Re: [SL4] Employment vs. Singularity

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Mon Aug 21 2000 - 07:40:34 MDT

Brian Atkins wrote:
> Samantha Atkins wrote:
> >

> That's great, but you totally forgot to answer my question.
> >

> >
> > The way we currently do economics I would agree that this sort of
> > program doesn't work very well.  But the entire basis for our current
> > economics, scarcity, is fast disappearing as we go forward toward
> > singularity.  So I think there is room to rewrite the fundamental
> > equations and to design something that isn't just the same as some label
> > we have already suffered with.
> Ok, still no answer or specifics. If you really don't have an answer on
> how to handle the theoretical increasing unemployment, then just say so.

I think I have said so.  Do I at least have your agreement that this is
a potential problem and one to be expected at some point in our

> > > May I suggest you move to Sweden? I hear they have a 50%+ tax rate for
> > > the productive individuals, and the highest percentge of leeches (oops,
> > > I mean "people without a standard paying job") in the world.
> > >
> >
> > It is easy to throw out this sort of response.  It is more difficult to
> > think about how to address the problem, if indeed there is one.
> I'm waiting for your ideas...

Why? So you can rip them apart?  I would first like to know that you see
the possible problem.  Post singularity I can see where a free in the
sense of beer economy for most of today's commodities could work just
fine.  Pre-singularity I do not see so clearly at all.  Frankly I think
we need to start retraining ourselves that massive consumerism and ever
escalating economic competition is not the way to get to a more
harmonious and ultimately richer future.  But I don't know yet how that
comes out to individual, group and national decisions and policies.  I
think we need to evolve solutions rather than be in a great hurry to
simply jump on one from the past or a barely cobbled together modern
one.  The first step is simply noting where the current system is likely
to have serious deficits that we would very much like to improve upon
without losing benefits of the current system as much as possible.   I
certainly agree this will be a neat trick.  I am not enough of an
economic theorist to put out what I see a reasonable whole solution.  I
am not sure anyone can.

> > I never once said that higher taxes are the way to address the problem.
> > I don't think they are.  I don't know, honestly, what the answer is or
> > looks like.  But I think it is high time we started to think quite
> > seriously about whether the current economic model is reasonable to
> > carry forward or if we should design something new to meet the
> > increasingly quite different economic context.
> Well I have absolutely failed to convince you that we don't need to worry.
> So let's go into the theoretical direction of an unemployment problem,
> and let's assume it is so bad that it affects progress towards Singularity
> significantly. If none of us has ideas on how to handle that scenario, then
> what are we left to discuss?
> >
> > If, just as a for instance I don't know how to get to, if every person
> > had a decent living wage and all the physical necessities taken care of
> > (a la cheap nano-tech matter assemblers for instance), then every person
> > can be quite busily employed - doing exactly what they themselves find
> > most meaningful and interesting regardless of whether they are getting a
> > conventional paycheck for it.  Personally I would have a hell of a lot
> > more to do than watching TV if I no longer had to work for someone else
> > for a living.  I have more things to do and explore and work on than I
> > could finish in a hundred lifetimes of such 'pointless empty leisure'.
> It just doesn't make sense to me- ok let's take an extreme case to make
> my point: let's say some guy has a dream: to fly airplanes. You can give
> him his standard dole, but that isn't going to do anything in the least
> to get him anywhere near his dream. So I simply don't buy your claim that
> by giving everyone a bit of cash each month they are all going to be
> perfectly happy. I will hold to my claim that the more people on the dole,
> the more general unhappiness you will have.

In the world posited the nanotech can quite easily whip up an airplane
for this fellow at little/no cost.  Material things simply need not have
any associated price tag once the technology is sufficiently advanced
and the proper design patterns for the things desired are known and
their development costs amortized.  This is an important point.  So your
dreams and enjoyment are only limited by your imagination, creativity,
dedication and that of any others you can interest in your venture.  It
is like pure capitalism in that people voluntarily form associations
that they perceive to be in their interests.  It is just that the
interests don't have anything really to do with money necessarily or
with "making a living".  They have to do with the joy of creation and of
exploring and of building teams and such.  Values that some who are
already independently wealthy know about today. 

> The only time you will achieve what you really want is when everyone who
> wants to is uploaded into an environment that truly allows people to be
> able to accomplish whatever they can think of. It simply is not going to
> happen on this planet in our current state of affairs.

But the world you posited, post-nanotech, is very much NOT our current
state of affairs.  That is the point.  It is too easy to try to put new
wine in the same old bottles.  The base state changes radically.  In a
sufficiently advanced post-nano world it will be increasingly difficult
to distinquish between the freedom and limits in a full VR and those
available in the "real" world. 

Even without going that far, even with some physical resources still
relatively scarce but vastly more wealth and leisure in the system,
people can still voluntarily pool their resources for projects they wish
to take on that are larger than the resources commanded by an
individual.  Is that a type of monetary system? Sure.  But with people
much freer than they are today to gather some amount of money over and
above their needs and wants without having to have a fulltime "job" to
do so.

> Going on that fact, along with the fact that 150k+ people are dying each
> day we sit around twiddling our thumbs, it makes the most sense from my
> perspective to focus all our energies on getting to the Singularity ASAP.
> I am only interested in this unemployment issue so far as it might affect
> that goal.

If we head for Singularity full-bore and gather various powers and
abilities along the way and do not change some of our habitual ways of
thinking, then I am afraid we are headed for wars and conflicts that
will make everything that has come before look tame in comparison.  If
we can't persuade a critical mass that the results of Singularity and
the steps getting there are to their and their children's benefit then
we can expect huge pushback to the point of armed conflict.  If the same
provincial and hyper-competitive attitudes go forward we can expect use
of these technological advances for forms of espionage, warfare and
control of other people quite a bit more dire than what we have already
seen.  So no, I don't always think that just heading for the Singularity
fullbore alone will save us.  On the other claw, it often appears to me
that our ability to reason and work through such conundrums is much too
limited without massive augmentation of our abilities which are part of
what leads us full-bore to Singularity.  One can only hope we grow our
hearts and consciousness at a sufficient speed not to abuse our
increasingly powerful minds (natural and artificial) and the other
technologies coming on line too catastrophically. 

- samantha

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