In my post “Piracy – is no longer a Spade!” I challenged the increasingly accepted norm that content or software can be designated free by the choice of the consumer.
At the post’s conclusion my standpoint was we need a way to pay the creator for their craft. After all the prospect of a Zero Sum Game where the consumers of content can’t get any content because no one ever paid for it to be created in the first place, is not an attractive one.
I do have an alternate theory to the Zero Sum Game thesis, and that is we are slowly aligning with Star Trek.
What do I mean?
Besides the obvious touchscreens how is society beginning to parallel this bastion of Sci-Fi?
Stick with me kid and I’ll take you through it.
Consider Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the U S S Enterprise from the 24th Century, who after chasing the Borg backwards in time is now in the year 2063 talking with Lily Sloane, a character from that time. This is their exchange from the Star Trek movie “First Contact”:
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.
Lily Sloane: No money? You mean, you don’t get paid?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.
Based on this Star Trek chronology we have yet to go through a devastating world war, but by the 24th century we have advanced so far that not only will money be redundant, but so will wealth.
But in order to achieve this state we need to follow a technological progression which slowly degrades societies ability to conduct any activities that can generate wealth.
Consider the irony when comparing my last two points. In order to advance, we require degradation of a goal which we presently hold as the principle indicator of getting ahead, a goal which is seen as a wise and sensible pursuit. This goal is Wealth Generation.
Today wealth is seen as a right, and even as a gift that the developed world can bring to its developing neighbours.
We should pile on an additional serve of irony here because even the developed world is still trying to obtain and then sustain wealth with little success. Just ask the nations who are on the verge of bankruptcy. Just an unexpected pothole in the capitalistic freeway perhaps?
Thus surely capitalism ensures that after needs are satisfied, wants arise and these wants can become unquenchable.
Further if the pinnacle of all wants is wealth and wealth is truly an unrealistic invention of capitalism, then from a global perspective wealth is a myth and rightfully unobtainable.
If this is so, then perhaps defending content rights from piracy is the wrong thing to do.
Maybe the system of global society is just righting the equilibrium that capitalism pushed out of balance.
If this is correct I can only assume in another four centuries content is free, so must be food, or anything for that matter, and acceptably so.
Should I then bring myself to believe that there is no moral dilemma with sharing content, that things being free should be enforced by society?
I can’t imagine that the capitalists out there will simply see the light, out of a desire to pursue wealth at all costs, some will barely admit to global warming.
Thus this progression must be involuntary and I expect it will be brought on by technology enabled cultural change.
If so, what other technologies need to come into being to take us to the utopia of zero wealth creation?
First let’s summaries what has already passed.
Photography: One of the earliest method of reproduction, in particular the photographic negative allowed multiple copies to be made with relative ease. For a time, it was difficult for additional reproductions to be made at the same quality without the original negative but digital representations are not encumbered by quality loss.
Result: fine art could be copied, and the reproduction of what the eye sees could be captured with less effort. The progression of photographic technologies then made it easier to copy. Consider the photocopier, fax, video recorders and when all this became digital the brakes were off.
Recording of audio: Originally onto wax cylinders then vinyl, magnetic devices, optical media and now solid state.
Result: When once you could only partake in music by attending a performance or participating yourself, sound can now be captured and copied with increasing fidelity.
You can spot the trend, as soon as something becomes digital, or stored as data, it can be copied, and combining this with the internet and lack of copy protection mechanisms (or culture), this can erode the ability to make income, in other words generate wealth.
In the case of the above examples we also have the technology to change the data back into a resemblance of its original form. Eg an image into photo via a printer, or a recording via playback through headphones.
For years we have already been storing the parameters of physical objects as data, originally as 2D schematics and more and more as detailed 3D models. Now that objects are represented as data these can be copied and shared as easily as a digital sound or image. But it has only recently been possible to change the data back into physical thing which resembles the original.
The arrival and commoditisation of three dimensional printing and object scanning is changing this.
As this technology matures, we will see whole sections of various supply chains disappear. Even now susceptible products are already at risk of consumers escaping price by sharing. Consumers indifference to price could eliminate complete industries.
These 3D duplication technologies no doubt will follow a similar improvement curve to what we have experienced with image and sound. All the way to the point where we would have trouble picking the difference between an original hand crafted sculpture and its duplicate.
Eventually our machines will construct objects at close to atomic detail, atom by atom. Meaning the only resources we need will be cartridges of basic elements we feed the machines and the electrical energy to run them.
Will the supermarkets and malls of today be replaced with a single franchise: “Material Cartridge World”?
You realise by this stage that the 2D printing industry will be no more. We could either print our own 2D printer, or better yet simply print the paper with the pigment already on it.
Consider also that we could solve our energy problems, simply print photovoltaic materials onto anything we want. Printing roofing materials which function as solar panels will supply all our energy needs. This means that the only things left to buy are the material cartridges.
By taking the technology progression one step further we are now knocking on the door of Star Trek.
All we need is to understand is how to skip the step of raw materials, eliminate the need for baryonic matter. All we need to do is work out how to change energy directly into matter. No small task I admit.
But surely though it must be the ability of converting energy into matter that removes all need for possession and thus all reason for commerce, transactions and acquisition of stuff.
What we here is the Star Trek Replicator.
You might say we will still need those corporations who own the big Replicators, the ones you need to make a car, or a house even.
No need, simply replicate out of your domestic sized Replicator, a Replicator Bot. These Bots need only be the size of a shoe and you let is loose with enough room and it will make you your car, or even a car sized replicator… your choice.
I am sure there will be an initial problem of too much stuff piling up because of the novelty of replicating for the sake of it. But hopefully people will soon rationalise their want for material possessions and replicate more on the basis of need.
So in a time when anything we can dream of can be created by us in our living room, all manufacturing, all sales, marketing and distribution, all wholesaling and retailing will be a thing of the past. What industries will remain?
How about service industries that are not so easily replicated? For example hairdressing?
Wait, what would a hairdresser need money for? Why would you need to pay them? They won’t be buying food with it? Will they only need money so they can buy services too? Or will they do it out of the love for getting all hairy on a daily basis.
Really unless it is for the sake of conversation why don’t you just replicate a hairdressing bot when you get home? Actually this brings up an interesting line of thought why would you even need to go out? Surely everything you now need is at home, and since we still use our Facebook neural implants, we are already connected everyone we “socialise” with.
It is a little repulsive but I expect some people will place their food reflector next to their bed so they don’t have to get up to make food. The dire cases will opt for intravenous feeding directly from their replicator.
It is at this point that I realise that I am beginning to paint the picture of how we establish the world depicted in another well know Sci-Fi franchise The Matrix. Only the Wachowskis got it wrong, it seems we never battle the machines, Asimov’s laws of robotics will ensure this war is not even possible. The robots will simply go about helping us do what we want to do, in this case get connected, stay connected, but yet stay alive. The third law then maintains that the robots should then take care of themselves and go about their business of sustaining the humans. From the robot’s perspective this may include breading new humans and plugging them into the matrix.
There are many who already have an addiction to being virtually connected, and will remain happy with a life of status updates. Picture this: “just woke up, am lying in bed connected to a drip & my neural interface #niceday for it!”
This picture is a little glum, and I am sure that many others will agree, so I am expecting there will be those who will want new and real challenges, and now unencumbered by the need for more frivolous activities, like performing SEO, or deleting spam about SEO, people will now accomplish these real challenges with tremendous speed.
Consider also that by this time all learning must be voluntary, because enforcing a society to go through school for the sole reason of getting a job to earn money is no longer rational. Thus it will only be the most motivated people who will even bother learning and their motivation will already be aspirational. Social interaction of these inspiring people would no doubt lead to couplings that produce offspring with similar cultural motivation and increasing cultural intelligence. This could accelerate our development even faster and with all areas of our now cooling globe explored, the only option is to overcome present limitations of faster than light travel and to head for the stars.
Voilà Star Trek!
Naturally there are some significant technology hurdles to overcome to reach such a positive outcome, and before this we are likely to go through some significant turmoil as technology, culture and global forces act to erode our current economic mechanisms. But I think we can all agree that like global warming this erosion is happening, and we need new lots of new ideas to care for humans and the planet.
Although I do expect that like the debate on climate there will be economic erosion sceptics too, in fact I believe they are already here.
Queue the Twilight Zone theme music!