Sunday, November 06, 2011

This is science fiction...

In an on-going argument with Martin Ford, Timmy (writing at Forbes) describes a situation that will be familiar to those who read a particular type of science fiction.
For a job, an income, isn’t in fact what any of us humans want. What we want is the ability to consume (consume houses, food, clothes, cars etc, all of which are now being made by machine recall) and and income and or a job are only methods of achieving that. So, if the machines are doing all of the work then, well, who is going to be consuming the output? As there’s only us human beings to do so I pretty much guess that it will be us human beings consuming all of the output. And if we’re able to consume all of this output being produced by the machines then why would we care about having a job or an income? We get to consume without either, don’t we?

All of our material needs are being fulfilled by the machines. We are thus able to be:
A farmer in the morning, a laborer in the afternoon, and a philosopher in the evening.

We’re able to be communists in short. Potter around growing a tomato or two in the morning (nothing quite like it for the spirit, to actually nurture and grow a plant then eat the produce), labour a little in the afternoon at that tennis backhand or lay the crazy paving (yes, the machine could and would do it better and faster but the spiritual rewards of hand work are, as we are told, considerable) and in the evening we can yammer with our friends over silliness (that is what philosophers do, yes, yammer with friends over sillinesses?).

A world in which the machines made everything would be a world in which there was no shortage of anything and in such a world what on earth would any of us actually desire a job for?

Of course, for anyone who has ever read any of Ian M Banks' Culture novels, this whole scenario will be entirely familiar.
The Culture is characterized by being a post-scarcity society (meaning that its advanced technologies provide practically limitless material wealth and comforts for everyone for free, having all but abolished the concept of possessions), by having overcome almost all physical constraints on life (including disease and death) and by being an almost totally egalitarian, stable society without the use of any form of force or compulsion, except where necessary to protect others.

And, indeed, it seems to be a rather desirable way in which to live. Although, having said that, most of The Culture novels are about how that society spends its time interfering in less developed societies...

9 comments:

Tony Lorusso said...

Ironically, Marxism is, to put it charitably, unlikely to ever deliver a post scarcity world, and couldn't maintain one even if another system, say the free market, handed it one.

Anonymous said...

I love the Culture novels, but they do lend a fake credibility to the Marxist dream by creating a Humanist 'God' in the guise of the perfect moral caring Minds. The Minds not only fulfil the Marxist dream of being the infallible central planners, but also are the ultimate benevolent moral arbiters, protecting humanity and lesser species from bad behaviour (which has mostly been eugenically bred out of humanity). They also create and operate the hardware that allows this Marxist dream to exist.

Replace the science with magic and the Minds with God, and you have the perfect Marxist religious parable.

Banks has also backtracked on 'Intervention' as well. The do-gooding Culture of the earlier Player of Games (my favourite) is gone. Banks was troubled by Iraq you see. Not happy about 'cultures' intervening in shit holes. Too messy without those noble Minds to set us straight.

Neal Asher said...

I was uncomfortable with the notion of 'noble minds' in my books, so scrutinised them a bit more closely. The AIs are essentially the post-humans and though certain human drives are missing, because they were created by humans many are still in place - the core of the AI mind being human, but much like our reptile back-brain, the AIs wanting to survive to consequently wanting more power and control.

Skimmer said...

You have to hand it to banks for creating a truly inspiring depiction of utopia. He did a damn sight more convincing effort than any religion I’m aware off.

Although there is still a shadow pointed out by Hamilton’s Gore Burnelli railing that the Highers don’t know how to strive for anything anymore.

Making your AI’s ‘human’ (if more rational) certainly smacks of anthropomorphism – don’t I don’t see how far you can step away from that and still have a coherent character.
I think that to dodge the bullet allot of Si Fi writers largely leave the AI’s out, but for a single Token in each book, much like the black kid in South Park.

Btw Neal – loved the Skinner & Gridlinked.

Neal Asher said...

Thanks Skimmer.

I know what the Devil was getting at when he wrote 'Culture novels are about how that society spends its time interfering in less developed societies...' but it also tells you something about utopia: it's too boring to write about at length.

Skimmer said...

It certainly doesn’t lend itself to drama, without either the heaven being shook by external forces or the protagonists moved to a less enlightened setting.

Still, I really liked the concept of the virtual hells, even if the Culture was not moved to interfere directly.

And I was bowled over by Hamilton’s depiction of the far future in the Void Trilogy – weighty tombs, but the characterisation was breathtaking.

Anonymous said...

Dear Devil

Fewer people required to make things and provide services releases huge amounts of time for everyone.

The evolution of our society has been hijacked by Big Government which squanders millions of man-years of people's time in fruitless and pointless non-jobs or at the bottom of the benefits trap.

Non-job holders occupy positions of power over subordinates and the welfare client classes and naturally tend to abuse them.

The biggest problem people have is: too much time, not enough to do.

The free market has been marginalised by government, preventing it from developing ways for people to use their time fruitfully and happily.

Things may change soon. Prosperity has been built on cheap energy, especially oil. Oil production has been at peak plateau since mid-2004 and will start terminal decline. I suspect the ‘carbon’ scam is a proxy for fossil energy, used by politicians too scared of the inevitable consequences of rapidly declining per capita energy in a civilisation grown accustomed to the fruits of cheap energy.

They say civilisation is three square meals from savagery.

DP

mojo said...

Beg to differ - Humans (and close cognates) are definitely NOT in charge in the Culture. Mainly because they don't have the brains for it. The Minds run the place, and let their humans play at being in charge.

DWMF said...

A perfect society will not be stable. Even moving round the same old fashion cycles will not be enough.

For the description of a lotus-eater culture, I prefer the Michael Moorcock "Dancers at the End of Time" books.

Anybody?