Sunday, March 23, 2008

Post-scarcity economy

The long-term future economy is a post-scarcity economy (PSE), where substantially all human material needs are easily met at low cost or for free. The term post-scarcity economy is a bit of a misnomer since only the scarcity of material goods is likely to recede. The economy itself and scarcity as an economic dynamic will probably persist, for example, scarcity of time, energy, processing power and creative ideas.

The future economy will likely be realized in phases. Some material goods would be replaced or provided at near-zero cost at the outset, perhaps certain classes of items or goods like fuel, then more items such as food, then substantially all material goods. Fancier items like high-end designed objects and medical treatments would probably not be available in the earlier phases.

What will happen to services as material goods are increasingly provided at minimal cost? Initially services would be unchanged, but over time, nearly all current services could be replaced by technology-advanced near-zero cost alternatives. As Josh Hall suggests in Nanofuture, nanobots could provide daily hair-trimming and nano-foglets could create new hairstyles on demand. Robots are already available for lawn-mowing upkeep (Robomow). Telemedicine could be used for medical diagnostics and treatments. Artificial Intelligences (AIs) may be consulted for tax and stock advice.

Over time, public services such as police and fire protection could be provided by trusted AI networks and other mechanisms. Wireless sensor networks and cams may shift the nature of crime and policing activity. Future building materials may be impervious to fire and possibly self-reconstruct following earthquakes or other damage.

New virtual and other non-traditional services requiring intelligent attention from AIs or human minds, particularly in providing entertainment, learning and means of interesting and productive engagement, will probably be a growth area. The future economy will likely be transacted with multiple currencies, a variety of monetary currencies and additional supplementary currencies such as time, attention, intention, reputation and ideas.