Post Scarcity Civilizations

Post Scarcity Civilizations


Before we get into today’s topic, Post-Scarcity
Civilizations and Economies, I just wanted to take a moment to note that we hit 10,000
subscribers a few days before this video came out. That’s a bit of a benchmark moment, at the
beginning of August there were only 6000, and one of subscribers bet that we would have
10,000 by months end and I did not think that likely but here we are. If you told me a year ago, when the channel
had about 100 subscribers, or just under 2 years ago, when I put out the first video
with no intention of ever doing another, that thousands of folks were going to tune in every
week to listen to a guy with a speech impediment talk to them about science and technology
for half an hour or more at a time I would have laughed, and I still don’t entirely
believe it. Doing these videos has been a fun fascinating
rollercoaster ride, and sometimes intimidating and humbling experience too, and it looks
like we are just getting started, and we should get started with this episode. But I just wanted to thank everyone for tuning
in. So Post-Scarcity? What is that? Well it is tricky concept to pin down, even
though it means exactly what it says, a civilization or economy in which scarcity of resources
no longer exists. Now sometimes people mean no scarcity at all,
but generally it is meant to mean low scarcity. In a finite Universe with entropy, which appears
to be what the one we live in is like, you inevitably have scarcity issues so you cannot
be completely without scarcity. Once you put that qualifier on things you
then have to think of it in more relative terms, which means a big decrease in scarcity. But that has happened before, many times,
arguably all the way back when we invented fire and could start living and hunting in
colder climates and storing food better. Ditto irrigation and canals dealt with a scarcity
of water, a huge bottleneck on agriculture back at the dawn of history. Any number of inventions have decreased scarcity
since then. Of course the population typically rose at
that point until that commodity either became scarce again or something else did that wasn’t
too scarce before. You get low on land to grow food on and someone
invents cheap nitrogen fertilizer made using fossil fuels and the population rises from
that and now the demand for those fossil fuels rises for their other applications like cars
and electricity. Or you invent a new and better strain of a
staple crop that produces 20% more food and the population rises 20%. It is not a zero-sum game, you’ve got more
people, but you hit a new scarcity. So we can conclude first that any post-scarcity
society either needs to be relatively young so that they haven’t grown to create a new
scarcity or is zero growth. Relatively young being the key word there
since between improving efficiency of using those resources and an expansion into your
solar system and galaxy increasing those resources you might maintain a slow stable growth for
millions of years before you hit a scarcity wall again. About the only exception to that is an infinite
universe, and even then only one where those no travel bottleneck on par with human lifetimes. For instance if the speed of light holds you
cannot be shipping humans from Earth constantly off to new solar systems since they’d need
thousands of years to arrive and eventually you would have systems that were settled long
enough ago to have population problems of their own that were much closer to the new
territories. If there were for instance an infinite number
of Earths and we could just open portals up to them with a snap of the fingers you cold
pretty much just keep sending folks off to new worlds, but there is still scarcity there
since only so many could fit on Earth. You might have a billion portals connecting
the original Earth to a billion previously uninhabited copies, each of those connected
to a billion more themselves as they filled up, all pumping resources in and waste material
and heat out but it still fills up eventually. So there is an assumption that any post-scarcity
society is either in a temporary growing phase or has stabilized to some level. Fiction tends to show us this at a very tiny
number, a few billion people on a planet, but if you saw the Ecumenopolis episode we
sort of killed that image. It is a big popular one too, much like the
idea of matter replicators from Star Trek, where you just order your tea, Earl Gray,
hot, and bang there it is. 3D printing has been making that seem like
a potential future reality but we will poke some holes in the latter later in this episode. 3D printing is awesome technology but it is
not a magic wand and probably will not be in the future either. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We have said post-scarcity cannot be viewed
as an eternal absence of any and all scarcity. There will be some scarcity of some things
all the time and since the Universe appears to be finite you do eventually have to stop
growing. We have also noted that post-scarcity events
have occurred before in human history, with fire and irrigation for instance. So as we try to define this concept for useful
discussion we have to have a definition that assumes we are not post-scarcity yet and that
it does not require a total absence of any scarcity. There is also often seen to be a psychological
aspect to post-scarcity, not in every version but it is a common theme, that people have
a bit less of a materialistic view or at least do not go through life focused on Keeping
up with the Joneses. Part of that image of post-scarcity comes
from people just not going through life focused on having the best and shiniest new toys. We do want to look at some individual versions
of post-scarcity but they are often in conflict with each other, like most Utopian visions,
one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. We also to need to make sure as we dig into
this that we are keeping in mind that scarcity of commodities is not just food and widgets. Privacy is a commodity, an expensive one in
high tech civilizations too. Being valued by other people can be a commodity,
having a good reputation can be as well. These are hard to put exact prices on but
we do sell these now. You can, for instance, hire a Public Relations
firm to improve your reputation. So we want to avoid an overly-simplistic view
of economics and scarcity that assumes we are just talking about material goods. We should probably ask ourselves then what
people value. In that context we will just use Maslow’s
Hierarchy of Needs in the Theory of Motivation. Now a lot of folks dispute the ranking of
needs on his pyramid or the specific labels for them but he’s the most well known and
generally viewed as solid so we will use his. We will get to that in just a moment, to what
those human needs are and how they get prioritized, but first let me list off the conditions or
criteria we have identified so far for Post-Scarcity Civilizations. 1) Wealthier than now. Everyone is much wealthier or has access to
far more resources than right now, as we assume for this video we are not yet post-scarcity,
even in our richest countries. We will add to this list as we go along. This is just our first and most general definition. There is just very little scarcity of the
most basic needs like food and shelter. This takes us into Maslow’s Hierarchy because
that is the bottom tier. Back in 1943 Abraham Maslow’s published
the idea that most motivations and actions by people were based off needs they wanted
to satisfy and these could be viewed as a pyramid, where the bottom-most level is purely
physiological. Food, water, shelter, a dry place to sleep. We would assume no place classifies as a post-scarcity
society if concerns for this need were not either non-existent or so minimal that you
barely thought of them. They create no anxiety in anyone who is not
emotionally imbalanced. Possibly these are provided by the government
automatically, possibly they just make up such a minimal portion of income that it is
just a footnote on your monthly budget. For the purpose of the video we do not care
about the specific economic or political system that exists, just that stress and anxiety
for 99% of the population is virtually non-existent where the most basic physiological needs are
concerned. If someone is stressing out about it, something
very abnormal has happened. Like they got trapped on vacation somewhere
and went hungry for a while and are a bit traumatized by that. This is handy one too because we have many
examples of sub-groups of society for whom this is already true, even in historical times
when most people had to worry a lot about where their food was coming from. Many an ancient king had to worry about food,
but that was for his citizens or army not himself and his close friends and family. We can look at the lifestyles and diaries
of historical figures who were raised without that concern and surrounded by others without
it to get some idea what that is like, we can look at much of modern culture in developed
nations too. This will get harder as we go up the hierarchy. The next level is almost easier to think of
as the long-term concern about physiological needs. Where my food is coming from in a decade instead
of tonight, concerns that remove much of the immediacy which can cause desperation to interfere
with clear thinking. The second tier up, there are five, so the
fourth tier, is Safety. Physiological needs is our bottom fifth tier,
needs for safety is the fourth. Safety from crime, financial safety, usually
the kinds of safety with less immediacy. When you aren’t starving or freezing to
death or actually being attacked you have time to worry about if your pension fund is
stable. If your job is secure. If you live in a bad neighborhood. So we will add on another condition, our second
condition. 2) Safer than Now. Post-Scarcity societies should have far lower
concerns about violence directed against individuals as there is less desperation to drive crime
and fewer concerns about long term safety and security. And I should add that when I talk about concerns
or anxiety I mean rational ones. Doping your civilization up with bottled bliss
and propaganda about how great everything is when it is in reality a total dystopian
cesspit would not count. Alternatively I would argue that a society
where things were quite wealthy and safe but everyone freaked out about the smallest whiff
of trouble would not count as post-scarcity. As we go through these there is an assumption
that both the perception and reality are decently close to each other. When they are not it might make for some good
fiction, folks thinking they live in paradise when it is actually a horrible slum, or folks
living in paradise who are nervous wrecks or spoiled brats, but I would not classify
either as post-scarcity because I generally consider access to reasonably honest information
and the ability to gain wisdom as commodities that should not be scarce either. So we’ll toss that in as number 3. 3) Access to abundant, honest information
Post-scarcity civilizations have strong access to honest information and some form of education
and life experience that tends to assure most folks are not going to assume photos of Bigfoot
must be real because they saw them on Facebook. Okay, tier 3 of Maslow’s Hierarchy is the
need for love and a sense of belonging. This is when a lot of post-scarcity models
starts to get less complete and diverge. For instance a more Marxist flavored post-scarcity
civilization assumes everyone getting their needs for food and safety, short and long
term, provided by the government while a more libertarian one is assuming everybody still
pays for them it’s just they are so minimal as concerns though only very strange events
could cause it to be otherwise and you’d have a government safety net or private charities
or friends and family to help. They both, along with all points in between,
assume it is minor matter. When we start getting into love and a sense
of belonging it is not just about how these things should be provided but if they even
need to be for a civilization to qualify. I would argue that one way or another these
still need to be far easier to achieve than now to qualify a civilization as post-scarcity. How is somewhat irrelevant, also potentially
creepy. Most of us would not be too sanguine about
moving into a new town and getting a letter from the Department of Emotional Fulfillment
giving us advice on dating. Dear Isaac, here is a list of single young
ladies in your area and their phone numbers ranked by optimization to you mutual tastes,
top of the list is Jessica Smith and her second favorite cuisine is Italian, your own number
three, so we have made reservations for you at the local Bistro for next Tuesday. Please make sure to fill out both form 307,
predating consent form, as well as form 308-E, your post-date satisfaction survey. I mean that would be just plain weird, coming
from the government anyway, we not only traditionally put up with that sort of meddling from our
friends and family but many modern dating websites apparently take it a good deal further
and charge for access and have no shortage of customers. This is also where the internet starts coming
in, because it also includes belonging and these days that means you do not just need
to seek a sense of friendship from a small pool of a few hundred folks in your home village,
but that you have got an entire planet to connect with folks who share your hobbies
and passions. Which is mostly a good thing, I think, we
have examples like this channel, though of course it can breed echo chambers too. So how this gets done is impossible to say,
just that a post scarcity society ought to be better at it then now, but I would imagine
in the short term we will just see it get easier and easier for people to connect to
those they can have rewarding relationships with even when their eccentricities and behaviors
deviate greatly from the norm. This was one of the great advantages of the
rise of cities for instance, it was possible to find and meet up with folks with very atypical
interests. A village cannot have a post-stamp collecting
club, a large city can. Now you can find folks around the world who
share your passion for stamp collecting, and it is getting easier to encounter those with
shared interests. So you can find that special guy or gal who
you have a ridiculous amount in common with, or those friends who genuinely share your
more obscure interests. So we will add that in as condition 4:
4) Large Diverse social pool Maslow’s next tier, number 2, is esteem,
both the feeling of prestige and respect from others and for yourself. That gets quite tricky because we can see
low self-esteem or feelings of being underrated as a regular thing even among those modern
and historical cultural groups with resource abundance like the aristocracy. Frequently folks even achieve this feeling
by being dominant over others and that is kind of tricky to achieve across the board. How much society is responsible to help people
out with this is also hard to say. Many would say not at all, but most of us
would say that it is our responsibility to help our friends and family feel good about
themselves and that either the government or private groups need to maintain something
like suicide hotlines. Suicide could easily be the number one cause
of death in high-tech civilizations. So however it accomplished it would seem a
post-scarcity society needs to be better at helping folks feel their life serves some
sort of purpose. This is apparently at odds with quite a few
visions of Utopia where frequently folks are not seen as needing a purpose, but in those,
even the ones that outright embrace hedonism as not only acceptable but the paramount goal,
it might still be satisfied by simply focusing on the notion that having as much fun as you
can is the goal. So either you are changing people’s mindsets
to feel fulfilled easier or you are making it easier for them to acquire that sensation. Now just as I said tier 4, safety and security,
was a sort of the long-range version of the bottom tier of physiological needs I would
say this tier is a bit of an extension of tier 3, needs for love and belonging. I think many of us obtain a large part of
our self-esteem from the ability to meet the needs of the lower tier and help others do
that too. The funny thing is that more prosperous a
society gets the harder it is in some respects to achieve those types of fulfillments that
come from either being very useful to others or being the best at something. This blends into the top of the pyramid, tier
1, self-actualization. This is a quite vague category and one that
gets argued about a lot, Maslow even sought to replace it later on with self-transcendence
and typically lists of traits of people who are self-actualized get even vaguer and seems
to shift definition from author to author. Self-acceptance, a value for truth and honesty
and justice, feelings of autonomy, a sense of humor that is not cruel, and many others
tend to be regular features of it though. We all know what it is, the sorts of things
you pursue when your other needs, from the most basic need for food to the more complex
needs for belonging and self-respect. I doubt any two people would make the list
the same, but I will combine it with the second tier to make another post-scarcity condition. 5) Sense of Purpose
This need not be a single purpose, merely that members of this civilization by and large
have a feeling of purpose. They do wake up with an agenda of things they
want to get done even though they generally do not have a fear or anxiety component driving
them on. They are not getting out of bed in the morning
for fear that if they do not they will starve to death and lose all their friends and family. Now individual folks might add more to the
list but I think we have five conditions here that most would agree should be features of
a post-scarcity civilization. They are wealthier than now and safer than
now, so that there is very little concern for meeting their basic survival needs at
the moment or in the future. They have heavy access to information and
can generally trust that it is honest or that they can mostly see through dishonest or confused
information. They have access to a large and diverse social
pool from which to seek relationships with others, and most folks have a sense of purpose
about life. Now I did not add it in as a condition, but
far superior automation is probably in there. You do not necessarily need much more advanced
machinery than we have now to do this but it sure helps. The specific case where you have access to
machine intelligence which is outright superior to existing human intelligence we will cover
next week in the Technological Singularity video, and we have previously discussed transhumans
and super-intelligence. These could easily be part of a post-scarcity
civilization, in fact many believe it is the only way you could even have one. I think they probably will be and make the
job easier but I do not view them as an absolute necessity. That is a recurring theme when I talk about
advanced civilizations on this channel, either in this context or the Fermi Paradox. I do not try to figure out how such societies
will operate or how they best operate and assume that such societies must exist having
those traits. I try to figure out how they could not operate,
and assume that anything inside those specific bounds is possible. It is entirely possible civilizations inevitably
converge to some form of political or social or economic model but unless I can see a clear
incompatibility I assume it is possible and probably happened somewhere in the Universe
or Multiverse. I do want to take a moment to talk about both
automation in terms of 3D printing and money though. Two of the biggest tropes of post-scarcity
civilizations is that there is no money or that you can just have a cup of tea, or anything
you want, assembled on the spot. Now the tea is kind of silly, any post-scarcity
civilization is not going to have a problem providing rapid access to tea. But since the rise of 3D printing we have
developed a bad trend of people thinking it could act like the replicators from Star Trek. You cannot print a cup of tea, that is just
wrong at so many levels. You also can not print large and intricate
things quickly with 3D printers and it is not something we can just get faster and faster
at. We can get a lot faster at it but there are
limits. We will use a simple example. Consider a classic one-nozzle printer, presumably
able to spit out a molecule or even an atom of its choosing to the exact right place. I want to build a 3D computer chip about the
size of a tea cup, call it a cube ten centimeters or four inches a side. Such an object has something in excess of
10^25 atoms in it. So if you wanted something in under 10 seconds
it would need to spit out a trillion-trillion atoms a second or more. Now that is no big deal in and of itself,
your kitchen faucet does that when you turn it on. But it has to place them exactly, one at a
time, in a line of about a billion atoms long, wide and high. Meaning it is basically drawing a line 10
centimeters long a billion-billion times in ten seconds. That is around a light year long, needless
to say your 3D printer nozzle can not be moving totals of light years in a second, especially
since it would need to accelerate and decelerate to those speeds, far in excess of the speed
of light, trillions of times during that. Now you might say, “hey, we can use multiple
nozzles right?” and of course we can, you can not realistically get an equal number
of printing nozzles as lines you would need to draw on each layer but you might be able
to get it down enough so you maybe only needed to make a few passes for each layer. So maybe your printer only needs to make a
billion passes to assemble this object. It only needs to cover 100 million meters,
basically the distance to the sun, to get the job done. So only many times the speed of light, which
it is jumping up to and down from hundreds of millions of times a second. Nothing can go that fast, the acceleration
of doing it would reduce the machinery to atomic dust, and everyone nearby would be
killed from energy released from air friction. And by nearby I mean on the same planet. Intricate 3D printing done at high speed is
totally the realm of fiction. It is complete nonsense. You cannot just print people for instance
because you have to do that so fast the water and other liquids and gases do not just gush
out while you are doing it. It is not very often I call an individual
piece of popular science fiction technology complete BS but this is one of them. 3D printing is amazing tech, it will give
us the option to make intricate things we could not otherwise make and to do some stuff
quite quickly where the thing being printed is homogenous so that we can use a wide nozzle. Like printing buildings with concrete or plastic,
or assembling a particular tool at home rather than needing to go to the store and just throwing
it into the recycler when we are done with that task. But it has limits, it is not a magic wand,
and printing speed is fundamentally limited by mundane things like the speed of sound,
let alone light, and how much acceleration the machinery can handle. You probably could print food for instance,
using some basic stocks of materials being printed at a higher resolution than our eyes
and mouth could notice, and on timelines faster than popping a premade meal in from the microwave
perhaps. That is certainly convenient, you send your
kitchen computer a note telling it you want the following meal and it brings it by a few
minutes later, because you can heat food a lot faster if you are assembling it at the
small scale as you go. Or maybe your building or neighborhood has
one and a drone pops in to deliver your meal. Post-scarcity does not necessarily mean everybody
has everything in their own home after all. It is about convenience and efficiency, so
there might be a local fleet of automated cars hanging around when folks needed one
that drive over and pick you up, unless you really wanted your own. This brings up money because there will always
be weird things people want for whatever reason and unless you are tampering with human psychology
you have to be able to meet those needs or you are not post-scarcity. Which is fine, a lot of Utopias do assume
people are being educated to rise above certain needs, but again we are trying for the widest
possible picture. You probably could have a society that did
not have money but basically every hypothetical or fictional go at this I’ve seen either
just does this by proclamation or just gets rid of money by calling it something else. That slams up against my own suspension of
disbelief. Even in a system where everyone is allowed
a monthly ration of stuff automatically just for being alive, and a ration so high it exceeds
almost any plausible needs at a monthly level, that is still money. We have also had societies in the past that
lacked money, they just had barter of goods, even at the most basic tribal and family level
the exchange of favors and goodwill acts as a type of currency. At the most basic levels currency is a means
of exchanging favors, reduced to a generic form that can be used for almost anything
by almost anyone, including people you do not know. Whenever I have read or watched fiction in
settings where they pride themselves on having no money, I repeatedly see them use it they
just do not call it that. Now with extreme abundance a lot of things
could end up essentially free, when was the last time you bought air after all? And I do not mean canned air for cleaning
electronics or air tanks to go SCUBA diving. I would say it is probably possible to create
a society that just had no currency except for major projects but it would still need
a way of dealing with ridiculous requests. Like John suddenly wants one million cheesecakes
delivered to his house. What do you do? Does this never happen because people have
been educated or programmed not to do such things? Do you tell John to login to a virtual reality
where that is easy to do? Does John need to go into see a citizen council
that will decide whether he gets them, does not get them, or gets sent in to see a psychologist? Do they grant them as a special favor to John,
because he has a halfway decent reason in their eyes but also deserves in their eyes
some extra leeway for past accomplishments? So I do not see a compelling reason why a
post-scarcity civilization would need to be money-free to work, and indeed it would look
like they either need it or need some sort of control system to handle either abnormal
requests or prevent them happening. The former is still arguably money and the
latter does smell a touch Orwellian to me, but I may just be biased on the matter. There is coercion and there is coercion after
all. Most of us think folks should be allowed to
believe whatever they want. We usually draw the line somewhere though
especially when it comes to acting on it. I am not going to haul John off to an indoctrination
center because he insists 2+2=5 but I certainly am not going to accord him any respect for
that belief or let him short change his customers when they hand him a $5 bill for a $2 item
and he gives them back two bucks in change. Even potential societies based on Voluntaryism,
the notion that all interactions must be voluntary by both parties, assumes at least a minimal
level of coercion because you still need folks to help ensure agreements are carried out
and that something is done about the guy who has gone crazy and started chasing people
with an axe. The flip-side the post-scarcity benevolent
dictator, might actually hold the threat of chopping people’s heads off if they disobey. So there is a very wide spectrum of options
there but it would look like coercion, while not necessarily absent in post-scarcity societies,
ought to be on the low side, relatively speaking. It is very hard to coerce people into doing
something or at least the coercion is minimal, either being minor or incredibly uncommon. Now I mentioned virtual reality a bit ago
and that is an example of a technology that like advanced computers and automation or
energy abundance from something like fusion would tend to be a highly likely component
of most post-scarcity societies. That does not require elaboration, you might
dip into personal or shared realities to suit your tastes or live in one all the time. But I thought I would mention a less common
example in fiction I think gets overlooked a lot and would seem more likely to be a regular
feature in a lot post-scarcity societies. Alistair Reynolds used it in his Revelation
Space Series, one of my favorites, so I will keep his name for it. Entoptics. Entoptic Phenomena is an actual thing, it
refers to visual effects that occur in the eye, for instance floaters, those little squiggly
chains you see sometimes, or blue field entoptic phenomena, blue sky sprites that sometimes
zip across your vision when looking at a bright blue sky, which are just white blood cells
moving through capillaries near your retina. Reynolds use it to cover virtual reality overlaid
on the here and now, with an assumption that the image was being generated in the various
implants almost everyone in that setting had. This would not just be your own imagery either,
like me having my brain implants set to display in my vision the name of a person I encounter
when I see them, floating over their head. This would have them sending a signal so that
if I had my entoptics on I saw them as a redhead instead of blonde and with a bunch of pixies
swirling around them. And presumably there would be setting levels
so you could view that as very vivid or know it was clearly projected or shut them off
entirely or have it so anything dangerous or ridiculously was screened out. This was limited to visual phenomena but it
could be boosted up to include other senses and be quite smart about it, so that if I
want to talk to my friend on the phone he appears as though he is sitting in my living
room while I appear to be pacing around his garage and all sorts of software is running
to keep it mostly seamless so he is not aware I’m pacing around in my pajamas with my
hair all ruffled and the sound comes through just like I was there in person. It is a virtual reality overlaid with actual
reality and customizable to tastes. Taken fairly far I could have my instant tea
produced by replicator because all my senses are showing me that is what I am drinking
and even holding when in reality a little drone slammed out of the wall with some electrolyte
rich room temperature cup of water in a container that can alter its shape a bit to fit my hand
like the teacup would. It is still in many ways a virtual reality
but again one overlaid with reality and makes for a nice blend of both. John can have his million cheesecakes delivered
because anyone who walks by and has their entoptics on is going to see, and possible
smell and feel, a million cheesecakes sitting on John’s lawn. Again it is not anything you could not do
in a virtual reality but it straddles that comfort zone a lot of folks have with the
idea of being plugged into something fake. That is one of the best options though, video
games and interactive television leading to entirely simulated full immersion setups where
you are not just limited to voluntary interaction with folks but can run around chopping the
heads off zombies or ruling as a dictator or doing any number of the sorts of things
the internet is best known for providing but will not get explicitly mentioned on this
channel which I try to keep family friendly, but what we know almost everyone in Star Trek
probably actually uses the holodeck for. We have had to skip a lot, I did not go into
much about what day to day life might be like, something I regret skipping in last week’s
asteroid mining video, in terms of talking about what life living at an asteroid mine
or traveling back and forth between one would be like. Here, while I wish I could have gone into
it, the problem is we have not got much to work with. Fiction offers a lot of options, but so many
post-scarcity societies are so different we cannot say much besides that post-scarcity
civilizations ought to be low on anxiety and personal fear. I do have a couple channels announcements,
and a video poll, so stick around for those, but let us wrap up on post-scarcity. And with the reminder we have skipped those
versions of it relying on super-intelligent computers which is something we will look
at, among other topics, in next week’s Technological Singularity video. We have seen that post-scarcity civilizations
can probably come in a lot of forms. I have no idea which if any of these will
be the one we get too or when that will happen, but I tend to think we would see several types
emerge and probably in our own lifetimes. I would have liked to discuss privacy concerns
in high-tech civilizations too but that would be a whole extra video. I do not think many would be likely to be
dystopian, and they are often portrayed that way too, going all the way back to HG Wells
1895 novel Time Machine where the Eloi are happy slave cattle of the Morlocks. There are certainly real concerns related
to that though, I just mentioned privacy, and of course we always have the concern that
without challenge and hardship a civilization might degenerate, like the Eloi did, into
a bunch of mindless spineless cretins. There are definitely some challenges to avoiding
that, in a society where for instance every child might be born with a genetically flawless
mind and body and with all sorts of neural implants and machines running around at their
beck and call, essentially king of their own personal domain, something that got looked
at way back in Isaac Asimov’s novel the Naked Sun, and I think what Jakub was aiming
for with this episode’s cover art. Dealing with those I think is still mostly
in the realm of fiction though and the fields which cover such matters are not my own so
I will leave those undiscussed besides noting that we discussed way back in the Simulation
Hypothesis episode that you might dump kids or maybe young adults with their memories
temporarily wiped into simulated realities where there was hardship present, in controlled
fashion so they themselves did not get too directly traumatized, so that they could experience
that and incorporate it into their thinking without having to actually be at risk. So I do think it is a manageable problem and
not a Fermi Paradox solution for instance, where all high-tech civilizations fall to
pieces from them all being spoiled brats. Okay, a quick note and the poll. As you know over at the website, IsaacArthur.net,
there is a link to various donation methods for the channel and one of those is for Patreon. Patreon encourages giving channel patrons
rewards, which seemed very right and proper to me, but the only one I could think of was
to raffle off the occasional topic. This took a lot longer to get going than was
planned and finally has been killed because it turns out Patreon explicitly forbids raffles,
and while I could try to massage the thing so it was not technically a raffle I think
me having repeatedly called it that in front of thousands of people would make that a rather
tough sell. What I am doing then, is going to be to post
my email on patreon, I normally do all my posts public there but there is a setting
for posts only visible to patrons. Those of you who are patrons to the channel
can email me a video idea, and I will include submissions guidelines. I will then select three of these idea, since
I meant this to be a monthly thing and suggested it three months back. I will leave unspoken the manner of selection,
and I am definitely not implying that I will just dump them into the random topic selector
spreadsheet I already have made. Those will get mixed in with upcoming videos
and the details will be on patreon. After that I will see how that goes, it might
be I will just have a collection of topics from the patrons and let a video poll pick
one of them every so often. But raffles are not allowed and I am not going
to push my luck with something like that. Still I had said we would do one and I feel
an obligation to fulfill that. We do have a video poll this week, as the
one for the site is not ready yet, incidentally youtube polls can be accessed by clicking
the little I in a box that comes up if you hover over the screen in the upper-right hand
corner, that confused some folks last time with all the newcomers to the channel. Our topics for the week after next are Dark
Energy, the mysterious substance that seems to be making our universe expand, a discussion
of SETI, the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence, Crypto-currency and associated
topics like bitcoin and blockchain, and von Neumann Machines, the idea of tiny little
robots that swarm out from earth colonizing the galaxy for us or committing acts of genocide,
often called Berserkers. You guys pick, and that will be the next episode
after Technological Singularities, and we will follow that with the first Patron Choice
video, and I will announce the first totally-non-randomly selected winner of that next week. Make sure to subscribe to the channel for
alerts when those and other episodes come out. Don’t forget to hit the like button and
share this video with others if you enjoyed it, and until next time, have a great day!

100 Comments on "Post Scarcity Civilizations"


  1. I love listening to your voice, I'm glad you had the confidence to make your videos. I imagine that it was all of your ideas that needed an outlet that helped you overcome your fears 🙂

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  2. I've just discovered your channel. I'm an anthropologist and writer with a life long passion for quality science fiction and I want to say I'm now equal parts obsessed and intellectually enraptured with your channel. You are what makes the internet amazing, I thank you and hope you continue to produce these inspiration bombs.

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  3. Love going back to your older stuff. Happy small scale patrereon supporter. Hope you revisit this specific idea down the road.

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  4. It could also be said that a post scarcity civilization is one that regulates it's growth such that new scarcity issues would be mitigated long enough for solutions to be found without disruption to standards of living.

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  5. Thank you Isaac for your great work on this content! You cover a lot of ground. Your speech impediment is less troublesome to understand then many English dialects I've heard, so that's not much of a problem in the first place, but it also has the advantage of you being conscious of it and putting extra effort, which yields obvious results in the quality your work!

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  6. First of all who cares if you have a speech impediment the information that you're putting out is amazing, secondly I found your channel completely by accident looking up Dyson spheres and clouds. I'm hooked and even tell co-workers to come check your channel out!! 360K strong great job!

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  7. I think at this stage you're far into Youtube Singularity territory! I can't recall when I started watching but regardless it's awesome to see more and more people pay attention to your content, you deserved this kind of viewership from the start.

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  8. It seems to me that post scarcity only works in an environment where geographic limutations are no longer an issue. If my buddies and me all want to live on a beach, and there is room for 4 of us 5, then one of us has to find a different beach – with all the same qualities as the first beach. One quality was the closeness of buddies – meaning that objective and subjective time travel has to be within a marginthat makes it so the distance traveled has to feel the same. Since distance traveled is always also a factor of tine and teleportation is an unlikely tool to exist in the usual sense, post scarcity only works with a significantly ( i mean orders of magnitude, if not infinite ) longer lifespan as this would make long distance travel times subjectively irrelevant.

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  9. Dude, fuck the word “impediment.” You sound like Isaac fucking Arthur, and nobody can hold a flame to you.

    You’re beside Sagan in my books. (And that, good sir, is a compliment I never thought I’d be delivering to anyone.)

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  10. No there really isn't coercion in a Voluntary society. I mean the Dispute Resolution Organizations(DROs) don't force anyone to do anything if they are not violating someone else's rights. The is defending good people against bad people, so it isn't coercion it's a lot more like collective self defense. Contracts aren't enforced by anything other than prehaps fines in a Voluntary society and of course reputation if you have cheated people in the past then anyone who does business with you will only do it on the condition that you pay more up front than someone who has never cheated anyone and will just not do business with you if you refuse. Everyone will do this.

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  11. You're disbelief in your own success gives me hope and shows your passion for the subject matter. Keep going strong.

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  12. What a great episode! So thought-provoking and well delivered. Very interesting! Cheers, IA.

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  13. “..This need not be a single porpoise”

    Your speech impediment adds a little flavor to the science, and catches me off guard every once in a while and makes my day. Add highly respectable content and rigorous thought, and this seriously is one of the best channels available.

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  14. How would a post scarcity society negotiate individuals who seek to consume increasingly larger quantities of those supposedly infinite resources?

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  15. Japanese porn has this fetish called "Free use" where everyone automatically provides consent and is encouraged to *anywhere*, it's quite an interesting perspective and something I would imagine post scarcity civilizations would have.

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  16. Another great presentation, sir… though, I can't help feeling you've only scratched the surface of the subject. For myself, had I unlimited resources and a Methuselah lifespan, I would neither be hedonistic, nor bored, nor purposeless. I would promptly head out into space, following Roddenberry's lead, and exploration, learning, discovering, and pushing the limets would be my driving forces. Okay, I'd take a couple girls with me – heck, I'm only human… (might blow some stuff up too… umm, I digress…)

    I have a question RE: 3d printing: Of course you couldn't mechanically spit out atoms quickly enough to operate a "replicator". However, why can't you manipulate charged particles, ions, etc. with magnetic fields. Start with banks of atoms and molecules, and larger structures, such as amino acids, catalysts, etc. (A person is nearly all hydrogen, oxygen and carbon anyway…)

    With a computer controlling assembly using parallel processing, many different processes could be completed simultaneously. Then, of course, after figuring out how to tell the characteristics of entangled particles without "looking at them", you could assemble a bank of them, split them into their 2 constituent parts, take one of the half's, and an assembler, to Alpha Centauri, then, here at home, scan me (you need not do it destructively, thank you very much), and use the home set (data bank, or – buffer?? 🙂 ) to change the away set, and, using that as a map build another me using the above magnetic particle manipulator to reconstruct, err… , rather construct the new me on Proxima Centauri b. Then, we'd have a transporter! Yes, there'd be 2 me's, but what the heck, just get more girls….

    PS I've watched about half your vid now, but not in very good order… I'd like it if you could provide an ordered list of your vids so, when I'm done, I can go back through and watch them again, slowly, in order, and carefully, doing research along the way… Thanks again Isaac.

    @Isaac Arthur
    PS (Edited – 8-13-2019 I see that Dr. Zlatko Minev says he can indeed now, (under certain conditions, predict an atom's state, in time to change the outcome (quantum jump or no jump.) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnbS4wxRhOk). So, might my transporter design be somewhat more valid now? 🙂

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  17. Post Scarcity is an interesting subject… I look at it as a goal, and it's our job to figure out how to get there. Since it's viewed as a somewhat of Utopia I think younger people are confusing socialism(a potential route to post Scarcity)and post scarcity since socialism's major appeal(false imo)is that it IS a Utopia and capitalism is "evil" and keeps us greedy and materialistic. Where in order to get to the Star trek world(Post Scarcity Civilization) socialism is inevitable and we ought to adopt it now.
    I think you did an amazing job of explaining what a post scarcity society actually is. I like that you didn't really lay out a blueprint for how to get there because imo there's a number of potential routes and it's our job to choose, and adapt to the "right" path as we travel.

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  18. Love your videos and this one is great! I do take issue with your deconstruction of ST TNG's replicator. It is based on transportation technology, not 3D printing tech. It is taking a template of some object and placing every atom in the correct place all at once in the buffer stream, then materializing everything together. While beaming technology may be nonsense, you should have deconstructed transportation tech, not 3D printing tech. ; )

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  19. You taught me so much more in science then my whole entire School in college life thank you 🤓

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  20. In a world without scarcity the concept of money has to be abandoned because it will no longer apply, Alan watts talked about this with the rise in machines and automation years ago…

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  21. Also if you guys want an example of post scarcity gone wrong look up the mouse utopia experiment

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  22. I fux with you Isaac, i cant sleep till i watch some of your videos, im re watching alot now lol

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  23. Entoptics just sounds like highly advanced augmented reality to me. Is this correct, or is there some distinction between them?

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  24. Just a quick nitpick regarding your comments on Voluntaryism – most who fall into that camp wouldn't call stopping an axe murderer coercion (self-defense can be extended to defense of property or other individuals), and having a third party enforce a contract isn't necessary. The discipline of constant dealings includes the idea that trust is a valuable commodity, and somebody unable to live up to a contract will hurt their ability to do business in the future. Granted, they may refuse to pay whatever what agreed to be the fee for not following through with the contract, but that's a potential market for an offshoot of the insurance industry and it's not as though modern contracts successfully dodge that same risk.

    Lovely episode as always; I was suicidal some years back and discovering your channel inspired me to stick around to see how the future of technology actually turns out. If you ever wanted a drastic change in your life, you'd make a marvelous cult leader.

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  25. The next step after acheiving post scarcity…

    A big eye of terror, and a very horny and hungry Slaanesh.

    I for one welcome our nipple twisting overlord!

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  26. I’m certain someone else has already mentioned it (especially as the video is two years old), but the idea of entropics that you discussed is usually referred to as augmented reality by most I hear.

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  27. In other words communism, all means of production are owned by everyone and capitalism and class eliminated. Machines and factories will be used to advance civilisation rather than capital gains. This is of course can only ever be achieved through a bloody worldwide revolution where capital no longer has any room to grow and exploit.

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  28. 16:55 I don't think people will lack purpose en masse in the future; space exploration and video games are just 2 areas where people can explore.

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  29. And now your at 381 thousand. Congratulations! Keep up the great work. Your videos are the videos I look forward for most on YouTube!

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  30. Esteem? Seriously, no matter how talented the population is, there will always be a 'lower' 10%. America still has what we call poverty. These people generally have homes, air conditioning, one or two cars per family, television, DVD players, cell phones and are more likely to be obese than hungry. Send these Americans in "poverty" to sub-Saharan Africa and see just how "poor" they are. There will always be a social 'Top' and a social 'Bottom'. It's part of what humans are.

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  31. I imagine our version of a "replicator," would be a roughly refrigerator sized miniature factory and assembly station that can cut, stamp, and fuse components together. Tell it you want a desktop computer and let it go over the course of a day or so.

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  32. You are using a revisionist definition of libertarian, it actually comes from the term libertarian communist.

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  33. You should read david graeber's Debt. You are misinformed about pre-money societies. Barter ->money is a myth with absolutely no evidence supporting it.

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  34. You looking at 3D printers today, and comparing them to replicator… maybe use more imagination. Self assembly, we need one (2..) DNA to build human, use same for replicator, maybe it not create any thing, but we may design similar, fast self building stuff, so it build billions elements at once, and as flowing water it do not have to generate a lot of energy

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  35. excuse me. but. talking seriously about post-scarcity society is like talking seriously about wizards or magic. it is just a figment of our imagination ! you can contact me to get good argument against your crazy assumptions

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  36. I like the thought of doing a high burn and shooting towards a asteroid at a certain speed just too burn the opposite direction too slow too a stop and drill for minerals and build what we need. But I’m wondering how would we or do we have the technology too produce metal or hydrogen for our ship in space hypothetically?

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  37. Lol you have 388k now as I’m watching bet you really didn’t see that coming love your videos bro

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  38. the replicators on starTrec are based on the 'transporters' not 3D printers. The replicators "beam" the hot earl gray into your bedroom

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  39. There is a problem in this video equating 3D printers with Star Trek replicators. Star Trek replicators are not 3D printers. They are an off shot of the transporter technology used to assemble things faster than a nozzle could. Using high organized energy beams to create the matter at the precise pattern of a given object. Replicators do not use a nozzle approach to place atoms in position. Another intermediate technology between 3D printers and replicators is probably wet nano vats. In a nano vat nanites are moving atoms around to put them were they need to go. By using millions of nanites instead of nozzles used in 3D printing some of the limitations of 3D printing are likely to be overcome with some of the limitations of nano vats being overcome by replicators. This all assumes of course that such technology ever exists, but it is important to understand what a given tech is supposed to be when considering wither or not the story is actually plausible. If a form of beaming technology is possible it is likely to replace 3D printers and might actually be capable of creating a cup of tea whereas a 3D printer couldn't.

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  40. The impediment low-key is your "niche" so to speak. Couple that with the topics you talk about that no one else does to the degree you do? Sheeeeiitttt. Look at you now, just shy of 400k subs. Run it brotha 🤠✌️

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  41. 32:15 isn‘t what was talked about here in the previous minutes, simply extremely sophisticated augmented reality, rather than virtual reality(assuming VR means matrix like dream world, whether shared with others or not). VR might develop from augmented reality somewhat, but it seems to me still two distinct concepts (without splitting hairs).

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  42. I completely misunderstood the title.

    Do you have a video on the possibilities in a society after scarcity seems to have maximized?

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  43. Maslow may have been on the money, but basic needs are basic. Like a fundament. So the piramid is mostly a theory that describes the expecting and socalled entitled human.
    It has little to do with bare wisdom.

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  44. 19:11 "They are not getting out of bed in the morning for fear that if they do not they will starve

    to death and lose all their friends and family." – And this sums up the act of going to work!

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  45. If a machine can be joined to the time line of something being drawn into a black hole we would have basically infinitely quick production of just about anything.

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  46. Multi-million person cities can exist without money, but you would need some sort of civic system in place to take care of the more menial side of things.

    Say, for example, every single citizen has to spend their first 3 years out of high school as an employee of the state. They are assigned to haul garbage, fix roads, staff food markets, movie theaters, etc. After those 3 years, you are free to do anything you want. Research as you please. Or just do nothing. Up to you. You've paid your time and are now free to enjoy society.

    It would help teach social responsibility, which is probably also a requirement to reach the levels you talk about anyway.

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  47. In the future the 21st century will be remembered as the time when half of the population on the planet demanded to live in a post scarcity manner while living in a world where most resources were still scarce. The will study how this selfish madness consumed so many resulting in the post modern collapse of society and will use it as an example of how NOT to live for hundreds of generations.

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  48. there are currently forms of 3D printing that do not use injection nozzle style but rather lasers to cure a photosensitive pool of resin in particular patterns, which is gradually extracted from the pool, resulting in the final product. If this technology could be refined, it could get around the 3d printing acceleration problem you mentioned.

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  49. And now you are over 400k. Anyway, post scarcity won't happen to me because I have no friends and I get no love. 😂😂

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  50. In a post scarcity society, who would be in control of the economy? Who would have power? Who would decide what next? … I think these are issues that will prevent the arrival of a post scarcity economy. No matter what we do … it seems unlikely that such a sophisticated society with so much technology required to generate the almost unlimited resources will be able to run without some people who have the control and power to decide what to do next and efficiently keep the economy going. Even if the control is handed over to super-intelligent machines … man's ego will be hurt and mankind will rebel against the machines

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  51. search engines are not showing things equally.. over population and immigration threaten sustanance and government, while the equatorial invaders are 20 times more likley to kill.

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  52. one could have a comodity index.. an hour of work might be a set rate of bananas.. a set number of apples equal an orange.. so "money"can be removed.. but basically everything becomes money.. so that is true.. such a system is needed for some societies.. but cash is then a usefull product.. its an alternative to an index of prices.
    humans will die at the rate they are born.. but that has not converged yet.. its been getting closet..so the wuestion is who will birth equal death? because of armed looters? or by abstanance from large families? but really nice people should breed more..
    we are breeding dishonest, viscious people.. they get the job..they cheat the web. they just hack you.. selection must be tamed..

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  53. I'm not from English area of language and I agree with a lot of people that I enjoy listening you and I understand everything ofc. I see now your channel growed a lot and you totally deserve it! Keep it up!

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  54. When i listen this past video i really realize that you never believed that you will have so much people waiting the "new video" from you 🙂 good luck and by the way I am listening to you every single evening and even replay your old videos. Sorry for my English, I'm from Romania.

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  55. If people have their needs to the level where they have access to shelter, food, safety, information and they want to commit suicide.. i think that's on them.

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  56. LOL 10 thousand subscribers… dude's got 420 thousand! In the beginning the speech issue bugged me, but pretty soon I came to love listening to your videos.
    Keep up the great work isaac.

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  57. Watching this a little over 3 years after this was posted when you have over 400k subscribers. Still half of what you deserve. Keep going IA!

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  58. What if we're not picky about the exact location of each atom in a 3d printed piece of equipment? Kinda like now but with more complex stuff. We get precise when we need to but for the most part its standard 3d printing.

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  59. I like cooking, so if other resources were available beyond what I needed, I'd probably cook almost all my food even if there were machines to make it for me.

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  60. I highly doubt a true post scarcity civilization could exist except with high automation and a lower population.

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