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wonderpup

Money And Robots And Men

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Inspired by the 'what is money' thread I would like to pose the following question;

Would a Civilization composed entirely of machines require money in order to function?

I can imagine a machine culture where raw material was located and extracted, then transformed into complex machines that in turn designed and built even more complex machines in order to enhance their capacity to locate more and better raw materials so that these in turn could be turned into even more complex machines and so on.

So you could have a self replicating construct that- having some degree of evolution and complexity- might, at a stretch, be seen as a crude analogy of our own civilization. But where this analogy fails is in it's lack of anything resembling economics- there seems to be no need whatsoever for any kind of monetary or financial layer to be present- our putative machine civilization could happily trundle along for ever without ever needing to bother itself with filthy lucre in any form.

Ok- not exactly a brilliant insight I know- after all such a machine civilization would in effect just be one big machine- and in the same way that the cog wheels of a gearbox do not require money in order to facilitate an exchange of kinetic energies between them our erstwhile robots will happily labor day and night with the same mindless efficiency without any need for financial recompense.

But the question arises as to why the big machine we live in absolutely does require this thing that we call 'money'- and any threat to the global economic system is regarded as an existential threat to the very survival of that big machine. Why so?

After all we could at least imagine a human civilization in which the individuals all labored away for the common good, each contributing as his abilities allowed and being supported and sustained by the resulting wealth their combined efforts created- with no need for money at all- a sort of communism on steroids.

Ok- this reads like a dystopian nightmare I know- but is our own current world such a great place to live for the vast majority of human beings alive today? Is the ability of a few to live like kings really worth the misery of billions? It's by no means obvious that we do in fact live in the optimum outcome I would suggest.

But I don't wish to argue the merits of that here, only to observe that money is not the outcome of some inevitable drive toward the most efficient or most stable system that human beings might arrive at- there is nothing particularly efficient or stable about a world based on money if the test is either long term planetary sustainability or even the well being and happiness of the majority of human beings alive today- it's only possible to see a money driven system as 'efficient' as long as you selectively ignore the externalities of environmental destruction, resource depletion and the misery and degradation of the majority of people who do not live in the shrinking enclaves of wealth and stability that we in places like 'Fortress Europe' are currently strategizing to defend.

The truth is that for the vast majority of human beings a system based on money is not all that great- it seems to have created a situation in which a minority are busy plundering the planet to sustain a lifestyle that is destroying that planet and cannot in the long term be sustained anyway. Not to mention the endless wars that have at their root the allocation and dispersion of those scarce resources that the minority are determined to keep for themselves.

The truth is that from any objective viewpoint our civilization is a pretty unedifying spectacle- not all bad but not exactly the kind of thing you might want your kids to inherit.

So why do we choose to posit money as the operating system of the big machine in which we live? I think the answer to this question might be the answer to the question 'What is money'?

I could bore you further with my own answer to that question but I am more interested in what others make of it-

Any thoughts?

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I'm not sure that civilisation is unedifying or mostly bad, or anything like that. Like the universe, I think it's probably neutral, uncaring. I think it just happens.

Good and bad, right and wrong are applicable only in the way we choose, and are able, to enforce them on to small portions of existence over which we are able to hold sway for a time. People and groups of people may be able to be good, bad or amoral (in whatever value system you or they define them), but maybe civilisation as an overall concept is too organic to really ever be under anyone's control. Maybe it therefore never can be good or evil as such, because those concepts can never be forced on it by people. Maybe it just happens indifferently to such ideas.

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Money is a model that humans (currently) use to facilitate cooperation.

The robots that comprise your hypothetical culture are driven by something else - perhaps.

The destruction of humanity! Or have I been watching too much sci-fi! :P

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I can imagine a machine culture where raw material was located and extracted, then transformed into complex machines that in turn designed and built even more complex machines in order to enhance their capacity to locate more and better raw materials so that these in turn could be turned into evenmore complex machines and so on.

This is in a nutshell how economic growth happens, both at the individual level, family level, company level and national level. Even world level come to think of it. You have an income. You save a part of the income, that income in invested and becomes capital. The increase in capital improves your income still further and so on.

So you could have a self replicating construct that- having some degree of evolution and complexity- might, at a stretch, be seen as a crude analogy of our own civilization. But where this analogy fails is in it's lack of anything resembling economics- there seems to be no need whatsoever for any kind of monetary or financial layer to be present- our putative machine civilization could happily trundle along for ever without ever needing to bother itself with filthy lucre in any form.

Ok- not exactly a brilliant insight I know- after all such a machine civilization would in effect just be one big machine- and in the same way that the cog wheels of a gearbox do not require money in order to facilitate an exchange of kinetic energies between them our erstwhile robots will happily labor day and night with the same mindless efficiency without any need for financial recompense.

It sounds like you are describing a post scarcity society, where money is not needed. (See below for a fuller explanation)

But the question arises as to why the big machine we live in absolutely does require this thing that we call 'money'- and any threat to the global economic system is regarded as an existential threat to the very survival of that big machine. Why so?

Actually no, economic systems have existed without money. Bartering for example. Money solves the problem of "double coincidence of wants".

After all we could at least imagine a human civilization in which the individuals all labored away for the common good, each contributing as his abilities allowed and being supported and sustained by the resulting wealth their combined efforts created- with no need for money at all- a sort of communism on steroids.

Well, I would describe this as bog standard communism, not communism on steroids. It is against human nature to pursue someone else's self interest. Also the range of human productivity is vast.

Ok- this reads like a dystopian nightmare I know- but is our own current world such a great place to live for the vast majority of human beings alive today? Is the ability of a few to live like kings really worth the misery of billions? It's by no means obvious that we do in fact live in the optimum outcome I would suggest.

Yes, the world is a much better place to live. Global rates of absolute poverty have collapsed in recent years. In China alone, I forget his name, but the "to get rich is glorious" guy is possibly most directly responsible for the greatest improvement in humanities living standards in all of human history. The collapse of the Soviet Union was also crucially important. Your statement about a "few to live like kings" to tautological. I assume "the few" means the few most wealthy people in the world. What is your point? I earn around the median UK income, but I live better than the king of France did a few hundred years ago. What kings do you mean?

But I don't wish to argue the merits of that here, only to observe that money is not the outcome of some inevitable drive toward the most efficient or most stable system that human beings might arrive at- there is nothing particularly efficient or stable about a world based on money if the test is either long term planetary sustainability or even the well being and happiness of the majority of human beings alive today- it's only possible to see a money driven system as 'efficient' as long as you selectively ignore the externalities of environmental destruction, resource depletion and the misery and degradation of the majority of people who do not live in the shrinking enclaves of wealth and stability that we in places like 'Fortress Europe' are currently strategizing to defend.

I beg to differ. (See my comments above). Money is the most efficient known method to allocate scarce resources efficiently. The "enclaves of wealth" are expanding not shrinking. (Outside of the UK at least). Yes, there is environmental damage, but that is only because we as a species value paper over rain-forests and the ability to drive around in cars higher than the view that was ruined by the ugly oil refinery.

The truth is that for the vast majority of human beings a system based on money is not all that great- it seems to have created a situation in which a minority are busy plundering the planet to sustain a lifestyle that is destroying that planet and cannot in the long term be sustained anyway. Not to mention the endless wars that have at their root the allocation and dispersion of those scarce resources that the minority are determined to keep for themselves.

No, the truth is that for the vast majority of human beings, a system based on money is all that great. How do you know it's not long term sustainable? Look at oil prices. As oil runs out, the price goes up. As the price goes up alternatives become more viable, and/or new sources of oil become viable. The system is self correcting.

So why do we choose to posit money as the operating system of the big machine in which we live? I think the answer to this question might be the answer to the question 'What is money'?

You should study basic free market economics. What is money? Money is a medium of exchange. A unit of account. A store of value. Money can take many different forms, and no form of money is perfect, but nether the less it solves a problem and makes our lives better. Think of this; why do you have the things you do? Everything we have that isn't naturally occurring was created by someone somewhere in order to make money.

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Would they need money? Depends on if they have just intelligence or intelligence and emotion. If it's the former I could foresee them living without money and economic growth as a more logical solution would be found. Once you add emotion it'll all go to pot, you'll get jealousy, greed, envy etc

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filthy lucre

:lol:

I'm not sure if this helps as I'm not quite awake yet after one too many St George's ales but I'm trying to think what rebellion/non threatening cancerous growths are in the present system. Non-profit charities perhaps or voluntary groups.

Money is a medium of exchange. A unit of account. A store of value. Money can take many different forms, and no form of money is perfect

The present system being particularly open to abuse - though as you have previously said it is self correcting, via revolution then rinse and repeat which while sustainable is not good for the majority.

Edited by bendy

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This is in a nutshell how economic growth happens, both at the individual level, family level, company level and national level. Even world level come to think of it. You have an income. You save a part of the income, that income in invested and becomes capital. The increase in capital improves your income still further and so on.

It sounds like you are describing a post scarcity society, where money is not needed. (See below for a fuller explanation)

Actually no, economic systems have existed without money. Bartering for example. Money solves the problem of "double coincidence of wants".

Well, I would describe this as bog standard communism, not communism on steroids. It is against human nature to pursue someone else's self interest. Also the range of human productivity is vast.

Yes, the world is a much better place to live. Global rates of absolute poverty have collapsed in recent years. In China alone, I forget his name, but the "to get rich is glorious" guy is possibly most directly responsible for the greatest improvement in humanities living standards in all of human history. The collapse of the Soviet Union was also crucially important. Your statement about a "few to live like kings" to tautological. I assume "the few" means the few most wealthy people in the world. What is your point? I earn around the median UK income, but I live better than the king of France did a few hundred years ago. What kings do you mean?

I beg to differ. (See my comments above). Money is the most efficient known method to allocate scarce resources efficiently. The "enclaves of wealth" are expanding not shrinking. (Outside of the UK at least). Yes, there is environmental damage, but that is only because we as a species value paper over rain-forests and the ability to drive around in cars higher than the view that was ruined by the ugly oil refinery.

No, the truth is that for the vast majority of human beings, a system based on money is all that great. How do you know it's not long term sustainable? Look at oil prices. As oil runs out, the price goes up. As the price goes up alternatives become more viable, and/or new sources of oil become viable. The system is self correcting.

You should study basic free market economics. What is money? Money is a medium of exchange. A unit of account. A store of value. Money can take many different forms, and no form of money is perfect, but nether the less it solves a problem and makes our lives better. Think of this; why do you have the things you do? Everything we have that isn't naturally occurring was created by someone somewhere in order to make money.

Is this satire? :rolleyes:

Keynesianism failed in 1974.

Socialism failed in 1989.

Free-market capitalism failed in 2008.

What we've had since 2009 is an ad hoc combination of Keynesian and Monetarist policies latched together in a desperate effort to halt the global slide into a Second Great Depression. Since this fiscal/monetary approach most closely resembles that undertaken by China post-Deng I propose it should be called Red Capitalism. Can Red Capitalism succeed where its predecessors have not? The auguries are not good.

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Free-market capitalism failed in 2008.

Non sense. A lot of financial institutions went bust in 2008. This is to be expected. You have to have a recession every now and then to clear out the dead wood. The 2008 crash was actually a potential solution to many of the problems we here at HPC meet to discuss. It is a signal from the market telling the world's economy that we have to many resources devoted to finance. If the crash had been allowed to happen, the entire financial system would have been rebuilt a few short years into something more sustainable and resilient. House prices would have collapsed, interest rates would have increased. Debtors would have no choice but to go back to living in a sustainable way.

The only failure of 2008 was the decision to bail out the banking system.

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Depends on the nature of the actors in the machine civilisation. If each actor is a self contained replicator with access to the means to both replicate and evolve then one imagines that this effective equality combined with competition for finite free energy would quickly lead to conflict and mutual destruction or the emergence of a single winner. If that winner was composed of multiple semi-autonomus subsystems the remaining entity would likely start to disintegrate into its sub components once it had fully appropriated the local energy resources.

Possibly a steady state may emerge in which a few large entities remain in a fine balance where the risk-reward of further hegemonising behaviour is neutral. In this world, whomever dissipates the most free energy most efficiently will out evolve the rest and win.

In order to posit a need for something akin to money we would need to assume that the machine entities do not have access to all the resources required to replicate/evolve so a game theoretical situation in which a limited degree of co-operative behaviour is welfare enhancing for the civilisation. Here, the metric for welfare-enhancing is whether the configuration allows the civilisation to dissipate more free energy than would otherwise be the case.

In this situation we must further assume that the nash equilibrium mentioned in the previous paragraph can solidify into some form of 'machine laws' or 'machine treaties'. This equilibrium further implies that a steady hierarchy has evolved - no complex system exposed to a flow of free energy fails to form a configuration of layered complexity.

Money arises from the presence of some laws (in turn arising from force or threat of force), which in turn arises from the formation of hierarchies from previous chaos. In our hypothetical multi-actor hierarchical machine civilisation in a nash equilibrium (HMAHMCINE for short) the unit of account is the right to dissipate one joule of free energy or possibly (and equivalently in the scenario of a fully formed dyson sphere capturing all local energy output) the right to dispose of the corresponding amount of waste heat.

There is no natural 'store of value' since the output of the sun is constant and if it is not all dissipated in each instant it simply goes to waste. Accordingly, the only way to "save" in HMAHMCINE world is to lend your instantaneous allocation to another machine entity. So very quickly we arrive at a system of entropy debtors and creditors. The ability to save resources in the form of energy storage and the directed energy gradients that result from this is a critical and foundational component of any complex system from a weather system to a meatware or machine economy.

Note that 'energy' and 'information' are entirely synonymous here. Storing and transmitting information requires energy and directed energy flows ARE information.

Clearly this system of energy "savings" is critical to the maintenance of complexity in our HMAHMCINE and therefore a system of enforcing repayments is needed, and in turn this implies hierarchy. Absent the mechanisms to support this energy saving and lending, the whole system would quickly degenerate into the non-co-operating actors scenario outlined at first.

As to what form this hierarchy would take, is a matter for science fiction authors and AI theorists. One author I know has entreatingly addressed this question of the HMAHMCINE is Charles Stross in "Accelerando".

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Non sense. A lot of financial institutions went bust in 2008. This is to be expected. You have to have a recession every now and then to clear out the dead wood. The 2008 crash was actually a potential solution to many of the problems we here at HPC meet to discuss. It is a signal from the market telling the world's economy that we have to many resources devoted to finance. If the crash had been allowed to happen, the entire financial system would have been rebuilt a few short years into something more sustainable and resilient. House prices would have collapsed, interest rates would have increased. Debtors would have no choice but to go back to living in a sustainable way.

The only failure of 2008 was the decision to bail out the banking system.

Absolutely right. People seem to think that I am some sort of urber bear but it is only because the 2008 crash wasn't allowed to play out to its full extent that I'm bearish about the current economy. I get sick to death when people tell me that the government HAD TO bail out the banks. There was no HAD TO about it, the banks could have collapsed and life would have gone on.

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Money is the most efficient known method to allocate scarce resources efficiently.

This is the legend we are told yes- but is it true? In reality the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources would be to deploy them where they were most required in terms of the desired outcome- but for this we do not require money, we simply require the ability to reason.

In reality there is no real evidence that money is the best way to decide how a scarce resource is best to be used- which is the reason we have laws against polluting rivers- no matter how profitable this pollution might be. We can't assume that the crude metrics of financial gain will guarantee the optimal use of our resources.

So why do we interpose this thing called 'money' between our resources and their allocation? Why not simply make a careful rational analysis of the outcome desired and the resources available and then allocate those resources using not some crude financial intermediate system but simply by the application of rational thinking?

A society made up of entirely rational beings would not require some crude financial mechanism to decide where it's resources would best be allocated- this would be a redundant step- all such a society would do is define an objective and allocate resources accordingly.

So this idea that money represents the most rational way to allocate scarce resources is-on the face of it- rather odd. It would be like an engineer assigning a monetary value to each part in an engine in order to try to model it's process- it might be possible but why bother? It would be far more simple to model that engine in terms of pure functionality, rather than attempt to express that functionality in terms of profit and loss, or investment and reward.

But- of course- our society is not made up of entirely rational beings who are motivated only by reason and logic- we are also motivated by emotion, desire, fear, greed ect- and it to these motivations that 'money' is actually aligned.

So far from being an expression of rationality money is in fact an expression of irrationality- it's existence is owed to the fact that humans do not seem able to behave rationally when it comes to the allocation of scarce resources.

So one way to define 'money' might be as a mechanism through which the potentially destructive irrationality of men can be harnessed for productive purposes- and is this not in fact the insight of Adam Smith and his 'invisible hand'? His view was that the financial system functioned as a means by which the greed and shortsightedness of men could nevertheless be made to serve productive rather than destructive ends.

The view that money evolved as the best way to harness our scarce natural resources is mistaken- what money actually evolved to do was harness human beings, to take their drives and passions and allow them to be regulated, controlled and exploited.

Edited by wonderpup

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Depends on the nature of the actors in the machine civilisation. If each actor is a self contained replicator with access to the means to both replicate and evolve then one imagines that this effective equality combined with competition for finite free energy would quickly lead to conflict and mutual destruction or the emergence of a single winner. If that winner was composed of multiple semi-autonomus subsystems the remaining entity would likely start to disintegrate into its sub components once it had fully appropriated the local energy resources.

Possibly a steady state may emerge in which a few large entities remain in a fine balance where the risk-reward of further hegemonising behaviour is neutral. In this world, whomever dissipates the most free energy most efficiently will out evolve the rest and win.

In order to posit a need for something akin to money we would need to assume that the machine entities do not have access to all the resources required to replicate/evolve so a game theoretical situation in which a limited degree of co-operative behaviour is welfare enhancing for the civilisation. Here, the metric for welfare-enhancing is whether the configuration allows the civilisation to dissipate more free energy than would otherwise be the case.

In this situation we must further assume that the nash equilibrium mentioned in the previous paragraph can solidify into some form of 'machine laws' or 'machine treaties'. This equilibrium further implies that a steady hierarchy has evolved - no complex system exposed to a flow of free energy fails to form a configuration of layered complexity.

Money arises from the presence of some laws (in turn arising from force or threat of force), which in turn arises from the formation of hierarchies from previous chaos. In our hypothetical multi-actor hierarchical machine civilisation in a nash equilibrium (HMAHMCINE for short) the unit of account is the right to dissipate one joule of free energy or possibly (and equivalently in the scenario of a fully formed dyson sphere capturing all local energy output) the right to dispose of the corresponding amount of waste heat.

There is no natural 'store of value' since the output of the sun is constant and if it is not all dissipated in each instant it simply goes to waste. Accordingly, the only way to "save" in HMAHMCINE world is to lend your instantaneous allocation to another machine entity. So very quickly we arrive at a system of entropy debtors and creditors. The ability to save resources in the form of energy storage and the directed energy gradients that result from this is a critical and foundational component of any complex system from a weather system to a meatware or machine economy.

Note that 'energy' and 'information' are entirely synonymous here. Storing and transmitting information requires energy and directed energy flows ARE information.

Clearly this system of energy "savings" is critical to the maintenance of complexity in our HMAHMCINE and therefore a system of enforcing repayments is needed, and in turn this implies hierarchy. Absent the mechanisms to support this energy saving and lending, the whole system would quickly degenerate into the non-co-operating actors scenario outlined at first.

As to what form this hierarchy would take, is a matter for science fiction authors and AI theorists. One author I know has entreatingly addressed this question of the HMAHMCINE is Charles Stross in "Accelerando".

I'm not sure I really understand all of this- but is not the simple outcome that such a hyper rational civilization would calibrate it's complexity to the level of resources available- reducing complexity when times were hard and expanding it when times are good?

We sort of do this ourselves, but with a great deal of attendant chaos and conflict of course.

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Yes I think it would, but that is exactly the scenario I just outlined. I'd expect a hyper rational system to quickly approach the maximum level of resource usage and then stabilise in a steady state at that point. Of course stabilisation does require some level of co-operation along the lines of what I described above.

In the example above, all mater in the solar system has been transformed into "computronium" (a hypothetical state of matter which is optimised for the most efficient information processing and storage possible) which in turn forms the bodies, if you will, of the robots. So the only remaining source of energy is the sun, around which the computronium forms a thin shell so it intercepts all the suns output.

The computronium is presumably somewhat differentiated - e.g. for energy capture, information storage, processing, communications etc.

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Yes I think it would, but that is exactly the scenario I just outlined. I'd expect a hyper rational system to quickly approach the maximum level of resource usage and then stabilise in a steady state at that point. Of course stabilisation does require some level of co-operation along the lines of what I described above.

In the example above, all mater in the solar system has been transformed into "computronium" (a hypothetical state of matter which is optimised for the most efficient information processing and storage possible) which in turn forms the bodies, if you will, of the robots. So the only remaining source of energy is the sun, around which the computronium forms a thin shell so it intercepts all the suns output.

The computronium is presumably somewhat differentiated - e.g. for energy capture, information storage, processing, communications etc.

Too much emphasis on rationality and equilibrium and not a word about robustness and uncertainty! The future as imagined by an economist rather than a biologist. And yet who knows more about complexity? A Dyson shell around the Sun, even if it could be constructed, would have little protection from the solar wind and coronal mass ejections, or from the impacts of extra-solar bodies no longer deflected by the heliosphere.

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Guest eight

I wish someone from the future would a send a robot back to smash up Wonderpup's Terminator DVDs.

:o:o:o

:lol::lol::lol:

Harsh. But fair. But harsh.

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Too much emphasis on rationality and equilibrium and not a word about robustness and uncertainty! The future as imagined by an economist rather than a biologist. And yet who knows more about complexity? A Dyson shell around the Sun, even if it could be constructed, would have little protection from the solar wind and coronal mass ejections, or from the impacts of extra-solar bodies no longer deflected by the heliosphere.

The shell is not rigid, its a bunch of orbiting bodies packed such that they capture as much of the solar output, less that margin required for resilience. Presumably the required margin would become clear over the eons. They need not all be in the same orbit, just sufficient to cloud round the sun. They don't even have to be all that close. Viewed from afar it looks like a diffuse cloud radiating in infra-red, as if the sun became a red giant.

There is not that much uncertainty in this setup, apart from what ones peer machines might do. presumably that's what they are all doing with the suns energy - simulating one another's actions, keeping track of solar weather etc, and running simulations to determine what their near future energy requirements are.

What else is there to do?

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I wish someone from the future would a send a robot back to smash up Wonderpup's Terminator DVDs.

Philip Dick wrote the story upon which the Terminator was based- but his pessimism was not really based on a fear of technology in itself- it was based on his insight that any future in which human beings played a significant part would be subject to the same human failings and weakness's that we see today- he understood what Gene Roddenberry did not- no amount of shiny technology will transform a belligerent ape into a paragon of virtue.

So if I seem a little gloomy about the future it's not because I don't like technology- it's that I have an intimate knowledge of the monkey's who will be waving it around.

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The shell is not rigid, its a bunch of orbiting bodies packed such that they capture as much of the solar output, less that margin required for resilience. Presumably the required margin would become clear over the eons. They need not all be in the same orbit, just sufficient to cloud round the sun. They don't even have to be all that close. Viewed from afar it looks like a diffuse cloud radiating in infra-red, as if the sun became a red giant.

There is not that much uncertainty in this setup, apart from what ones peer machines might do. presumably that's what they are all doing with the suns energy - simulating one another's actions, keeping track of solar weather etc, and running simulations to determine what their near future energy requirements are.

What else is there to do?

I've no idea, perhaps that's why I find the premise absurd! Ecological literacy is one of the things that appears to be missing; any sense of complexity, really. But then the whole Technological Singularity flimflam seems wildly archaic in our post-2008 world of recurrent, intensifying financial crises and secular stagnation.

Once again, the future ain't what it used to be.

Edited by zugzwang

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Philip Dick wrote the story upon which the Terminator was based- but his pessimism was not really based on a fear of technology in itself- it was based on his insight that any future in which human beings played a significant part would be subject to the same human failings and weakness's that we see today- he understood what Gene Roddenberry did not- no amount of shiny technology will transform a belligerent ape into a paragon of virtue.

So if I seem a little gloomy about the future it's not because I don't like technology- it's that I have an intimate knowledge of the monkey's who will be waving it around.

This made me laugh because it's sad but true!

It's not impossible though that with changes to the financial and monetary systems and much better and more rounded education, peoples perception of the world could change and the monkeys could surprise us all by acting more civilised than we currently think possible. After all they are far more people who consider themselves humanists now than a 100 years ago! Religion and nationalism, I'll start to have more hope about humanity once these narrow views are surpassed.

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