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The Machine: On our collective efforts to save ourselves (tlalexander.com)
39 points by TaylorAlexander on Jan 16, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

> Some of the artists sell their art to people in other towns.

Ah ha! The author realized that a village full of artists selling their art to each other would be nonsense. But didn't stop to notice that a whole world of people like that would be just as surreal.

That's not just a minor problem, it blows the whole scheme apart. Attention economies are always very winner-take-all, and become more so as you remove barriers. If you relieve people of all tasks except showing off to each other, that will create cutthroat competition for attention where only a small minority can ever flourish. In my eyes that's much worse than the current situation, where an uninteresting person can still become worthwhile to others by doing necessary work.

The monumentally hard part of writing any utopia is fulfilling people's need to be needed. Writers need to get serious about that challenge, instead of talking about bread and circuses for the thousandth time.

It would have been more worthwhile in my eyes had the author simply omitted that sentence. Since the focus is on "zero cost living", selling your work isn't strictly necessary - The Machine provides for your basic living requirements. However, s/he mentioned healthcare as an open problem.

And if you're worried about what happens when 10%+ of people spend more than 20% of their time on art, I don't think you need to be. My social needs are by and large not dependent on impressing strangers, but by doing with my equals. I play music with my friends, and no audience, for example. We're out-talented pretty much everywhere we look in that aspect, but it doesn't make things any less enjoyable in the least.

The author seems to predict this will decrease some forms of inequality. If that's the case, I'll have more equals to befriend. I'll have more opportunities to engage in fulfilling collaborations. My sense of social worth will only increase.

To state what should be obvious,

starving << being uninteresting

Do you think people working at subsistence wages today have fulfilling lives? I'm having a hard time seeing how they're better off than if they wouldn't have to do anything to survive but maybe were low status.

>Attention economies are always very winner-take-all, and become more so as you remove barriers. If you relieve people of all tasks except showing off to each other, that will create cutthroat competition for attention where only a small minority can ever flourish. In my eyes that's much worse than the current situation, where an uninteresting person can still become worthwhile to other people by doing necessary work.

I find this very interesting and it sounds correct to me. Did you read it somewhere? Can you recommend anything?

Thank you! I can't point to a single source. There were some seed ideas, but I've been bouncing them off people for a long time and it's morphed a lot. HN and Reddit are great for building interesting worldviews iteratively.

Reminds me of Agent Smith's speech on the failure to build a utopian matrix. Can we ever find solutions to problems that only manifest later? In other words, if we can't get to utopia by iterating on locally rational decisions, we may need AI to help us. Convincing ourselves to follow its advice may introduce new problems.

The machine already exists, it's called Shenzhen. The humans live in the machine though. You've taken normal human commerce, removed some parts and called it "the machine" I don't see the value. The questions of labor and capital distribution have been debated in depth and well for thousands of years, I don't see the value of this abstraction.

We already have the machines you describe, they just require humans in them doing the work.

The value is getting the humans out of the machine, for the most part. And from turning it from an abstraction to reality.

I see that you're focused on mechatronics, so you may well be able to build machines that replace humans at tasks, that's awesome. I think a more automated future has already displaced a decent amnt of the work force, to see in real time what happens, and I think the consensus is that human labor displacement will continue. Thus there's no reason for the abstract thought experiment, for the reality that we live in is already the one you're trying to simulate.

Since I'm made of meat, I'd prefer you work on machines that can repair meat, perhaps since so many discoveries are made by accident, you could accelerate the rate accidents occur. I know some companies use giant mix and match machines to just try things and see what works.

I'm ok with working in the factory while some other machine is figuring out how to save my life. I prefer that to having my life not saved, but getting to chill out and watch from a hammock on a hill the machines do my old job.

Actually, what I'd really like to be focused on is the availability of the mechanism. The open-source, self-powered, free model is key to this being a true success, rather than just decentralizing factories but requiring that we all still work in order to gain their output.

That's not accurate. The vast and overwhelming majority of all the good things we have now is not the result of open-source or self-powered or free. It is likely the case that for it to be a true success, it needs to be the opposite of free. Just like nearly every other cool thing that exists. You know, like rocket ships.

It seems like you want to solve a political/social problem, with a machine. You'll find out what the inventors of all other machines found out. They will be used for good, they will be used for evil, and the human politics matter much more than the tool.

> it needs to be the opposite of free

It doesn't need to be. And it won't be at first, but hopefully it can propagate in such a way that it can be. Also rocket ships is a straw man because they couldn't (and currently can't) be free.

> They will be used for good, they will be used for evil

I agree with you here, so education and peaceful culture will be key. Also a rapidly propagating cheap/free Machine so that it can start delivering the needs of those who might otherwise be drawn into malign ideologies based on inequality.

The very idea that it's irrelevant what's on the other side of a shipping line is both a powerful abstraction in economical theory, but in real life an almost perverse ethical dilemma.

It's easy to construct a thought experiment where you fill a container with dollar bills and receive another container filled with goods, and calculate that the maximum efficiency i.e. profit involves starving respectively working people to death in both ends of the shipping line.

The key distinction between Shezhen and The Machine is that a group of people cannot buy Shezhen.

Something changes when you one something versus paying for its output. For example that's why car ownership and car rental have such different places in our lives.

If you could own your survival, would you prefer to keep renting it?

40 people isn't a "small town". 40 people is a hamlet. There are likely economies of scale for "The Machine" if it exists, so having one such machine for 40 people is outlandish. In any case, who wants to live in a hamlet/town of 40 people?

This whole treatment manages to ignore the entire service sector (which won't go away because of a magical "Machine"). Unless we're also positing robot teachers, doctors, cleaners, masseurs, ... this happily glosses over quite a large portion of what people actually do in the society we have now. Farming and manufacturing are not what they used to be.

It's not a bad thing to think about in general, but it's so far off base that it's a lousy starting point for a thought experiment (or an actual real-world project).

These 'hamlets' could be neighborhoods within a big city depending on the size of "The Machines".

Detroit could certainly fit a few. Perhaps it would be an ideal testing ground because of the combination of its space and its manufacturing infrastructure.

Agreed. We have the Machine right now, it's called China and the Midwest + Rail/Tractor Trailer Trucks + Walmart.

Author here.

An important distinction between China and The Machine is that a group of people can purchase and wholly own The Machine.

If you can't purchase it, you have to agree to the social contract offered by those who do. For us that means we have to accept the state of the labor conditions in Bangladesh for example, which I would rather not do.

This is a classic problem with capitalism.

If a group of people can purchase The Machine then they can decide for themselves what they are willing to accept. And in general if survival is automated and the knowledge for how to reproduce this is free, we're way less likely to see people in far off places being exploited for manual labor.

You are aware that 80% of the US economy is services, right? Will The Machine do all that, too, after it's completely conquered such minor inconveniences as "Economies of Scale"?

I agree with the goals, and one day the dream will come true. But that day requires a breakthrough like energy to matter replication.

But I salute you, it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Thank you.

I agree it is a difficult challenge and I am looking at 100+ year timescales.

That said we can certainly make machines that for example recycle plastics in to new mechanical parts and machines that grow food in a fully automated way. But portions of The Machine are intentionally more fanciful in order to stimulate good discussion.

> robot teachers

People who teach don't do it for money. They enjoy teaching. If their needs are met, they would be happy to teach. In fact I would be happy to teach with no compensation if my needs were met.

> doctors

You average family practitioner can easily be replaced by a sophisticated AI to diagnose illness and prescribe drugs and therapies.

> cleaners

Easily replaced by a machine.

> masseurs

Again easily replaced by a robotic arm or arms.

People tend to do jobs for money...Needs have a different meaning to everybody, and having my needs met is something only I can decide, not something society/culture/the machine can decide for me.

We have not seen any AI that can conduct an actual physical exam yet. There are important steps before that can happen. AI will probably help, but they are far from a reality.

No, housekeepers will not be replaced by machines. we lack a good energy source for small robots, and we need to focus more on the fact robotic dexterity is no match for humans yet.

Masseurs really cannot be replaced by robots until we have much better haptic feedback systems that can be fed back into control mechanisms. In specific types of massage, it is possible a robot could eventually do a good job, however, i find it far fetched that a robot will ever do a better jobs than a person at doing things which "feel good" since a robot doesn't feel. Also, human contact is not the same as robot contact.

Remember that I'm talking about this on a 100+ year timescale. (Actually, now I can't recall if I made that clear...)

I think the energy problem for mobile robots will be solved. Lithium batteries are already decent there as long as you can recharge often.

As far as massage, I'd say that's one of the things I'd envision people doing for pleasure. Or perhaps you will just pay for it, nothing about this system prohibits the use of money.

And the primary reason I work is not for money. I work because I believe automation can solve an ancient problem with humanity - the problem of exploitation of humans for the gain of others. The ultimate embodiment of my work would be The Machine.

In truth even if it existed we would have many problems, but I'm very concerned with problems related to exploitation of labor.

Professional teachers(particularly in STEM) accept wages below the market for those skills to pursue their Vocation of teaching.

Many of my peers in Secondary Ed would happily teach for free if their other needs were met.

besides the Machine discussion, the article also says

----- There is no crime, because the residents know each other, have what they need, and do not wish to steal important rare items from their community members. ... There is no broader government with any power over them. They ask nothing of anyone outside their village aside from peace, and so no one but a bully can exercise power over them. -------

don't mean to be pessimistic, but I find it very unlikely things could ever work like this in real life. Just because "residents know each other" it does not mean these towns will automatically become gardens of Eden. Having what one needs has never prevented people from stepping on other people to get what they want.

If everybody was content with having what one needs, we wouldn't need a Machine to have a utopian society, we could set it up quite easily without it.

Perhaps the desire to dominate can be turned toward benign tasks - such as athletics.

Aldous Huxley (in "The Island") suggested rock climbing as a task perfect for turning the will to dominate others into a benign will to dominate one's self. As a rock climber this makes a lot of sense to me - your world becomes very small and focused when you're on a cliff face.

An interesting idea. Current evidence however suggests that people already effectively living in a post scarcity world - the rich - seldom refrain from further empire building, politics, gambling or media in order to enjoy outdoor pursuits.

Is this generally true? I recall reading that the first generation does all the things you talk about--it's how they got rich in the first place. But then the later generations tend more towards the "trust fund baby" stereotype: living off the wealth generated by their parents without doing much to grow it.

that failure mode is more what I worry about in a reality with The Machine. What happens when we can no longer maintain it, and some major threat comes along.

But violent crime among the rich is a statistical blurb. It exists but is exceptional, not the rule. You shouldn't just hand wave that away.

But I didn't imply anything about violent crime at all.

Whereas the original article did handwave away the fact the ultra rich frequently do engage in other legal and somewhat-less-legal forms of rapacious behaviour - whether it's battling for political dominance, running competitors of their dynastic business empire into the ground, engineer elaborate financial deceptions or sue critics into submission - despite already having access to sufficient resources to retreat to tiny utopian idylls with likeminded neighbours if that was what they really wanted.

Leaving aside questions of if it could exist, if such a machine should exist, in my opinion, it should be used to relieve people of work, not merely to shift them to another job in the useless search for employment.

For too long has the capitalist replaced humans with machines and rather than returning the saved value to the labourer he has taken it for himself.

Automation ought to benefit the workers who should no longer need to sell their labour. Not benefit the "job creator" or "risk taker".

I think the utility of the machine could come three-fold; firstly as a way of producing with applying very little labour, secondly as a way of providing what would otherwise be too labour intensive to produce otherwise, thirdly as a way of ensuring we all really are freed.

I dont know where this idea of relieving people from work came from. Humans are workers, it's a part of our being and their wouldn't be a civilisation without it.

The idea that everyone really just wants to put their feet up in a hammock and relax but these damn social constructs are keeping us tied to work is crazy. If the need to work and strive for something is taken away, I can tell you bad things will happen.

I think what you're getting at is that work can be fulfilling. I'm sure loads of people here on HN have at some point had a project they wanted to pursue, but were never able to because doing so would mean losing the income of their office job, which they need to survive.

Having all your basic needs fulfilled solves this scenario. The only work being done is that driven by passion, and the ability to exercise those passions is more accessible to the typical person.

Just replace "work" in that comment with "jobs". It's about removing the necessity of work, and working for other people, not getting rid of work as a concept.

The idea of working with other people is also a part of our being. 'I scratch your back, you scratch mine', we bond as humans by assisting each other, that's how communities are built.

Humans have a hard time accepting people into their community who do not wish to work simple because they don't 'feel like it', machine or no machine. It maybe unfortunate, but people as a whole have always taken a dim view of those who don't pull their weight in a group.

That's fine. There's still a difference between "I want to work" and "I have to work".

>The idea of working for other people is also a part of our being.

Poppycock. This is tired ideology used to say that humans need unjustified authority, someone to give the product of their labour to. And it's hardly a "you scratch mine" relationship when the boss decides who gets how much profit, despite having little to no involvement in the labour process itself.

Working may be something humans "need" to do (even that is so far unfounded) but the idea that we need to work for other people is exactly what was pushed on the serfs during feudalism and it's exactly what's being pushed by the state, the church and the owners of capital on the labourers of today.

With regard to your second point, humans may indeed have a hard time accepting people who don't want to pull weight, but that pulling doesn't have to be done for someone else. It can be, sure - and I feel as though many or most people would be happy to work for collective good, for whatever motivation, but to force someone to work in such a fashion is authoritarian. Just as being forced to sell labour is authoritarian.

I should have said 'working with other people' not 'working for other people', that was my point. Funny how a single word changes my entire point, whoops.

I'm sorry for confusion. I meant to say, to relieve people of unnecessary work. There are plenty of things that need work, such as services for other humans (at least in the short term), programming (again, at least in the short term) and in fact many hobbies and things that people do for their own leisure that require work, like learning languages, mathematics, sport, etc.

Socialism is all about the fact that people really do want to do something. Nowhere did I want to imply that humans ought to be idle, or that the natural state of the human is idle.

I'm saying that a lot of the work that we currently do is for naught, producing massive amounts of waste and generally items which have emerged as part of a culture that's all about consumerism rather than what we need in order to be happy. And if labouring is what you need, by all means please do it! :)

There will be necessary work under any system, make no mistake. But fewer people would need to work, and fewer hours would need to be spent per person if the load is distributed in a better way.

I think consumerism does make people happy. Call it shallow, but people enjoying buying new things like TVs, cars. Its not like we have all been brainwashed to think that way (contrary to what some people think). Even as children, we have this urge to get things that other kids our age have, a new console, a new toy.

Consumerism and capitalism allows a particular level of freedom where if I want something I can get it if I do enough work. The machine is almost a socialist construct, with limited jobs available, its up to the machine to determine whether I can have something or not.

If consumerism makes people happy than let it be so. I'm not proposing to stop that, rather I am saying that in my judgement it is unfortunate that capitalism, thanks to the powerful hand of advertising has convinced many people that they need things that they don't really need at all; in fact, this is a large part of for example the entertainment business. Stupidly large amounts are spent on advertising. We produce for the sake of production, for the sake of handing our product (labour) over to other people. I think it's horrible.

A lot of the reason why children want toys is thanks to advertising, either direct (TV, internet, and nowadays Youtube) or indirect (seeing their friends playing with one). Whether it's most of the reason or not, I don't know. But I know that there would be fewer wants if the people wanting didn't know that it existed. Both direct and indirect advertising do not present the object in an objective light, intentionally or not. The idea that children wouldn't be happy without the newest toys and consoles is dubious at best.

>if I want something I can get it if I do enough work.

It's a good thing that you don't want the product of your labour, because nobody is going to hand that to you, regardless of how hard you work. Can the sweatshop workers get themselves out of their predicament by doing enough work? How about the programmer? How many people have worked under this puerile delusion that they will be rewarded if they work hard enough?

I say to abolish the reward and the giver of the reward. It is not enough to say that people should be rewarded. There should be no concept of reward to start with. You get what you work for, and it isn't appropriated. That's not a reward any more than getting the wood from a tree is a reward.

I absolutely agree and I envisioned this as a way to free people from the need to work.

People only work by choice in this imagined world.

Agree, but doing so requires changing our economy to not be based on capitalism. How do you see that happening?

Competition between producers already incentivizes eliminating labor whenever you can do a job cheaper without human labor. That provides enduring pressure for more automation without any basic changes to the incentive structure of markets.

How do you get human liberation instead of IP-holders-and-landlords-own-everything after human labor is 90% obsolete? Several possibilities here:

- Open source imitations of commercial robot systems

- "Pirate" clones of commercial systems (de facto illegal, but de jure as common as copying movies)

- Poorer nations rejecting rich nations' IP regimes and legalizing all sorts of imitations, even building national programs to copy the rich, if the previous two factors are not sufficient by themselves

You might think that it's in the long term interest of producers to require some skilled human labor to make the makerbots, so the bots don't become effectively reducible to bits and copied as easily as bits. But there is a collective action problem that works against producers and in the long term favor of the general public: a "defecting" producer can always gain a temporary advantage by eliminating a bit more human labor, even if in the long term it means the decline of their own position and the position of all large capital owners.

Eliminating labour on the whole in society does not bode well for the capitalists; there will be no money that can be used to buy the goods that are being produced, or there will be very little money, which is held by those who must work in some capacity or another.

Total or very-nearly-total automation is not compatible with capitalism unless there's someone there to hand out money to keep the economy functioning, which seems quite silly, because how is it decided who gets how much money?

>How do you get human liberation instead of IP-holders-and-landlords-own-everything after human labor is 90% obsolete?

By socialising the means of production. By passing the returns on to the people who ought to be happy that a job requires less labour, rather than forcing them into "unemployment", something which is only really problematic when unemployment means you depend on welfare programs or die.

People who become unable to participate in the market economy no longer matter to it; their preferences don't matter for the logic of market supply or market demand. The shareholders of General Electric don't care what North Koreans or the beggars of Dhaka want, because those people are effectively outside the market economy. Large numbers of working age Americans could join the beggars of Dhaka in market irrelevance, if their labor becomes obsolete and there's no progress on UBI or other waged-labor-replacement schemes.

It's true that ever-increasing ownership concentration and the decline of mass-participation market exchange wouldn't much resemble capitalism as pictured by economists circa 1950. If the richest gradually morph into neo-feudal lords rather than successful capitalists in the 20th century mold, I don't think they'll worry too much about the fine distinctions as long as they still control the best and the most of real estate and other natural resources.

I totally agree that socializing the means of production (and for real, not the hatchet job of 20th century "communist" states) is the right way to ensure that the gains of automation benefit humanity in general. But the process that ultimately leads to socializing those benefits may resemble stealing fire from the gods more than it resembles ordinary electoral politics.

>People who become unable to participate in the market economy no longer matter to it

I don't think goods would continue to be produced if so few people (in this society in which almost all human labour has been eliminated) can pay for them. Forget market participation, the market almost ceases to exist as a whole.

And what are these beggars and North Koreans to do? All they can do is sit and watch products drop off the production line and wallowing in their needs. But actually, if the market is so small, no capitalist will be producing much of anything at all; the costs of production would not justify catering to such a small group of people.

I don't think it is good for things to be in this state of extreme automation in capitalism, because it would be the biggest failure of the capitalist system. The only reason I could see for ever wanting such a thing would be to accelerate the arrival of what comes next (according to Marx, socialism and Communism).

I'm not saying that having wealthy owners who no longer produce for mass consumption and a much larger number of dispossessed people with nothing to offer for market exchange is a good situation. I'm saying that there are tendencies that could drive things in that direction if extreme automation is possible and market logic endures without further modifications.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, both Marxists and their rivals believed that a large work force was a crucial part of industrial production. They just differed on social/political arrangements around that necessary labor. In the long run, the feud between Marxists and capitalists may seem as quaintly parochial as the conflict between 17th century Catholics and Protestants seems to an agnostic 21st century European. What need have we of a doctrine of factory workers when nobody needs factory workers at all?

> Competition between producers already incentivizes eliminating labor whenever you can do a job cheaper without human labor. That provides enduring pressure for more automation without any basic changes to the incentive structure of markets.

That was not the question.

> How do you get human liberation instead of IP-holders-and-landlords-own-everything after human labor is 90% obsolete? Several possibilities here:

None of your answers address how to allocate goods to the masses when their labor is no longer necessary. When robots created by capitalists can do everything, but few people work and have no money to buy anything, capitalism fails; it would fail long before that. Unless the government steps in and runs the automation itself to distribute the goods to the masses, something big has to give.

The the story of The Machine, I took a Marxist view that if the people own The Machine they can share the outputs of the machine without capitalism.

I have to say that I really like your idea, I've been reading leftist literature recently (Marx, Proudhon, Harvey, I.I Rubin..) and your idea really made me think. Thanks.

That feels so encouraging to hear! Thank you. I've been trying to figure it all out too. I just launched a community site to talk more about these ideas. I'd love it if you joined!


Post author here. If you have any questions, ask away.

See also the reddit discussion: https://www.reddit.com/r/Automate/comments/5o71ew/the_machin...

I enjoy your vision, it's unique.

The only real question is how does the innate property of humans, greed, come into this. Surely this machine would need some interested corporation to construct it. Whatever company will, in essence be defunct by design and only exist in the short-term no?

EDIT: I guess other questions emerge, why won't such a power be wielded for capitalism, it seems pretty easy to create a false-scarcity market if only corporations owned such a machine.

Again, this is a post-scarcity scenario so I guess the moment that any one person not happy with keeping the status quo got their hands on one it would all be over.

More horrifically imagine a few Imortan Joe types seizing control of the Machines in a large enough area and leaving everyone not useful to them to starve.

Do you actually envision a single Machine to do all of this? I upvoted the entry because I think it's in the neighborhood of correct, but I'd expect to actually have a suite of many different kinds of machines, much like today's industries, but eliminating dependencies on fossil fuels and human labor. I'd expect machine-built greenhouses containing farming machines rather than actually manufactured carrots, for example.

Absolutely this is a thought experiment where "an economy" might be The Machine.

I also thought of explaining this concept using a magic wand, but wanted something more grounded.

But calling it a machine I think helps us avoid some of our political hang ups about organizing the productive machinery of society. Even if The Machine ends up being more like our normal economy.

I still hope some day we can literally have a large machine that does a bunch of this. I do think it would be truly useful.

Check out Jacque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows with the Venus Project. Quite a bit of thinking has gone into a similar idea already. I'm a huge fan of the Venus Project.

Definitely! I'm a big fan of Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project for their beautiful vision. I also think it serves as an interesting data point that despite their wonderful vision, they were unable to gain traction.

This makes me think an idea like this needs to be funded by a profitable organization.

This is very important. It seems that the automation of labor is underexplored due to political and economical inertia (I know that industrial robots do somewhat improve, but they still are very costly, very proprietary and require experts to use them. Could this be done another way? Companies like Rethink Robotics show that maybe the answer is "yes"). There needs to be more fresh thinking in this space.

There was an ambitious NASA project 35 years ago: a self-replicating lunar factory http://www.nss.org/settlement/moon/library/1982-SelfReplicat... . The engineers tried to design a manufacturing system aiming for almost full parts closure. The project was too ambitious (e.g. it looked optimistically at AI's capabilities), and didn't went past design study stage then;

But maybe now, 35 years later, the technology is good enough for something similar to be viable?

I've read a lot of SF with post-scarcity futures and thought a lot about what approximations to post-scarcity might be available within the real constraints of physics and engineering. I've yet to see a plausible solution to the problem of violence.

In the excellent Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, it was safe to have self-replicating machines and titanic energy sources all over the place, because omniscient and omni-benevolent AI watched over everything. The Minds could prevent violence far faster than biological intelligence could initiate it. Strong, friendly AI and physically impossible Space Opera Science are required to prevent violence this way.

Authors Marshall Brain and Alastair Reynolds (in Manna and the Poseidon's Children trilogy) were more respectful of physics but creepier when they posited that you could use machine surveillance plus controls wired directly into the human central nervous system to interrupt violent actions. Even discounting the creepy-factor, even assuming the biomedical engineering is possible, it's hard to see how you reach 100% global participation in a scheme like that.

No doubt crime rates will decline if everyone grows up in a safe, stable environment and never faces hunger or other serious unmet needs as adults. But there are other outbursts of violence that have nothing to do with poverty. Someone who leaves the UK to join ISIS in Syria isn't doing it because they are hungry. Someone who shoots their ex-spouse and a bunch of the ex-spouse's coworkers isn't doing it because they want better clothing. Universal prosperity isn't going to completely eliminate irrational violence. It's going to be interesting times indeed if someone with an unhinged grudge can fab up a jug of nerve gas just as easily as Americans today can buy firearms.

I think the general consensus in the futurist community is that this vision requires molecular nanotechnology, which means first sorting out the basics of mechanosynthesis in carbon and simple nanoforges. There are groups working on the foundation technologies, but not many of them in a deliberative way with nanoforges as a destination (E.g. Zyvex).

Translating the section of the present human-based manufacturing industry needed to support a modern village into a box that can be built and maintained by a much, much smaller industry seems hard to do unless said box is something very similar to a nanoforge.

There are important differences between what you can do with a mature general purpose rapid prototyping system and a nanoforge. Foodstuffs directly from raw feedstock, for example. But this has all been debated at great length in sections of the transhumanist community for decades now. There is a lot of good writing on this topic out there to be discovered if you go looking.

I'm not sure why people seem so convinced that MNT is a hard requirement here. To be sure there are some components that require fine micrometer to nanometer level precision, but existing mechanical and/or chemical approaches do work, otherwise we wouldn't have things like computer chips

You can draw fibers, use cantilevers, exploit the wavelength properties of laser light, electromagnetically control the path of ionized materials in a vacuum, use piezoelectric actuators that convert current to angstrom level movements, and so on. Not to mention the many approaches to coating a surface with a very thin layer: vacuum deposition, spin coating, electroplating, etc.

Reminds me of the end of Manna when the main character gets to Australia which has a society powered by Machines: http://www.marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

This is a simple idea, but I love it. I think it'll be possible with machines like Baxter.

And even if you don't want to live in that kind of community, it's nice to know that those kinds of communities would exist, as sort of fail-safes.

A potential issue is shelter.

It's a little too simple. Simple as a 100-year-old science fiction story, which frankly was way more interesting because it explored the cautionary side of the same idea, instead of being so blindly utopian about it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops

As much as I love this idea I believe that it's unrealistic with today's tools. Let's just focus on machine learning/general ai for now.

Well I'm looking on a 100+ year timeline.

But I do think a machine that does a portion of this work, such as growing food, is totally possible with today's tools.

In the real world, only one person owns the machine, and is able to undercut everyone else's labor in the name of "fairness".

This is why The Machine is open source. So no one has to agree to the social contract presented by one "master owner" of The Machine.

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