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« Future Challenges | Main | Tech Museum Awards »

March 24, 2005


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Tom Craver

Keep something in mind when considering optimizing efficiency of production systems.

If people are given tools to produce what they need - collecting solar energy for example - they are a source of productivity. But if they are simply given all they need by some centralized source, they become a burden on the system - any reduction in effort for their benefit counts as an efficiency increase for the system.

Brett Bellmore

Another point: Efficient systems can sometimes be dangerous, because they achieve efficiency by having no safety margin.

Take that example of the inefficiency of eating meat: If you raise enough grain to feed animals to supply meat, then when a famine comes along, suddenly reducing the amount of grain you have available, you simply eat the grain yourself, and the famine vanishes. If, however, you're raising just enough grain to feed you directly, a bad harvest imediately translates into starvation.

Tom Craver

In the long term, maybe the only way to eliminate poverty is to require that anyone who conceives a new human life immediately set up a fund whose investment returns (not touching the principle, re-investing enough to cover inflation) should pay for a "tolerable" standard of living for that new person.

Different societies could punish failure to establish such a fund in different ways - enforced abortion, freezing the fetus until such a time as the fund is established, immediate forfeiture of the parents' own funds, etc. Some societies would allow an adult to tap into his or her fund's priniciple at their own risk, others would declare it off-limits.

Some of the value created by MM could be tapped to ease the transition period, helping people get loans to set up the funds. But it is only fair to new children being brought into the world that their parents insure that they will not have to live a life of extreme poverty.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Tom, you're economically correct about self-production vs. central supply. But suppose local production dumps five times as much heat into the environment as central production. Then a system in which heat pollution credits were the main item of scarcity would do better to give away the goods. I read once about an electric utility that, rather than building a new power plant, gave everyone a new refrigerator.

Brett, I agree with your point, up to a point; it can't be applied universally. Making a light bulb more efficient doesn't make it more brittle. Changing from heat engines to fuel cells can cause a fundamental decrease in waste heat production, without changing any stockpiling practice.

You may be right that the production of luxury goods provides a systemic safety cushion. But I wasn't advocating giving up luxury--not even giving up meat. Just producing it with less waste heat and chemicals.

Of course, as we design new systems, we will have to be careful to design them so that they do retain buffers and safety margins. But this is a different type of issue.

Tom, I suspect that any central enforcement of birth control must fail. At least in any society I'd want to live in. On the other hand, making people richer and better educated seems to be a very effective form of birth control. The bigger question, perhaps, is whether we can shake off the people who want humanity to be poor and stupid (easy to lead).


Tom Craver

Poverty is fundamentally a lack of economic power, not merely a lack of sufficient goods. Giving poor people what they need to live does not eliminate their poverty, it only removes the momentary symptoms. I would prefer a system in which all are productive but 1/5th as wealthy, to one that produces 5x as much under total central control, to use your extreme (and unlikely) example.

Note that what I proposed was not a centralized birth control system. Anyone would be free have all the children for whom they can adequately provide. Yes, someone living in abject poverty might not be able to afford to have children - in which case their going ahead and having a child amounts to child abuse.

michael vassar

"Anyone would be free have all the children for whom they can adequately provide."
where this number is determined by a central authority IS a centralized birth control system.
One obvious problem with not having birth control centralization is that even if wealth tends to reduce reproduction among most current humans, this fact will create selection pressure for gene/meme complexes within which wealth does not reduce reproduction. Such complexes certainly exist today, in mild form. How many Sauds are there?
With space travel and no death, European rates of reproduction could be sustained for Millennia, but with exowombs a small fertility cult could overwhelm the solar system in well under a century.

Tom Craver


The problem with calling my proposal "birth control centralization" is that it misdirects attention from it's primary function and value to a hypothetical and controversial side effect. In fact, you are only guessing that the effect would be reduced births. It might cause people to see having children as a status symbol, resulting in a net increase in births.

Yes, it is centralized - in the sense that all laws are "centrally" enforced. Ideally it would be applied globally, but that doesn't require some sort of world government. It could be implemented on a national or state or even local basis. Areas that did not apply it, would continue to have persistent poverty, which one might hope would encourage rational leaders there to enact similar laws.

Further, the onset of cheap MM manufacturing may be the last good opportunity we have to make this transition relatively painless for those living in poverty - as what few assets the poor have (be it only a dozen square meters of sunlight falling on a cardboard shanty in a squatters' town) may be able to provide sufficient value to fund their children.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Tom, "Areas that did not apply it, would continue to
have persistent poverty, which one might hope would encourage rational leaders there to enact similar laws."

I hope I'm not getting too cynical in my old age, but... A person is a leader because they want to be in power. A rational leader will be more effective at staying in power. If that requires that they maintain their population in poverty and ignorance, then that's what they'll do. An altruistic or accountable leader will do what's best for the people--not otherwise. We have few altruists, and few accountable forms of government.


michael vassar

It's hard to evaluate people's altruism because their lack of rationality and capacity for self deception makes altruism a rather feeble constraint on behavior. It's possible that IA can fix this, but not clear that doing so would be wise.

Tom Craver


Most leaders are primarily concerned with keeping power, but most also have secondary concerns - ways they hope to affect their nation. If they are mainly interested in material world benefits for their nation, I'd term them rational. Those more interested in some spiritual aspect of their people (communist ideology, religious piety, tribal relationships, etc) I would term irrational. It is the later category who tend to keep their nation poor. E.g. China long sacrificed world power and economic growth in an attempt to make its people "good communists".

I don't want to go overboard in promoting my proposal for requiring "life funding at birth". I'd be happy to hear alternative means of permanently eliminating poverty. But just boosting productivity with MM is not going to do it, nor is any form of reliance on people's good will.


I am curious how individuals seem to discount the individual is being a force to be reckoned with. The individual enpowered with molecular manufacturing can change the world. With even a relative light artificial intelligence simply designed around the automated production system capable of producing, say a skyscraper or aircraft carrier or greenhouse, where in the production of the end result product is broken down into perhaps 10 x 10' sections. Each of the sections are then produced in a molecular manufacturing device the sections are then deployed using a given simple AI program to simply place the blocks at its required position in the end structure. One might perhaps break it greenhouse down to the few hundred pieces each individual peace of the constructed and the entire structure is put in place by AI driven heavy equipment. One is left with a simple commands to be given at the beginning of the procedure. By an individual the requisite energy needs and the required space can produce the building.

As the sun falls on most places on the earth and as I have been reasonably well traveled I can assure everyone reading here there are great and wide open spaces still available not completely corrupted by the sprawling city states. Individuals will easily be able to move from their current locations to one of the secluded locations, produce terribly large scale production facilities either growing food or producing products. These products soon overwhelmed any need of the individual or group of individuals performing this task. Then this abundance can then be distributed throughout and thereby ending poverty.

I would also like the comments that today we see a significant group of caregivers and organizations designed around giving. The Red Cross alone is made up of many thousands of individuals donating their time and efforts.This group which does possess some money as well as the ability to acquire land and energy was to simply decide to end poverty notwithstanding the Guardian organizations that might stand in its way, would have the ability to produce the requisite housing food and energy production systems and distribute thies systems throughout the world. As this organization is a worldwide organization. This is by no means the only organization that would have the ability and will to perform this task.

I also strongly believe that individuals leaving their positions in the workforce as jobs become slightly more scarce will volunteer their time and efforts in the direction of ending hunger, discontent, and poverty throughout all of the known world.

It is in fact my general believe that in a relative short period of time after the rollout of molecular manufacturing. That these groups of impoverished people will vanish and groups of individuals that would otherwise wish to help someone will simply run out of people to help.

Phillip Huggan

I agree the individual can be empowered. But you won't want 10 billion autonomous military states. Some some draconian restrictions over the assemblers will be necessary. RFID tags, a fibre-optic uplink, ground sensors, a ballistic missile defense, and ballistic missiles will be necessary. Maybe H-bombs ground mines. If you wanna be free of sensor surveillence you'll have live in a jurisdiction that doesn't have MNT capabilities, ie) is an artificial MNT inert environment.

Tom Craver

Just a process-related note: I suspect "[the alleged name of a previous poster]" was actually some stupid kid using his teacher's email address for trolling.

It might be better to just delete without comment - trolls thrive on any attention, even negative. If he bothers to come back here, that kid will have himself a good laugh at how he got you to use his teacher's name.

(I did a bit of googling on "[name]", and the deleted comment just doesn't match what I saw.)

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Thanks, Tom. I'll edit your comment and delete mine to remove the teacher's name.


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