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Posthuman political theory June 15, 2010

Posted by Summerspeaker in Technocracy, The Singularity, Transhumanism.

A discussion I’m having with Aleksei Riikonen over on Michael’s blog has convinced me to codify my thoughts on the likely arrangement of a society after artificial general intelligence and molecular manufacturing. Taken together, these twin technologies will make unenhanced human labor irrelevant unless they are restricted by choice or coercive measures. Their development will fundamentally transform the economy at every level. Setting aside outright disasters and dystopias, I discern four basic scenarios:

#1 –  Wealth and Welfare

As unemployment rises, governments across the world expand the dole to maintain a consumer base and ward off revolution. Richer nations send aid packages so that even the poorest country on the planet can give handouts. Eventually the majority of the population depends on this income. Laws limit the potency of automated industry but prices drop significantly. The ubiquity of intelligence allows capitalism to avoid much of the waste we now see. Suitably augmented folks still work for pay in various capacities. The ultrarich on the top enjoy unprecedented privilege. This outcome matches Marshall Brain’s proposal for dealing with robots in the workplace. Depending on the details of the social control imposed by the states in question, possible conditions range from tolerable to nightmarish.

#2 – Private Patrons

As above, but with  individuals and/or corporations providing a greater number of welfare checks. Such actors would have even less incentive than governments to refrain from exploiting the position.

#3 – Abundance Anarchism

This is what happens when the genie escapes from the bottle. Here each human being independently holds access to the necessities of life. We no longer bow before bosses. Portable, robust nanofactories turn even patches of desert and asphalt into comfortable homes and productive gardens. Those who wish to engineer themselves to run directly on solar energy and/or consume almost anything for power. Some pioneer out to other planets or stars. Ideally built-in technical limitations and community sentiments prevent violence. Disagreements and disputes abound, but there’s plenty of energy and matter for everyone.

#4 – Transcendence Technocracy

A superintelligence undertakes the twin goals of stopping bloodshed and disturbing the fruits of technology to all equally. In order to maintain its ability to achieve these aims, it also prevents any other actor from becoming more powerful. Otherwise it does not interfere in the affairs of thinking beings; this aspect separates it from the governments of the first scenario. In practice, life under the technocracy might well resemble life in anarchism. One favors security, the other freedom.


I’m sure you can tell which scenario I favor. Sadly, the first combined with a bit of the second strikes me as the most probable non-catastrophic future. We anarchists will continue to exist in the gaps and on the margins, as we do now.



1. rechelon - June 16, 2010

<3. That is all.

2. Greg Colbourn - June 16, 2010

Interesting, I think Open Source has big potential regarding shifting things from capitalism toward anarchism, especially now it is making inroads into hardware. Projects such as RepRap and Open Source Ecology – http://www.openfarmtech.org/index.php/Main_Page – are leading the way. I guess Transhumanism comes under the “evolve to freedom” bit they talk about.

Only problem I guess, is that Open Source hardware technologies are a good decade or two behind their capitalist counterparts. However, open source software seems to be catching up and even overtaking proprietary software (e.g. Ubuntu vs Windows), so perhaps it won’t take long for hardware to too (progress can be quicker when free from artificial scarcities of information)

3. Summerspeaker - June 18, 2010

That’s good stuff, Greg. Unfortunately, I suspect the inherent danger of molecular manufacturing will prevent state power from tolerating unrestricted nanofactories. Perhaps we’ll manage to evade their control.

4. Valkyrie Ice - June 21, 2010

Anarchist, hummm.

I seriously would not know what to call my particular political beliefs, though I have been roundly denounced as just about everything.

To summarize my views, I would say that none of the scenarios you have described seems likely in the forms you have detailed. Humans are driven by two primary biological drives: survival, and reproduction. EVERY human behavior stems from one or the other of these two drives.

Survival leads to co-operative behavior, division of labor, and the natural increase over time of material wealth, because co-operative behavior multiplies the benefits of labor exponentially. The more people working, the greater the benefits. If this was the sole drive of the human species, we would have long ago created a society in which no-one had to work more than a few hours a week, and even then, only at doing a job they actually enjoyed doing.

It’s that reproductive behavior that lies at the heart of all of humanity’s problems, because it drives us to create social hierarchies, and once those are created, it drives us to seek status within those hierarchies. It doesn’t matter what form that hierarchy takes, what political belief it’s based on, or what form “status” is displayed, it is an inevitable fact that humans MUST create a pack, and then a pecking order in that pack, all for the determining of mating suitability. Governments, Corporations, Religions, they are all creations of the instinct to create a social hierarchy. Wealth and poverty exist solely as social status markers. Regardless of what changes technology brings, this is unlikely to change. We may be able to provide everyone a personal nanofactory, and unlimited material wealth, and we will STILL not end poverty and wealth. The only difference between an economy of scarcity and one of abundance is whether wealth is based on MATERIAL goods, or NON-material goods.

We will develop to a point where everyone has a personal nanofac, and where everyone has unlimited access to material resources, and we will still have the exact same problems we have today, because these problems are INHERENT in our biology. Unless we change human biology to remove the human pack instinct, and more or less cease being human at all, we will not change that.

We will become a single world government, with a universal democracy, where every person can not only have a truly equal say, but where everyone fully understands the issues, and in which no minority will be oppressed, because we are developing the technology which will inevitably minimize the worst excesses of human nature and negate the need for massive, cumbersome systems of unenforceable laws that exist for no other purpose than to ensure individual accountability. We are developing towards a world in which no individual can escape their responsibility to the entire collective, and in which no collective can avoid their responsibility to the individual either. We’ll never have a true anarchy, because we are pack animals, but we will remove the ability of individuals and groups to misdirect government to the purpose of increasing their own personal social status, instead of providing for the common welfare that is the true purpose of all government.

So my scenario is one in which government provides for all basic human needs, not by dictating limits, but by providing a base minimum to all, and insuring that everyone has access to the means to improve themselves. It is one in which most laws are unneeded, because fraud, chicanery, and exploitation are impossible because every person has their own “black box” that will ensure every transaction is recorded and is available for legal review. It is one in which no human will suffer from hunger or physical want, because material goods will no longer be symbol of status, and will thus be “valueless” It’s one in which every individual has absolute freedom to do anything they want so long as it does not infringe upon the freedoms of others to do as they wish. It’s one where we understand and accommodate human nature, using reason to compensate for the irrational, and where the “haves” cannot play with the lives of the “have nots” as if they were mere toys.

You can call it what you will, but every bit of data I can assemble indicates that it IS the future towards which we are headed.

The problem is how many people we will kill along the way by refusing to take the steps needed to minimize casualties along the way, all because it will cause the “alphas” to lose some percentage of their “status”

5. Summerspeaker - June 21, 2010

As you may have already noticed, Valkyrie, I’m deeply skeptical of appeals to biological inevitability. Unless there’s a secret supercomputer orders of magnitude more powerful the public top-of-line model, we can’t run the required experiments at present. We don’t know with any certainty how humans will react to the coming technological changes.

I think reducing the drive for hierarchy to competition for mates confuses the issue. These days folks lower down on the economic status meter tend to have greater reproductive success. If sexual selection causes inequality, something has gone terribly wrong. We humans have a complicated and highly flexible general intelligence. Concepts like the pursuit of power take on lives of their own for us.

Social hierarchy by no means mandates a difference in access to consumption. You see plenty of this sort of thing among people with material comfort. Thus, I see no compelling reason for the pack instinct, assuming it exists to the extent you suggest, to inevitably perpetuate poverty. Your scenario, which I would describe as roughly resembling my first possibility, takes this into account. The notion of separating physical needs from the status game has considerable merit and strikes me as a plausible future. You wisely note the key difficulty of any social change: those with power don’t want to give any of it up.

It will be fascinating to see how things turn out.

6. Valkyrie Ice - June 21, 2010

I personally find understanding the basic biological drive behind the majority of behavior simplifies things enormously, not confuses them. We do indeed sublimate those drives in hundred of thousands of ways, and usually in ways which hide their origins even from ourselves, but nonetheless, it lies at the root of nearly all of humanities “big” problems.

Do you wonder why the tea party movement is so vehement in defending political actions which are directly harmful to their self interest? Because they fear that a loss of social status among the rich will mean that their own social status will suffer. They fear that Obama will destroy their “social status” by making blacks truly equal, and thus rob them of a “lower pecking order” which provides them a sense of social superiority. They worry that when they “strike it rich” and finally assume “their rightful place” among the alphas, that they will want all those privileges they defend for the rich. Do they consciously understand this themselves? Not a chance. The same holds true whether you are discussing Wallstreet, Corporations, Politics, or terrorism.

Once you realize the basic drives, it makes it easier to comprehend the various disguises humanity uses to hide those drives from themselves. And easier to see what will result from any given technological development as it hits the social structure.

Also, when I say poverty, I don’t mean material want will continue, but while LEGAL equality will inevitably be an actuality, there is no denying that individuals are not clones of one another, and that individual differences in talent, skill, interest, etc, exist. Those differences will always exist, though technology will level things out significantly. There will still be those who are uninterested in improving themselves, and those who simply can’t be bothered, but we will have far fewer people who are kept down by exploitation, denial of access to opportunity to improve themselves, and by the general pecking order. There will be those with a wealth of non-material resources, those who “create” and inevitably, there will be those who simply “consume” with most people falling to varying degrees into both categories.

It will indeed be fascinating. In fact, it has been for the last 25 years that I’ve been observing.

7. Summerspeaker - June 21, 2010

Again, if folks seek economic power as a reproductive strategy, evidence suggests they’re doing it wrong. Both within and across countries, poorer people on average have more children. Perhaps this is just a recent development, but even then it shows profound the environment has on human behavior. I agree status games lie behind most political questions, I just consider the process more cultural than biological.

With regard to predictions, as long as material want disappears on the global scale we’ll have made stunning process. The magnitude of this change boggles my mind. Though advances in nanotechnology and artificial intelligence seem to mandate the irrelevance of human labor and the ease of satisfying all human needs, I still have this sinking feeling we’ll screw it up somehow.

8. Valkyrie Ice - June 21, 2010

Ah, I think you are misinterpreting me somewhat.

Economic power is not being sought directly as a reproductive strategy. It’s being sought indirectly as one.

Accumulation of wealth raises one’s social standing. The richer you are, the more social “power” you have. The more social power you have, the greater the access not to just mates, but access to HIGHLY DESIRABLE MATES, i.e. the “best” genetic stock, the prettiest, most handsome, etc.

But because this social status also allows freedom from the consequences of these drives, i.e. babies, it’s easy to think it is a poor reproductive strategy. Because it is NOW. But our biology isn’t programmed for now, but for those apes on the savanna.

The drive hasn’t changed, but it has been sublimated into other behaviors. It has become a cultural behavior as much as a biological one, but it is still driven by those base instincts.

In essence, we’ve built a fancy car, but under that fancy hood lies that same old engine we’ve had since the beginning.

And of course we’ll screw things up. But I don’t think we’ll do so to the point that we will seriously threaten our continued existence, and even if such bad things as corporate government takeovers, or economic collapses do occur, I don’t see them lasting more than a few years before they will also go by the wayside. Only a massive extinction event could derail the developments I see occurring, and I don’t think mankind can actually inflict one on itself even now.

We can however still kill millions as we transition from an EoS to an EoA, and it will all be because the “alphas” will fight tooth and claw to stay “alphas” even while their parasitic behavior is destroying the very basis of their status.

However, history shows the end result of that behavior all too well. Just ask Marie Antoinette. Sooner or later the collective ALWAYS eliminates it’s parasites.

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