Robot Replacements – Reflections

Bill Cameron has put up an interesting reply to Robot Replacements, which I feel compelled to reply…

Reads like a pamphlet for the "Society for the Sovereignty of Man
over Machine"

Good catch! Actually, I was pushing ways to make money off of the shift to robotic manufacturing, but there is also a strong flavour of “Pay Attention – this is important!” to the post.

You can catch people’s eyes by greed, or fear. Or, in this case, a combination of both!

(But really… a good adman should just focus on one theme for max impact, not both.)

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”.
— William Gibson

While the Third Imperium isn't a post-scarcity economy by any
stretch of the imagination, it's still intriguing to mull over
just what all those billions on those high TL worlds actually do
to fill their days.  My guess is more Dickensian than the
"Improve yourself" utopia of Star Trek.

Well, yes. The Imperium always was a far tougher place to live than Star Trek’s Federation:

The overall tech level is definitely lower. (Teleportation? FTL radio? Replicators? Antimatter powerplants?)

The overall distribution of technology is lower. (There are no truly ‘poor’ worlds in the Federation, just cultures who choose to abstain from various goods… but could get those goods anytime they want.)

There is a far higher level of cultural homogeneity, especially among humans, within the 60’s-based, California-touched Federation than there is within the 70’s-style Cold War-influenced Imperium.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The Imperium isn’t the Federation, to put it mildly.

Scarcity is a serious aspect of Imperial life, and people still value their kin more than they do strangers. There are noticeable levels of low-level violent conflict at the best of times, and almost no one in the Imperium (or even in the Solomani Federation!) is truly WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic.

Educated? Well, literate, yes. I assume that education tends to be tied to your work caste, although there will be many, many exceptions.

Industrialized? I will fully agree here, if only because you need a high level of industrialization to support a large population.

Western? Hmmm. I would suggest that the upper levels of both the Imperium and the Solomani remain within the Western Enlightenment/Nationalist/Secularist political tradition (European-style Absolute Monarchy for the Imperium, European-style One-Party Racialist for the Solomani).

I am not so sure about the planetary cultures, though. As a rule of thumb, I’d stick the high-pop/high-tech worlds as close to the Western mainstream: but the less powerful the world is, the more likely it has gone off to do its own thing culturally.

(With special recognition for Vilani and non-human dominant worlds… with the Vilani important enough to alter the definition of “mainstream” in the Imperium.)

Eventually, there will be some new cultural matrix, probably from the Imperial Fringes or the Borderlands, which will drastically reshape Imperial Space. But that never happened in Canon Traveller. *Shrug*

Rich? Democratic? No way!

While none of the polities making up the EU, US, and rest of the
West yet have official "minincome", "negative income tax", or
"guaranteed standard of living" policies, there are plenty of
social programs which in the aggregate come quite close to
providing the same.

I suspect that there will be quite a strong push for some sort of Minimal Income. It’s going to get (even more) ugly culturally as a result – and that’s before the finances behind the program crash.

<Stifles rant on health care expenditures.>

Since all the robot factories are going to aggressively compete with each other — and the transition will happen in East Asia first — the fat is going to get burnt off fast, and you’re going to get today’s standard “3% profit level” rapidly.

The effect of this "retreat from work" on the tax base - the
same tax base which creates and supports the single mothers those
young men are avoiding - is only beginning to be felt.

It seems to me that if - IF - the majority or even substantial
minority of all those billions on all those high TL worlds are
"minincome" recipients in one way or another, then the needs
of social stability seem to require a higher level of
"social engineering" on the part of governments than that
which we would be comfortable.

Suddenly the POP code DM to the LL roll in sysgen makes more sense.

Traveller still has a few cards up her sleeves? Excellent!

My bet? There’s going to be a “filter” coming up for post-industrial civilizations, something like “the Great Filter” that is postulated for alien species as a resolution for the Fermi Paradox.

If you assume that

  1. There is a vast number of life-bearing worlds in the galaxy
  2. There are no interstellar civilizations in our galaxy

Then there is something that is eating alien civilizations before or soon after they hit STL interstellar technological levels.

(We are actually at this level now. If we really wanted to, we could send colony & exploration ships to the nearby stars – at astronomical expense and century-long timescales, yes, and probably after decades of prep work, but it is doable with our current technology.)

In the same way, we are facing a (civilization-wide, rather than a species-wide) Great Filter. How are we going to have a motive to work and grow and multiply and learn, in a post-scarcity economy?


As readers well know, I’m on the “Fear God, get self-disciplined, multiply, and master the knowledge of the universe” side of the scale. Not a bad bet — the answer to the question Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? is yes, after all — but unlikely to be the Western mainstream viewpoint for generations yet.

And I don’t think the Europe, or Japan East Asia, has generations to come up with an answer.

There are artificial wombs, with the gene-tailored children looking up to the State as Father and Mother, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this coming future experiment is going to be very costly, and deliver very poor results. Moreover, the funding for such a  massive shift in reproduction simply isn’t there: it was all blown on caring for the oldsters of yesterday, today and the next few decades.

There is the option of large-scale immigration from poorer, alien (at best), hostile and contemptuous (at worst) cultures with higher birth rates. This has quite a lot of issues, all on its own. For one thing, will these immigrants and their children be as peaceful, law-abiding and productive as the old stock residents? Maybe, depending on immigration policy… but if you get it wrong, you are definitely going to pay for it… and pay… and pay… and pay…

And then, there are robots. They are going to be very useful, but (I believe) are never going to be self-aware, as there is no mathematical, ‘ones-and-zeros’ formula for that. “You are not going to get an answer, if you can’t even formulate the question!”

But somewhere around 2050, they are going to be viable – and quite sterile – gynoids: a subset of robots increasingly able to provide as much or more sexual pleasure as human women. Now, if your people have a strongly-held cultural religious injunction about fornicating with droids, your culture has a decent chance of reproducing itself for the future: but if you don’t, then it will probably be the final shove needed for extinction.

Remember that recent post on inheritance? Well, without children, the ability to shape the future directly is much diminished for most people. The average Joe will hardly have any say about the future at all, without children to carry part of his memory and his thoughts forward.

(There are intellectual descendants, but most of us aren’t both smart and charismatic enough to build a distinctive school of thought that will leave disciples behind.)

It will be a sobering truth indeed, if the future is as wonderful and as awe-inspiring as we can dream of… but, at least for a few centuries, woefully underpopulated.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
— Mathew 7:13-14

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About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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One Response to Robot Replacements – Reflections

  1. Bill Cameron says:

    Reflections on reflections…

    Exowombs – I’m in my mid 50s and I will see exowombs for mammals in my lifetime. Given the emotions swirling around the technology, there will be no slow build up to the tech, no announcements that goals X, Y, and Z have been reached. One day we won’t have them and the next day we will. It’s going to be that sudden and the tech won’t be developed in the West for obvious reasons. The West will use it however, despite the screams from some groups.

    After all, IVF was an abomination in the eyes of more than one church in 1978, but in 2017 Louise Brown is a 38 year old mother of two and well over 5 million births have followed hers.

    Gynoids – The capabilities are much closer than you know, just not in android form. Think gaming console instead.

    In a couple of consulting gigs, some recent and some not, I’ve become aware of certain development efforts. The idea isn’t to build a “sex-bot” but instead to meld VR goggles/headphones with gloves and other items of clothing capable of tactile output and feedback. Such a system would have gaming applications, indeed that’s part of the plausible deniability the developers believe will be necessary. (I can’t fault their thinking on that aspect.) However, instead of popping a Call of Duty or Super Mario disc into their gaming system or accessing a game server, the “player” will opt for something much more “adult” in nature.

    Take it from someone who was an adult before the internet unleashed the tsunami of pornography we live with today. These “immersive” gaming systems are going to have an incredible impact and, absent the greater level of social engineering I mentioned in my previous comments, we aren’t going to stop their use.

    A substantial minority of young men in the WEIRD parts of our world have little use for women now. I’ll point to Japan’s “grass eaters” and the MGTOW movement. Add exowombs and the type of “X-box” I’ve described and those numbers will explode.

    Large scale immigration – Isn’t going to happen. I won’t get into current geopolitics, but post-WW2 liberal consensus died a few decades ago. It’s zombie is still lurching along, but the head shot is coming soon. Right or wrong, we’re going to see waves of deportations that make the post-WW2 ethnic cleansing of Germans from eastern Europe seem tame.

    Much of the world which is WEIRD now will no longer be in my lifetime.

    Dragging this all back to Traveller…

    In “Agent of the Imperium”, Enna Lagash, the woman spirited away from all she knows when Bland’s personality unaccountably resurfaces in her husband, baldly states that the Anglic literature courses she teaches really exist to impart in her students attitudes which are more conducive to social control. She may love the works of Shakespeare, Conrad, or Steinbeck, but lessons her students learn have more to do with being good “citizens” than anything else.

    On the subject of exowombs, we already know human cloning occurs. Strephon had both doubles and Avery through the process and Norris had Seldrian. While Margaret had a live birth of twins conceived by “materials” from Strephon and Iolanthe, that doesn’t mean that all clones are the result of live births.

    In the Imperium there are enough worlds with enough technology and enough money to use exowombs. Add in a “lack” of the religious and other social factors you mention and I can plausibly see the majority of births occurring via exowombs. In fact, seeing how child rearing is now seen as a burden by many, I can plausibly envision something even stranger.

    In Niven’s “Known Space” series, an overcrowded Earth limits each person to having and rearing only one child. I can see worlds in the Third Imperium MANDATING each resident have and rear at least one child.

    Like

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