Re: Interactions between downloaded and flesh-and-blood humans after the Singularity

Date: Mon Feb 04 2002 - 12:46:22 MST

Robert writes:
> In *what* economy? In a gift economy, any "advantages" of going
> faster are entirely derived from a self-created feeling that you
> like being appreciated by more people rather than fewer people.
> The entire concept of an "economy" breaks down when the doubling time
> for our ability to manufacture things humans want exceeds the doubling
> time of humans that want them.
> If I'm lying in the sun, soaking up a few thousand watts, using my 9G
> wireless to immerse myself in the global matrix why should I care how
> "fast" I go? I just pick a world that is running at the speed I choose
> to run at.

It is a complicated issue, how the economy will work in a future of
plenty. I can't got into a lot of detail, but here are some reasons for
thinking that people will still engage in competitive economic behavior.

First, today the average middle class Westerner is so much wealthier
than our cave-dwelling ancestors of 10000 years ago that the difference
is almost unmeasurable. By the standards of that time, we have reached
a pinnacle beyond any possible dreams of wealth and gratification.
Yet people still want more. Even if the future is far richer in
material goods than today, chances are the same effects will exist.
Expectations will rise to match production.

Second, as you say the "feeling of being appreciated" is a significant
motivating factor. I think that is what is underlying our quest for
advancement today. We have an instinct for competition; we judge
ourselves by how well we are doing with respect to our neighbors.
We want to be admired and respected, to be accepted by those we admire.
All this motivates us to work and strive for success.

Most people today could quit work and live on welfare more comfortably
than even a reasonably wealthy person from hundreds of years ago. Yet
few people are willing to drop out. Lying in the sun and doing nothing
will be no more attractive in the future than it is today, if it means
that you live a miserable life compared to your peers.

Third, the "gift economy" is not a very well analyzed phenomenon.
It seems to me that even if we assume nanotech assemblers which produce
goods essentially for free (given matter and energy), you still have
the issue of designs. Rich people will pay for designer originals
while the poor make do with generics. Talented designers can get rich
creating one-off collectors' items which can be duplicated only crudely
by imitators.

Compare a designer gown with the imitation you can find at Sears.
It's not the same. There are tremendous differences in human abilities,
and some people will be able to make far higher quality designs than
others. Their work will look right, it will feel right, it will have
style and class.

You'll be able to get by on the freeware designs, but you won't feel proud
of them. Again, your self esteem will depend on being successful, just
as is the case today. Every time you have to download another piece of
crappy freeware you'll feel bad when you look at the catalog items you
have to pass by.

Fourth, there are still going to be expenses. One is energy. Another is
matter. Many people will prefer authentic living space to a holodeck,
so land will be valuable. Someone who has a beautiful home with an
attractive view will be much more admired than someone who lives in
a cardboard shack in an alley, even if the interior of the shack is
indistinguishable from a palace.

Energy isn't necessarily going to be cheap. Whether it's solar or
anything else, supply and demand will set the price. Rich people may
use far more energy than we can imagine today. This could drive the
price out of reach of poor people. Heat dissipation rights are another
potential cost where the rich could monopolize the resources, forcing
the poor to shut down their holodecks.

Fifth, another form of expense comes in the form of services. The gift
economy is mostly going to work with designs which, once created, can
be replicated millions of times over. Services are by their nature
customized and individual. They are going to be at least as expensive
as today. Necessary services will include legal advice, fire prevention,
health care, and protection (police/military). The world is an uncertain
place, and things always go wrong. Conflicts arise; there are bad
people out there who will do you harm if you can't defend yourself.
All this will cost money.

It's possible that the rich will be willing to subsidize some of these
costs for the poor, as they do today. That's hard to predict. But the
point is, people will still have expenses, and they will still be able
to improve the quality of their lives as well as their self esteem by
increasing their wealth. Despite the astronomical increases in wealth
we have seen over the course of human history, at least in the West,
human motivations to work have not significantly decreased. I don't
see a good reason for why this trend will change in the future.


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