All posts tagged transhumanism

Book Review: Nanofuture: What’s Next For Nanotechnology by J. Storrs Hall
This book provides some rather well informed insights into what molecular engineering will be able to do in a few decades. It isn’t as thoughtful as Drexler’s Engines of Creation, but it has many ideas that seem new to this reader who has been reading similar essays for many years, such as a solar energy collector that looks and feels like grass.
The book is somewhat eccentric in it’s choice of what to emphasize, devoting three pages to the history of the steam engine, but describing the efficiency of nanotech batteries in a footnote that is a bit too cryptic to be convincing.
The chapter on economics is better than I expected, but I’m still not satisfied. The prediction that interest rates will be much higher sounds correct for the period in which we transition to widespread use of general purpose assemblers, since investing capital in producing more machines will be very productive. But once the technology is widespread and mature, the value of additional manufacturing will decline rapidly to the point where it ceases to put upward pressure on interest rates.
The chapter on AI is disappointing, implying that the main risks of AI are to the human ego. For some better clues about the risks of AI, see Yudkowsky’s essay on Creating Friendly AI.

The 2004 Accelerating Change Conference focused much more on current changes than last year’s attempts at providing long-term visions led me to expect.

The one topic that excited me was a virtual world called Second Life. While it might sound superficially like just a virtual Burning Man, the designers are serious enough about their nationbuilding to encourage commerce, both within the system and via currency exchanges such as The Gaming Open Market with other worlds. Their VP of Product Development Cory Ondrejka described Hernando de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital as "must reading". They have been careful to insure that people have few incentives to take disputes arising in the virtual world to meatspace courts. For instance, they once banned a vandal from the game who owned a fair amount of land; they auctioned off the land and sent him a check for most of the proceeds – $1600.

Some of their customers are doing well enough in the virtual world that the company that runs Second Life has trouble offering them a salary good enough to compete with what they’re making in virtual life.

They don’t seem as concerned about the highly deflationary effects of their monetary policy as I expect they ought to be. Why will people buy their land (the sale of which seems to be their main source of income) if they can earn a safe and sure return by just holding the local currency?

The responsiveness of the company to citizen complaints (e.g. simplifying and later abolishing taxes in response to tax revolts) is fairly strong evidence that a non-monopolistic dictator is better than a democracy with monopoly power.