physics, going back to Plato and working forward through Bacon and many others before slowing down with Rienman then Einstein and through to Feynman et al. Another path (more months) lead me through Kant, Mill, Smith, Bentham, Hume, Russell, Wittgenstein etc. Another path lead me through Babbage, Lovelace, von Neuman, Turing et al. Another path through Bayes and into the wider theorems of statistics. Another through Darwin, Mendel, Watson & Crick, Axelrod, Maynard-Smith, Dawkins, Dennett et al. Another through anatomists, another through psychologists, another keeps me reasonably current with the many different threads of the understanding of the understanding of human brains, and AI, and the abstractions of logics of Wolfram and Yudkowski and Garden.

Of all the many hundreds of authors I have read and understood and critiqued and challenged assumptions, only one has gotten through without the identification of clear and significant errors – Kurt Goedel. And that because he clearly separated all that he did from reality, and kept his work strictly within the abstract realms of logic.

It took me a year or so of pushing myself til my brain hurt to be able to understand and manipulate Reinmann’s multi-dimensional tensors that enable the descriptions of reality that Einstein uses. There is no easy shortcut but to spend the time to allow one’s brain to work with 11 dimensions as easily as we naturally work with the 3 of space and the 4th of time. I needed to do that to be able to read Einstein.

And I can give something of a flavour for what I mean with this analogy.

If you think of all the balls you have seen, and the word ball.
Ball is an abstract notion. It applies not to any specific, but encompasses a class of possible things in reality. As with most non-trivial things, the boundaries on the class are fuzzy, and personal, so every individual will probably have some things that they would classify as balls, that others would not, and vice versa. But reality seldom takes us to the edge of such probability distributions, so mostly we are somewhere near the centre where there is substantial overlap and agreement with others.

The abstract idea of topologies could be a second order of abstraction (some might class it a third order abstraction, taking the second order as only dealing with 3 dimensional forms, rather than the more general class of n-dimensional forms, and to me that not a useful distinction). A topology can describe any class of shape, in any set of dimensions. One specific class of topologies deals with spheroids, things that approximate a sphere to some degree, within which is the outer form of the class of objects known as balls.

When one starts to abstractly consider the nature of knowledge, things start to get complex. What do we mean when we say something is true, or likely?

To me, the very concept of “Truth” seems to be an illusion, based upon an invalid set of assumptions, that appear, at the scale of normal human perception, to be obviously true, but clearly are not when one examines them in detail. This seems to be so in much the same way as it is obvious that the sun and moon and stars go around us. It is what we see. It is, in fact, the naive first person experience that we all share. But if one is sitting in a space capsule, or standing on the moon, then it suddenly doesn’t look quite as obvious as it did, in fact it looks very different. That process tends to repeat, at many different levels of abstraction, as one works one’s way through ways of understanding the various classes of relationship that seem likely to be present in the reality in which we find ourselves, and the various levels of approximations that appear to be useful explanations at various levels of experience and understanding.

By the time one works through such a process out to ten or twelve levels of abstraction, one is left with the distinct impression based upon probabilities derived from prior experience as well as the schemata of logical forms one has explored that the very notion of Truth is an illusion, but one that is a useful approximation to something in some domains of experience, but not something one wants to put too much reliance upon outside of those domains.

And I cannot give another my personal experience of the journey I have been on, the sets of experience, the distinctions I have drawn from them, the abstractions I have taken from those sets of distinctions and abstractions….

I can only point by analogy to the pathways that led me to places where the machinery of my brain allowed me to make the distinctions and abstractions that I have.

I find it easy to write words.
I find it almost impossible to judge how those words might be interpreted by another human being.
I suspect that what passes for normality inside the software running on the squishy hardware inside my skull is a very long way from what passes for normality inside most other skulls. And how can one ever be really confident about such conjectures?

There is an old saying from Buddhism, that for the master on a journey worth taking, for every step on the path, the path gets two steps longer. To me, that equates exactly with “the more we know, the more we know we don’t know, and the less confident we become about much of that of which we were once very confident”.

I am profoundly aware of my ignorance.
I am profoundly aware of how the vastness of my experience is a good approximation to nothing in the face of any single infinity, let alone what seems to be a nested infinitude of infinities.

I am not sure if any of this helps or hinders, and it is my best guess and best effort within the constraints available right now.


[followed by]

Hi Mike,
While I acknowledge that all you say can be true enough, it can also entirely miss the point I was trying to make.
That point is, that when one embarks on such a journey, with the express intention of not simply reading, but assembling all such abstractions into a coherent set of understandings, without contradiction (any contradictions encountered indicate invalid assumptions somewhere back down the chain that need to be re-evaluated), then one gets somewhere near where I am at some stage on the journey.

I do not see any end to the journey.

I just am where I am, with the useful approximations that I have.

I have a set of domains of understanding that allow me to deal with OOP, QED, biochemistry, evolution of human level intelligence, and most other things I’m interested in.

I have not found any particularly useful ways of sharing even second level abstractions of that understanding, though one of the most powerful little tools is David Snowden’s Cynefin framework for the management of complexity; and in my head it provides a useful set of heuristics in a context that includes all the other authors mentioned above, and several hundred others not mentioned.

So yes – I get that the explanations I have given may not be any less opaque, and they are all I have time for. And you complain that they are too long, and they don’t work even at the current level of brevity.
Conclusion – you ask for the impossible.

Perhaps there is no way for me to share much that is non-trivial in my own understanding. Perhaps I simply need to accept that, and stop trying. And yet somehow, such a conclusion seems to be too easy an out. The concept that approximates social responsibility seems to demand something more of me.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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