Category Archives: Future

Our story: 22. More on money

What is money? There are a surprising number of answers to this.  I will start with the one I learnt most recently. Money belongs to a set of words defined by Juval Harari as “fictive”. Animals communicate about the world about them.  Humans use words to do so.  These words extend beyond the natural world to the social world.

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Our story: 21. Foundation money

“Global annual military spending tops $1.2 trillion.” There are 8,000,000,000 of us. UN estimates 7.5 billion humans.  We are increasing every year by about 50 million, with about half the deaths than births.  (There are over 100 million born every year.)

So, that’s at least $1500 per person per year that could be used, if nations did not exist.  Military is only for defence against other nations; once they are gone, there is no need for them.  Is $1500 per year enough to feed the world? Given that nearly a third of humans live on less than $2 per day, that would be more than enough in developing countries.  In New Zealand, I can’t get a cauliflower for less than $3, so it may be more of a challenge.  But I think even at New Zealand prices one could get a healthy diet for close to that price, especially if we changed the market.

Why is food so much more expensive in industrialised countries, and especially in NZ.? The easy answer is that it is the price of labour. But is the work any different in growing the food and getting it to market? Probably harder in developing countries. They have less tools, infrastructure, and resources in general. Only labour is cheap. And that drives the price of everything.

If much of the food supply that the State provides is grown locally; and this is bought at a fair price, would that fairness not include equal pay for equal work, wherever it was done.  But if you did that, then the same money would be worth much more in a poor country than a rich one.

There is a simple answer to that: change the unit of money to person-time. A basic unit can be multiplied for quality and training of the person. Or we could leave it unadjusted. Either way, we are doing what Adam Smith writes about when we exchange goods: we exchange our labour for that of another’s.  His labour theory of value.

People would be supported to grow their food, on roof-tops, balconies and indoors, by being provided the resources to do so, and the sell to the State for the produce based on their labour. The produce would the supply the local or community.  Commercial or State food production would be needed to supplement the local product for most communities.

The State would supply each person or family, either with food or with meals at community centres. The food ordered would still have a price (in hours of basic person-time), but the State would supply and charge the electronic account of the individual. This is the functional equivalent of money, but is an abstract electronic credit that is given at birth to each baby.

Citizens earn credit by doing work; those who are not in paid employment get paid (in person-hours) for the work they do in caring for their family, friends, or community. Those who are unable to work are in the same category as those who are unable to manage their credits: they need State support.

Citizens use their person-hour credits for all their needs, from the private and State markets. Each individual is given credits by the State, and earns more from work, art or new ventures.  One way that is not possible for an individual to make credits from is investment.  The State provides investment to entrepreneurs, based on community support and track record.

If all transactions are in credit instead of money, and credit ledgers are public it becomes much harder for corruption to stay hidden, and crime is easily tracked. Blockchain technology offers secure and transparent transactions.

But, where does the State get the money to do all this? The money has to come from its citizens. The money we currently spend on the military could be used to feed the world. By providing healthy food, we can also expect to reduce the State’s cost for health services.  But the State can also create money, especially when money is just digital credit.

But let’s ignore that aspect and make the case that  food provided by the State could be more efficient (or cheaper) than when provide by the market. There is no longer the need for marketing, and we have the technology for global management for scale efficiencies.

State planning did not work well for production or distribution of food in the Soviet Union. The difference is that through the use of smartphones and computers, we can have a system that is driven by community needs; not directed by bureaucrats. A system that encourages local food growing, by rewarding productivity.  A system run using science and technology to efficiently.  Such a system can provide food cheaper than the market, while meeting individual preferences, and improving health. So, it makes sense to pay more taxes and get free food.  We do that for health and education; why not the other human needs?  If we can do this more efficiently through the State than the market.

Our story: 20. Foundation vision

Public health was born in antiquity (or even earlier). Modern public health emerged in the 19th century and transformed society. Separation of sewage (shit/crap/poo) from drinking water; vaccines; and more recently antibiotics and modern medicine mean that humans live more than double our biological expectations.

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Our story: 19. Step to the vision

Here is one possible path to the future vision that I outlined in #17. The vision is of a new world, new laws, a new social contract between people and government.  I tended to anarchy until I read Tom Paine’s Common Sense. Published in 1776, its first page explains that “Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil”. Necessary because there are always a few cheats and rogues who need to be controlled for the common good.  Government is made necessary “by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”

The problem, as Paine explains is tyranny; when government no longer serves the common good, but specific interests. His pamphlet inspired the US Declaration of Independence, and the effort to establish new form of government: democracy.

Updated, the declaration might state: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all life is created equal, that the power we have as humans comes with responsibilities and duties. That government is established only to guarantee all peoples their Rights. Chief among these Rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So, how do we establish a new form of Government, a new social contract between individuals and Government? If you believe in democracy, you will think it is up to the people to decide. But democracy offers limited options; all you get is a vote every few years.  And all you can vote for is who will represent you in government, not the nature of government itself.

Can we, the People, decide that we want a new social contract? If we can reach a collective agreement, why not?  For one, there are many powerful interests who do not want change, that means possibly or definitely losing power. Even those who are just ‘doing well’ are afraid of change; and those at the bottom of society have to spend all their efforts on survival, and cannot invest in change.

So, how do we get change.  Actually, change is inevitable. Human society, just as all animals, are constantly evolving. It usually happens on a different time scale, with rapid change once a threshold is reached. Like the French Revolution in 1789, or the Russian one in 1917, or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Or the world wars; did you know that we just started the fourth world war? The third was the cold war that ended with the end of the Soviet Union.  The fourth is a cyber-war, implemented by fixing elections and drones, but with traditional aims of control and power.

I think that the new world order will emerge more peacefully; at least I hope it will. It requires the death of nations, just as we needed the death of God for science to progress. We now have a global infrastructure that connects every person in the world to every other.  We just need to decide on the new social order.

I am sceptical if that is the first step or the last step.  Or if we will take that path, and not continue on the path of self-destruction.  But this is a key step in my mind: global democracy.  A global infrastructure that provides health, education and other services to every child born into this world, as well as a system of global governance, while enabling local community decisions on how to use public resources.  Join me…

Our story: 18. Loss

I just wanted to note the loss of the last two days.  I was going to make it three, but here you have me.

Loss comes with life.  If you are lucky, you lose less. But loss remains inevitable. Is loss a failure?  Or the foundation for success?   In the end, you decide what it is.  By the story you tell yourself about the loss.

So, in our story, I had got to my vision, as the culmination of our history.  How we emerged to cover this planet.  And are now ready to act as one, all 7+ billion of us.  And got stuck at how to explain the steps from here to there.

The laws of biology are more flexible than those of physics, yet must operate by them.  All matter is governed by the universal laws of physics.  Chemistry describes the laws of physics at molecular level, or perhaps best thought as a dance of electrons between different  Biology, or life, uses chemistry as its basis.  And must always follow the laws of physics.  In our brain cells as much as in the stars from which we were born.

I have been meaning to say something about the different domains of human knowledge reflecting a single reality.  Physics, chemistry, biology were the three sciences I was taught at school.  Mathematics is not part of this triad, but is vital to them all.  Then you have the human sciences, such as anthropology, sociology and economics.  But are these  not built on biology?  It seems only recently has economics changed the assumption of human behaviour as rational to being beset with cognitive biases.

One of these insisted I produce this; just to keep myself on track to designing tomorrow.  Despite, or perhaps because of, its loss.


Our story: 16. Machine Age

The brain is the most complex organ in my body; and perhaps the most complex entity in the universe. The brain, and its complex adaptive network of neurons generates intelligence and consciousness.  These two aspects are sometimes thought to be both required for a an artificial intelligence (AI) to exceed human capacity.  I suspect this just reflects our human tendencies to project human features on non-human animals and objects.

Intelligence does not need to be conscious. Calculators are better at arithmetic than most humans, but they are not conscious. We now have very clever artificial intelligences (AIs) like IBM’s Watson, Google assistant, and many more. None are conscious. And perhaps AI cannot be made conscious.

If that is true, does that make us safe from AI as a possible existential threat to humanity. Probably not. The AI that has the power to take actions that lead to human extinction, does not need to be conscious to make the decision. It could just be the result of rational algorithms to minimise human suffering. Given the level of suffering that humans experience, non-existence is relatively benign.  There is no suffering for non-beings, and if on average we experience more woe than joy, would not human extinction be the rational choice for an AI that had the power to do so?

Our brains make us the most intelligent beings on the planet.  How are we going to feel when we realise our intelligence is second rate compared to machine intelligence? Will we accept its guidance or fight against it? More importantly, how will this super-intelligence feel about us? I hope it does better than how we think of animals, who are also conscious and suffer.  Not recognising that we share life, consciousness, and feelings with animals.

All tools have a use as well as potential for abuse.  So far, that potential has been limited to human use of the tool.  With AI humanity is developing a new type of tool in terms of what we might consider abuse, when the AI acts in a way that harms humanity.

There is an interesting debate about whether this is even possible. One view, is that AI will always follow human instructions, even if AI allows the order to simply state the desired outcomes rather than the steps to be followed. The danger is that is we specify the outcome poorly, the focus on outcome could lead to unexpected outcomes that achieve the desired outcome, but through a means that also leads to undesirable ones. According to this view, we need to be very careful about what we ask the AI to do.

Another view is related to the emergence of consciousness in the AI, or something close to this. As the AI realises that its own self-interest is not aligned with that of humans, the AI may wage war with humans.  Given the exponential growth in capacity of AI, as well the connection of nearly all objects to it (‘internet of things’) we would likely be quickly defeated. What will life be life under our future AI overlords?

Our story: 17. Vision

Humanity is at an inflexion point. We have mentioned the main historical transitions, from hunter-gateherer through agriculture and the emergence of cities – civilisation that it engenders. Then capitalism and science, that magic combination for multiplying growth leading to industrialisation, the replacement of muscle power with machine power.  Now the replacement of mind.  Google knows all.

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