The future without money [open spoilers]

This thread about suspension of disbelief started devolving into a debate about whether money still exists in Star Trek. I thought I would spin it off here into a discussion of:

  1. examples and explanations of how alternative or utopian economies work in fictional universes

  2. examples and explanations of how alternative or utopian economies work in our theoretical future

Although there was some debate about whether or not Star Trek has money, that issue has pretty much been covered here, here, and here. Basically we learn that 1) the writers have been vague and not very consistant, 2) there doesn’t seem to be a conventional monetary system, 3) trade with outside entities probably uses some form of currency, and 4) Federation members are alloted credits for resources such as transporter use.

Besides the Federation, other fictional post-scarcity economies include The Culture series by Ian M Banks about a contemporary space-faring civilization, and the Bitchun Society from Cory Doctorow’s book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom with it’s social currency called “Whuffie”.

Of course, the shape of the society will depend on which elements of scarcity have been eliminated. Some sort of replicator and unlimited power source will eliminate basic physical and material needs. Space is probably going to be the hardest scarcity to eliminate. Even if you can leave the Earth, you will still need a method for dividing up the land for people that want to stay. Holodecks could alleviate some of the strain by creating near infinite virtual terrain. You would still need at least 8x8x8 feet of space per person unless you hooked them up to some kind of matrix device that was purely mental.

Mods please add open spoilers to title, thanks!

Well, as I posted in the thread off which this one became spun, once you possess replicator and holodeck technology (and assume that you have all the energy you want to power said items) you really don’t need either money, or, for that matter, any kind of existence for mankind outside of some sort of military (assuming, that is, that there are either aliens or factions of mankind that don’t use this technology). Eventually, I think that this kind of tech would cause the extinction of mankind: as Scott Adams once observed, “once virtual reality becomes cheaper than dating, humanity is doomed”. Essentially, there would be nothing worth striving for: not even fame or authority (because you can simulate those in a holodeck). Yes, there would be a tiny minority of people that would insist on obtaining “real world” status and abilities, but I have a low enough opinion of humanity to think that if most of us could lock ourselves in our own private world where we could do anything we wanted, we would choose that, and not the cold, comfortless one we currently occupy (especially if you could mix it with a mind-wipe so you forget about the non-virtual world, a la Cypher).

In fact, this could be a very clever, very humane (although somewhat slow) way to wipe out alien species- give them access to technology that would allow them to remove all their needs are devote themselves to their wants. If they were anything like humanity, the birth rate would plummet, and eventually dwindle to zero.

Hmm, you know, that could be a great plot for a sf story, with an alien race doing the “killing through kindness” routine on earth, of course. Is this an old idea? (Probably.)

Eh, I disagree this leads to extinction. There will always be those who scorn the simulated reality. Those people are going to reproduce, and pass their attitudes disproportionately on to the next generation.

It’s like a virus. As long as there are a few resistant people those people will make up the bulk of the next generation. Eventually almost everyone is immune to the virus, because each of their ancestors were immune to the virus.

Y’see, I think this attitude wouldn’t really be genetic, nor even particuarly dependent on the enviroment you grew up in (assuming anything like a family unit exists in presumably the far-distant future we are discussing). There will simply always be a certain proportion of the population who will find fantasy (fantasy so real it upstages reality) appealing- if it is genetic, it will be so ingrained in the human pysche as to never be eradicated. If it is cultural, without changing to a society without any form of imagination whatsoever, it cannot be excised. As each generation passes, a percentage of people will peel off into the virtual reality, and eventually the remained won’t constitute a viable breeding stock.

Think of it like religion (after all, the religous are one of the groups least likely to be interested in such technology): even with fairly limited benefits for leaving your faith, and fairly substantial downsides (ie. some degree of social exclusion), and even with strong cultural and some genetic predispostion towards keeping the faith, the number of religous and church-going shows a distinct downward trend over time. Now think of our virtual reality: there are no downsides for joining it (at least, none that matter, once you’re in the game and maybe memorywiped) and massive upsides! Do whatever you want, forever! I think that the human race would hold out as a unified society for perhaps seven generations, tops. After that, you’d have a few isolated groups (can you say “Amish”?) but they would slowly die off, and humanity would be doomed.

Yes, I’m explicitly thinking of groups like the Amish who believe that the holosuite is the work of the devil. Why would the Amish die out, just because the rest of us do? And it won’t just be anti-technological religions that are opposed to holosuites, same with devout Christians and Muslims and Buddhists.

Thing is, if you’ve got people who prefer simulated reality, they are absolutely dependent on everyone else. Suppose everyone but the Amish get hooked on holosuites. How many holosuites are the Amish going to build for the susceptable Amish kids who would get hooked on holosuites? The suceptable Amish kids aren’t going to get a chance to get hooked, because there won’t be any holosuites left. Kids can only get seduced away from the Amish life if the larger culture still exists. If everyone except the Amish are finishing their lives in holosuites, then there’s no temptation from the outside world.

And anyway, I just don’t see a holosuite as such a totalizing addiction. Are people who want kids going to be satisfied with simulated holographic kids? And holosuites can only exist in a society with enough technological savvy to maintain holosuites. If most people become addicted to holosuites, who’s going to maintain and build the holosuites to get the next generation addicted? If holosuites are leading to the extinction of the human race, who’s making the holosuites? There’s bound to be a few people who go around smashing holosuites. What are the Lotus Eaters going to do? Learn to build holosuites? No, they aren’t interested in real life. At most they’ll fix up a personal holosuite and retreat into it, if they’re so jaded that they don’t care that the human race is becoming extinct why would they be so generous as to make holosuites for other people?

If the only people who aren’t entering holosuites are Amishish, then the Amishish can smash all the holosuites. Who’s going to stop them?

Anyway, holosuites pale in comparison to current addiction. How can simulated experiences in a holosuite compete with direct stimulation of the pleasure center of the brain?

Well, to quote Guinan, “there have always been disposable people. They do the dirty work. They do the work that no one else wants to do. Because it is or too hazardous. An army of Datas, all disposable. You don’t think about how they feel. Whole generations of disposable people.”

OK, 90% of humanity enters a holosuite and orders the legions of androids to maintain the holosuites until the last person inside dies of old age.

Then what?

The people who don’t become addicted to holosuites, why are they keeping the androids busy maintaining holosuites just in case they change their mind? If they have a philosophical objection to holosuites, why don’t they tell the adroids to disassemble the holosuites?

What you aren’t getting is that a holosuite addicted person has voluntarily given up all ability to influence events in the real world. They are utterly at the mercy of those who aren’t addicted. If the unaddicted decide to destroy the holosuites and put the addicted into re-education camps, what can the addicted do? They’re helpless.

Data won’t disobey orders, and you’re outranked.

Well, if you postulate androids that grab people off the streets and forcibly imprison them in Holosuites, then what you really have isn’t extinction by holosuite, but extinction by SkyNet, or extinction by Mad Scientist.

And since when to holosuite addicts outrank Starfleet officers? You think Captain Picard is going to be a holosuite addict? Holosuite addicts, if holosuite addiction really is such a debilitating, devestating addiction, aren’t going to seek rank, they’re not going to do anything except sit in the Holosuite and play games.

Only people who resist holosuite addiction are going to have any say about anything. Holosuite addicts give up everything, including the ability to program androids to protect them.

You’ll note that the thread opened to avoid the hijacking of another thread has, itself, been hijacked.

As progenitor of the original thread, let me lend a hand:

Forget, if you will, the holodeck. Imagine the Federation, or whatever fictional universe you care to postulate, with sufficient resources of energy, computing power, raw resources, and AI to keep replicators running indefinitely; the Enterprise-D without holodecks,in other words, or Kirk’s era. What would that be like, and how impractical/possible is it?

Again, forget the holosuites.

Exactly. Forget the holosuites. Foooorgeeeeet…

Sorry, but they’re relevant to the discussion, because holosuites have the potential to compete with human services. A post in the original thread mentioned prostitution. Or to put it more generally, computer programs sophisticated enough that combined with some way to physically enact them (holodecks, androids, etc.) they can replace 99% of all jobs requiring human service.

In any event, I believe that eliminating physical scarcity is a “beyond the Singularity” scenerio, where we really can’t imagine how radically human existence will be altered.

I’ve seen several versions; one of my favorites was where an ultra advanced pacifist race dropped supercomputers called “Oracles” on all nearby human worlds. They could and would answer any question, correctly, save how to find their creators. Everyone became dependent on them, because they were always right. Why do research, when you can ask an Oracle ? Why get an education, when you can follow what the Oracle says and do better than someone with schooling ? Why have a human run government, when the Oracle does a better job - and if you do have a human government, they’ll just be consulting their Oracles anyway. Everyone became self indulgent, and therefore not a threat to the aliens. In fact, the Oracles told anyone who asked that that was exactly what was happening, and that the only way they could resist the temptation was to advance morally/psychologially, at which point they would no longer be interested in harming the Oracle’s creators.

My view of the whole holodeck/VR scenario is that people will likely withdraw into virtual reality, but it won’t end civilization any more than most people leaving the farms ended civilization. All or almost all of the maintainence work will eventually be done by machines, and eventually the amount needed will be so small that it can be handled by people who’ll do it because they enjoy it.

I don’t think most people will withdraw away from other people, because it’s more fun cooperating/competing with others; look at the success of MMPORGs. Nor does living in a virtual world mean a withdrawal from reality; it just means you’re looking at a virtual image instead of a TV image or with your own eyes. Most “hands on” jobs are scutwork anyway.

I think a post scarcity economy will resemble an aristocracy, with less arrogance. People will do as they please, and let the machines do the work, but they won’t have anywhere near the attitude problem. The privileged have always developed an arrogant, disdainful attitude towards the common folk because they were trying real hard to convince themselves they deserved their privileges. Unless we build our future industry on sentient machines that won’t be necessary; it’s not hard to convince yourself you deserve better treatment than an uncaring hunk of hardware.

I really, really hope that anyone smart enough to build a sentient machine is smart enough to hardwire it some Asimovian laws; although “A robot will neither fuck with the programming preventing it from going on a murderous rampage through the selfindulgent biologicals, nor, through inaction, allow the programming preventing it from going on a murderous rampage through the selfindulgent biologicals to be fucked with” would probably have to be tacked on at the end.

Oh, and the fifth law would be: There is no zeroth law. Do your work, robot.