The criticism is valid, but misses the much more important factor.
Computation is doubling in less than a year.
Automation is infiltrating ever greater levels of complexity.
Once fully automated systems come on stream, the scarcity based thinking (markets, exchanges) become not simply redundant, but misleading.
We need to think in terms of fully automated systems and abundance.
Current CO2 levels are forcing the system by 2W per m^2. That is less than 0.2% of incoming solar energy.
Lauching mass from automated systems on the moon to create mirrors at L1 that allowed us to modify the incoming solar energy by just 1% would allow us to counter all current global warming.
We need it.
We need it soon.
We need it for all sorts of other reasons that most people don’t want to think about because thinking about such risks causes them to go into anxiety attacks.
We have the ability to produce a world where everyone can experience security and freedom far beyond what most experience today.
And such freedom comes with responsibilities, so it is not freedom from all constraint (that is extinction).
The cost of such security and freedom, is giving up using markets as a dominant measure of value.
As a transition strategy, a Universal Basic Income (a relatively high one), will allow us time to make the necessary changes.
On current trends, this technology can be available by the mid 2030s, if we make it a priority.
If we don’t, then we are not looking at sea level rises of a few cms, but rather of 10s of meters.
Loss of ports and coastal cities. Temperature is rising exponentially, as positive feedbacks kick in.
The problem is perfectly solvable, but it has to be acknowledged before it can be solved.
This is a problem of far greater magnitude, at the same time as it is an opportunity to create something that has never before existed – a truly just and stable society, that has as its highest values individual life and individual liberty – both of which demand responsible actions in social and ecological contexts.
[followed by in reply to Fausten]
I know climate change is real.
I planted 16,000 trees on 35 acres 24 years ago to offset my carbon emissions.
That might work for me, but not enough land for it to work for everyone.
We need a realistic answer.
Exponential technology actually gives us a realistic way to mitigate the real problem.
It does require that investment be made to create the technology.
I’m not expecting people to change overnight.
I am expecting exponential technology to be able to do big things in a short time once the doubling time is down to 2 weeks.
That technology won’t make itself (at least not until the first one is built).
It needs real resources and real effort to create it.
[followed by in reply to Fausten]
Not 2030, initial tech available mid 2030s, solutions on the ground around 2040.
What I am proposing doesn’t rely on singularity, and nor does it exclude it.
Yes, there is something pragmatic we can do now.
We can all minimise our use of resources (to the extent we can reasonably can given our individual differences and levels of awareness), and we can cooperate to deliver global solutions.
Both are possible.
Both are necessary.
I am doing both, at many different levels simultaneously.
The thing about creating new stuff is that most people don’t believe it until they see it. Even when they can see it, many still don’t believe it.
We are very strange entities.
[followed by – in reply to Postkey – emissions till going up]
Yes – all true.
And this is a very complex issue.
Over simplifying it doesn’t help anyone.
How little are you prepared to settle for.
Are you prepared to live only within the area you can walk or cycle?
Are you prepared to live without air travel, without international trade?
Not many are.
There are many ways of thinking about and calculating energy equivalents, but if we take some of the more conservative, then a litre of gas can do the same amount of physical work that a man can in two days. How many people can you employ for $1/day?
Our standard of living is in part based upon the easy availability to our current technologies of the energy content of fossil fuels (coal and oil in particular), and in part on our technology and understanding (the ways in which we structure and organise things, at any and all levels).
We have known for many years how to harness alternative forms of energy (like solar), but solar is distributed, and fossil fuels are contained and relatively easily controlled and monopolised for the extraction of profit. So there is no economic incentive to move from fossil to solar – it is a loss of profit, a loss of scarcity – a move to abundance (and abundance has no economic value if it is distributed, only if it can be contained and monopolised).
Our brains are formed from linear comparitors. We tend to look for and find linear relationships.
It is very difficult for people to easily recognise exponential relationships. For the first few terms a linear and an exponential are very similar.
Our use of solar energy has been on an exponential for over 40 years. On current trends it will meet existing electricity demand in 16 years.
It could do so much faster, but the oil industry has consistently blocked attempts to do so – because of profit incentives (there being no profit in the universal abundance of anything).
So yes – our use of fossil fuels has gone up, and that says more about the way in which we currently value things (by measuring value in exchange) rather than saying anything about our potential to do things differently.
And that is a very different and very complex set of systems, and this is a site focused on economics (which is about trying to come up with useful heuristics for understanding the complexity embodied in our existing social systems).
The technical challenges to solving climate change are trivially simple compared to changing the way people view their relationship to their ideas of value and the more abstract concepts of valence more generally (an indefinitely recursive abstract idea applicable from subatomic realms to the highest levels of abstraction).
I have stopped flying aircraft for fun, and try and minimise my use of motorvehicles, but I still see many of our economic institutions being about sales, about appealing to “status”, about being bigger and faster and a more conspicuous display of resource use (which was over deep evolutionary time a useful heuristic for ability and therefore a useful metric for judging selective advantage in social contexts – mate selection, social leadership etc).
Most of our production is about profit, not about the most ecologically and socially beneficial use of resources. So much deliberate misinformation, at many different levels, all in the service of profit.
So there are issues deeply embodied in the structure of our brains and our tendencies to types of neural activity and levels of valence that are not a great fit with our current addiction to markets and capitalism and the need for long term survival.
Greater awareness is required.
It is coming, slowly.
Exponential technologies offer us possible solutions if (and only if) we use them wisely (all levels).
Economists are used to thinking about exponentials in terms of doubling every 30 years or so.
Solar PV is currently doubling every 30 months or there abouts.
As a marine ecologist by training, I know that some species of phytoplankton can double about every 3 hours.
If we can achieve fully automated manufacturing doubling every 14 days, that seems entirely achievable; and transformative. That equates to an increase in real wealth (benefits to individuals and societies) as opposed to market measure of exchange value, of a million fold per year (until saturation is reached – all real situations have limits). Hence to avoid the heat saturation effects on the planetary ecosystem of the latter stages of such a reproduction rate, we do most of the primary production off planet.
So the problem is easily solved once we stop thinking about it in terms of scarcity based value measures, and instead look in terms of abundance based values (what are the things we really need to have in abundance for everyone, and how can we most effectively achieve those, and what sort of limits really are present if we want to keep ecosystems in existence).
And this is a highly dimensional problems space. I have explored at least 10 more levels than I have explicitly mentioned here. There appears to be no logical limit to the number of levels or dimensions possible (each of them potentially infinite).
Any tool is morally neutral – it is always what we do with them that counts.
[followed by – in different subthread]
I agree with you that anything to do with complexity involves uncertainty, the more complex the greater the uncertainty in a sense, and we know of nothing more complex in this universe at present than the human brain.
And I am a reasonably competent sailor and pilot, and even in my 200 hours of flying gliders, I always managed to get where I was going, and never had to “land out”. I never went to sea and didn’t make it back to port, even through storms of over 80 knots of wind, and towering waves. No way could I have predicted the exact path I would have taken, and I did manage to predict the outcome through an iterative engagement with the system of invisible air currents and various visible features in each case. Planning for the future with confidence is like that. One gains experience and competencies, then one enters the dance with reality, and one gets through the dance in ways one couldn’t possibly have predicted in detail, yet can give the general outline of the sets of strategies and competencies used.
Developing technology is like that.
I spent 17 years on fishing boats, mostly boats I owned, often making them do innovative stuff on very tight budgets (so a lot of practical engineering experience).
I started programming computers 46 years ago, in the days of paper tape and punch cards, and formed my own software company 33 years ago, which I still spend a few hours a week running.
I have a lot of computers in this house, laptops, desktops, raspberryPi-s, arduinos, a parralella, and a dozen or so sundry other odd processors in various boards and configurations (quite a few of them employed in recording endangered species in this region — getting actual data to allow us to formulate realistic ways of preventing their extinction – I chair the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust, but work in many other capacities locally and regionally).
So yes, uncertainty about details, and confidence about the ability to produce real outcomes given enough commitment and determination (and I think the dietary regime I adopted 9 years ago to beat a terminal cancer diagnosis demonstrates the level of commitment and determination I can generate and maintain) – both are real.
My house is 100m above sea level, and a 10 minute walk to the ocean – I chose it in full knowledge of probability spectra 23 years ago (I calculated maximum likely sea level at 80m above current, if everything goes wrong). And we had a 7.8 earthquake here in 2016, that tested many of my systems, and they all past with high grades.
There is certainly a massive engineering cost to building the first set of self replicating machines, probably of the same order of magnitude as building a Nimitz class aircraft carrier to build one set of machines with a total mass of about 2 tons. But that cost is incurred only once. Build 1, test and debug it down here for a year or so until we have a reasonable population, then ship one to the moon and get it replicating as fast as it can. Takes about 2 years to cover the surface of the moon with solar cells. Then you can use solar powered linear motors to accelerate moon mass back into earth orbit or elsewhere (no problematic atmosphere to worry about). Can do all the obvious tech on the far side of the moon, so little would be obvious to earth observers. The change in lunar albedo would not be obvious to most people. We end up with the ability to do serious engineering in space under remote control – all possible within 5 years of producing the first fully debugged unit.
And doing anything like this demands a level of global cooperation, and such cooperation requires a level of external existential threat to get established, and we have such conditions right now. So all entirely possible from a complexity and games theoretic set of perspectives.
We can then put mirror systems into L1 and manage sunlight (managing within a 1% range is sufficient to hold climate stable and prevent sea level change or ice age – not the sort of thing most people would notice), and prefabricate a global high speed tube train system in orbit, and bring it down for assembly eliminates the need for air travel. Such things can be planned and achieved. And sure, it is impossible to work out every step of the process in detail before hand, and doing such stuff via an iterative process is what geeks like me and many others I know love to do. It is intellectually challenging and stimulating.
Lots of stimulating and interesting stuff then becomes possible, like building really large telescopes, building really large habitats in space, doing experiments in them that are too dangerous to do here on earth, etc.
Yes there are unknowns, and it is entirely achievable, and does solve most of the existential risk issues that we have right now, that cannot be mitigated in any other realistic fashion. If Elon has proved anything, he has proven that is possible !
We have a window of opportunity, but it is not a large one.
Given the amount of weaponry already developed (particularly biotech and nanotech), survival of global scale conflict is not high probability for anyone. Global famine is similarly not survivable.
Climate change is real, and a small scale risk in the big picture analysis, but it is a risk that can go public without inducing immediate catatonic response in a large fraction of the population, so is a good one to focus on at present – a useful catalyst in a very real sense.
I know people exist who could make this happen, who would do so for relatively little up front cost, but with the assurance they would each end up with a few trillion tons of moon mass in earth geostationary orbit at the end of the project to do with whatever they responsibly chose (tiny compared to what governments would control). With a guarantee that any government could observe everything they were doing, and with very high guarantees of individual freedom (coming from the high guarantees of individual responsibility on their part).
All doable, and not predictable in detail.