November 17, 2003



Should Humanity Get "Fixed?"

When my piece on Scarcity and Abundance was linked by Nanodot last week, it kicked off some interesting commentary. Our friend Kadamose has chimed in with the following:

To move forward, there MUST be sacrifices - and I can't emphasize that enough. Life extension through nanotech will raise the human life span indefinitely - a lifespan of more than 10,000 years will not be uncommon. This is why it will be absolutely necessary to shut down the human reproductive system permanently. Many people think that idea is repulsive, but in all honesty, it is the ONLY option next to complete annihilation. There MUST be a limit to growth - we are just like the cells within our bodies; if we consume too much, we will use up more energy than is necessary, and overconsumption, as science is just barely proving, leads to cell death.

I don't buy this. As I pointed out in my recent interview with Nina Paley, economic and technological development have been negatively correlated with population growth over the past 50 years. This can be demonstrated consistently in Europe, the US, Asia. I expect the kinds of changes we're talking about would drastically decrease the rate of population growth. I agree that, with people living 10,000 years, the rate would likely never drop to zero. But over that period of time, I would expect that multitiudes would decide to adopt a virtual, electronic existence. We don't have to shut down the reproductive systems of the remnants of humanity if the majority have abandoned "meat space" altogether.

Besides, the galaxy is a big place, Kadamose. Even the solar system is. (As a Sichin devotee, I assume you're concerned about the other occupants of the solar system who have a prior claim on the place. But they've been advancing all this time just as we have. They may have already made the leap to virtual existence! And, of course, they may never have existed in the first place.)

Posted by Phil at November 17, 2003 03:37 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Population growth, via national surveys, is only counted if the the subjects in question have more than two children. Those who have two children or less are not included in the Census, therefore, making population growth innaccurate on all counts.

I do not know where you are from, but where I am from, marriage and having alot of children is considered to be a good thing and is pushed onto young adults at a fairly young age - usually between the ages of 18-20. The acceptance of modern technology has not helped the situation - even though the people have become somewhat more educated, their beliefs and values have not changed, and birth rates have not declined. Most of the people in these parts have four or more children, with no guilty conscience of their actions. They're like animals in my eyes, and thus, should be treated as such.

Once true Nanotechnology arrives, and the human lifespan is extended beyond anyone's imagination, if exponential growth is not shut down completely by then, the entire galaxy will experience a contagion like no other. You say this probably isn't a very likely scenario, and that most people will choose to live in a virtual existence - but I can tell you now, this is more unlikely than anything. The reason for this is simple...most of the people on this tiny planet believe in ludicrous things, such as beliefs in a non-existent God, the after-life, heaven/hell and all that other man-made mumbo jumbo. These people, rather than throw away their primitive beliefs, will throw away the technology, instead, and will become rabid luddites. Luddites that have already been given the gift of extreme longevity...you can see where this is going. In any case, it's not a pretty picture, regardless of how you look at it.

You also claim that the universe is immense, and that once the overpopulation on this planet becomes even more intolerable, we can simply colonize space and spread out a little bit. But, even then, if exponential growth is not curbed, this galaxy will also become extremely intolerable to live in - especially during the coming technological Singularity.

Currently, there are over 6 billion people alive on this world - that number is unimaginable and people can't even count that high. Can you honestly tell me that that amount of people doesn't make you seem somewhat insignificant - almost as if you were nothing more than a mere number? It surely affects me and it's not a good feeling.

As I have stated elsewhere, if the reproductive system is not shut down after the arrival of Nanotechnology, humans will become what many of today's technological advocates fear most: grey goo.

It appears that I am rambling now, so I will stop with my argument here for the meantime.

Posted by: Kadamose at November 18, 2003 12:37 AM

Hiya Kadamose

I do not know where you are from, but where I am from, marriage and having alot of children is considered to be a good thing and is pushed onto young adults at a fairly young age - usually between the ages of 18-20.

I don't know how persuasive this anecdotal stuff is, but okay...

I was born in Illinois, grew up in Kentucky. One parent is from Ohio; the other from Kentucky. At the time I got married the first time, it was still common in Kentucky for people to get married in the age range you described, and there was probably some pressure to have a lot of kids. But I see that pressure losing sway.

My father was born in the 1930's, the oldest of six children. He and most of his brothers and sisters went on to have four or five kids. There were five children in my immediate family (born in the 50's and 60's); one died in childhood. Of the remaining four, one of us has three children, two of us have one child, and one has two adopted children. So even in the face societal pressure to get married and have children, the population growth rate in my family has slowed from exponential to zero in a couple of generations.

Is this just an American thing? I don't think so. My wife is Malaysian. In Malaysia there are both traditional societal pressures to marry and have children as well as a certain amount of pressure from the government. (They want a bigger population so they can be a bigger player oon the world stage.) But the country has enjoyed tremendous economic development over the past 30 years, and this has dramatically slowed population growth.

My father-in-law was one of six children. He and his wife have two children, neither of whom have children of their own. Amongst our circle of friends in Malaysia, most are childless or have decided to stop at one.

If we're going anecdotal, my experience would appear to cancel out yours! :-)

The reason for this is simple...most of the people on this tiny planet believe in ludicrous things, such as beliefs in a non-existent God, the after-life, heaven/hell and all that other man-made mumbo jumbo. These people, rather than throw away their primitive beliefs, will throw away the technology, instead, and will become rabid luddites.

I think there is some risk of that, only because we are going to ask people to absorb such sweeping change so quickly. There are luddite religious movements even now, although they are mostly harmless (e.g., the Amish). And interestingly, a violent luddite movement such as Al-Qaeda has had to accomodate itself to some pretty high-tech stuff in order to be successful. Presumably, they'll wipe all this technology out once they have control of the world.

Anyhow, the vast majority of religious believers throughout history, when confronted with scientific/technological developments that appear to threaten their faith, have either revised their beliefs to be amenable to these developments or have abandoned their faith altogether. (Yep, there have been nasty incidents along the way. But here we are, arguing about it on the Internet.) I see no reason to believe that the future will be vastly different.

But, even then, if exponential growth is not curbed, this galaxy will also become extremely intolerable to live in - especially during the coming technological Singularity.

Well, I reject the notion that exponential growth will continue, but even if it did (for a while) I've seen estimates that we could comfortably populate the asteroids with hundreds of billions, possibly trillions of people. I don't get the impression that you quite grasp the size of the area we're talking about, here.

Besides, it seems to me that the Singularity can only help. Our hyperintelligent posthuman descendants will no doubt think of solutions to the population problem that are a little more elegant than altering the reproductive plumbing of their grandparents. I notice that you have not touched on the idea of uploading the human personality. Would you not agree that this could have tremedous space-saving implications?

Currently, there are over 6 billion people alive on this world - that number is unimaginable and people can't even count that high. Can you honestly tell me that that amount of people doesn't make you seem somewhat insignificant - almost as if you were nothing more than a mere number? It surely affects me and it's not a good feeling.

My friend, have you ever heard of the anthropic principle? Let me give you a corollary to it: we'll call it the Kadamose-Centric Population Principle. It took a planet with billions of people on it to produce you. If previous generations had taken your stance on population, (people like your parents, who must have been no better than animals and presumably should be treated as such) you wouldn't be here to complain about it. I try never to be too dogmatic, but I sincerely believe that people who argue so passionately against their own existence ought to reconsider their position. (Or perhaps do something about the fact that they're still here.)

And no, being one of six billion doesn't make me feel insignificant. I'm the only guy who ever registered the domain Speculist.com. I'm the only person typing this sentence right now. I'm the only person who has ever been me. The more non-me's out there, the more special I become!

Besides, I adhere to the many-worlds hypothesis. Paradoxical to what I just wrote (above), I believe that even if there were only a thousand people living on earth, there would still be uncountable legions of Phil Bowermasters scattered across the multiverse. An on that truly disturbing note, I rest my case.

Posted by: Phil at November 18, 2003 11:27 AM

Touche.

And yes, I, too, believe in the hypothesis of the multiverse. But since our consciousness and delusion of reality is currently existing in this dimension, it's best to keep focus and not think about the other 'mirror images'.

Posted by: Kadamose at November 18, 2003 01:32 PM

One scenario on how humanity would respond to abundance:
http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200311/0743471644___1.htm

Posted by: Karl Gallagher at November 18, 2003 04:07 PM

no comment

Posted by: Emmanuel Ayala at December 2, 2003 08:47 AM

It is easy to show (and has, often enough) that exponential population growth can reach any physical limit. Life Extension adds to the problem, but it is an issue regardless. If a space drive were developed that could fly you near the speed of light, humanity could expand exponentially for a while, then would slow to cubic growth, spreading from star to star at lightspeed, the maximum percentage growth ever slowing. If a magic “matter maker” were added, humanity could grow until the total mass caused it to collapse into a black hole. If a space drive were developed that could take you anywhere in the universe instantaneously, humanity, at current growth rates would fill the entire visible universe in a thousand or so years. The only way exponential growth can continue forever is if there are infinite resources. IF alternate universes exist or can be created and IF it is possible to enter them, that might allow for infinite growth. But resources, for now, look quite finite.

Present day population issues have little to do with ultimate theoretical limits, and I don’t agree with the “doom and gloom” types. On the other hand, it is dangerous and simplistic to assume that there is no long term problem, or that all we have to do is colonize space and all our population growth concerns will go away.

Posted by: VR at December 2, 2003 06:21 PM

I do not think it accurate to call the Amish Luddites. They believe that technology is all well and good for "the English" and understand that they need to reach accomodation with it for themselves. They simply choose to advance at a much slower pace in order that their relationship with worldly goods does not interfere with their relationship with G-d.

As for the main topic here, it is worth noting that the back story for Dave Weber's Honorverse science fiction series includes the Population Wars, which resulted from crowded planets shipping surplus population off to newly settled planets which did not want these people. Similar themes have been addressed by other authors.

Posted by: triticale at December 4, 2003 04:14 AM

Virtue never stands alone. It is bound to have neighbors.

Posted by: Dassel Sara Rosenfeld at December 10, 2003 10:27 AM

If you're going through hell, keep going.Everybody is a star with the potentiality to shine in the infinite sky of eternity.

Posted by: Paul Reinitz at December 10, 2003 10:27 AM

There is no great genius without some touch of madness.

Posted by: Brown Kevin at June 30, 2004 04:51 AM
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