I reread your post again and I just want to clarify something a bit..
The solution isn't material at all. The solution is that everyone will stop comparing what they own and how many others they can command, and start comparing how much they have cultivated their talents.
I agree with this. I would say that half of the real solution may be immaterial, but the whole solution cannot be without technology.
When technology makes it possible for all humans to work because they want to, not because they have to, it will be so much easier to focus on cultivating their talents rather than on increasing their power status within a society. All excuses and all constraints would be eliminated.
I suppose the availability of replicators may serve as an argument that can convince some people to change their ways. But how many of them?
Also, consider how far away in the future the invention of these things may be. By that time we may have made a big mess of our world. So I would suggest that if you're going to use the availability of a technology as an argument for making people change their behavior, you pick a technology that is a little easier to develop.
It's not just an argument. This technology would change the reality in which people live by lifting the burden of wage work and forced competitiveness. In a lot of cases you wont have to argue much nor would it take so much convincing of people to start focusing more on their talents, developing their creativity and most importantly do what they love to do. I think this is something every human yearns for so you don't really have to convince them to want it.
So I would suggest that if you're going to use the availability of a technology as an argument for making people change their behavior, you pick a technology that is a little easier to develop.
I can't pick a technology. If you think we actually have the luxury of picking you miss the point.
While we can try to do our best to influence change in human behaviour today, to at least resolve problems that we can resolve without this new advanced technology, it will never be as easy to do as it will be once new technology meets us half way to the goal, by creating a setting in which the development of this new human behaviour wouldn't be a struggle, but a smooth ride.
The only technology today that allows for an easy rise in individual creativity and cooperation among people is digital technology, but the reason why we still have a struggle to keep this digital world free is because it still exists within a money oriented society.
The replicator will make everything digital. What makes you think society won't be money oriented at the moment it is created? And if society won't be money oriented, the greed problem will already be solved, so the creation of the replicator won't be all that relevant.
You assume the existence of replicators implies that everyone will have free access to them. Consider the power one has by being the only one who owns a replicator. Do you really think that whatever company or institution manages to create one is going to give or sell them to others? Maybe that will be the intention at first, but you can be sure the operation will be taken over by greedy pigs before it happens.
At that time you can say "wouldn't it be better if everyone had their own replicators?", and probably you will convince some people. But again: will it convince enough of them to try to switch to a better way of life and replicator use to make it actually happen?
And it's not like this is the only technology that can potentially solve the greed problem. The closest example are the type of 3D printers that any geek could in principle build at home. They're not suitable for creating most types of products, but a partial solution still is an improvement. So publish designs for building those and make it easy to share programs to run on them, if you know how.
You mention "digital technology", the web. This is another potential partial solution.
I think it's possible to convince people not to be greedy about one thing at a time. It's not all or nothing greed or no greed.
So we shouldn't sit back and wait for the replicator to come and solve all our problems. It may as well be the thing that comes and makes all our problems permanent because it could give a small unprecedented power.
Clean abundant energy is the key, then transmutation devices could solve pollution, desalinate water, and create fertiliser. In fact free energy without such eco-balancing would make environmental problems far far worse. On that score peak oil and the resultant depression have a silver lining. We also need to reverse current idiotic measures to simplify the biosphere, we need biodiversity for resilience, and to moderate the human population.
In prosperous economies family size reduces, but this is due to the logistics and aspirations of cash rich and time poor parents within the system of competition for scarce resources. How would 'plenty for all' affect the size of families? OK it's something to solve but not a show-stopper or reason to hold off advances.
We've been operating at discord with our environment since before there were 5 Billion of us with a much lower average eco-footprint. There's a good article on the mathematics of doubling quantities and the truth behind deceptive language by Dr. Albert Bartlett.
A side-effect of ending scarcity could be to end socio-economic inequity, since the ruling classes depend on control of scarce resources. I like that. But we don't need to wait to end scarcity to achieve global socio-economic equilibrium, we need to get resources under democratic control. We the people must take control of production.
Well that is the key, free access to technology by everyone and not just few people. This is the key no matter which technology we are talking about. Today, technology often equals power and the only way to have a balanced society is for power to be in hands of the people, which is everyone who is human, not just rich humans or white humans or any other kind - everyone.
The only thing I was trying to say is that technology still plays a key role to improving the world. I disagree that it is not at all necessary and that change can come by pure advocacy of ideals alone. Technology must meet our ideologies half way, in order to make it possible for our ideals to be fully applied to the real world. Lack of certain technologies presents big constraints towards adoption of a better way of life.
Internet is a good example. Thanks to internet it is a lot easier to convince a common person to be less greedy and more open towards diversity and cooperation. Why is it easier? Because they can quickly apply this idea in real life. All they need is an internet access.
Before internet, we could have tried our best to teach people that accepting diversity, keeping a more open mind and being less greedy should be the way we should live, but they didn't have such a powerful and easily accessible way to apply these ideals in reality, and the usual constraints in life allowed these ideas to fade away too quickly, before any opportunity came to apply them.
And this is even more obvious when it comes to technologies which would, as you say, essentialy "digitize" all physical matter. Tell people today that they should focus on cultivating their creativity more than their greed (for achieving status of power) and they may have some success at this, mostly thanks to internet and digital technology which allows for an open discourse and cooperation. However, the challenge of having to earn a living, challenges which would be possible to remove by nanotechnology, would make it harder for them to let go of their pursuit of material goods above all else much harder.
Maybe I'm using too many words to explain what I mean. It's really about technology making change in human behaviour easier by giving them the power to eliminate traditional real world obstacles to this change.
But this does get us back to that key principle. This power should be given to all humans, not just some of them, or otherwise it *will* turn into even a bigger problem. This is why Free Software and Free Culture movements are doing what they're doing. We fight for freedom to take advantage of digital technology to make all our lives better, not just the lives of the few. We fight against centralized control over technology and promote universal access to it.
Only then can we accelerate the continued technological development to a point where we can use this technology to remove the remaining constraints to a better world and indeed a better human.
Agreed, of course. This in fact is one of the possibly necessary steps towards giving all humans access to world changing technologies (that enhance our evolution). When there is concentration of power it will be much harder for everyone to afford this technology.
Even today, not everyone is connected to the internet. Just think of many african countries which barely have (or don't have at all) food, let alone any technology.
The thing is, even if we somehow manage to share our resources fairly and equally, will there be enough of it left to feed us all? If there is an increasing number of humans on Earth this becomes a problem no matter how you share the resources.
And that is, again, where new technologies jump in. You can think of it as a magic wand that solves burning problems. Of course, to develop this magic it takes a lot of years and decades of dedication and most importantly, sharing of discoveries, shared innovation. Thanks to internet we today are quite capable of cooperative development of new technologies (which can accelerate it). We just have to use it to cooperate, not control others.
So my whole, apparently a bit controversial point here is that technology simply can't be left out of the picture. It is in fact a necessity if we want a better world. Is this really so surprising? Isn't technology a natural extension of evolved humans? It's not going away any time soon, if ever. If it goes away, this will likely be a disaster which will remove us with it as well. Yes, that's how technodependant we've become, and that's the way it has to be. A grown up man can't suddenly become a child. We can't suddenly become atechnological. We've ceased being that. It's over.
Technology is part of who we are now. To change ourselves, we have to change our technology as well, and vice versa.
What a great thread. I don't mean this sarcastically. Do you guys remember Byte and Creative Computing magazines in the USA (or perhaps Europe)? Anyone here that old like me? This is the cool sort of stuff the authors would speculate in those magazines, and which I loved them for. I was so sad to see them go.
Anyway, if we have the power to replicate anything in a little box one day, I would think it cause problems with inspiration. People might become apathetic. Unfortunately whether we like it or not, the profit motive of capitalism drives innovation. If one can replicate anything for free in their homes, then the folks who invent things would feel less inspired to build new ones because they can't get a profit.
Putting this on its head in another context, free software survives in two forms. It survives because there are a bunch of guys who just love knocking code out for it as a beat-their-chest hobby -- the thrill of it. These guys will likely get a higher seat in Heaven than me. Unfortunately this kind of software is not very responsive to customer needs and evolves very slowly. Take for instance Gimp. Great piece of software, but the interface for me is a bit strange without support for an MDI (multiple document interface). Okay, and the other form of free software in my mind is the kind that uses it as an effective loss leader for upselling to other goods and services. This creates really great free software, in my opinion, because there is a profit incentive, unlike what I was talking about with the problems of the Replication Box.
Unfortunately, however, we know the dark underbelly of capitalism when it becomes unethical capitalism. Consider visiting any Wal*Mart near you if you want an example:
- Other small businesses were forced to close down.
- Floors often sticky and nasty now.
- Bathrooms nasty with missing stall doors, door locks, paper, etc.
- Picked through and opened stuff you actually wanted.
- All the good parking spots are taken up front by workers.
- Long checkout lines or lines with a confusing self-checkout machine.
- Poorly-lit parking lots are a great way to get car-jacked.
- Nasty parking lots with potholes, uneven pavement, etc.
- Uninspired workers who used to give you interest and eye contact but now no longer do.
- Less and less namebrand choices especially in apparrel and high-end electronics.
- Uninspiring apparrel.
- Unfortunately you can't vote easily against this with your wallet because in some cases they're now the only affordable store in town or the only store in town.
So, the Replication Box is going to present us with opportunties but probably more problems than solutions. The big thing is that profit is important, but it needs to be balanced with ethics.
Supermike, I think you're wrong about profit being the most important source of inspiration. I think profit (currently!) is a necessity for being able to change ideas into reality, but a bad reason to start thinking in the first place.
Don't you hate products that were obviously designed just so they would sell? Of course many best selling products were designed in just that way, but they manage to hide it in some clever way or another.
There are lots of people who have great ideas but who aren't able to try to implement them because of financial reasons. I think giving everyone a replicator (maybe it should be called creator, because it's more than just a 3D photocopier) will make many of those ideas possible, and we'll see more new inventions not less.
It will indeed end the age of the Big Designers. Who cares?
There already exists a simulation of a world in which everyone owns a replicator: Second Life. It may be interesting to ask players about how many objects they designed, if they give their designs away for free or sell them, etc.
Indeed, I tend to agree with tbuitenh, although I understand where you're coming from supermike.
It sure may be hard to imagine sometimes, a world in which profit wouldn't mean all that much. I think that what may or should replace profit and status of power as the driving forces of humans is what we today call "meritocracy". People wont ask questions like how much money they have and if they are sons of pop stars and influential politicians. They would ask "what have you created or invented".
They would share, with excitement, things they came up with, searching for the approval of others. We all do that even today when we come up with something we find exciting. We have this urge to go to our friends or family members and show it off.
Often, today, when we are showing off something it may be just an idea we can't afford to realize. But with "creation boxes" we can easily turn our ideas into reality.
Internet and digital technology already brought a part of this ability to easily create. If I have a very good web site idea, for example, which I would be really convinced would work, I don't need to invest much to start it up and try it.
And then there is programming, scripting, designing, all the stuff we can easily do using our computers and easily share through the internet. Now imagine if these creations included stuff even in the physical world.