Economic gloom and climate doom
The following three excerpts are re-posted from a post by J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics, University of California at Berkeley. My bleak synthesis follows. Don't blame Professor DeLong for any of that. The doom and most of the gloom is entirely my fault.
John Quiggin on Utopia and climate change:
"Economic development and technological progress provide the only real hope of lifting billions of people out of poverty and destitution…. If current First World living standards can’t safely be extended to the rest of the world, the future holds either environmental catastrophe or an indefinite continuation of the age-old struggle between rich and poor. Of course, it might hold both."
Ryan Avent on The euro crisis: Mario Draghi's premature canonisation and European Central Bank inaction
"[T]he complacency on the macro situation (and on the broader process of institutional reform, for that matter) are just astounding."
Noah Smith on The End of Labor:
"For most of modern history, inequality has been a manageable problem. The reason is that no matter how unequal things get, most people are born with something valuable: the ability to work, to learn, and to earn money… But in the past ten years, something has changed... In past times, technological change always augmented the abilities of human beings… Once human cognition is replaced, what else have we got?
Singular vision: Science and technology
Ray Kurzweil foresaw a technological singularity. It was to be positive, a sea change leading to freedom from the ancient tyranny of daily toil. The effort, to merely subsist, dominated human life for most of our history. Soul-numbing labor was expended to attain the barest necessities for survival.
Arrival of Kurzweil's singularity was to have liberated us. Yet it doesn't seem likely to. Concentration of wealth has increased during the past quarter century, especially in the U.S.A. (reversing the trend toward greater distribution during the 50 years prior). Most technology and genomic benefits will be out of reach, even for the technocracy. There is scant promise for any, other than the fabulously wealthy elite.
Self-congratulatory, revival-styled TED talks come to mind, with their fanfare, inspirational music and showmanship. Yet religious revival meetings were numerous, accessible, and free for the most part. They were perceived with a mixture of hope, skepticism and humor.
Compare those gatherings with TED talks. The latter are strictly controlled. There is a cap on attendance count per session. The barrier of phenomenal cost, approximately $2000 or more per person, for a one hour TED session is a hurdle. Yet even that does not assure admission. There are other criteria as well.
Occupy was too modest in its assessment of wealth, influence and power concentration. Occupy intended to represent the increasingly marginalized interests of the 99% versus the 1%. That was a gentle underestimate.
I see (though only now, with hindsight) that most of the 1% belonged with the 99%! The true "others" are a more rarefied subset. Describe them, instead, as the lofty 0.01% with access to scarce natural and economic resources. To be perfectly clear, this excludes the remaining 99.99% of the U.S. population (maybe 99.99999% globally).
The tiny remaining subset, only, will enjoy that anticipated transformation augured by our conception of the technological singularity.
Descent into the real singularity
The technological singularity was intended to expand human potential and self actualization, yet never at the expense, nor deprivation, of the majority of humanity. The singularity that I see approaching is darker than Kurzweil's vision. His singularity was plausibly attainable, I believe.
The current reality appears to be different. Instead of expansion, it evokes contraction. Possibility for most of us is less, not more. Paean and obeisance to the replacement of human cognition by machine learning is unwise, as it acts to the detriment of most of us. We do NOT live in a post-scarcity world. Natural resources are finite and increasingly scarce. Elitist food fads and extravagant consumption behavior affects the entire planet. Privatized space travel and planetary colonization will not offer escape.
Reality is better described by the original, classical singularity. It is not metaphorical. It has a distinctly physical anatomy. The most familiar part of that anatomy is the event horizon. Next, the Schwarzchild radius, beyond which exists the ultimate concentration of power. That intense gravitational force cannot be appeased, not even by the elite, be they the 1% or the 0.00001%.
Human collective awareness, at scale, turns away. The simple arithmetic of resource scarcity is dismissed. Instead, the Zeitgeist is contracting. It turns inward, toward fulfillment of every aspect of the self, without regard for others, and devoid of hope for the future.