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Why Slow Matters
Mike Treder   Jun 15, 2010   Ethical Technology  

If we are on a slow, winding, and undependable road to tomorrow, as I assert, how does that change things?


Visions of a Radically Different Future

Over-promising of future change is a venerable and lucrative practice.

Since the origins of speculative fiction in the 19th century, authors have found that a surefire way to rev up your readership and get positive reviews is to offer a plausible but startling vision of an exciting future that is just around the corner—near enough that you and I will live to see it!

This operates not only in novels, of course, but also in non-fiction books, such as these:

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Perhaps the most influential works of the last half-century that skewed our way of envisioning the road ahead of us were Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970).
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Toffler’s book, which was widely read and discussed in the halls of academia and government, as well as in college dorm rooms all around the world, predicted that change would happen so rapidly over the next 30 years (i.e., from 1970 to 2000) that average people would be left in a state of shock, suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation.”

It’s arguable whether that has actually happened to any great extent, but it’s not arguable that the meme persists and that the cognoscenti—especially the transhumanist cognoscenti—very much still expect such disorientation to occur.

The most obvious demonstration of future shock would, of course, be the Technological Singularity, a concept that did not have that name when Toffler wrote his book, but which fits quite nicely into his thesis.

Speaking of the Singularity, let’s remember that the first line of the famous 1993 article by Vernor Vinge, which spawned the modern concept of a rapid and disruptive discontinuity, was this:

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

“Within thirty years” means by 2023, if not before.

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And for predictions of drastic change happening even sooner than that, we need look no further than the movie 2001 and the novel that followed it, as well as Clarke’s SF sequels (2010, 2061, and 3001).

A huge hotel-like space station in Earth orbit along with thriving scientific outposts on the Moon, all by 2001 (nine years ago). No, it didn’t happen, and almost certainly could not have happened, no matter how much money and effort was poured into it. Science and technology just don’t move that fast.

But we think they do, and that’s the point.

These books and movies have got us believing that change occurs much more rapidly than it does in real life—or at least, we are sure that even if it doesn’t happen that fast now, well, you just wait until tomorrow!


Why Slow Matters

So, why does all this matter?

When I point out to people that the visions they have of tomorrow are only yesterday’s mistaken visions of today, recycled, they usually have one of two reactions. Either outright denial (“don’t confuse me with the facts”) or else questioning the relevance of my observation (“so what? who cares? what difference does it make?”).

It does make a difference, a big difference. Here’s why.
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If the road we are on is not fast, smooth, straight, and brightly lit, but actually slow, bumpy, winding, and hard to see, then that changes not only how we should think about where we might be going, but what we ought to be doing now.

1. The big problems that exist today cannot be blithely ignored.

Poverty and starvation will not vanish in the next two decades as we waltz happily into a post-scarcity society. Pestilence and disease will not disappear as magic gen-eng fixes are applied. Global warming will not be simply and inexpensively reversed with exotic nanotech solutions.

These problems, and many others, will persist and likely get worse while we sit around waiting for science fictional technologies to materialize and make them go away. No, sorry, if we want to do something about them, if we truly want to make the world better, then we have to get to work today using today’s technologies.

2. We are not the last generation, and thus we have responsibility to those who will follow us.

While we wait passively for the Rapture of the Nerds to overtake us, children are being born and growing up. Species are dying out. Injustices are being done. Rights are being trampled. Stuff is happening.

The world will not stop and wait for our dreams to become reality. Future generations may have good cause to look back at us and ask why we did not do more, why we chose not to act when we had the opportunity. Are we really going to tell them it’s because we were convinced that Toffler and Clarke were right? That all we had to do was pause a moment longer until the shiny exciting plastic utopian future arrived?

3. Other problems will increase before our magical tech emerges to solve them.

If we think that the troubles we face today are the only ones that will have to be addressed in the future, we are wrong again. All signs point to mounting difficulties in the decades ahead.

Peak oil. Peak water. Peak soil. Climate change. Environmental refugees. And the worst challenges of all may be those we are not yet even aware of.

This is not to say we are doomed, necessarily. Dystopian outlooks are ultimately as unhelpful as utopian wishes. But it would be unrealistic for us to assume that we already know all about the biggest problems we will have to solve in the future. Life doesn’t work that way. Surprises occur and we have to expect that.

Such surprises will in part be responsible for preventing our progress from moving forward as fast as we would like. Ray Kurzweil’s double-exponential acceleration can and will get sidetracked.

4. Politics will not disappear.

Those who yearn for the time when current-day political arguments will be made irrelevant are going to have a long wait. Just as the poor will always be with us, so will left, right, and center debates. It’s not going away, and it shouldn’t.

As the IEET’s Jamais Cascio has said, “Politics is part of a healthy society—it’s what happens when you have a group of people with differential goals and a persistent relationship.”

And since we now can see that those theoretically transformative, transcendent, uplifting transhuman technologies are not going to arrive any time soon and sweep us away to a wonderful land where all politics are forgotten, then we have to face reality. If we want to work on solving problems, if we want to work toward making the world a better place both today and tomorrow, then politics will be a big part of that mix. It’s not irrelevant, it’s necessary.

It does make a difference how we think about the future. It does matter if we expect change to occur quickly or slowly, because our attitudes and our expectations will influence our actions.

Acknowledging that our marvelous visions of the next world may not arrive quite as soon as we once thought means we might have to rethink what we can do to get from here to there.

And since ‘there’ appears now to be a lot further away than it did before, we may want to orient ourselves to working in the here and now—not surrendering our dreams or abandoning our goals, but recognizing that dreams and goals don’t solve problems. Real work does, in the real world.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.



COMMENTS

This is just spot on. I’d also like to add that the likelihood of achieving any of these futuristic goals without the problems we encounter on that blind winding road is nigh impossible. Technology advances to overcome problems, not for the pure sake of advancement. You are quite correct, though; we can’t very well forget the problems of today and expect anything to change.

Ignoring the fact that some of the new tech removes ALL the problems (every single one of them) of old tech in one fell swoop, doesn’t make that fact go away.

Consider the multiple paradigms we’ve been through in computation, energy, warfare, and transportation: CPUs from ...abacus? to today and beyond to 3D chips; burning fossils to nuclear fission to solar to speculatively fusion, sharp wooden/metal sticks to explosives/projectiles; animals to autos; and even more speculatively from aerodynamic rocket propelled flight to some type of anti-gravity.

While you do have to deal with new problems with a new paradigm, you do also often get rid of ALL the problems of the old paradigm. And often, though not always, the new problems are more straightforward to solve than those of the last paradigm which wasn’t as efficient at solving the original problem. Sometimes the problem is just solved and NO new problems are introduced. E.g. personal digital storage space; you can have more than you can ever use for pocket change; problem SOLVED.

Results are of course guaranteed only if you’ve already solved all the problems of the new paradigm. E.g. nuclear fission, still a relatively new paradigm in energy production has arguably been perfected and today has guaranteed, safe, dependable results. (And if you’re arguing that nuclear waste is a problem, no, it isn’t; you can dump it in the middle of a desert and it won’t do any harm to anyone, unless you decide to ignore the warning signs and go dig it up.)

Moravec did predict fusion by 2008 - in 1998 - but most of his other predictions have done pretty well so far, IMO.  I don’t recall Drexler over-promising his timescales very much either.  As for fiction - surely that doesn’t count!  You are not *supposed* to take that seriously!

And there’s the observation (perhaps by Clarke) that people expect too much from technology in the short run, and too little in the long run.

That is, many of us tend to think linearly, but technology tends to advance non-linearly…

Two words: so what?

As usual, I don’t disagree with what Mike writes, but I don’t understand what is his main point in writing this article. You wish to persuade us of what?

If you wish to persuade us that “Acknowledging that our marvelous visions of the next world may not arrive quite as soon as we once thought means we might have to rethink what we can do to get from here to there. And since ‘there’ appears now to be a lot further away than it did before, we may want to orient ourselves to working in the here and now”, I really think most IEET readers are already persuaded. I certainly am—I have always been persuaded that achieving our transhumanist goals will be harder and take longer than we wish.

As you say, “we may want to orient ourselves to working in the here and now:not surrendering our dreams or abandoning our goals, but recognizing that dreams and goals don’t solve problems. Real work does, in the real world.”.

But without forgetting that “there” is where we want to go. Achieving mind uploading and indefinite lifespans, and spreading to the universe, will be the most important event in the history of our species, an event of cosmic proportions, and it is what we transhumanists stand for. Let’s work pragmatically here-and-now, but without surrendering our dreams and without losing sight of our goals.

A baby takes approximately nine months to be properly formed in the mother’s womb.  The birth happens relatively quickly and painfully in a process that threatens both the child’s and mother’s life, resulting in a significant qualitative change from being inside the womb to being born.

Mike, I’ve said it before, and will likely say it repeatedly in the future.

The devil is in the details. If all you ever look at is the end, mature phase technologies as “all that matters” then you are setting yourself up for a massive shock when the intermediate technologies leading up to those mature phases kicks you in the derrière.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Every development needs a base level of necessary technology ti be applicable. The big problem most people have with predicting the future is failure to account for the small things needed to make it happen. The human Genome project was useless because having a readout of the code is useless when you can’t read the language, so all those “promises” were made by people who failed to account for the small things.

The same goes for many other future tech promises. They neglected to account for the needed substeps that had to occur prior to the next phase.

What YOU are missing now is that a lot of those substeps have been done. During this decade, most of the remaining ones seem extremely likely to be finished as well.  That slow meandering road is about to hit a steep descent that is going to keep getting steeper. It may not meander any less, but it is going to be a MUCH faster ride.

Many of those problems you list are utterly meaningless in the context of how fast technology will develop over the next decade, others are problems that too many people refuse to examine objectively, because it means acknowledging that humans are driven by instincts that we must learn to cope with and work around. That may not ever change, but it is also meaningless because other developments will simply bypass them. The problems will remain, but they will simply change in kind. Things like poverty and politics exist because of human bioprogramming, but hunger and physical privation will vanish soon enough because those are merely sideeffects, caused solely by the human need to create pecking orders. Once physical wealth becomes less of a status symbol, we’ll find new things to deprive the lowest social classes of.

So basically, in the end, it is more imperative then ever to prepare for a radically accelerating world, because Kurzwiels “double exponential curve” isn’t going to care about any of the problems you addressed. They are completely tangential to the issue. Politics can’t regulate technological advance. Economic crunches spur innovation in making more for less, encourage even more automation, and promote shifts to such technologies as “printing” Even massive social problems like America’s unemployed crisis lead to changes in political systems that in the end promote equality and social leveling, prior to another round of scrambling for social status at all costs.

Everything has more than one side. If all you allow yourself to see is a single aspect, you might as well be blind.

And when you do look at all sides, there is nothing anywhere that says we are doing anything but accelerating full speed ahead, no matter how curvy the road.

Some great points made GK.

One I’m not so sure of, however, is your insistence on video games as the primary form of home entertainment by 2012.  I understand that we have to use ‘video games’ as a very loose term now, as the technology that is evolving and soon to become domestically available is very different to our traditional experience of gaming (will be much more immersing and accessible to all ages).  But I do thing long-form entertainment (televison / film) will still serve as the primary form of entertainment, as they are narrative based.  While these new technologies will no doubt create some very new and exciting ways of interaction, it is difficult to see how they will serve anywhere near as an effective narrative medium as televison or film.  Film and tv are just such efficient platforms to serve the “human need” (sic) of escaping into the dramatic story.  Games and VR environments like Second Life lack the linearity required for being effective story-telling formats. 

That all said, I think it will be difficult for film and television to find a sustainable business model within the current digital climate - especially where the generations that are currently becoming media literate are largely unfamiliar with the concept of paying for entertainment content.

Look at the pictures!
The Wishful Road has become more real than the so-called Real Road.
To say it plain: Think like plane!
To say it with his own words and that’s it what Ray Kurzweil and Singularity University is about ...
“It does make a difference how we think about the future. It does matter if we expect change to occur quickly or slowly, because our attitudes and our expectations will influence our actions.”

A useful and accurate piece, but it’s dangerous to portray the error as only operating in one direction. As with most anything else, we humans can get it wrong a variety of ways. History stands replete with examples of both wild optimism and resolute conservatism proving laughable. Accepting uncertainty means living with the knowledge that the technologies in question could appear sooner, later, or never.

I commend the focus on addressing present sufferings with what we have now but reject the assertion of the mainstream politics as natural and inevitable. Present thought goes well beyond such simplistic divisions. Nor will the poor always be with us unless we collectively choose to maintain the irrational and unjust distribution system that causes poverty. We need no far-off technology to achieve the goal of economic equality.

“Nor will the poor always be with us unless we collectively choose to maintain the irrational and unjust distribution system that causes poverty.”

Now That’s simplistic thinking.

When a poor person becomes wealthy enough not to have to work, productivity plummets, since the formerly poor person doesn’t care about productivity or progress, but things that poor people everywhere (are only able to) care about - (over) consumption and (over) procreation. The exceptions are too rare to matter.

Have you ever considered that perhaps the poor are poor for some other reason than exploitation and oppression by the rich? That money - the excess of it in the hands of the few or the lack of it in the hands of the many - isn’t the root of all problems? Have you thought about how value that would lift you out of poverty is created? Not by manual unskilled labor, not ever. So in order to end poverty you have to educate people. Do you know how much has been poured into the education of the poor around the world for decades and how disappointing the results have been?
Have you noticed that the poor generally lack something else but just money and food? (And the equalitarian may answer: “Hmm… let me think about it. No sir, I can’t think of anything. To me the poor are absolutely equal to the not-poor in every way except for their poorness.”)

You provide data to the contrary and I’ll show you it’s a world that isn’t populated by real people, but by ideological creatures, like in the communist system.

@ UnEqualitarian..

I’m not sure what your point is here? Are you advocating the status quo of the wealthy/poor balance in the world at present? Or are you hinting at some other reason that poor folks have no value of money, and prefer other means of recreation, such as having babies and pursuing ignorance?

I think not! Poor people are likely to remain poor, and their ignorance is to the advantage of the wealthy minorities and governments. What our present world capitalist systems (and other totalitarian governments) do not want or need is for the masses to become educated and enlightened to this injustice and imbalance of power and wealth.

However, this does not mean that in general most folks are dumb and cannot think for themselves. I personally think the world population growth is a major issue that needs to be addressed with urgency, and I always have done. Yet the more people there are prosperous and with time on their hands, then the more sex and procreation will occur : yet another baby boom? Which served its purposes after two world wars, but yet may further prove an existential risk of worldwide famine and other lack of resources risks to our future?

New technological innovations and more elitist consumerism may not help improve the imbalance between the “have’s” and “have not’s”, which is already growing in our modern societies. I am hoping that the type of idealism expressed here at IEET supports the notion of redressing these imbalances, and that folks here are truly serious about doing so. Sure this is idealism, what else could it be termed as?

I personally feel that the entire world philosophy towards consumerism, ecosystem resources, recycling, famine, poverty and inequalities, social justice and politics guided towards secularism needs to be united on a global scale in real terms, and not just incidentally. We need organised connectedness and a broad outlook of possibility for change to make this happen, or get the powers that be to start contemplating change more seriously.

All this does not however advocate communism by the way, merely socialism, or the way I prefer to see it, as existentialism and the promotion of personal awareness and responsibilities founded upon social contract between citizens and their governments and the rights towards access to quality of health and life. There will always be groups and philosophies that see any form of organisation as chains and bondage, so there will always be individuals that prefer not to participate, yet to save masses from poverty, change needs to be effected and where world population growth and unemployment is concerned change is necessary asap.

The use of industrial robotics and nano-tech production will most certainly only exacerbate these problems of lack of employment and the need for peoples to find not only quality of life-styles and health, but also some purpose to existence. Why not give them some paint and brushes, and if they have not bread then let them eat cake? We need to think seriously about these problems and their solutions.

What does all this mean? We need a global philosophy of change guided towards education, awareness and connectedness. How do we achieve this.. I haven’t a clue at this time, perhaps some kind of catastrophic event is what will eventually change mindsets globally? Man is a lazy animal by nature, and especially where difficult problems are concerned, and where their solutions are not easily visible. All in all, you have to be an idealist to have hope for the future don’t you?

I have said it before Slower is better than slow, and gives us time to contemplate and instigate political and philosophical change and worldview. Too fast may lead to anarchy and rebellion and chaos? If we cannot stop the exponential speed of change, then we have to match our politics and philosophies to meet it?

@ Unequalitarian

Why are the poor poor?

Your assumption is because they are lazy and unmotivated, which is all too typical of the conservative mindset, which has been fed the hogwash that everyone can succeed if they only work hard enough.

And that is hogwash, btw. The exceptions are so far and few between that they are no greater than statistical random luck can account for. The vast majority will never rise far beyond their initial level, and far more will actually fall to a lower level. Not for lack of trying or lack of education or even lack of talent, but because humanity is a pack animal that creates hierarchies, and forces all members of a society to participate in the zero sum game of status seeking.

Poverty is then forced on those who comprise the lowest social order, because “Wealth” and “Status” are synonyms in our current economic system.Because we base wealth on material resources, hording of those material resources becomes a means to build status within the pack. Because human needs are seen as equal to human desires, both of which are met by use of material resources, denial of resources to the lowest social order lead to the massive suffering that is inflicted upon the lowest social orders through denial of food, shelter, healthcare, education, and security. All of these things have thus become symbolic of one’s social status, rather than seen as the rights they should be.

Your views are also representative of your social position, reflecting the erroneous assumption that you achieved you position through your own merit, rather than simply managing to hold on to the social position of your parents, made possible by the work your parents did to provide you the tools needed to maintain that status, and the availability to you of opportunities based on that social status which are not as available to a lower social status individual. Because you assume such advantages are freely available to all, and are ignoring, or incapable of seeing that opportunity is as unevenly distributed as wealth, you think your views are both logical and rational, when they are simply justification for your treating those of a lower social status badly, and thus affirm your own social “superiority” on the pecking order.

However, technology is rapidly removing the value of material “wealth” and replacing it with non-material “wealth”, which will lead to a devaluation of material resources, and divorce NEED from the market, and separate them from human desires. At the same time we are rapidly divorcing sex from procreation, which will eliminate the need for any social controls on sexual activity, as it will no longer result in reproduction.

It will also result in personal educational opportunity far beyond the pathetic “schools” we have offered for generations, which exist primarily to reinforce obedience to authority, not to truly educate.

Thus, your justifications for your smug sense of superiority will vanish in the very near future. Hope you are adaptable enough to handle it.

In some advanced countries today there are no really poor people. Everyone is provided the necessities to exist without resorting to crime and education is free.

How do you explain the differences between people in those countries? If you meet the “poor” in those countries, you can’t deny there’s some else also going on than just their “unfavorable” circumstances.

The differences between the unemployed (and unemployable) and students aren’t great from a material standpoint, both are relatively cash-strapped, but many, even most students in such countries are much poorer than the unemployed “poor”, yet somehow they manage to graduate, get jobs and the poorness ends, while the unemployed poor never make any progress.

There are “poor” who are “professional” unemployed - enjoying benefits exceeding even those with jobs. All their benefits are used on - what else - consumption (the majority of it “recreational”) and more kids. 3-7 kid families (larger than the average) with no income, no prospects for employment. And in 20 years time, the cycle repeats with a multiplied burden on those who aren’t happy to be “poor” like them.

Since according to you, the middle and upper class kids are not to be “blamed”, i.e., given credit for their achievements and status - which you seem to be equally denying the poor kids who got educated and “made it” - it seems the poor kids are not to be blamed for their bad luck in the cosmic lottery either; it’s all about the parents, and the grand-grand-...parents. It seems to me that what’s being said here is that there’s no one to blame but the circumstances and your parents.

How and why did the rich get rich and the poor stay poor?
How do some people manage to climb out of the poverty pit?
If you’re not poor yourself, how can you help the poor be not poor (since it seems the poor can’t help themselves)?

So you are suggesting that someone from a low social class, given access to low quality education, poor health care, low quality food, substandard housing, and very little personal security is absolutely on an equal footing with someone who lives in a well to do society, where they have access to superior schools, superior health care, much higher quality food, and far less worries about personal safety, all given to them solely due to their luck in being born to parents of a higher social class?

And then seeking to compare those coming from such advantages as being equal to the “unemployable” who you strongly indicate are so due to their “failure” to take advantage of those same benefits given to that higher social status student.


Individual merit is a very different thing than social equality. If you took twins, identical in every respect, and placed one in a wealthy family, and one in a poverty-stricken on, regardless of their individual merits, the higher social status twin will have access to far greater opportunities than the poverty stricken one. Attempting to confuse that issue with your paragraph about “blaming the parents” does not invalidate the facts, nor change the injustice of the social pecking order driven by our genetic heritage. We are animals, animals with intelligence, but still animals driven by instincts over which we have only marginal control. At present, every form of society is organized by these instincts, to greater or lesser degrees, and it is those instincts which create the stratifications which result in poverty.

And of course there are “professional poor” because the system as is does not reward self improvement, and therefore creates incentives to “fail to succeed”. That is a sign the system needs improvement, not a sign that “poor people like being poor” or that   they “are too stupid to improve their lives” because quite obviously they were smart enough to and disliked poverty enough to seek the most advantageous method to better themselves within the system as it exists. 

My point is that given a true level playing field, every individual will rise to the limits of their personal merit, yours is that only socially advantaged people have merit to begin with. I recognize individual worth irregardless of social class, you dismiss those of a lower social class than yourself. See the difference?

Is everything the rich man’s fault and the fault of our genes, and the resultant social systems? Do the poor do everything right and try their best but fail because the world was designed to work against them? Is that how it is? Can’t you find any fault with the poor whatsoever?

I’m not claiming that a level playing field isn’t desirable and that the current situation isn’t a disaster, but in countries where there IS equality, and a guaranteed minimum standard of living, you don’t have that “there isn’t a level playing field” argument. Look at the way some of them live and behave, even in those advanced countries. Nothing, absolutely nothing compels one to behave the way some of them do (unless you claim that they lack free will and are mere genebots running their cultural software blindly and obliviously). Being poor isn’t an excuse for low ethical and behavioral standards since probably millions of equally poor or poorer individuals have higher behavioral and ethical standards (often higher than those of the “high society”) and a small but constant number of them do get out of poverty. How can we translate these individual cases into a wide spread phenomenon where the poor are able to lift themselves out of poverty en masse? Though massive improvements are possible, I’m not so sure it can be done, no matter how much you level the playing field, as the results from advanced countries over several decades demonstrate.

Your arguments all come down to little more than justification of class prejudices.

I find no fault for ANYONE. Period. The Rich Man (alpha elite) follows the same genetic programming that the poor (below beta) does. The sole difference is that the “rich” has access to far more choices and use of free will than the “poor” man does. However, the rich man is also limited in his choices due to pressure to maintain his “social status” At no point is any tier free from instinct driven behavior.

There is no system in place in the world today ANYWHERE where there is a level playing field. There are some who try harder than others, but since none of them have in place systems to minimize the impact of human instinct, then none of them provide truly level fields.

You are blaming people for exhibiting behavior forced on them by the social and cultural pecking order as much as by personal choice. While such behaviors can exist within all tiers of society (as there do exist idle rich who exhibit the exact same behavior patterns) our instincts overwhelmingly promote such behaviors in the lowest tiers thorough denial of most other choices.

Is there a choice? Absolutely, but the system as is denies the use of free choice, offering instead an illusion of choice in which 99% of existing options are closed to the lowest tiers.  It’s like giving them an exam, in which the only choice they can make is D: None of the above.

How can we end this? The sole way is to remove human needs from the market, to cease allowing them to be commodities upon which social status can be built.  Every person in the world needs shelter, so housing should be free. Every person in the world needs food, so food should be free, every person in the world needs medical care, so medical care should be free. Every person in the world needs education, (a real education which suits the individual’s interests and learning styles, not a rote education in deferring to authority blindly) thus education at all levels should be free. And everyone in the world requires security. Of all those, only security is freely available to the majority in the form of police, fire prevention, and the various armed forces world wide, and it is selectively provided based on social status. A poor person is in far more danger from the security forces than made safe by them in typical situation.

A level playing field is impossible in any economy which allows human needs to be bought and sold on the market. Period. The best that can be done is to tilt the field from near vertical to slightly less than near vertical. So long as human needs are subject to social status seeking behavior, there will always be members of society pushed down to bare subsistence to enable others to elevate their own personal social standing. Status seeking behavior is a relative game. It can only be lost or gained relative to others within the society, thus it will always force some to the lowest tiers and limit their potential ability to rise from those tiers.

To change this, the FLOOR tier has to be raised to the point that all human needs can be met without cost, thus removing all value from them. However, while such a world is coming in the fairly near future, once universal robot manufacturing and nanotech become fully realized, it can be approximated by government action providing universal access to Shelter, Food, Medical care, Education, and Security. Such an approximation still will not provide a TRUE level playing field, but it will help to minimize the harm caused by the human instinct to seek status until technology eliminates all value from material wealth and removes material resources from the status seeking game.

No one is a “genebot” but when we refuse to acknowledge our instinctive behavior, we allow it to control our behavior, and that behavior leads to a social pecking order in which free will is only somewhat more available to the highest levels of the pecking order. It is this limiting of choices, both in opportunity for advancement and availability of physical resources, as one goes down the pecking order that creates the conditions which we call “Poverty”. No system which allows human needs to be part of the social status game can thus be considered “level”

Will there continue to be those who exhibit the “laziness” you seem to attribute to the poor as a class? Yes. There will always be individuals who exhibit such behaviors. But that is INDIVIDUAL behavior, not a behavior encouraged by the limiting of most other choices for different behavior.

Your largest error is the attempt to portray such behavior as a CLASS TRAIT, and to thus condemn the entire social tier for those traits, which is nothing more that stereotyping and class prejudice. Given the same access and the same advantages of other classes, “the poor” exhibit exactly the same patterns of individual behavior as any other “class”.

“Such an approximation still will not provide a TRUE level playing field, but it will help to minimize the harm caused by the human instinct to seek status until technology eliminates all value from material wealth and removes material resources from the status seeking game.”

Well said, and I agree with most of what you say, particularly the goals. It’s well reasoned and makes total sense. But I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “Given the same access and the same advantages of other classes, “the poor” exhibit exactly the same patterns of individual behavior as any other “class”.”

You seem to tie poverty only to lack of opportunity and access to material and educational resources. Something entirely external to the poor, not the poor persons themselves. It sounds like you’re saying that only if someone didn’t deny the poor things that only the rich can have, the poor would do just fine, and not be poor anymore.

It looks like, to do so, you’re ignoring the inconvenient fact that poverty has been present forever in parts of the world without any involvement by the rich when the world wasn’t yet explored. Yet in other parts of the world wealth (refining raw matter into useful stuff) was accumulating for hundreds (or thousands) of years, and today those parts of the world are more or less “rich” throughout, no longer just their leaders. The state of living which the rich now see as “poverty” hasn’t been inflicted upon nations and individuals by anyone - it has been a natural state of the individuals which constitute nations from the beginning of time and remains largely unchanged today - they’ve never yet risen out of poverty once. (But you may say that “Now that the “rich man” is around, controlling their societies, they never will,” and that “without the “rich” they would already have been.”)

Don’t you see an innate mental aspect to poverty, at all? That perhaps the physical world a person creates and lives in, is a direct reflection of the mind, whether rich, average, or poor? Or do you think that poverty exists mostly, if not completely, because of external influences and the constant pressure by the system and the powerful that has “as its goal” (perhaps not consciously designed into it but occurring as an emergent feature of the system) to keep you poor if you are already poor (but not if you aren’t)?

TO answer you, Society creates “governments” or systems of organization to enable efficient division of labor. This enables groups of humans to be far more efficient than a single human can be. This is a natural outcome of the first and foremost biological drive humanity has. Survival. We as a species work together to enable all of us to survive while individually enabling each person to work less for the same goal.

Thus in a “tribe” each member works at a task which contributes to the success of the “tribe” as a whole, and through co-operation reduces the burden of labor on each individual.  This makes Division of Labor a positive sum game, and thus capable of producing “wealth” in the form of “capital” be that via stored resources, or money, etc.

Once each member achieves “Survival” the secondary instinct of “Status seeking” takes over. Status is a zero sum game, in which each agent is competitive, not co-operative. It thus takes value out of the “collective” capital, and transfers it to “private” gain.

In otherwords, everything OVER subsistence then becomes subject to Status seeking behavior. High status actors will “Lay claim” to shared resources as “Tribute” through such activities as “Rent” “Profits” etc. In other words, those who are agreed to hold “property” which provides “resources” for “production” are allowed to remove “capital” from the collective pool to “feather their nests” and display their “status” to the tribe.


If such behavior did not exist, then yes, long ago humanity would have created a society in which there was so much “Capital” in the sense of resource availability that all human needs could be met with minimal personal labor.  But because ALL productivity beyond subsistence is continually removed from the collective pool of “capital” for PERSONAL wealth accumulation, you end up with a tiered society in which status is determined by how much of the collective productivity of the collective you can personally lay “claim” to.  Money is in all cases simply a proxy for that percentage of the common pool that one is “entitled” to claim.

Mental aspects in poverty are not an issue, the intelligence of the poor displays the same bellcurve of the common mass of humanity, but those with mental illnesses are more common because societal pressure that tends to force such conditions into poverty. That the “poor” represent a larger proportion of mentally ill is thus also not by “choice” but due to cultural pressure.

I do not ignore the reality of poverty, I simply see it as a result of status seeking behavior that is endemic to the human species, and which is tied directly into our pack animal instincts. We cannot change those instincts, but by denying them, and their influence on society at large, we allow them to continue to create mass suffering of the many so that the few who have “elite” status can claim the biggest shares of resources that exist solely due to the collective’s “labor”

The only solution is removing human “Needs” from having any value as “Status” symbols, which is impractical so long as we continue to base “Wealth” on material resources.

We are growing closer to that time as robots and nanotech become daily more developed, but we are still several years from their maturing sufficiently to enable us to be able to provide all human needs with zero human labor. In the meantime, we are suffering a crisis as those systems which are based on material wealth are rapidly losing value due to the gradual elimination of scarcity.

I do not see a “conscious” creation of the social system, nor does “mindset” affect the random occurrences that can influence an individual’s life. Even those with “positive” mindsets, and a “puritan work ethic” can still fail to escape poverty, and fail to escape the various pitfalls which could make their life worse.  There is no “conspiracy” to keep the poor poor, nor is there a “Poor mindset” which makes people chose to be impoverished. There is simply a failure to accept the instincts we are stuck with as evolved apes, and through that failure, an enabling of the creation of societies which become subject to those instincts without any conscious knowledge on the part of the majority.

What do you think of this:

A poor person invents something that everyone finds useful.
The poor person receives money from everyone and is no longer poor (and achieves high status, which was, of course, not the aim of the inventive activity.)
Money is removed from the pool in immense quantities, and everyone else but the poor person is, perhaps a lot, poorer (even having to forgo less useful consumption - if you own a phone, your monthly payment is removed from your personal pool and you can’t buy as many status-enhancing things, which you otherwise would have), but “wealth” is not. Instead “wealth” is created by the poor person out of thin air by sheer mental activity. Everyone’s welfare is increased tremendously, though they own less money as a result.
Should the poor person not accept money from everyone?

Let’s assume there are 10% such individuals in the world. Should they not be way, way richer, than the 90%? Only if 100% of people invent things that 100% of people find useful, and everyone receives the equal amount of money from everyone, everyone remains equal. But if anyone achieves something that the rest do not, wealth creation begins and in no time we’ll have rich people and poor people (in some advanced countries today there are no poor people, only comparatively poor, since everyone is guaranteed minimum income and housing; they are in fact rich, if you compare them to the poor of the world.)

If the poor people (=most people) don’t invent or create anything that everyone finds useful but are able to contribute to the common wealth pool only with a few watts of work and simple mental processing that can be soon automated away, what chance do they have of ever escaping poverty, if to escape (comparative) poverty you need to do things that benefit the majority of people, not just a tiny fraction of a percent? AFAIK, you can’t get rich or even wealthy by manual labor and simple mental tasks anywhere in the world.

You seem to have failed to realize that “wealth creation” is a side effect of division of labor, and appear to be making the assumption that I am against wealth creation.

This is not the case. Social status is not inherently “evil”. Not every effect of this programming is detrimental to the collective. We need “high status actors” to effectively organize the rest of us, but because material resources have become seen as “wealth” and thus as markers in the status game, we have created situations where HUMANITY has advanced enormously in it’s ability to provide survival needs, but all resources above bare minimum are removed from the common pool to “feather personal nests”

Regardless of when we remove human needs from the “market” and material goods become so abundant that all social “value” has left it, we will merely shift the concept of “wealth” from material resources to non-material resources, much as the man in your example added to the collective by a non-material resource, the “good idea”. He deserves a reward for his non-material “labor”

However, his reward should not be at the COST of denying another human those resources he NEEDS to survive.

Robots will take over physical labor, and take over nearly every “mental task” which requires following rigid rules to produce consistent results, more or less leaving humanity with nothing to do but “come up with ideas” which is why education is so vital. while there will always be those who do chose to “coast” at a minimal level, the majority will continue to endeavor to “climb the status ladder” by becoming knowledge “creators” as opposed to knowledge “users”. We will again develop a social order in which there are “elites” and “peons” but the basis will be non-material wealth creation, with the result that no-one will be denied basic needs as part of status seeking behavior.

We can’t change the genetically driven behavior, but we can change what “token” is used to play the game.  Remove the “material wealth” token from play, and replace it with “non-material wealth” and you disconnect status seeking behavior from survival provision behavior, and thus enable the end of suffering once material needs for every person can be supplied at no cost to the individual.

Of course I agree that we shouldn’t assign extremely high probability to human-level AI or cheap solar power in the next twenty years, that we should consider the expected values of our actions based on our full probability distribution over speeds of technological advance, and that “waiting” inactively won’t make the world a better place (which is trivially true regardless of the subject).

However, I also have to agree with Tim Tyler that some of the predictions in the article are not like the others (not that I necessarily buy even the better-founded ones).
 
Vinge’s 30 year figure is pretty egregious, although he offered no argument for that particular number in the article in question, and spent minimal time on it, so it’s hard to take seriously as a best-effort estimate.

Moravec’s time estimates for human-level AI have been based on a fairly explicit argument, namely that AI is strongly software-limited, so that human-level AI would be quickly attainable given easy availability of human-level processing power to researchers. The claim of such strong hardware dependence (as opposed to sequential research programs in computer science) across domains has always been a minority view. So most smart AI folk looking at his work thought that our greater uncertainty about the software of AI prevented confident predictions from computing power alone. Moravec himself explicitly admits to not making his argument rigorously.

Kurzweil’s core argument for human-level AI being attained in the next few decades is that neuroimaging and brain-scanning technologies will continue to improve exponentially in capacity, so that AI design can be based off of the working model of the human brain. He does have a sustained historical trend to support this claim, and visible theoretical room for further improvements along that trendline. There’s room to argue about the comparability of some of the neuroimaging techniques he plots together, about their continued scalability, and about the time to utilize a data glut for brain emulation or imitation (and I think Kurzweil will probably lose his Long Bet), but I do think that his timeline argument is in a different class from the previous two.

Drexler only published Engines of Creation in 1986, and I haven’t encountered very bold claims about timelines to Drexlerian molecular nanotechnology (maybe he has made some, but they don’t seem very prominent).

I also agree that it’s silly to take science fiction as part of a reference class of serious attempts to accurately estimate ETAs for future technology.

There will never be economic equality.
People with the mind to become rich will only become richer.  Our economy is becoming more and more global no one can deny this.

Like the human body some aspects the the economy will become “unconscious processes”  like our digestive system , all of labor will be none existent one day. This is the increase in human agency which will be reduced to the the minds power. A New global effect will be Telepresence robotics and the cloud network.

“Economic Equality” is unnecessary, as well as directly contrary to human nature.

We will always form “packs” and high status individuals within that pack will always command more “wealth” from the collective pool of shared resources while low status individuals will command less. It’s programmed into our DNA. That is in all likelihood NOT going to change.

However, material resources will become so inexpensive that they will essentially drop below the threshold of “value”. When no material good is even “uncommon” and no human labor is involved in “production” then there will be no “status” advantage to “owning” material goods. What does having a Lamborghini matter when ANYONE can afford hundreds? All of them manufactured on demand for only as long as you are driving it?

100% recycling on the atomic scale, programmable matter, Nanofabrication, and VR will destroy the economy we currently have, removing all social value from material resources, but it will not affect the human ability of non-material wealth creation via mental labor. That is why we need so desperately to concentrate on education, and not education in Knowledge USE, but education in Knowledge CREATION.

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