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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Neo-Industrial rEvolution

My comments on a recent discussion re. robots replacing humans...
Colby said:
No matter who is making something: people x technology systems = productivity. productivity * natural resources = GDP. Over time unless some party asymmetrically dominates that should balance out just like an ecosystem, and the trauma just comes from adaptation, conflict, or lagging due to diversity.

Wasn't quite clear to me from the whole of your email: Are you proposing that (given time to equilibrate) people will always be competitive in value?

In the most general sense, investing is the deployment of capital, aka resources (including energy), toward some end goal. Productivity is successful investing, and technology is the automation of investing.

Investing in resource extraction is deploying resources toward the acquisition of more resources and, provided it is successful, it is inherently exponential--provided simply that the information process side of investing is able to keep up, which is why we also invest in technology (and why, as long as others continue to invest in raw resource acquisition, there is a secondary exponential market for investing in technological resource creation).

Evolution bootstrapped this process, and humans are just the current leading technological resource, but there's nothing qualitatively distinct about humans going forward. Humans aren't evolving in any relevant sense, and the "value" of the technologies we call the human body and mind are falling behind other technologies.

Note that, beyond a small potential value as dogmeat, humans are predominantly technological resources, which means their value is in their handling of other resources. Subsistence farmers don't grow food in their hair, they own land (or are allowed to use someone else's), which is the real reason they're able to survive. And this brings us to the key point:

Humans are worth about as much as a comparably productive robot (given the same resources to manage, and accounting for hours able to work per week) which consumes about the same power as they consume in food. The back side of this equation is that as the productivity of a fixed-priced robot goes up, the value of a fixed-productivity robot (human) goes down. Critically, when humans need to consume more food and medical care than a robot costs in power, repairs, and loan payments, then humans (except the few that can still out-perform current technology) are worth ZERO. (Note that there is a floor to the cost of food vs. other energy, so this problem is not averted by food becoming free as then energy would be free too. Note also, "value" here is in resources, not dollars, so until there are infinite resources available instantly for a mere wish, the math holds--inflation/deflation of some currency doesn't change anything.)

Again, it is important to factor out Capital here. Humans that "own" stuff are worth more than humans that don't; and when capital-free humans are worth zero (or, really, less than zero since they consume energy), the net worth of a given human will be their external capital less their negative human capital.

This is all when considered free of philanthropic restribution schemes, aka communism/socialism. But those don't increase the value of humans one iota--they just accept less net productivity in the service of emotional programming that says we shouldn't just let people starve because they and their ancestors didn't play the capital accumulation game well enough. (In this respect, we differ greatly from mother nature.)

But be clear, there is no "equilibrium" that keeps capital-free humans worth anything. Soon it will just be the few artists and innovators who can out-perform current AI that will be marketable--and they may be worth a fortune. This is a continuing progression toward a "winner take all" society that's been going on for a long time.

In the end, as "human capital" becomes worth less than zero, it will all come down to non-human capital -- who [or what] owns the land, mostly. (Land for resources, land for solar power collection, and so on.) I.e., the "natural" progress from here is one of extreme wealth disparity, more "haves and have nots" than ever before because at least before if you had a working brain and body you had some net positive capital. Not so in the future.

In the future, if you do not "own" enough capital to make up for your own negative net worth, you will be beholden to societal philantrhopy to stay alive. Carolyn* mentions there will always be people willing to hire people just for the satisfaction of doing so, but given a ballot most people would sooner vote themselves welfare than tend someone else's garden.

Which brings me to:

Alex said:

So if you are content enough to play bowling and drink beer all day - no problem, [..] The "realistic scenario" is probably like this: Imagine productivity becomes so high that there is really nothing to do for 90% of population of the whole planet. There are super-efficient corporations producing everything from potatoes to cars to web content. The World Government taxes them heavily and distributes the taxes to population, 90% of which are unemployed.

Sadly, this probably is the most likely outcome, except for the "no problem" part because of this (should play from ~51:42): youtube...

At that point the bulk of the human race is under heavy R-selection, save for a small group of oligarchs who may or may not be human for long, and humans rapidly devolve into Tribbles. But I digress.

It seems likely in the meanwhile we will just see a permanent trend of more and more people going on welfare, with that "line" being the bifurcation point between future haves and have-nots. (More of a dark shadow than a line since anyone near it is probably destined for have-not unless they can run really fast.)

Contrary to what others propose here, I don't see any reason people will have the option to work for more--that misses the point. That's like saying while horses are out of the transportation biz, they could still get paid to carry people on their daily commutes if they wanted to. No, sorry, they're just pets at this point, as are more humans every day.


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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com