Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Future Jedi Metaphysics

Robin Hanson gives us a beautiful, disquieting vision of the future, where humans have evolved into visionaries living at a subsistence level, shaking their heads at our civilization, which stands on the threshold of a Cambrian-like explosion of knowledge and consciousness This Is The Dreamtime

We will soon enter an era where most anyone can at any time talk directly with most anyone else who can talk. Cheap global talk and travel continue to tie our global economy and culture more closely together. But in the distant future, our descendants will probably have spread out across space, and redesigned their minds and bodies to explode Cambrian-style into a vast space of possible creatures. If they are free enough to choose where to go and what to become, our distant descendants will fragment into diverse local economies and cultures.

Given a similar freedom of fertility, most of our distant descendants will also live near a subsistence level. Per-capita wealth has only been rising lately because income has grown faster than population. But if income only doubled every century, in a million years that would be a factor of 103000, which seemsimpossible to achieve with only the 1070 atoms of our galaxy available by then. Yes we have seen a remarkable demographic transition, wherein richer nations have fewer kids, but we already see contrarian subgroups like Hutterites, Hmongs, or Mormons that grow much faster. So unless strong central controls prevent it, over the long run such groups will easily grow faster than the economy, making per person income drop to near subsistence levels. Even so, they will be basically happy in such a world.

Our distant descendants will also likely have hit diminishing returns to discovery; by then most everything worth knowing will be known by many; truly new and important discoveries will be quite rare. Complete introspection will be feasible, and immortality will be available to the few who can afford it. Wild nature will be mostly gone, and universal coordination and destruction will both be far harder than today.

I have been reading blogs for almost 9 years now, but this may be the most unusual post I have ever read. It makes me think of a Bush-era essay by Robert Kuttner bemoaning how young people seem more interested in buying an iphone, rather than acquiring the traditional accoutrements of middle class ca. 1955 i.e. a house, a car, etc. Kuttner saw this as the tragic result of illusory Bush-era growth. He might have considered that an iphone gives its user access to communication, information and knowledge that would allow them to live anywhere they can reach a signal - for only $199 + monthly service charges! Rather than carrying a mortgage on your back, you have the Library of Alexandria in your pocket. Kids today...

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