November 6, 2011

What If….. The Globe Wasn't Governed by Politicians and Bankers?

I've been involved in quite a few debates in various places around the web over the last week or so, and I've been revisiting those conversations and reflecting on what our glorious Group of 20 leaders achieved in Cannes last week, particularly regarding what they refer to as "Global Governance".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron presented a report to the G20 entitled "Governance for Growth", which the G20 say they "welcomed". The title itself rather gives the game away. Here's my explanation of the rules of this game for some of my Facebook friends last week:

Capitalism works by having millions of marketers persuading billions of people to buy countless things they don't need.

If you don't much care for Capitalism the action to take seems self evident to me. Stop screwing Spaceship Earth. Stop buying stuff you don't need.

An unfortunate corollary of such action under Capitalism as Currently Constituted (CCC for short) is that millions of people will find themselves out of work, and thus unable to afford the things they really do need.

It's a treadmill formed into a vicious circle. If you slow it down a bit the whole thing falls apart, so the G20 are frantically trying to keep it running at a sufficiently high speed. Hence the emphasis on "Governance for Growth". How about "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" instead for a change? It's not a new idea after all!

A couple of days after making that post on Facebook I found myself engaging in a conversation over at The Economist about "the Luddite Fallacy". The modern version goes like this, according to The Economist:

If the pace of technological progress is accelerating faster than ever, as all the evidence indicates it is, why has unemployment remained so stubbornly high—despite the rebound in business profits to record levels? [Because of] a crucial change that economists are loth to accept, though technologists have been concerned about it for several years. This is the disturbing thought that, sluggish business cycles aside, America's current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much. The evidence is irrefutable that computerised automation, networks and artificial intelligence (AI)—including machine-learning, language-translation, and speech- and pattern-recognition software—are beginning to render many jobs simply obsolete.

Whether people want to continue to consume countless things (and thus screw Spaceship Earth) or not is quickly becoming irrelevant. Under CCC ever larger numbers of them won't be able to afford to very soon.

"Spaceship Earth" is a term coined by R. Buckminster Fuller, known as Bucky for short. Amongst numerous other inventions and designs, Bucky designed the World Peace Game, later to be shortened to simply the World Game. In an interview about his World Game published in 1971 Bucky revealed how he came to the conclusion:

That kids understood you . . . you didn't have to talk down to a kid. You did have to talk down to grown-ups. Particularly to the rich grown-ups who weren't even listening to the news. They were even more difficult to talk to.

Here is a (slightly edited) conversation in which Bucky does not talk down to 3 children, originally published in 1984, in which he elucidated some of those prescient ideas:

BENJAMIN: I understand that you believe there's enough food and energy, enough resources, for everyone, and that everyone should have what they need. If that happened wouldn't there be people who would just be laying around and doing nothing?

BUCKY: Well, I think there are a lot of people who already do that. There are a lot of rich people who do nothing else. I see nature developing over time, and it probably takes 2 or 3 generations to get things set up so that a human being can do something. It takes a whole lot of enormous social activity for any given thing to happen evolutionarily. But I think it will happen.

JOHNATHAN: You say there's already enough to go around, and that most people feel forced to go to jobs they don't like out of a fear that they need to "earn a living." When do you think man will evolve to a state of mind where he doesn't feel forced to go to a job he hates?

BUCKY: Today we have the words "earn a living" because we've been assuming there's not enough for everyone. If there's not enough for everyone, if there's not enough to go around, you have to earn the right to get in on the life support, the food, energy, shelter and so forth. But if we create the distribution you would never have to "earn a living" again. You would be doing whatever you do because that's what you want to do, and not because somebody else says that's what you've got to do to earn a living.

The minute you stop equating what you do as part of "earning a living," you'll be doing things because you see something that needs to be done and you feel like doing it; because you like to do it well and want to demonstrate that you can do it better than anyone else. So whatever people do will not be because of "earning a living".

RACHEL: If all the world were to decide that they were going to live under one government and they didn't know what is was going to be yet and they came to you for advice, what would you tell them?

BUCKY: That's a very good question! I would say…. a world government that would work like this. We will hire, not elect, people who are skilled at handling mass information, and who have a good voice and appearance for broadcasting. We will have these people presenting propositions [ideas to be voted on] to the whole of humanity…. And as human beings around the world hear these propositions, they will react positively or negatively, and then our satellite sensors will be able to read their electromagnetic fields and report back to us. "67% of humanity if for this, 18% against, and 15% is not reacting." So you will have a direct world-around readout instantaneously.

Whilst I'm not sure that the technology yet exists for satellites to "read human's magnetic fields" they can certainly read people's mobile phones. Such devices also currently permit "enormous social activity" to take place.

Finally please note that the technology certainly already exists for Stanford University to deliver online lessons free of charge to anyone who might be interested in learning about Artificial Intelligence and/or Machine Learning. I'm one person who is interested in doing just that, and thousands of other people around the Globe are also doing it at this very moment. One suspects, however, that the G20 leaders won't be amongst them. They're too busy keeping the treadmill rolling to spare the time to learn about the capabilities of modern technology.

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