Monday, March 12, 2018

The biotech road to full automation

In my post "Advanced AI is indistinguishable from slavery" I wrote about the advantages biotechnology brings for a future post-capitalist society. Communist theory has traditionally counterposed central planning to the 'anarchy' of the market. But that often-criticised anarchy is actually rather biological, a kind of exploratory behaviour in which potential new needs are tested for sustainable effective demand.

By contrast, as János Kornai has pointed out at length, our experience of central planning has identified insuperable principal-agent problems together with a structural inability to properly engage with real human needs.


A global biosphere has existed on this planet for five hundred million years, exhibiting persistence and dynamic self-regulation in the absence of any intelligent oversight or central planning.

Biology is local while ecology is global.

Compare this with our global capitalist economy, the ongoing maintenance of which requires the mandatory coordination of human effort, intelligence and conscientiousness. It's because apart from human workers, other means of production are generally incredibly dumb. We work on metals, plastics, glass, oil, coal .. none of which do anything useful without the application of human labour mediated by clunky tools.

Peter Hamilton's vision of the Eden habitat (by Jim Burns)

Plants and animals, by contrast, are self-supporting nanotechnology of such stupefying sophistication and complexity that we can't even emulate the simplest possible animal (C. elegans). If we could bioengineer plants and animals to address our portfolio of needs (substituting for our present reliance on dumb stuff) the complexities and endless engagement of humans in running the economy could in large part be finally dispensed with.


Some people think that a linear extrapolation of AI and robotics on our current technology base will deliver full automation, but (a) we're a long way from embodied AGI robots, and (b) the global supply chains to build and maintain such artifacts of metal and plastic would be incredibly brittle .. not at all to be relied upon. They should be discretionary extras around a biotech core for future societies.


I imagine a rather sneering response: "Wait till an adversary comes up against you with high-bandwidth satellite comms, tanks, hypersonic missiles and nukes. See how far your genetically modified palm trees will take you then. Are you going to fight back with Game of Thrones-style dragons?"

So how would a super-sophisticated biotech-civilisation respond to such a threat? By using smart biology (including servitors) to build counter-artefacts. Nothing says that every element of a future biotech-civilisation must be fabricated from protoplasm: that's not even true in today's biosphere. Biotech just gives you a fantastic set of new options.

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