[ExI] Serious topic

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Mar 1 11:49:48 UTC 2011

Eugen Leitl wrote:
> On Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 09:10:27PM -0500, Mike Dougherty wrote:
>> Can we persuade governments to incentivise knowledge workers to stay
>> home and telecommute?  Once I can do my job without the daily to/from
> Here's an infrastructure problem, again. In order to make
> telepresence happen you need to roll out symmetric high-bandwidth
> connections, which basically means laying ducts and pulling
> fiber (owned by municipalities, operated by contracting companies), 
> plus provide enough backbone capacity.

While this is a fairly costly investment, it is not that extreme as 
infrastructure goes.

I think a bigger problem is that we need the right kind of software 
framing to make it work socially. Telecommuting in isolation is likely 
not just understimulating, it misses a lot of the important social cues 
and activities that go on at a job (both the good and the bad). As long 
as these cannot be done through telecommuting it will only happen when 
the cost benefits are great, the job is by its nature less social, or 
the employees are low-status enough to be forced into whatever social 
scheme admin thinks works (i.e. making telecommuting a mark of low 
social standing, making everybody else try to avoid it). A positive 
possibility is new business models that can make use of the new social 
interactions in the medium, but we do not know if or when such models 

So my prediction is that telecommuting is going to remain niche until 
the design of the interactions allows enough social interaction, or 
somebody figures out an entirely different way of organizing "work" 
(then things will quickly take off on their own). Both are design/idea 
questions and hence hard to predict (rare breakthroughs, perhaps Poisson 
distributed - variance is equal to expectation value), while progress in 
hardware is relatively smooth. Better hardware increases the chance of 
getting something, but it does not ensure it.

Still, I think this is something greens should be pushing for rather 
strongly. Reducing businesspeople crossing the Atlantic for pointless 
meetings has a decent environmental effect - but the substitute must be 
able to have the same level of social signalling as a transcontinental 
trip that shows that This Meeting Is Important.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute 
James Martin 21st Century School 
Philosophy Faculty 
Oxford University 

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