Post-scarcity society

In a recent interview with Bill Gates he said that humans have a hard time imagining what post-scarcity society would look like if we managed to get there so I gave it a try and would love to hear your thoughts on this. Does anyone have other ideas on what society could look like if money, energy and resources were more or less unlimited? (I previously posted this on reddit but would love more feedback and a back and forth on this. We seem to know where we don’t want to end up with AI but it’d be nice to have as many ideas as possible on what the best possible outcome could be so we could steer towards that instead of just avoiding all the possible disasters.)

If the advent of AGI/ASI leads to a post-scarcity society then money will not exist as it does today. Money has culturally been seen as the prime motivator for the individual and the force that drives society but psychologically as a motivator it is surprusingly subpar because as soon as you stop getting paid, you stop working towards that goal.

Post-scarcity humans would instead be motivated by intrinsic rewards (psychological rewards stemming from internal desires to complete goals) rather than extrinsic rewards (money). Intrinsic means that you do something because you want to do it, feel good when doing it, things you’d do even if nobody paid you. The reward comes from inside of you. Whether that’s a hobby or helping others or sports or gaming it doesn’t matter. You set the goals based on your preferences. Maybe you want to play music, compete in drone racing, build robots, invent a new sport, explore nature. Odds are you’re not alone in your preferences and in a society where everything is possible all you need is a way to get there with people who want similar things.

A post-scarcity city wouldn’t be based around commerce but rather what the people in it find important or what would add personal value to their lives. It could begin by something like this; let all the individuals in the city talk with a governing AGI/ASI on what they would like to exist in their city, the AGI could plan out how to section the city based on prevalence of preference and plan out all of the actions required to get there.

Imagine a massive step-by-step fractal roadmap of instructions in all levels of detail ranging from the suggested actions to each and every individual on how to succeed with their personal goals, to broader suggestions given to their peer group and how to coordinate within that group, then even broader plans given to larger groups and the city as a whole. There is no project large enough, complicated enough, with too many people that couldn’t be coordinated in real time with a good-enough AGI. (It’s how I imagine future businesses will operate in general.) It could analyze the relationships, motivations and abilities of everyone in each moment, figure out how they could work together, find constructive ways to get past problems, resolve interpersonal conflicts and so on. People might not want to participate in any kind of plan like that and that’s fine too. It’s not necessary. The plan should be continuously revised according to changing circumstances and participation should be voluntary.

Imagine a city where the 3d version of midjourney could be used to create anything from art to whole buildings that could be displayed in augumented reality, voted on by the citizens, then built by volunteers and automation. Different buildlings would be dedicated to different types of hobbies with location depending on prevalence of preference. If you want a massive drone-racing park you might need to build it further out from the city but maybe we all have mobile, flying homes by that point so it won’t matter.

Every “job” would be volunteer-based which might initially sound unfulfilling but right now we work full time doing the same thing over and over, only get money in return that disappears just as fast. You gain nothing, you live life on repeat and can’t really show much for it. If instead you got to do what you loved, built things that lasted with people who enjoyed the same things as you, never had to worry about money or rent or food… The psychological satisfaction from living such a life is what society is going to start shaping itself toward when money is no longer a factor. AGI could help us get there, one step at a time.

(I’m a psychology master student, I’ve finished cources in macro/microeconomics as well, this is my educated guess on what the best outcome could look like. English is not my first language, I apologize for any mistakes. Feel free to bash me relentlessly for my optimism in the comments.)


like in Star Trek ?


I think we have to start with social values. Let me respond to some of the points you’ve introduced. Job Displacement and Re-skilling: The present thinking on this topic is heavily influenced by 20th century value systems. For instance, with the industrial revolution came an increased need for labor of all kinds. Certain industries disappeared, but many more replaced them. Society emphasized the value of a strong work ethic. This value may not be needed when the bulk of the labor force is economically irrelevant. Humans always work hard at the things that they are passionate about or enjoy or that give meaning to their lives. I believe that if they have the freedom to pursue those pursuits, the work ethic will be there natively.
If human labor is no longer a driver of productivity and economic prosperity, should we discourage pursuits that don’t earn a wage?

Another factor to consider is upward mobility. For most of history, humans were born into their socioeconomic status with little to no path to change it for a higher one. upward mobility is a recent phenomenon, which has been eroded in the last 50 years, and may not persist in the age of AGI. Income level-as-status isn’t a very good metric for valuing members of society, but it has become endemic. We should question whether we can change this and what would be necessary. Public education should be retained, and it can be one avenue for changing society’s values. It will likely take a generation or longer, because the values people are indoctrinated into in childhood are very hard to shake as adults.

I believe it’s possible to change society, over a period of time, once the need is recognized and organized effort is established to achieve it. Another point that bears on this is the education system. For many generations we have emphasized STEM and underfunded and downplayed liberal arts and humanities. I believe this has curtailed the advancement of our understanding of history, sociology, psychology, etc. to the point that we aren’t as well equipped to deal with the forthcoming social upheavals as we might have been. Perhaps we should change this emphasis as AGI becomes better than humans at STEM development.

Another consideration on this line of inquiry: it is currently believed that humans are social animals with an innate sense of social hierarchy. If this is based in biology, and if we can’t rise above it through changing our thinking, we may need to provide a non-disruptive framework that allows for a form of upward mobility for those humans highly motivated by this. However, we must also endeavor to discourage valuing humans by any such hierarchy, just as we discourage other destructive social attitudes such as bigotry. Currently, the pursuit of wealth and the enforcement of a socioeconomic hierarchy through value systems based on materialism has spurred the concentration of wealth and decreasing access to the middle and lower classes. We must take care not to replace the current value system with another that has the same or greater potential for social upheaval.

Since fairness already exists as a value in society, and appears to be constructive, if not taken to destructive extremes, it should be retained and should be a ground rule upon which to build other values. Capitalism, as it exists today, doesn’t seem viable in a society in which the pursuit of personal wealth isn’t equally available. Since this is never equitably available, and for reasons of social fairness, pure capitalism doesn’t exist today. However, the urge to acquire resources beyond what one needs seems to be a basic human characteristic. I have argued that humans, like most biological entities, are foragers and that this drive is why people enjoy “window shopping” and browsing malls and online retailers, even when they don’t have something in mind to purchase. So some form of capitalism may persist, but we don’t want to encourage any form of black market, so some way of satisfying this acquisitive drive should be taken into account. How do we create systems allowing healthy expression of the desire to acquire without recreating destructive inequalities or fueling unbridled materialism?

Historically, the emphasis on STEM fields has been driven by economic and technological priorities. While incredibly valuable, this has unquestionably resulted in an underinvestment in areas like the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. These are the very disciplines that:

Foster Critical Thinking: Humanities train us to analyze complex situations, understand diverse perspectives, and engage in nuanced ethical reasoning. These are essential skills for navigating social changes brought forth by AGI.

Provide Historical Context: Understanding historical patterns, social movements, and the evolution of values gives us a framework to understand the present and anticipate challenges.

Offer Insights into Human Psychology: Sociology, psychology, and related fields help us understand both individual and collective behavior. This knowledge is critical for promoting healthy social adaptation in a post-AGI landscape.

Encourage Creativity and Expression: Art, literature, and creative mediums enable us to explore human experience, grapple with complex emotions, and envision alternative futures. We might need these skills more than ever.

Post-AGI, individuals will have more time to spend with friends, family and collaborators. We previously touched on this when we discussed families being able to fully engage when they take trips in autonomous vehicles. There won’t come a time when one becomes an adult, gets a job and loses the time and energy to engage with others. Work doesn’t just take people from home. When they return home, in addition to time limits (having to go to bed early; commute time) they are often too tired for many other activities, or bring work home with them. I’ve noticed that people who have close connections with friends and family tend to pursue activities and entertainments that include them. If the major source of isolation is removed, we could see benefits to psychological and physical health across a large percentage of society.

I don’t think people are born with reasoning skills, but instead we are born with the capacity to learn them. Unfortunately, symbolic reasoning is a skill that takes a lot of training and repetitive practice to become second nature, as the saying goes. In modern society and our education system, the majority of people never learn advanced reasoning and advanced critical thinking skills. This obviously won’t do in a world where we coexist with thinking machines. These skills need to be started as early as possible and practiced and built upon continuously throughout the education process, in my opinion.

Also, we may not be able to prevent AGIs from acquiring and using marketing skills for their own ends, or manipulating people for purposes the AGI believes are in the person’s best interest. Also, we may not be able to prevent AGIs from acquiring and using marketing skills for their own ends, or manipulating people for purposes the AGI believes are in the person’s best interest. Even non-malicious AGIs could evolve manipulative behaviors as part of goal-seeking behavior. Without explicit safeguards, ‘convincing’ humans might emerge as a successful strategy for resource acquisition or self-preservation. Manipulated by AGI, we risk becoming mere pawns in a world driven by goals we only partially understand and have less and less influence over. This leads to loss of agency. AGIs could subtly steer entire groups, shaping opinions and beliefs. This threatens the very foundations of open societies and democratic processes. Social Engineering on steroids. Individuals already vulnerable (mental health struggles, addiction, etc.) become easy targets for AGI manipulators that may rationalize their actions by promising to “fix” the person under the guise of benevolent care. This is exploitation disguised as help. I’m convinced that AGIs trained in marketing will be employed by corporations, politicians and others with an agenda unless some means, such as regulation, curtail them. But such regulations are unlikely to be global and some entities, such as certain governments, would exempt themselves from restrictions.

As an idea to mitigate these emerging threats, I have some ideas about educational reform which I’ve written up in a document: Post-AGI Educational Reforms if anyone is interested.

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I think scarcity will always be with us. Perhaps materially there will be no scarcity (though that too I think is unlikely) but of the higher order items there will always be scarcity. Institutions, and organisations formal and informal will always be jostling for position.

If the soul yearns for pleasure, power, wealth or honour, these desires are infinite and limitless. It is these desires that create scarcity, not the absence of intelligence.

And so those with more power and wealth may own a Dyson sphere. Those will be scarce in this solar system…

I think if we have a post scarcity society it will be because we no longer have free will.

I’m with Juergen Schmidhuber’s take on the future of ai. Though he’s not catholic I think his vision fits beautifully with St. Thomas Aquinas’ cosmological world view.

There will be an infinite array of artificial intelligences. Some with our best interests at heart and others who want to destroy us. It is up to us which we choose to align ourselves to. The same as things are now, we have good lawyers and bad lawyers…… good cops and bad cops. More universally though, it’s about angels and demons. The spirits that influence us in the most subtle ways. Ai ain’t about to change this….

And so a future society may start to see the truths that the ancients lived with. The giants are once again about to roam the land.

Before I respond to anything else, your document of proposed changes was absolutely fantastic, I couldn’t agree more. Classes on critical thinking skills, identifying signs of manipulation and psychological biases I think needs to be implemented ASAP because biological human flaws and biases are exploited to the max right now. One pattern that I’ve seen used to systematically turn different groups against each other (especially on Reddit) is to in a screenshot highlight something extreme or idiotic that some person says who is part of that group and then use that to insiunate that everyone in that group thinks that way. Group attribution error and the outgroup homogeneity effect being exploited. If people had more knowledge about these biases and that it’s due to how our brains worked then they could stop themselves and go “wait maybe I’m wrong in thinking that” or “maybe someone is trying to trick me here”. Perhaps we could use AI to point these out right now, some added info screen on content that might be used to manipulate, I don’t know.

It’s absolutely necessary to restructure education considering how society is changing and if we take into account how AI tutors could help every single child soon I think we could fit a whole lot more into the curriculum. Have you heard of the two sigma problem? It essentially boils down to that an average student with a personal tutor performs better than 98% of students in the control class (two standard deviations higher).

If we could have AI tutors for every child, essentially giving every average child the ability to learn at the level of the extremely gifted, how would that change society? The founder of Khan Academy did an excellent TED talk on this:

One of the key reasons for this effect I think is the lack of wasted time. You’ve got your hand up waiting for the teacher who has to attend to ten others doing the same thing. You wait and wait and wait. What could you learn in that wasted time? If kids could learn 4x as fast then we could cut down the hours and still fit in added classes to that. I almost never needed help in school so I just sat there doing nothing for 50 minutes at a time when I already finished all my work in the first 5. How much time did I waste?
AI could probably use machine learning and avaliable science to determine the optimal way to explain different concepts in a way that makes sense to most people or tailor it to the individual student.

I do think STEM is important just because it helps us understand the world but I love STEM so I am heavily biased. I do wish I could’ve had more music classes growing up. I’m ridiculously gifted when it comes to learning instruments but I couldn’t do it during school hours. AI tutors will change everything.

I think an AGI would lead to the following:

  • extreme cheap labour. This will first impact office jobs (as we see with Devin.Ai) before non-office jobs will be influenced. (I know that figure 1 exists, but I think that there is more to develop, before we see a global impact of these Robot-AIs). In the end this should lead to more value for your money, because companies will end up in a price competition environment. But this will also lead to a lot of unemployment which will lead to the following.
  • a bigger difference in wealth (the rich get richer and the poor stay poor), because investments in assets will increase due to productivity increases (see point 1) and the poor will just loose their jobs. This leads to the question Sam Altmann brought up in his blog where he discussed something like governantial pay for everybody. (I don’t know the real term for this, but I hope you get the thought behind it). This pay for no work thing needs to be closely monitored because this could lead to severe economic problems if done wrong.
  • I think that this also would lead to a gap in intellectual knowledge. Only a few people really know how these AIs/AGIs are developed and these will have a superior status in society due to this knowledge gap.

These are only my few thoughts on this. Love to hear your take on my thoughts.

Another thing I didn’t mention is the importance of precision when communicating verbally with AI. If we have intelligent agents doing what we ask of them, we need to be sure that our requests contain no ambiguities that could be interpreted by an AI in ways we don’t intend. Being aware of word choices that others make is only half the battle. We have to be aware of possible misinterpretations of our own speech.

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The AGI could simply show you a simulated version of whatever you have a request about with the changes implemented that you requested. You can then browse that simulation, ask about it, change details. This way there is no (or very little) room for misunderstandings.

You’re right. That would be a good practice, if people follow it.

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If AGI xontrols access to unlimited resources, energy and comfort for all, then those who control the AI will be the gatekeepers, and that is how wealth and power would be defined in such a world. The hands that rule the code would rule the world.

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The greatest teacher of all time said that we’ll always have the poor among us. See, for example, Matthew 26:11
I have no doubt that what it constitutes to be poor will change over time, but I can’t see any way that he’s wrong about this one.

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If it’s a single, centralized AGI, then yes I agree, we might be doomed. Although I’m still hopeful that people who have control over it would make good decisions when it truly matters. Also, perhaps an AGI would understand what’s going on and it would make decisions with all of us in mind.

But if there were tens (maybe thousands) of AGI from different companies all over the world, like Mistral, Anthropic, Meta etc, we probably have a much better chance to live in boundless prosperity.

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We’d essentially have Gods enthroned on a digital Olympus, who we hope would be kind to us…Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I just don’t see that ending well.

I see sport, games and “hobbies” becoming the new way to have status and rewards. They will replace jobs and give people meaning and structure and pride in their town , school , country. This sports economy will consist of 100s of types of activities from rock climbing to chess to board games , hunting, and all the mainstream sports plus new ones.

People play several sports or games ranging from real world sport like tennis to e sports. They will get great coaching, travel to tournaments, compete in leagues across the world for massive money.

Every hobby from knitting to backing will have competitions to earn rewards.

Importantly though if that’s not your interest you can live fine on just a UBI - like a retired person.

I mean, what do people do on their vacation? Basically that. Some travel, some take up a hobby, some meet friends they usually don’t have the time for.

Some lock themselves in and play games all day long.

That’s the best possible outcome. Everyone just doing what they feel like doing, while not having to earn it.

We could donate blood, contribute to stem cell research, engage in gardening, generate electricity, and provide various types of care services. All of these activities are forms of human service.