Archive for December, 2007

… is not the fact that these are cloned, glow-in-the-dark cats.

It’s the fact that my entire reaction was a mildly bemused “that’s cool!”. This is really the domain of “mad scientists!” Now… if they could just mount a laser on their heads.

Click here for the story.

I am about to let the sci fi geek in me slip out somewhat. Consider yourself forewarned.

Picture two states of human existence. The first is today. One source of intelligence in society… humans. Machine intelligence is on the rise, but simply not much of a threat. This is not about a “Matrix” or “Terminator” style threat. It’s more Asimovian. It’s about one potential reality and our path to it.

The second state is where machines have reached or exceeded human intelligence. They’re not taking over or controlling us for our own good. The only point I’m getting at here is that they can basically do any and all sorts of labor previously dominated by humans, including reparing each other. In my version of this state, there is no desire and there is no real need to understand their self awareness. They don’t create a society. Desire and curiosity, in my opinion, were there long before human intelligence. The simplest of animals experiences emotion. The machines would be content to serve humans, as that was what they were made for. Their goals would be given to them by us, but they could think through them faster and more creatively.

Realistic or not, how the machines feel and think is not my question. What I am thinking about is this: Currency fails at some point. What are we exchanging? The only thing I can think of, when I think of exchanges, is real estate. Granted, someone may own the machines, facilities, and materials, but if there’s no need for people to run them, where do the customers come from? With no one making money to purchase things, the values collapse.

Society kind of falls vaguely into the communist realm. The machines provide, the people consume. People are free to pursue what they want because those producing the goods just do it. There’s no need for incentive. So, you may simply go to the store and get a lamp. Soon, another lamp will be there to replace it at no expense. You can go on a vacation where you want because the transport systems and hotels simply run. You may have to wait, though, because anyone else can do it too.

Now… there’s today, where we earn and spend. Then there’s the distant tomorrow, somewhere beyond the Singularity, where we don’t need work to earn to enjoy life. What happens between now and then?

Machines have already taken certain jobs away. The most obvious to me being the welding bots on assembly lines. Soon, you’ll be able to tell a machine to retrieve objects. Enhancements here will start to reduce the need for people in stores and warehouses. Continue onward, and jobs requiring more and more “human” skills will be replaced. We’re seeing ads now in California for robotic surgical procedures (still entirely human orchestrated, but machines are doing the cutting/stitching while the surgeon works with joysticks and a video screen — human hands have now been surpassed). What happens as machine intelligence progresses to a state above ours?

I have not figured out this scenario. It would seem to me that there will come some sort of economic collapse. Using the simplest expression I can think of, there will come a point where twenty percent of jobs are performed better by machines, or fifty, or eighty. You can’t simply “turn off” money, because it’s the whole incentive to do the remaining percentage of human work. But corporations won’t pay a person twenty dollars per hour to do what a machine can do for eight. Those that try will be shut down by those that don’t.

So, creative types, speculate with me. How do we get from a currency-based society to one with no currency? What happens to the rich and poor when the labor pool dissolves from the bottom up? What, in the more distant robotic labor society, prevents exhaustion of resources (I’m guessing anything you replace gets recycled by some process that human labor makes impractical today, mind you, and materials once mined are minimally needed again from the earth)? How would real estate work? If only one thing has value, how do you get it for the first time?

I’ve not seen this “middle state” addressed before. Is anyone aware of any novels or stories about this?