A poll of members of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
Reality seems to be really complex, far more so than most socially accepted linguistic structures allow for.
It seems that every individual human being is a complex system involving about 20 levels of cooperative systems, about half mostly physical (atoms, molecules, cells, organs, bodies etc) and about half mostly software (strategies, beliefs, habits, cultures etc).
Having some sort of an understanding of how complex cooperative systems emerge and stabilise in an evolutionary context is fundamental. Games theory is clear, that raw cooperation is always vulnerable to cheating strategies, and to be stable requires attendant sets of strategies to identify and remove any benefit gained by “cheating” strategies. That notion is infinitely recursive in all dimensions. Resulting in very complex, highly dimensional strategic spaces, with very complex, very dimensional and very context sensitive risk reward probability distributions.
When one examines the nature of understanding (epistemology) in an evolutionary context, it seems that all “a priori” knowledge is simply some form of “heuristics” that worked in our evolutionary past, and are not necessarily relevant to our exponentially changing present.
Thus the classical “Boolean” notion of truth (true vs false) is but the simplest of an infinite class of possible understandings, and the evidence is now substantially in favour of the notion that the reality in which we exist is fundamentally probabilistic within constraints, rather than strictly deterministic, though the deterministic (true/false) system delivers a useful approximation in many contexts.
It seems that the experiential reality every one of us has is uniquely personal, and is of a software model of reality subconsciously created by our brains, and thus composed of many evolutionary “hacks” and implicit cultural assumptions that few people have consciously explored. To the degree that our biological and cultural and personal histories are similar, there seems to be the possibility of communication between models. To the degree that there is difference, such communication becomes less probable.
The probability of communication drops rapidly as the levels of abstraction increase in the concepts being discussed. Reliable communication of even second order abstractions is difficult, 3rd almost impossible, and by the time one gets to 12th order abstractions, the probability of communication is asymptotically approaching zero.
In this context, I have little hope that anyone will understand what follows in the way I would like them to understand it, and I am giving it my best shot.
One thing to clearly emerge from complexity theory, is that the more complex the systems, the more flexible the boundary conditions need to be. This applies at all levels. Simple rule based systems that make no allowance for individuals to make the sort of decisions that their knowledge indicates are most appropriate, force systems into sub-optimal outcomes and exponentially expanding risk profiles. Hard boundaries become brittle and eventually fail catastrophically.
Complexity theory is clear – anarchism (individual freedom) always loses to fascism under conditions of control. (Recurs to whatever level you wish.)
The major domain of control in today’s society is market value.
Markets are a great tool for the allocation of scarce resources. Market value is a function of scarcity multiplied by desire (supply and demand).
The thing that not many people have yet gotten a handle on is that automation of production and delivery allows the production of universal abundance in an exponentially expanding set of goods and services.
The value of anything universally abundant in a market is zero (as scarcity is zero, and anything multiplied by zero gives zero). If you doubt that consider air, arguably the single most important commodity for any human being yet of zero market value in most contexts due to universal abundance.
The exponential expansion of full automation now makes markets the single greatest threat to the existence of all of us.
Market values are now directly in opposition to human values for an exponentially expanding set of goods and services.
The dominant market response to universal abundance is to erect barriers, currently mostly in the shape of Intellectual Property (IP) laws, but also in far more subtle and abstract forms of regulation of the finance and monetary and health and safety systems. From the perspective of the reasonable needs of the majority, all such endeavours can be characterised as “cheating strategies”.
In our evolutionary past, it has been useful to focus attention in times of stress, to reduce the choices available to consciousness to simple binaries that can be quickly assessed and acted upon. When faced with a charging sabre tooth cat, such a response is entirely appropriate. When faced with a failing economic system it leads directly to Fascism.
Current fascist trends are the natural strategic outcome of adherence to a scarcity based market system, when it is no longer the most appropriate system for the level of complexity we now face.
We need to transition to something that is strategically appropriate to the levels of abundance possible with full automation.
The set of workable options seems to be infinite – and our existing market based system isn’t among them.
The limits we face are not technical, or material, or ecological, or energetic (though limits do exist in all of those domains).
The biggest problem we have is the models we use to make sense of this existence we find ourselves in.
Our technology is increasing in its ability to do more with less far faster than our population is expanding, but our market based systems are forcing many into unneeded poverty.
That is a source of injustice that is tearing at the very fabric of our social systems, and we all rely on our social cooperative at many different levels.
Having just come through a 7.8 earthquake, with all the disruption to fundamental infrastructure involved in that, I am more conscious than ever of the total reliance on cooperation, and the fragility of our existing systems. Had that quake been in a more populated area, it would have been beyond the ability of existing systems. We were lucky to be in a relatively sparsely populated rural area, where most services could be restored relatively quickly, but even so the amount of outside effort delivered was huge. Had it not been for the hundreds of trapped international tourists here in Kaikoura, and the economic impact of loss of tourism, I doubt the response would have been what it has been.
So I am very conscious of all the many levels of cooperation and risk spreading that are performed by the existing economic system, and I am also very conscious of the many levels of cheating strategies, and the exponentially decreasing utility of markets in the face of fully automated production.
It is clear to me that awareness, and individual choice, are the only reliable way forward.
Abundance and longevity and freedom seem possible, and while risk can be reduced, it can never be entirely eliminated, that is a logical impossibility.