Monthly Archives: July 2018

When you’re electronically immortal, will you still own your own mind?

Most of my blogs about immortality have been about the technology mechanism – adding external IT capability to your brain, improving your intelligence or memory or senses by using external IT connected seamlessly to your brain so that it feels exactly the same, until maybe, by around 2050, 99% of your mind is running on external IT rather than in the meat-ware in your head. At no point would you ‘upload’ your mind, avoiding needless debate about whether the uploaded copy is ‘you’. It isn’t uploaded, it simply grows into the new platform seamlessly and as far as you are concerned, it is very much still you. One day, your body dies and with it your brain stops, but no big problem, because 99% of your mind is still fine, running happily on IT, in the cloud. Assuming you saved enough and prepared well, you connect to an android to use as your body from now on, attend your funeral, and then carry on as before, still you, just with a younger, highly upgraded body. Some people may need to wait until 2060 or later until android price falls enough for them to afford one. In principle, you can swap bodies as often as you like, because your mind is resident elsewhere, the android is just a temporary front end, just transport for sensors. You’re sort of immortal, your mind still running just fine, for as long as the servers carry on running it. Not truly immortal, but at least you don’t cease to exist the moment your body stops working.

All very nice… but. There’s a catch.

The android you use would be bought or rented. It doesn’t really matter because it isn’t actually ‘you’, just a temporary container, a convenient front end and user interface. However, your mind runs on IT, and because of the most likely evolution of the technology and its likely deployment rollout, you probably won’t own that IT; it won’t be your own PC or server, it will probably be part of the cloud, maybe owned by AWS, Google, Facebook, Apple or some future equivalent. You’re probably already seeing the issue. The small print may give them some rights over replication, ownership, license to your idea, who knows what? So although future electronic immortality has the advantage of offering a pretty attractive version of immortality at first glance, closer reading of the 100 page T&Cs may well reveal some nasties. You may in fact no longer own your mind. Oh dear!

Suppose you are really creative, or really funny, or have a fantastic personality. Maybe the cloud company could replicate your mind and make variations to address a wide range of markets. Maybe they can use your mind as the UX on a new range of home-help robots. Each instance of you thinks they were once you, each thinks they are now enslaved to work for free for a tech company.

Maybe your continued existence is paid for as part of an extended company medical plan. Maybe you didn’t notice a small paragraph on page 93 that says your company can continue to use your mind after you’re dead. You are very productive and they make lots of profit from you. They can continue that by continuing to run your mind indefinitely. The main difference is that since you’re dead, and no longer officially on the payroll, they get you for free. You carry on, still thinking you’re you, still working, still doing what you do, but no longer being paid. You’ve become a slave. Again.

Maybe your kids paid to keep you alive because they don’t want to say goodbye. They still want their parent, so you carry on living just so they don’t feel alone. Doesn’t sound so bad maybe, but what package did they go for? The full deluxe super-expensive version that lets you do all sorts of expensive stuff and use up oodles of processing power and storage and android rental? Let’s face it, that’s what you’ve always though this electronic immortality meant. Or did they go for a cheaper one. After all, they know you know they have kids or grand-kids in school that need paid for, and homes don’t come cheap, and they really need that new kitchen. Sure, you left them lots of money in the will, but that is already spent. So now you’re on the economy package, bare existence in between them chatting to you, unable to do much on your own at all. All those dreams about living forever in cyber-heaven have come to nothing.

Meanwhile, some rich people paid for good advice and bought their own kit and maintenance agreements well ahead. They can carry on working, selling their services and continuing to pay for ongoing deluxe existence.  They own their own mind still, and better than that, are able to replicate instances of themselves as much as thy want, inhabiting many androids at the same time to have a ball of a time. Some of these other instances are connected, sort of part of a hive mind of you. Others, just for fun, have been cut loose and are now living totally independent existences of other yous. Not you any more once you set them free, but with the same personal history.

What I’m saying is you need to be careful when you plan  to live forever. Get it right, and you can live in deluxe cyber-heaven, hopping into the real world as much as you like and living in unimaginable bliss online. Have too many casual taster sessions, use too much fully integrated mind-sharing social media, sign up to employment arrangements or go on corporate jollies without fully studying the small print and you could stay immortal, unable to die, stuck forever as just a corporate asset, a mere slave. Be careful what you wish for, and check the details before you accept it. You don’t want to end up as just an unpaid personality behind a future helpful paperclip.

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A futurist bucket list

The film ‘The Bucket list’ is great fun and many people have written their own list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket.  Bucket lists are not meant to be generic things like ‘seeing world peace’ or ‘eliminating poverty’ that everyone wants, they’re meant to be more personal, like meeting one of your heroes or visiting the Taj Mahal. I’d never written one so I thought it was time to remedy that. I’ll be a futurist until my last breath so apart from the first item, my list is things that aren’t yet possible, but should be by the time I get to 100 (in 2060). I’ve blogged about most of them.

  1. Visit Yosemite & a few other scenic locations
  2. Wear scanned laser active contact lenses
  3. Talk to a superhuman conscious machine
  4. Travel on a Hyperloop
  5. Watch 1st human Mars landing
  6. See Pythagoras Sling in action
  7. Visit a building over 30km tall
  8. Travel in a pod on a linear induction mat driverless transport system
  9. Own my own free-floating combat drone
  10. Wear an exoskeleton catsuit based on electroactive polymer or folded graphene muscles
  11. Use a real light sabre
  12. Travel on a Skyline at Mach 5 or above
  13. Visit a building with additional floating rooms using lighter-than-air materials
  14. Visit a Moon base
  15. Fire an inverse rail gun at an asteroid or see one used for space transport
  16. Experience consciousness being switched on and off electronically
  17. Get brain-IT link that provides extra IQ digit
  18. Have a real conversation with an IT-upskilled pet
  19. Share consciousness with another person
  20. Inhabit an android, and again with different gender or species
  21. Swap bodies with someone else for a day
  22. Have a plasma window in my office
  23. Experience cyberspace time travel
  24. See linear fusion demonstrated
  25. Own something made of cubic carbon

Write your own bucket list. As well as being fun, you will learn a little more about yourself. It is time well spent.

Linear fusion

Feed in mix of deuterium and tritium.

Heat and compress to plasma

Feed mix into the  reaction pathway, a strongly confined shaped magnetic tunnel surrounded by an Archimedes screw of high intensity lasers, set in vacuo to avoid contact with physical material.

Generate continuous heating via lasers as the plasma passes along the reaction pathway until fusion finally occurs in the short fusion zone.

Allow hot fused products to expand into expansion chamber

Pass through suitable heat exchanger to make steam/molted sodium or whatever takes your fancy.

Use some of the generated energy to power process. Very possibly some of the products might be useful hot feed-stock for lasing medium.

The lasers are in a continuous spiral (inspired by the Archimedes screw), so that the plasma heats up as it passes through them until it starts to fuse. You still need serious magnetic confinement to keep the plasma confined while it is heated, but there is nothing physical in the path to touch, just magnetic fields and lots of laser beam.

I can’t see any immediate reasons why it couldn’t work, and it offers some definite advantages over a torus approach or exploding pellets. The magnetic fields needed are high to keep the plasma confined, just as they are in other fusion systems and also as usual, putting the reactor part in vacuo prevents contamination by other gases or material from reaction chamber walls. It is really just a simpler rearrangement of current toroid approaches. The main difference is the Archimedes screw laser arrangement and the magnetic field design. These would determine the quantity of reactants present and their rate of progress through the tunnel as the lasers heat them up.

With automation driving us towards UBI, we should consider a culture tax

Regardless of party politics, most people want a future where everyone has enough to live a dignified and comfortable life. To make that possible, we need to tweak a few things.

Universal Basic Income

I suggested a long time ago that in the far future we could afford a basic income for all, without any means testing on it, so that everyone has an income at a level they can live on. It turned out I wasn’t the only one thinking that and many others since have adopted the idea too, under the now usual terms Universal Basic Income or the Citizen Wage. The idea may be old, but the figures are rarely discussed. It is harder than it sounds and being a nice idea doesn’t ensure  economic feasibility.

No means testing means very little admin is needed, saving the estimated 30% wasted on admin costs today. Then wages could go on top, so that everyone is still encouraged to work, and then all income from all sources is totalled and taxed appropriately. It is a nice idea.

The difference between figures between parties would be relatively minor so let’s ignore party politics. In today’s money, it would be great if everyone could have, say, £30k a year as a state benefit, then earn whatever they can on top. £30k is around today’s average wage. It doesn’t make you rich, but you can live on it so nobody would be poor in any sensible sense of the word. With everyone economically provided for and able to lead comfortable and dignified lives, it would be a utopia compared to today. Sadly, it can’t work with those figures yet. 65,000,000 x £30,000 = £1,950Bn . The UK economy isn’t big enough. The state only gets to control part of GDP and out of that reduced budget it also has its other costs of providing health, education, defence etc, so the amount that could be dished out to everyone on this basis is therefore a lot smaller than 30k. Even if the state were to take 75% of GDP and spend most of it on the basic income, £10k per person would be pushing it. So a couple would struggle to afford even the most basic lifestyle, and single people would really struggle. Some people would still need additional help, and that reduces the pool left to pay the basic allowance still further. Also, if the state takes 75% of GDP, only 25% is left for everything else, so salaries would be flat, reducing the incentive to work, while investment and entrepreneurial activity are starved of both resources and incentive. It simply wouldn’t work today.

Simple maths thus forces us to make compromises. Sharing resources reduces costs considerably. In a first revision, families might be given less for kids than for the adults, but what about groups of young adults sharing a big house? They may be adults but they also benefit from the same economy of shared resources. So maybe there should be a household limit, or a bedroom tax, or forms and means testing, and it mustn’t incentivize people living separately or house supply suffers. Anyway, it is already getting complicated and our original nice idea is in the bin. That’s why it is such a mess at the moment. There just isn’t enough money to make everyone comfortable without doing lots of allowances and testing and admin. We all want utopia, but we can’t afford it. Even the modest £30k-per-person utopia costs at least 3 times more than the UK can afford. Switzerland is richer per capita but even there they have rejected the idea.

However, if we can get back to the average 2.5% growth per year in real terms that used to apply pre-recession, and surely we can, it would only take 45 years to get there. That isn’t such a long time. We have hope that if we can get some better government than we have had of late, and are prepared to live with a little economic tweaking, we could achieve good quality of life for all in the second half of the century.

So I still really like the idea of a simple welfare system, providing a generous base level allowance to everyone, topped up by rewards of effort, but recognise that we in the UK will have to wait decades before we can afford to put that base level at anything like comfortable standards though other economies could afford it earlier.

Meanwhile, we need to tweak some other things to have any chance of getting there. I’ve commented often that pure capitalism would eventually lead to a machine-based economy, with the machine owners having more and more of the cash, and everyone else getting poorer, so the system will fail. Communism fails too. Thankfully much of the current drive in UBI thinking is coming from the big automation owners so it’s comforting to know that they seem to understand the alternative.

Capitalism works well when rewards are shared sensibly, it fails when wealth concentration is too high or when incentive is too low. Preserving the incentive to work and create is a mainly matter of setting tax levels well. Making sure that wealth doesn’t get concentrated too much needs a new kind of tax.

Culture tax

The solution I suggest is a culture tax. Culture in the widest sense.

When someone creates and builds a company, they don’t do so from a state of nothing. They currently take for granted all our accumulated knowledge and culture – trained workforce, access to infrastructure, machines, governance, administrative systems, markets, distribution systems and so on. They add just another tiny brick to what is already a huge and highly elaborate structure. They may invest heavily with their time and money but actually when  considered overall as part of the system their company inhabits, they only pay for a fraction of the things their company will use.

That accumulated knowledge, culture and infrastructure belongs to everyone, not just those who choose to use it. It is common land, free to use, today. Businesses might consider that this is what they pay taxes for already, but that isn’t explicit in the current system.

The big businesses that are currently avoiding paying UK taxes by paying overseas companies for intellectual property rights could be seen as trailblazing this approach. If they can understand and even justify the idea of paying another part of their company for IP or a franchise, why should they not pay the host country for its IP – access to the residents’ entire culture?

This kind of tax would provide the means needed to avoid too much concentration of wealth. A future businessman might still choose to use only software and machines instead of a human workforce to save costs, but levying taxes on use of  the cultural base that makes that possible allows a direct link between use of advanced technology and taxation. Sure, he might add a little extra insight or new knowledge, but would still have to pay the rest of society for access to its share of the cultural base, inherited from the previous generations, on which his company is based. The more he automates, the more sophisticated his use of the system, the more he cuts a human workforce out of his empire, the higher his taxation. Today a company pays for its telecoms service which pays for the network. It doesn’t pay explicitly for the true value of that network, the access to people and businesses, the common language, the business protocols, a legal system, banking, payments system, stable government, a currency, the education of the entire population that enables them to function as actual customers. The whole of society owns those, and could reasonably demand rent if the company is opting out of the old-fashioned payments mechanisms – paying fair taxes and employing people who pay taxes. Automate as much as you like, but you still must pay your share for access to the enormous value of human culture shared by us all, on which your company still totally depends.

Linking to technology use makes good sense. Future AI and robots could do a lot of work currently done by humans. A few people could own most of the productive economy. But they would be getting far more than their share of the cultural base, which belongs equally to everyone. In a village where one farmer owns all the sheep, other villagers would be right to ask for rent for their share of the commons if he wants to graze them there.

I feel confident that this extra tax would solve many of the problems associated with automation. We all equally own the country, its culture, laws, language, human knowledge (apart from current patents, trademarks etc. of course), its public infrastructure, not just businessmen. Everyone surely should have the right to be paid if someone else uses part of their share. A culture tax would provide a fair ethical basis to demand the taxes needed to pay the Universal basic Income so that all may prosper from the coming automation.

The extra culture tax would not magically make the economy bigger, though automation may well increase it a lot. The tax would ensure that wealth is fairly shared. Culture tax/UBI duality is a useful tool to be used by future governments to make it possible to keep capitalism sustainable, preventing its collapse, preserving incentive while fairly distributing reward. Without such a tax, capitalism simply may not survive.

Happy 4th July! The future of independence

We’re living in interesting times. We are seeing faster change than ever before, and we get to decide the next few steps humans make towards the future. What a privilege! On this day more than any, it is a time to celebrate freedom and independence, but we must appreciate their value if we are not to risk losing them..

I wrote in 2016 that we need to make sure we preserve independence of thought, and two years on, that seems even more important as people retreat into bubbles. If existing tensions between opposing bubbles continue to increase, conflict is increasingly likely. Indeed it is not uncommon to hear people  fools state how ready they already are for it, gearing up for a fight for their flavor of civilization. If we can’t dismantle the bubbles, then one way of living peacefully side by side after the conflict might be  to consider a dual democracy.

Dangers to freedom and independence are many and diverse.

Increasing surveillance presents a different kind of danger. As AI becomes ever more powerful, our activities and thoughts will be monitored even more intimately and in more detail. Information gathered can be used to manipulate you, and the tools there are already pretty sophisticated. Philosophers have always discussed free will, but it will be under increasing attack. Preserving independence of mind will become more difficult.

Large global corporations and wealthy individuals also have a lot of control via the ability to build, rent or buy these control mechanisms, with blatant advertising at one end and sophisticated bots at the other, and that’s only today.

On top of that, we also have ceding more and more power to activists, who bypass normal democratic due process to enforce change by threatening and bullying people into submission. Mob rule is already threatening democracy and the rule of law. Terror of being attacked by online mobs on twitter or Facebook also causes self censorship of both actions and words, and soon increasing surveillance could extend that to thinking. Many people already feel they are losing freedom thanks to this sort of mob rule. As often noted in such debate, 1984 was not meant to be a guide book.

AI can up-skill activists to make them even more effective. A less unlikely threat from AI is an AI uprising, though it’s possible that we could implement AI-based governance, with AI’s threatening us with all sorts of consequences if we misbehave, Forbin Project style.

A more futuristic independence issue is space based groups. We recent saw Arcadia anoint its first chief. Will we see Mars colonies declare independence? Probably, but when?

We see seemingly contradictory demands for independence too. Californians sometimes talk about becoming independent, but many Californians also want to remove border controls and effectively let anyone walk in. In fact, a lot of people across the USA and Europe support having open borders. Old-fashioned warfare between countries can result in a rapid change of governance and culture, but such wars in the West are thankfully unlikely for the time being. However, over decades open borders could greatly change demographic and democratic makeup and culture as effectively as an invasion, albeit very gradually. That may very well bring welcome change – America has been a highly successful collection of diverse immigrants ever since the second Indian ancestor set foot there – but from a strictly independence point of view, is it not still a challenge to Independence if you give away control to others, however gradually?

Globalization by definition cedes local independence to belonging to global communities. The people witnessing the Declaration of Independence all those years ago probably never imagined that one day people might see themselves not as Americans but as part of a global community, eager to wipe away borders and let people everywhere roam where they want, under some sort of unspecified global order. Who will control it? Who will write and enforce the rules? A globally scaled European Commission? That is how the EU sees itself, as a model for future world government, and there are 500 million Europeans. Will the USA become just a colony of a distantly run empire again?

Just a few thoughts. I’m done.

Happy 4th July!

 

Proposed Kent solar farm is green lunacy

Solar farms should be placed in desert regions that have low value for growing food, and relatively low value to nature. There are plans to install a massive solar farm in nice green Kent, where it is occasionally a little bit sunny. That strikes me as lunacy, and even some green groups agree and are campaigning against it.

http://www.kentonline.co.uk/faversham/news/proposal-for-solar-farm-site-increases-to-1-000-acres-184240/

The project is apparently being led by Hive Energy and Wirsol. I have been in contact with Tesla, who say “Tesla is not in conversations with any parties with regards to this project”.

Land is limited and we must use it sensibly

Nature often takes a battering when money is available, but a rich country should protect nature and ensure that some appropriate spaces are set aside. It is right to resist attempts to reassign such land to other purposes, especially when there area obvious alternatives. In this case, the land in question is mainly natural habitat, but other green areas are used for food production.

World population is growing, with another 3 billion mouths to feed mid-century. Agricultural technology will improve output per hectare and food trends may reduce the amount of meat consumption, but we should be able to feed everyone just fine even with 10 or 11 Billion people, but it will require good land stewardship. Prime agricultural land should be used mainly to grow crops. Some will be needed for buildings and roads of course, and we will want to have extensive nature reserves too. When we can produce more food than people need, we can return land to nature, but we should certainly not waste it by using it for solar farms when there are far better places to put them.

Using agricultural land for solar farms increases food costs by reducing food supply, hurting the world’s poorest people. This is also true of using land to grow biofuels, essentially an extraordinarily inefficient form of indirect solar power.

Secondly, the main current argument for solar power is to save CO2 emissions. If you read my blogs regularly, you’ll know I think that claims of human-related CO2-induced global warming catastrophe are greatly exaggerated, but there is some effect so we should not be complacent, and we do still need to be careful with emission levels. I’ve always been in favor of moving to solar and fusion as very long-term solutions. Fusion won’t be a big player until the 2040s. One day, solar will be cheaper than using shale gas, the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel solution with only half the CO2 output for a unit of energy compared to oil and coal, but that day is still far in the future. The more energy a panel can make, the more CO2 it saves. We only have one atmosphere, and a ton saved anywhere is a ton saved globally. It makes sense to put them in places where there is a lot of sun. Often that means deserts, which obviously have very little value for growing crops and support relatively low levels of life for the same reason. Putting a panel in a desert produces far more energy for far less environmental cost. A solar panel in the Sahara would make 5 times more energy than one in Kent, without reducing world food output at all. 

Sahara solar

Furthermore, many desert areas are home to poor people, who might welcome extra income from housing and maintaining panels for a cut of the revenue they make. Dust and sand would make maintenance a regular issue, but providing decent income for regular work for people with few other options makes good economic sense. Doing so would also help subsidize other infrastructure badly needed that might also improve local quality of life in those areas.

Finally, by providing extra income to deprived areas of the world, geo-political tensions may reduce somewhat.

All in, it makes far more sense socially, economically, politically, and environmentally to provide solar power from desert areas than from prime agricultural land or natural habitat.