Friday, April 22, 2011

Idiocracy vs Postscarcity

Mark Taylor in Nature News suggests that we mustReform the PhD system or close it down. Awesome. Are we so pathologically obsessed with the status quo that we'd actually institute a systemic policy that intentionally retards the advance of knowledge and the continued growth of human intelligence? Really? It's not news to readers of this space that:
Higher education in the United States has long been the envy of the world, but that is changing. The technologies that have transformed financial markets and the publishing, news and entertainment industries are now disrupting the education system.

We'd rather shut down universities than contemplate ways to transcend this brief blip, this historical aberration known as the industrial capitalist, and post-industrial information revolutions? Why not declare victory, and move on to the next model? On the other disheartening hand, if the best that our best and brightest "surplus PhD's" can collectively figure out is to turn back to pre-middle ages, perhaps we deserve the inevitable zombie apocalypse idiocracy, after all.

Dude, that would totally suck. Let's please not.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Poison Pill for the Scarcity Zeitgeist Zombie

In How to Kill a Debt Monster (The Ingenesist Project) explains:
Suppose someone discovers a new form of energy that is free for all to use with no negative environmental impact. Suppose that another person creates a device that allows people to communicate telepathically. Suppose someone discovers an anti-gravity machine that can transport people and objects cheaply and rapidly. Suppose someone invents high-yield perennial food crops that don’t need to be replanted every year.

Each would deposit huge amounts of economic value while simultaneously wrecking havoc on the financial system. Oil companies would go out of business, telecoms would go bust, transportation industries would cease, and agribusiness would fail, etc.  Millions would lose their jobs and mortgages would collapse, etc.
This is the straightforward conundrum humanity faces at the inflection point from a scarcity to postscarcity existence. We achieve such overwhelming surpluses, in so many domains, that the Scarcity Game is literally laughed out of existence.

While the scenarios above illustrate the point well, we don't have to wait for telepathy to see these forces at work, right now. Today. Present tense.
  1. We have the "new form[s] of energy that is free for all to use with no negative environmental impact." They are called solar, wind, and geothermal.
  2. We have the devices that allow people to effectively communicate telepathically. They're called smart phones, bluetooth headsets, mobile chat, and SMS. We all have fun with this every day as we use this "digital telepathy" to talk with friends about the other people who are standing right there in front of us.
  3. As for perennial food crops, okay, this one maybe has a little ways to go; however, there's no debating the magnitude of the productive disruption created by improved technologies, genetically modified crops, and the bombastic Brute Forced Scarcity of various subsidies which are only in place in order to prevent the collapse of food prices described, above.
Obviously, postscarcity isn't evenly distributed, yet. However like William Gibson's future itself, postscarcity is indeed already here. What's a bit counterintuitive is the discovery that it actually isn't about distribution at all, it's about circulation, sustainable flows, transpiration at the economic capillary level; at the edge, where all True Value is -- and always has been -- ascribed, created, and exchanged.