Sunday, February 17, 2008

Civilized transition to the post-scarcity economy

Contemplating a new era of bountiful resources compared to previous times, some call for a socialist, or equal, distribution of the new resources. Two examples of new eras would be those triggered by the advent of the molecular assembler and uploaded human minds; the resources would be, respectively, Earth and Solar System matter and processing capacity.

A socialist resource allocation is moot because:

  1. At t+1 or t+n, there will have been a reallocation of resources based on individual skill, utility and Darwinism,
  2. Capitalist forces will figure out how to attain more of the resources in other ways,
  3. Ways of enforcing a socialist resource distribution will probably not exist or be desirable, and
  4. Market mechanisms are likely to provide the most effective resource distribution.
Much more important than which post-scarcity economy resource allocation model to use is how to engender a smooth transition to the new era.
Presumably the rule of law will persist and the critical part will be adapting it to extend and protect rights in the new eras. What is going to happen when someone erects a Dyson sphere around newly terraformed Mars homesteads and starts levying a toll on IP traffic and physical egress? Law seems to be the most stable profession in the face of accelerating technology and new eras!

Absent UN AI Peacekeeping Forces, there should be a way to design incentives backed by consequences and force if necessary to reduce the claim-jumping, lawlessness and vigilanteism (its new guise: nano-weaponry arms races!) that has accompanied historical landgrabs.

At the end of “Engine of Creation,” Eric Drexler discusses “Inheritance Day,” a time for “distributing ownership of the resources of space” in three possible scenarios:
  1. (capitalist) First-come first-served, a landgrab as homesteading and mining claims have occurred traditionally. Dismissed since the first one to arrive with an appropriate molecular compiler could to re-work and thus claim as far as it could reach in the universe,
  2. (socialist) Equal distribution and recalibration over time, and
  3. (socialist) One-time equal distribution – the libertarian and most preferable approach


Nigel Fogden said...

What are your thoughts on a Whuffie type system (as from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom)?

It strikes me that the most valuable resources in a post-scarcity economy are going to be popularity and respect.

Socialism and capitalism, in their present forms, owe their existence to scarcity economies. I'm not sure how applicable they are to what will come after.

I wonder whether we might already be seeing some versions of Economics 2.0 in the proliferation of open-source and free tools, music and software on the Internet.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Nigel, thanks for the comment.

Yes, I think non-monetary, non-matter resources will be the scarce and coveted resources of the future, we even start to see this already with reputation (whuffie), attention and ideas as the new currency, further discussed here.

Since capitalism is about information discovery and resource allocation I think it will persist, possibly in an adapted form.

I agree, Economics 2.0, the proliferation of free tools and information signals the transition to attention as one future currency.

dr zeus said...

Your short scenario still lacks the defining characteristic that you claimed to explore: post-scarcity. In fact, you named the two non-scarce items, matter, and processing time. Our current economy is essentially post-scarcity from the viewpoint of a bronze age denizen, and yet we still must trade for certain items and are willing to exchange our time and labor for currency.

The far future will see a world like ours in that respect. Billionaires will have access to unlimited processing and plentiful matter, while the rest of us will likely receive a small stipend to eke out an existence. Some sort of labor will be required in order to earn additional matter / processing time.

Barring a break of the light speed barrier or ability to access new dimensions or universes (these could occur!), humans assign a bit to each atom in the solar system in a relatively short period of time, after which some kind of large economic structure will be needed.

Furthermore, we will experience a "peak oil" type of scenario at some point as a critical amount of matter has been converted into computronium. Economic disaster, totalitarianism, and genocide (or at least effective genocide, as entities are denied real-time processing economically) are possible results.

It's nice to pollyanny about the future and think that uploading and Moore's Law will solve our scarcity crisis, but it only shifts it. Such an exponentially increasing system will likely exceed K by Malthusian proportions unless managed or circumvented by hitherto supernatural means.

Post Script

Reversible computing could help with the impending disaster, but a fully reversible computing environment is essentially a tape loop which endlessly plays until the end and then reverses itself to play until the beginning. Since no new information is created without inputting additional energy, the disaster is avoided by bringing the uploaded civilization to a full stop instead of a managed decline.

The Guy said...

dr. zeus misses part of the problem here. If you assign an ownership address to each atom, the information processing necessary to track exceeds the resources of the atoms themselves. Likewise if one attempts to subdivide space into Planck scale coordinate systems one also runs into fundamental physical limitation of representation. Running the math out ad-infinitum will always return spurious results.

It only takes one brain/body systems worth of matter to make a regular human at low (physical) bandwidth. It's a pretty safe assumption that advanced computing will pack a person-units worth of processing into a much more efficient volume of matter. The question becomes "how many people?"
and how much of the solar system should be left to behave like the plain old historical ecology of existence? With so much processing power at our disposal, simultaneously far exceeding all humans that have ever physically existed before 2030, it is a safe bet that advances in ethics and morality will have an answer for these questions.

LaBlogga said...

Hi dr zeus, thank you for the comments, you are clearly familiar with the comprehensive slate of issues regarding the future. I have explored the PSE in more depth in other posts: Non-monetary Currencies and Molecular Assembler Adoption and

I am not convinced that billionaires still being able to buy more processing power and having a greater say in how things are done will be relevant in the future. Traditional monetary might will be decreasing as a store and measure of value. But even from the monetary perspective, if all individuals have a significant block of computing resources to meet their every need and whim, it may not matter if others have more and are doing more.

Advances in physics and reversible computing and greater understanding and manipulatability of entropy could open up the universe's computronium resources significantly.

Please contact me if you would like to further discuss these topics.

LaBlogga said...

Hi 'the guy' - thanks for your comments.

I agree that tracking every atom or other small unit is infeasible.

I don't think there is a limit, now or later, regarding the number of intelligences the universe can support.