Deb’s speculations on our future

#121 – May 1st – I’ve Seen The Future . . .

[also on Deb’s facebook page, where the balance of this takes place.]

Hi Deb,

While there is real risk, and I am not underplaying that risk, I am actually more optimistic now than at any time over the last 50 years.

I do think we actually have a slightly better than even chance of surviving into the rest of eternity, and the next 20 years will likely answer that question one way or another.

We are now aware of the power of cooperation.

At least some people can now see that evolution is much more than competition, in fact to a good first order approximation it is true that the emergence of higher complexity is more about new levels of cooperation than it is about competition.

And that is going to require some fundamental changes in how we organise things.

The sorts of cheating strategies that have dominated economics and finance and governance for quite some time are going to have to change to something more fundamentally cooperative.
And that awareness is slowly spreading.
It is happening, if somewhat more glacially slowly than some of us would like.

So yes, risk is real, and so is possibility.

Risk must always be present, it cannot be entirely removed. It is almost paradoxical that one must accept that before risk can be substantially reduced.

It seems that this universe demands a fundamental balance between order and chaos at all levels.
Humans require this as much as quantum “existence”.
Too much order we get boredom, too much chaos we get anxiety. Where we each place those boundaries in any particular context is a matter of choice. Socially those limits on boundary conditions are a matter for discussion and agreement.

And in groups where individuals have vastly divergent values, there has to be an agreed set of values we can come back to.
The smallest possible set seems to be – a respect for individual life first, followed closely by a respect for individual liberty. And both of those have to exist in responsible social and ecological contexts.

Freedom cannot be without constraints,

It is constraints that give us form.
Freedom can only exist within constraints.

Once that is accepted, almost anything becomes possible.

[followed by in response to a post naming automation as Voldemort]

No – incorrect identification.
Automation is not the problem.
The problem is that markets (exchange values) must always value universal abundance at zero.
So in a market value sense, everyone having all they need has no value.
Thus automation is the antithesis of markets.
Markets demand poverty to work.

It is markets, and the very idea of exchange values and the power embodied in that concept set, that is the “Voldemort” on the stage.

Automation is the “Harry Potter” that can actually destroy it, and it requires something of each of us.

[followed by]

Hi Deb,
To me that quote [“as long as we need fiat currency to pay the rent/mortgage, humans will fall out of the system in droves as this shift takes place…”] tells me he does not see the problem at all.
Not sure what article you refer to, but this one will do:
The use of the word “fiat” is what tells me he has entirely missed the issue.
The use of the word fiat indicates that he believes the problem isn’t with the notion of exchange in itself, but with the method of representation of exchange value.

To me fiat money or gold or whatever all suffer from the same set of systemic incentive failures.
It has nothing at all to do with fiat currency, and everything to do with the very notion of currency, in terms of any currency at all being a representation of exchange value.

Any system of exchange values will have a measure of scarcity as one of the factors that are multiplied together to deliver a final number. However one does that, whatever other factors are included, having scarcity in that equation fundamentally biases the system to reject any universal abundance, and incentivises the system to deliver an “optimal” level of scarcity that delivers the greatest “profit”.
Once you can see the system as such, that is inescapable logic.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with the method of representation of that value – fiat, gold, silver, rare feathers, or anything else.

The idea of having scarcity as part of the measure makes sense in terms of using it as a tool for the distribution of scarce resources, but fails entirely in a planning context when faced with the ability of fully automated systems to deliver universal abundance. In that context the value metric keeps on delivering zeros, even though the human beings really want the outcomes. It is systemic failure in the most basic of senses.

It is the very idea of exchange, of value in exchange, that is represented in money as a concept, that fails.

And I get how hard that can be to see, when we have been trained from birth to use that as a value metric.

[followed by “How do we get from A to B?”]

Hi Deb,

There are multiple aspects that need to be progressed simultaneously.

Several of those streams involve awareness and understanding.

One involves being able to see that there is a fundamental issue in the very idea of money and exchange, and to see an absolute need to go beyond it in terms of planning. That is one necessary precondition. Lots of conversations required.

A second stream is developing technologies that are actually capable of delivering on universal abundance, and doing so in ways that do not tip our cultural, environmental, or ecological systems over any tipping points that drive the system as a whole to chaos. Many of those boundaries are poorly defined, and many have long lag times – so it is a non-trivial exercise.

Another stream is raising awareness of the role of cooperation in being human. Classical teaching of evolution has stressed the role of competition and ignored the role of cooperation. The reality is now clear beyond any shadow of doubt that as complexity increases cooperation becomes exponentially more important to survival.
So restructuring how we teach evolution, psychology and politics is critical over the next few years.

Another stream is understanding the idea of liberty, and really getting that freedom is only possible within constraints. No form is possible without constraints. Our existence at any level is predicated on sets of constraints that allow the complex sets of systems that are us to survive. Those sets of constraints must be accepted and honoured. Freedom is about the sets of choices that exist within those constraints, not about breaking those constraints.
Having a concept of freedom, of liberty, that accepts that at every level, real freedom involves working within the sets of necessary constraints, is required. And one must always be willing to consider what constraints are actually necessary – and that will change with context – so nothing fixed there – much room for creativity and exploration and negotiation.

Accepting that in order to get security, we must honour life and liberty universally, and create systems that support all individuals in the responsible exercise of their freedom to create themselves as they choose. And the boundaries of what defines responsibility will evolve with individual awareness, and allowance must be made for that at all levels.
For many cultures that will involve significant changes.

So – we have interesting times ahead.

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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4 Responses to Deb’s speculations on our future

  1. debyemm says:

    Thanks for linking to my essay. I will always value your insights on tech stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. debyemm says:

    Wondering if your thoughts have changed significantly in the 4 years since . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Deb,

      Not significantly in respect of the factors noted above.
      There are extra factors involved now.

      I had undervalued the role of the tendency of the human brain to simplify complexity under stress, and the tendency towards polarization that produces.
      The differences in valences (values) tend to get amplified in such contexts, leading to loss of communication channels and greater tendency to conflict.
      The use of AI technology to exploit the biases necessarily present in human brains has amplified this set of factors – leading to the polarization we see in respect of Trump as one notable example. The vast majority of people either love him or hate him, there are very few occupying the middle ground that can simply see him as a human being in a context. We need a lot more people able to stand in that middle ground consistently, and dampen down dangerous things and amplify useful things.

      Covid was not specifically an issue (though pandemic is one of the major threats to any life form, and covid is a relatively mild one {some of the second wave of the 1919 influenza pandemic reportedly had death rates around 90%, covid is around 1.5%}), and it has clearly demonstrated what is required to deal effectively with pandemic (support the entire population [including all the subgroups that officially do not exist}) to isolate for at least two cycles of the virus or whatever it is, and develop effective countermeasures to reduce risk as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

      Here in NZ we have had one period of full lockdown, and one of partial lockdown, but life most of the time has been fairly normal, except no foreign tourists (very hard for those businesses based on foreign tourism). Plenty of ways we could have improved the NZ response, and plenty of things we could do in the future to give effective counters, but none of those are likely to be implemented as long as money is a significant factor in planning.

      So the major problem is still levels of awareness.

      We still have a high probability of a major economic crunch in about 5 years as the existing system hits a tipping point that is fundamentally unstable. Still time to do something about that, but not enough being done as yet to avoid it. Putting focus on military responses is not stable, and we do need people generally being willing and able to take action where necessary – but the Capitol incident was not necessary, and such things are a major risk factor.

      So my overall risk assessment is about the same. I still give us about 60/40 of getting through the next two decades. A lot more people need to see that the risks are very real, and they also need to see that fundamental cooperation and fundamental respect for diversity (even diversity that they don’t like) are essential parts of the picture. Most people are still working from simple models that cannot respect diversity, as anything not friend is foe by definition (anything not obviously “right” is wrong/bad/evil by definition).

      Such simple models are not survivable in an age of complexity and diversity.

      More people need to see such simple righteousness for the danger that it is, at any and all levels.

      We need most people operating from much more nuanced and subtle sets of distinctions the vast majority of the time.

      Developing such a nuanced view demands a context of security, and cannot be done when people are under severe stress.

      So there is a lot to be done. And it can only happen one conversation at a time in a very real sense.


      • debyemm says:

        Thank you for your updated comments. I agree with everything you said. I hope to remain one of those who contributes beneficially to the ongoing efforts to form a more cooperative and tolerant (of diversity, even accepting and appreciating of) group of people on this planet.

        Liked by 1 person

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