Wednesday, November 12, 2014

amaxon post, review of lights in the tunnel

I found the digital "donate" version, donated $2 and converted the text to an audio 50 MB mp3 file with a TTS program at 300 words per minute which came out to a short 3 hours.

The one option he never discusses: decrease the number of people on the planet. He takes it as a deep axiom that larger economic activity is better. We already have enough energy and technology to provide a utopia for everyone.

I would have enjoyed more discussion concerning how we confronted and solved this problem in his slave example (where the slaves are made analogous to todays outsourcing which is analogous (as he explains) to machines replacing everyone, including the outsourcing. Also how the industrial revolution problem was solved (with more brain work than physical work) and then solved again if this problem was the source of the great depression (we automated the farm and factory too quickly, which resulted in the welfare state).

But most of all I would have liked to see discussion that shows we have ALREADY been in this "machines are taking over humans" phase of evolution.  For example, a very large percentage of engineers the past 30 years have been employed by the military, and the number of programmers in banking and finance is staggering.  Both are examples of people seeking control over others via physical or economic actions.  Of course both have "security of clients" as a primary goal and huge source of employment, but the system itself (dollar dominance backed by a military equal in size to nearly every other nation combined) is a tool that the western world has long used to direct the activity of the 3rd world's resources and labor.  There is also the IMF and World Bank (see "shock doctrine" and Washington consensus).

As an example of his solutions already being implemented, the U.S. government gave housing tax breaks (interest deduction and capital gain roll over) and low interest rates as a way of employing large numbers of people in an industry that has by its nature seen the least increase in machine-based productivity and requires a lot of local material production.  This has increased the number of square feet per person by 300% since 1970. So we've already implemented, in a round about way, what he proposes as a solution.  If the QE and super-low interest rates would not have been implemented to get toxic securities off the balance sheets of banks and onto the taxpayer, there would have been a collapse which would have been a huge tax on the wealthy who had paid off mortgages and owned bank stocks.  The poor would have had a boon of inexpensive housing instead of people like me renting out to them at artificially high prices while many houses still go empty.  Then more money would have been available to be spent on the economy (of at least 3rd world imports) by the poor consumers, getting non-bank multi-national investors back up to speed.

And those low interest rates have been used to buy back stock, not for capital improvement for greater production. Technology is advancing so quickly, companies are not even needing capital investment that he discusses so much, but only need to program machines that direct people to hand over more money (FB, youtube, google, alibaba, etc). Many IPOs now are not for capital improvement to produce more, but for a way to extend into greater monopoly status and for founders to get wealthy more quickly and securely. So it requires imagination to conclude today's markets are improving the future of humanity: its the rise of the machines.

I've delved into the economic side more deeply in a review of a more complete book on the economics of our times, "The Bubble and Beyond" (paperback version review, not the kindle version).

Anyway, the sudden influx of energy and mechanical machines created an immediate need for an army of smart technicians.  Books leveled the playing field and made democracy more viable.  So the individual began rising with books, then democracy, then the need for his brain, completely undermining the need and viability of a concentration of brains (controllers) in the past. More middle class meant greater ability to engage in economic and physical war, so democracy rules. But what happens now as computers replace the need for a smart middle class?  As this book discusses, for a start more kids can find work only as cashiers and waiters.  But what happens as we use ASIAN electronics to replace them?  I say Asian, but as this book explains, that does not necessarily mean Asian workers anymore, but Asian machines. Getting an engineering degree means you now get to help control some machines, if you're lucky, but don't bet on doing any real engineering. Since China is graduating 10 times more engineers as the U.S., even they can't be promised a job.  The U.S. is living in a dream only because the dollar is still the world reserve currency. The problems this book discusses are already present, huge, and long term, but the U.S. is in a more immediate crisis as the 3rd world comes of age. As China accumulates more Gold and direct trading partners than the U.S., we will need to understand the abuses the U.S. dollar and treaties inflicted on the 3rd world.

Getting back to physics: concentrated sources of energy (wealth in economics) are naturally tapped evolutionary processes to creat copies to extract more energy. It flattens energy differentials. Maybe the overthrow of a wealthy class to create a more homogeneous middle class is an example of this physical "force".  By "homogenous" I'm referring to "copies" in a sense.  This is a reduction in real entropy in some small sense compared to the entropy we create when we release heat. This order of copies is what we see as order in the world.  The excess entropy created from our heat raises temperature of the Earth (not related to CO2 effects) that releases entropy into the Universe, away from the Earth.  The real physical order on Earth could actually increase if we create more homogenous structures, i.e. copies of our machines even more so that ourselves, in order to capture more energy via solar cells to move more matter to create more copies.

Solar cells are 100 times better at capturing sunlight per square meter than photosynthesis.  Electrical motors 100 times more efficient than muscle. Brains can't even begin to compare to CPUs in efficiency of thinking (for a start, brains have to move ions that weigh 40,000 times more than the electronic CPUs can handle).  So if evolution will continue to seek the most efficient use of the most energy to move the most matter to make the most long-lasting copies, there is no place for humanity in the future.  This is not statistically unlikely because 10% of all humans who have ever existed are alive today, and biological systems collapse right after the population explosion which occurs when they succeed gloriously in tapping into their environment's depletable energy.  And what in our modern economics is not causing us to run as fast as we can towards this end of humanity, or at least its irrelevance to the economic machine?

This book asks "What can we do?" But maybe it is the wrong question.  The right question might be: How can we improve the process that created us?  How do we turn the keys over to our children, the machines?  Bear with me on this.  If we are not selfish at the genetic or cellular level (cancer or a virus) or at the individual level, or at the family or local community level, how can it be a higher moral ground to be selfish at the species level?  And what would make biology any more deserving of selfishness?  Deduction from our understanding of where we come from indicates morality is defined as the efficient use of the most energy to move the most matter to make the most long-lasting copies.  Not to spend Gibbs free energy uncontrollably, but to make dU-d(TS) = 0 until the universe is highly ordered (full of copies) and very cold.  (but taking it to the limit of reducing the Universe's entropy is supposed to be impossible unless you can make a Maxwell demon with an infinite memory bank so that erasure of bits do not occur).

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