Re: [SL4] Employment vs. Singularity

From: Brian Atkins (
Date: Tue Aug 22 2000 - 01:10:57 MDT

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Brian Atkins wrote:
> >
> > Samantha Atkins wrote:
> > >
> > >
> > > 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
> progress?

I would say it is unlikely in my opinion that some kind of huge level of
unemployment, high enough to significantly slow down the Singularity, is
going to happen in the next 10 years. Say 5% chance IMO. Past 2010 my
estimate would increase, but I can't give you a percentage. But even at
5%, that is worth chatting about.

> > > > 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

Do you have something against peer review? :-)

> 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

Why not? It has led us this far.

> 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

Ever heard the expression "don't fix what isn't broken" ? But I digress,
I do want to at least discuss the possibilities.

> 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.

Have you read the writings of Robin Hanson. He is an economist who has
studied (as much as anyone at this point I think) the possible effects of
nanotech and other advanced tech on society. Nanotech and AI being your
bogeymen, I think you should check this out:

Dreams of Autarky:
Econ grown given AI:
Long term growth:

Some good posts from him on the Extropians mailing list: <- important one <- part two <- part three

Reading his stuff, it appears that first off: nanotech without strong AI
leads to a gradual improvement of manufacturing, but not some kind of
instant overnight "everything is free, and we can do anything" scenario.
It still will take a lot of brainpower to design these nano things.
Secondly, if AI research does make progress and some commercial products
start making inroads, his research shows that it actually will increase
wages and jobs up to a certain point (where we get strong AI/Singularity).

> > >
> > > 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

Well I think there is more to it than that. The guy has to pay at a minimum
for the material the plane is made of, and the energy required to create it.
Plus delivery costs to wherever he lives, insurance most likely, fuel costs,
maintenance, hangar space, training lessons, etc. Flying a plane will still
not be anywhere near free. Let's face it that nanotech alone is not going
to make for a perfect world.

> dreams and enjoyment are only limited by your imagination, creativity,
> dedication and that of any others you can interest in your venture.  It

This doesn't sound any different than what we have today. Nanotech is not
going to make it much cheaper for the average Internet startup as far as
I can see. It isn't going to make it cheaper for them to advertise or create
a brand, or to pay their programmers and other human capital, etc. etc.

> 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.

I just find the whole "everyone stops working because of nanotech" scenario
unbelievable. So what if nanotech can whip me up basic goods- it isn't going
to help when I want to buy some land for a house, or have custom designs
for said house, or provide the cash I need for going to a sporting event
or other live event, etc. etc. Sorry, but in a world of nanotech you will
still be working 9 to 5.

> > 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.

Whatever.. but I think I have pointed out well enough that nanotech alone
is not going to provide a very big chunk of your dream world. Because you
need the human creativity to really do most of the work in the new economy.
Therefore you really need strong AI to give you the freedom you want. Agree?

> > 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

Exactly- which is why we hope to complete our AI before nanotech or
uploading become available! It's just too dangerous to give SL1 humans
access to such technologies.

> 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.

Well it sounds like you might agree with us after all- doesn't it make
the most sense to just sneak up on people with a full Singularity before
they realize it, and before nanotech and uploading? After the Singularity,
assuming all goes well, all of these issues will be moot and everyone
can choose to live how they like (again I suggest reading Diaspora).
Brian Atkins
Director, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (temp site)

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