Critique of RBEs and Money – Updated

Continued comments on youtube to A world without work: Nigel Cameron at TEDxLacador

My response to John Wang on a comment about RBE

Resourced Based Economy (RBE) isn’t scam entirely, and nor is it entirely honest.

There are real issues with money as an idea.
Yes it is a representation of value in a sense, and the sort of value it represents is very important to understand.

Money is a market representation of value.

Markets measure two aspects of value simultaneously, how much you need something vs how much of it there is. Thus things that are scarce have high value, while more common things have lower value.
A limiting case is air.
Air contains oxygen, which is arguably the single most valuable commodity for every human being, yet air is, under normal circumstances, universally abundant and therefore has zero value in a market.

When you consider that in terms of money as a distribution tool, it makes perfect sense, as there is no need to distribute air, as air is already there.

The issue comes when you use money as a proxy for value in a planning sense.

It makes no sense to plan for zero value, yet we need to plan for abundant air.
So money and markets fail in that sense, of being a useful measure of value for planning, yet it is the measure we use in most instances.

That wasn’t an issue when the class of things that could be universally abundant was small.

Now that we have the ability to produce fully automated systems, we have the ability to produce a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services in universal abundance.

Money fails in several different ways in this context.

In one way, it can never make sense in terms of money to deliver universal abundance of anything, as it has no profit – no monetary value.

In another way, it will always be profitable to destroy any universal abundance that emerges, to create a marketable scarcity.
Arguable that is exactly what the concept of “Intellectual Property” does – it creates a barrier to universal abundance that produces profit, and it does so by denying resources that could be easily available to all, to the majority. In this sense, poverty is structural to any market based system.

In another way, the classical idea of people participating in markets to deliver value is now failing. When the physical power of a human being can now be delivered by 2 square meters of solar cells, it is far cheaper to automate any process than to grow and train a human to do it.
Human brains are still far more energy efficient than any computational system yet developed, and the intersection of that curve isn’t that far away – a little over a decade.

So we have some very deep, systemic issues, that we need to address and resolve very soon.

Appealing to history doesn’t help much, except by double abstract analogy, as we are riding a set of double exponential curves, which are made up from sets of concatenated sigmoid curves.
It is a very complex situation, physically, computationally, strategically, and (for want of a better term) “spiritually”.

A very strong case can now be made, in terms of evolutionary theory and games theory (as a subset of evolutionary theory) that the very concept of money now poses the single greatest existential risk to humanity – because it is fundamentally based in scarcity and is therefore fundamentally a competitive system.

There is an alternative set of non-competitive games that can approximate stability, and can contain competitive subsystems, and at the highest levels they are fundamentally cooperative.

Creating a stable base for such a system requires having an agreed minimum set of values.

The smallest possible set that seems capable of delivering stability long term seems to be 2:

1/ Universal respect for the life of sapient individuals (human and non-human, biological and non-biological); and

2/ Universal respect for the liberty of all such sapient individuals, where such liberty does not pose unreasonable risk to the lives or liberty of other individuals.

From those values, one derives the necessity of responsible action in both social and ecological contexts.

Existence in such a complex and indefinitely expanding set of instantiated possibilities requires ongoing conversations involving the negotiation of agreed boundary conditions (in terms of space, time, strategies and technologies).

Existing RBE schemes like the Venus Project or the Zeitgeist movement both attempt centralised approaches to the issues identified.

Centralised systems deliver high risk in two very distinct ways:
They provide a single point of capture for “cheating” strategies.
They provide a single point for technological failure.
Thus they fail the test of long term stability and freedom.

Risk mitigation demands distributed and decentralised systems. That is what biology has done at all levels.
Arguably, in one sense, both the concept of nations and the concept of corporations, both provided a certain level of decentralisation, and both have proven vulnerable and dangerous in a deeper sense.

And we are right now inside a very complex set of systems, with many dimensions to it (in any sense you wish to look at it, physical, biological, political, psycho-social, technological, economic, strategic, philosophical, “spiritual”).

One important step in the process is raising awareness that evolution can just as easily be about cooperation as it can competition. It all depends on context. Is the greatest source of risk from others like yourself (leading to competitive outcomes) or from external factors (leading to cooperative outcomes)?

In every case, new levels of complexity in evolved systems are more about cooperation than they are competition.
And raw cooperation is always vulnerable to cheats, it requires attendant strategies for stability, which is fine, as we now know that infinite classes of such things can be instantiated, and we have large catalogs of successfully tested sets.

So we face a choice.
Wake up. Face reality, and learn to cooperate.
Or stay with historical competitive dogma, and compete ourselves to extinction.

It really is getting very close to being exactly that simple.

[followed by]

Hi Nathan
Almost. I see the need for massive redundancy, so no one Watson 2.0, but many different instantiations of different Watsons, other lineages of systems, human groups, etc all negotiating with each other and reaching different sorts of agreements in different places and times.

It might not appear optimal from a strictly engineering perspective, but from a risk mitigation perspective (at the most abstract of possible views) it does tend to reach a very close to optimal system.

I see the need for very “smart” systems at the level of the individual, and sets of successively smarter systems at higher levels. Very complex, and unpredictable in some essential characteristics, yet even with that, the best risk mitigation strategy available.

[followed by]

Hi Nathan,

I’d rather see the number of Watson like systems at something closer to 1 million than 100 – maybe a bit higher.
As to bots with emotions, I think that could be very much closer than you, and I think, and it is a mistake to go there – writing as someone who completed their undergrad biochem studies over 40 years ago, who has maintained an interest in both brain systems and AI.
I am reasonably confident that I could work with a team and develop an AI with real emotions, and I am also confident it would be one of the lower utility uses of my time.

One of the many ways in which the incentives of markets fail is in fully automating closed loop systems. If you have complete recycling of nutrients for example, there is no profit.
A high standard of living does not require a lot of matter, it doesn’t even require a lot of energy.
If we design fully automated systems to completely recycle everything, and if we have solar powered systems, we could halve humanity’s footprint on the ecosystems of this planet at the same time as everyone has a high standard of living by western standards, provided we all adopt a plant based diet. Not possible if we stay on a diet based on animal products – just simple trophic level energy equations define that limit.

People who want to play with large scale engineering projects will need to do so off planet, and there is plenty of mass and energy out there to do that. Not many people yet comprehend the power of fully automated systems of production.

[followed by]

Multi story growing systems just don’t make sense. It doesn’t take a lot of depth of plant material to absorb all the energy available from sunlight. Going multi story can give us space for doing things, but it doesn’t increase the energy available per square meter – that can be fully captured by a few mm of plant matter. Forest canopies are the result of competition between trees, not any sort of optimisation of production.
Roof top gardens make sense, multistory food production not so much.
Integrity is important if we want stability.
Lying to people isn’t a stable option – ever. That takes out most of the advertising industry, which is almost all lying at some level (acknowledging the presence of many levels).

Considering technology and energy, liquid hydrocarbon fuels are a very safe and quite energy dense form of fuel. Most of the deep ocean is effectively a nutrient starved desert. Converting 10% of deep ocean surface to the growth of oil producing algae would deliver 5 times existing world liquid hydrocarbon production in an ecologically sustainable (closed loop) fashion. If all that is being exported is carbon and hydrogen as refined fuels, then all other nutrients can be recycled in a closed loop system. Once we achieve development of fully automated production systems, development of such deep sea farming technology is relatively trivial. Leaving gaps so that marine mammals like whales, dolphins and seals etc could find easy paths anywhere without risking suffocation is easy enough to design in, and still only modify 20% of the ocean surface, without significant effects on the rest of the biological systems of the ocean.

When one takes a big enough perspective, there are lots of opportunities.
And it can only work if everyone sees both the possibility and the need for fundamentally cooperative systems at the highest levels of coordination – which will require eternal exploration and instantiation of new levels of systems to detect and remove cheating strategies.
It is a view of evolution that is not yet as common in biology as it is in theology – somewhat strangely (writing as an evolutionary humanist and skeptic).

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 www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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