Hording: Tribbles; Xanadu
On his blog Peter Frase challenged himself to imagine an anti-Star Trek, a postscarcity economy of replicators and free energy, but unlike the cashless socialist utopia of Kirk and his crew, Frase sets himself to imagine a universe in which copyright regimes maintain intellectual property rights. Frase asks, "Given the material abundance made possible by the replicator, how would it be possible to maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power?" The key to Frase's anti-Star Trek is the peculiar character of intellectual property rights, where the nominal right to control what own becomes the right to control what I own.
"In order to get access to a replicator" Frase explains, "you have to buy one from a company that licenses you the right to use a replicator. (Someone can’t give you a replicator or make one with their replicator, because that would violate their license). What’s more, every time you make something with the replicator, you also need to pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing." The point is not to encourage economic activity (because economic activity is a means to satisfy human needs, not a human need in and of it self), but to "maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power". Frase imagines a postscarcity future overlaid by a hierarchy for-profit capitalist enterprise. In his scheme four Estates ("Creative class", Lawyers, Marketers, and "Guard-labor") all riding herd on a commons of the permanently under-employed.
The entrepreneur class: Ray Kurzwiel, some dude, Bill Gates, Arne Darvin, and Cyrano Jones
Frase is not alone in trying to imagine a postscarcity capitalism. In his book, The Singularity is Near, the futurist Ray Kurzweil includes an interview with the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. In it the two singlitarians imagine a religion for a time in the (near) future when technology would have conquered death. Together, the multi-millionaire inventor and multi-billionaire businessman imagine a religion based on "The Golden Rule"; one in which the first commandment is intellectual property:
Ray: Right, our morality and legal system are based on respect for the consciousness of others. If I hurt another person, that's considered immoral, and probably illegal, because I have caused suffering to another conscious person. If I destroy property, its generally okay if it's my property, and the primary reason it's immoral and illegal if it's someone else's property is because I have caused suffering not to the property but to the person owning it.A study in gluttony: Mr. Spock, Dr McCoy, Dragline and Cool Hand Luke
Bill: And the secular principle?
Ray: From the arts and sciences, it is the importance of knowledge. Knowledge goes beyond information. It's information that has meaning for conscious entities: music, art literature, science, technology. These are the qualities that will expand from the trends I'm talking about.
Bill: We need to get away from the ornate and strange stories in contemporary religions and concentrate on some simple messages. We need a charismatic leader for this new religion.
Ray: A charismatic leader is part of the old model. That's something we want to get away from.
Bill: Okay, a charismatic computer, then.
Ray: How about a charismatic operating system?
Bill: Ha, we've already got that. So is there a God in this religion?
Ray: Not yet, but there will be. Once we saturate the matter and energy in the universe with intelligence, it will "wake up," be conscious, and sublimely intelligent.
To be as rich as Bill Gates, or even Ray Kurzweil is to already inhabit a postscarcity economy. They are imagining a future in which they will be Gods "saturating" the universe. They are cooking up a religion not for themselves - after all they already believe in the sanctity of intellectual property - they are imagining a code for the rest of us to learn, and follow. To break the law Frase's secular Anti-Star Trek future would be criminality: "Anyone who tries to supply their needs from their replicator without paying the copyright cartels would become an outlaw," writes Frase, "like today’s online file-sharers." To break the law under the Godhead of Kurzweil/Gates is to sin.
What Frase recognizes, and Kurzweil/Gates do not, is that these schemes have an obvious failure mode. "And then, of course, there are the masses." Frase writes. "Would the power of ideology be strong enough to induce people to accept the state of affairs I’ve described? Or would people start to ask why the wealth of knowledge and culture was being enclosed within restrictive laws, when 'another world is possible' beyond the regime of artificial scarcity?"
Tribbles and Teetotalers; Kirk and his Science officer, Bill W. and his sponsor
Laws, religious or secular, depend on the perception of justice and fairness. "The vast majority of people in any peaceful society obey the law not so much because they are making a rational calculation based on costs and benefits, and fear of punishment." writes Fukuyama. "They obey because they believe the law is fundamentally fair, and they are morally obligated to follow it. They are much less inclined to obey the law if they believe it is unjust." What possible perception of fairness or justice could be attached to a regime of property owners lording control over a self-replicating means of production?
It is impossible to imagine that both Frase's anti-Star Trek and the Gates/Kurzweil Godhead wouldn't collapse under their the weight of their obvious unfairness and injustice. But Fukuyama's book suggests a very different possibility for the future of property: satiability. (Continue reading.)
The Enemy Within: James T Kirk; JP Morgan