[ExI] Bryan & Kevin's exchange on technology

Kevin Freels kevinfreels at insightbb.com
Tue Jul 1 03:09:57 UTC 2008

----- Original Message -----
From: Tom Nowell <nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk>
Date: Monday, June 30, 2008 15:36
Subject: Re: [ExI] Bryan & Kevin's exchange on technology
To: extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org

> Apologies for the length of this, but I have to add my comments 
> to the discussion between two people, and I want to make sure 
> I've quoted accurately.
> To quote Kevin Freels and Bryan:
> On Sunday 29 June 2008, Kevin Freels wrote: The technology 
> necessary for singularity isn't going to be made by some guy in 
> a cave.
> Bryan replied:
> Excuse me, but where do you think we started if not in a cave? 
> So how is 
> everything else after that not by the same tech, to some extent 
> also 
> manufactured from within a cave anyway? Okay, so we moved ten 
> meters 
> outside the mouth of the cave, so what? You can walk that in a 
> couple 
> of seconds.
> My response to this: the difference between us and the 
> cavedwellers is a succession of big changes in society and 
> technology. We've recently seen in the media pictures of an 
> uncontacted tribe aiming their bows at a plane flying overhead. 
> They are unlikely to play a part in causing the singularity, for 
> reasons I shall outline.
>  According to Toffler's wave theory (check wikipedia under 
> "The Third Wave" if you're not familiar with it), the first wave 
> involves adoption of agriculture and early states forming. This 
> takes you away from everybody gathering their own food, with a 
> low population density, to food being cultivated by a proportion 
> of the community, leading to much higher population densities 
> and allowing some people not to work in agriculture at all. 
> These people can take up crafting professions, leading to a 
> higher quality of manufactured goods, and professions involving 
> thinking and learning (your early priests and scribes). This 
> division of labour allowing people to specialise is why 
> metalworking and writing come after the development of agriculture.
>  The second wave involves the adoption of mechanical 
> technology to factories, changing economies to allow 
> corporations, and mass education. Mass everything allows much 
> higher levels of production of material goods, more educated 
> societies, and more heavily urbanised societies.
>  The third wave is more loosely defined, but is more 
> broadly comparable to the concept of "the information age" - as 
> information technology and advanced communications take hold, 
> the economy becomes more knowledge based, and knowledge and 
> creativity are at least as important as manufacturing in the economy.
>  The conditions most conducive to developing technologies 
> for the singularity are these: 
> 1. Somebody gets funding for their new tech idea, has the money 
> to pay specialists to devote their working week to it, and the 
> facilities to develop it. Eventually this will be taken to 
> market, and the investors will either make money or have to 
> write the investment off. 
> 2. A group of highly educated people devote spare hours outside 
> of their working week to an open source project, and people 
> donate excess money generated by their jobs if a manufactured 
> end-product is needed.
> 3. A government uses the tax money from the economy to pay 
> people to work on a project, and then subsidises it to production.
>  1 & 2 are most likely in a society with a market economy, 
> with a widely educated workforce, and sufficient economic 
> freedom to let people do this. 1 probably requires decent 
> intellectual property laws. Even for 3, the more educated people 
> there are, the better the odds of finding the right team.
>  As a result, even if we were to take someone from a hunter-
> gatherer society, teach them to read, give them a computer and 
> tell them to look everything up on wikipedia and search the net 
> for things, they would have a colossal difficulty adapting to 
> way in which we produce technological innovations. Many of the 
> technologies transhumanists are interested in require 
> considerable education and/or specialisation (as people 
> complaining about lack of physics education on this list know 
> all too well). 
>  To cover other points that Kevin and Bryan talked about:
> Kevin> Technology requires industry.
> Bryan> Don't know what you mean by this. Arguably, biology is 
> technology. And biology came before human industry.
>  I think what Kevin meant was "you don't build an Intel 
> chip at home, and backyard rockets don't compete with the Apollo 
> programme." If you need high-tech manufactured goods, the odds 
> of you having the knowledge to design it, the knowledge to use 
> it, the knowledge to build it and the tools to build it all at 
> once are small. You are likely to need to get a lot of people to 
> help you out, and for the manufacturing end the straightforward 
> solution is to pay people to make it.
>  As for non-manufactured goods - whether it's music or 
> software or something else rapidly copiable - in order to get 
> these spread, you and all your potential audience need to pay 
> communications companies so you can spread them. The bands on 
> myspace rely on everyone paying telecommunication companies for 
> internet access, and collaborative software development relies 
> on email, file transfer, and people communicating with each 
> other lots.
> Kevin> Industry requires economies.
> Bryan> Certainly, look at ecosystems, but it's not the same 
> thing as money.
>  I think Kevin was trying to say that money-based economies 
> provide clear, obvious mechanisms to encourage industrial 
> production and reward innovation. Certainly, the beginnings of 
> better production and new products took a great leap in England 
> after the monetarisation of the economy in the thirteenth 
> century, and the invention of double-entry accounting in 
> medieval Italy revolutionised commerce and encouraged the spread 
> of goods. There may be other ways of encouraging industry and 
> production, but none of them so far have worked as well as money.
> Kevin> Economies require stability.
> Bryan>Stability is good stuff, yes. 
>  I just need to use the examples of Robert Mugabe's 
> Zimbabwe, Idi Amin's Uganda, and the comparative fates of North 
> and South Korea to show what instability and poor governance can do.
> Kevin> Without stable growing economies you get no advancing 
> industry and no advancing technology.
> This isn't strictly true - despite the terrible economy and the 
> starving people, North Korea still detonated what looked like a 
> nuke, and has some military technology. It's not a patch on what 
> the South can do (says the man with a Samsung phone in his 
> pocket and an LG TV in the house).
> Kevin> A cell phone without civilization is just a paper 
> weight.  
> Bryan> That's not true ... just throw up some towers/antennaes, 
> a few 
> electrical generators and also some distribution equipment. you 
> can 
> make a rudimentary hydrodynamic power generator with wires (or 
> less 
> optimally other shapes) of magnetic materials wrapped around 
> other 
> conductive metals basically, etc. etc.
> Well, in Burma the cyclone took the telecoms network down. 
> Telecoms Sans Frontieres offered to send in telecoms engineers 
> to put up a temporary network and offer every refugee a phone 
> call to someone, so they could let relatives know what was 
> happening. The temporary network would also allow aid agencies 
> on the ground to co-ordinate better. The Burmese government 
> rejected this, and kept aid agencies out. In Burma, your cell 
> phone IS just a paper weight. As to Bryan's point - a cellular 
> network requires a fair amount of technology, you're not likely 
> to knock this up in your backyard. Without a certain degree of 
> civilisation, it's hard to rebuild a downed network.
> Tom

Thanks Tom. I didn't think I needed to spell it out but I guess I was wrong. I did want to add one small point to one of your comments:

> Kevin> Without stable growing economies you get no advancing 
> industry and no advancing technology.
> This isn't strictly true - despite the terrible economy and the 
> starving people, North Korea still detonated what looked like a 
> nuke, and has some military technology. It's not a patch on what 
> the South can do (says the man with a Samsung phone in his 
> pocket and an LG TV in the house).

That technology was bought, borrowed, or stolen from stable economies that developed the technologies in the first place.

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