Re: Economics, posthumanity, and self-replication (was: MORALITY)

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 10:14:54 MST

Eliezer wrote:

> Non-self-replicating technologies will likely be expensive and limited to
> the First World, at least at first. Self-replicating technologies are not
> expensive unless an enforceable patent exists. Genetic engineering is
> self-replicating but patented.

Technologies do not have to be self-replicating to be available
inexpensively. Most vaccines are not self-replicating (though
the "factories" that produce them are). But it isn't the self-replication
characteristic that makes them cheap -- they are cheap primarily
because on a mass basis you don't need very much material. The
same thing is true for floppies, CDs, cell phones, etc. Its
cars and houses that remain expensive even when mass produced.

Self-assembly is also important -- vaccines self-assemble, houses
do not. The labor cost component is important to keep in mind.

The question you have to ask with regard to patents -- is there
only one way to do it? If you only have 3 engineers to think
about the problem the answer may be yes. But if you have 300
engineers to think about the problem, the answer is likely to
be no. There are literally millions of types of self-replicating
systems out there -- I doubt the patent barriers will provide
a significant firewall to the spread of such technologies from the
first to the third world.

Anders wrote:

> the most powerful impact is with the idea that within a few years
> you *must* get yourself a better brain in order to avoid becoming
> poor and powerless.

But is that idea valid? Where does it come from?
(Yes, I know Robin has argued it to some extent but it seems
to be true if there is only "one" economy/environment --
people and species survive perfectly well in a variety of
economies and environments today without having "better" brains.)

The concept of "poor and powerless" suggests that in some way their
survival will be threatened. But as "we" know there are plenty
of resources to support the population we can envision existing
on the planet within the next 50-100 years. There is no need
for SIs to run around eliminating persons who choose to remain
pre-post-human. There seems to be no inherently obvious argument
as to why upevolution is required unless you propose an argument
that some amoral SI chooses to gobble up all the matter and energy
locally available.

> That slots neatly into a lot of political pre-programming and
> gives us a ready-made organized political resistance to our projects.

People operate with meme sets that say "If I'm alive, my current
operating system (gene/meme-set) must be working." It is change itself
that produces the resistance -- not so much "political pre-programming".
This is, IMO, more "genetic pre-programming". Accelerating change
generates accelerating resistance because you have increasingly diminished
confidence that your current gene/meme-set will ensure survival.

> Meanwhile those who think that genetic engineering, AI, nanotech
> and all other new tech will make the current inequalities *worse* sit on
> the top of the memetic hill, with a ready made paradigm that many people
> buy into - consciously or not - and can easily throw down stones. Take a
> look at _The ETC CENTURY: Erosion, Technological Transformation and
> Corporate Concentration in the 21st Century_
> (

I'll add:
HyPEing the Human Genome

I've looked briefly at the "The ETC Century" and its a significant
piece. It isn't clear to me from glancing at it (I haven't read
all 128 pages in detail) what their primary gripe is. It seems
that they are afraid that corporations will end up concentrating
and controlling the technologies, ascerbating inequalities
destroying the environment & biodiversity. It discusses
pretty much everything -- biotech, nanotech, human performance
enhancement, bioterrorism, global media enterprises, etc.

One interesting quote:
"As our survival base erodes and uncertain new technologies muscle
their way into our social infrastructure, extraordinarily powerful
new corporate configurations are replacing governments and engineering
new systems of control over almost everything."

It seems to come across as anti-technology and anti-change in general.

The thing is that the technologies *will* make "current inequalities
*worse*" but it seems to me that you will have a fair amount of choice
as to precisely *where* you want to be in terms of your use of those
technologies (a pre-post-human Amish lifestyle to an uploaded Jupiter
Brain). In that respect, the report seems to want to push us
in the direction where every individual *is* precisely equal.
So much for cultural diversity.


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