Friday, January 8, 2016

Taste and Appreciation

In the short term view, it would seem that the robotics grand transition on an alien planet would eliminate the work of the citizens, who would then have less meaning to their lives and would become lazy and indulgent. This would lead to a loss of interest in major challenges, and the civilization would therefore not take on something like star travel. So, robotics is the reason there are no aliens here.

Not so fast. This is a very short-sighted view. It is important to frame the question in a way which is not embedded in the instantaneous situation. The question really is: How would alien citizens spend their time after the robotics grand transition, and would it lead to an increase in interest in star travel or a decrease?

Consider the earlier grand transitions. In the hunter-gatherer era, when aliens were just developing their intelligence, but before they started agriculture, you could ask: “If agriculture provides an easy way to get food, what will the former hunters do? Will they just sit around the campfire and tell stories and sing songs, and lose interest in challenges, and never get to the industrial revolution?” It is a parallel way of asking the same question, but buried deeply in the existing situation. Rise above it. What might they do with their time?

There is a whole host of ways in which aliens might choose to use their time. There are some temporary activities, which might last for the period between the robotics revolution and one of the later ones, such as the genetics revolution. During this interval, the alien civilization has not achieved universal high intelligence, only evolutionary intelligence, so some avenues are closed off for a while. So what can a modestly intelligent population do when large blocks of time become available, amidst a large change in social arrangements?

The alien civilization at this point has some serious impediments toward solving the problem, although many solutions are available. The impediments include: 1) no goals for their world have been agreed upon yet, 2) idiocracy could be a precipice not far from where they are, 3) resource allocations may have been based upon the old situation, 4) factionalism and hierarchies could be rife.

All four of these impediments will have to be dealt with, and they all are solved during the next grand transitions, or specifically the genetic grand transition. One supposition is that the robotics revolution occurs before the genetic one, as the inverse order would be much easier to pass through. The reverse order is likely to be impossible, as genetics is perforce a data-rich transformation, and without robotics, it would be impossible to do the DNA coding research that is necessary to run through the genetics grand transition. The combinatorics of genes is just too great to investigate by slow, manual methods. Thus, this order is necessary, and the interval between one and the other is, perhaps, the most difficult interval in the history of any alien civilization.

If there was a set of overarching goals that the society had agreed to, and they were both intellectually sound and embedded in the memes and the training of young citizens, it would be possible to analytically deduce just how best to spend the time of the citizens, using cost-benefit analysis or the alien equivalent. To be more explicit, if the civilization had decided upon colonization of nearby habitable planets, then when some citizen had free time, he could simply volunteer that time to tasks related to the colonization effort.

As for avoiding idiocracy, it is fairly clear that if there is a negative correlation between net-birth death numbers and intelligence, it will occur. So, some social action would have to be taken to stop that, until such time as the genetics revolution renders the possibility moot.

As for a restructuring of society, any restructuring that allows some minimum level of welfare to be present everywhere for all subsets of the population would allow the civilization to move forward to the other grand transitions. Resource allocation could be done on the basis of a set minimum with some bonuses for something contributing to society, or with a wide distribution depending on how the first two impediments are solved, or with a high degree of chance, or any other way. Since the robotics grand transition makes the genetics grand transition possible and likely only a short time after it, these allocation strategies do not have to be optimal, just sufficient. Anything would work for the few generations it takes to go from one grand transition to another.

Lastly, factionalism can lead to destruction or to a halting of technological progress. Internecine strife is perhaps the most serious danger that the alien civilization would face. However, if factionalism is expressed neither in destruction nor in the halting of progress, it too would be only a temporary friction on the civilization leaving all these impediments behind.

Given that these four impediments are recognized and bypassed, what might the average citizen do with the additional time made available by the robotics revolution? Four categories are immediately obvious, relating to consumption, production, self-improvement, and interpersonal activities.

Everybody, including any aliens with associative neural networks wired generally like ours, wants to be happy. Happy in the context of consumption means a mélange of familiarity, which is more subtle that it might initially be thought, and novelty. Familiarity is the obvious source of happiness. When something is associated by the brain with prior “good things”, then the neuro-chemicals pump out. The connection does not have to be a one-to-one match as the brain does not work like that. It is a matching of attributes, or factors, or aspects. As an example, we do not like someone because they are identical with our best friend, but because the new person shares some characteristics. The closer they are to those characteristics which originated the prior friendship, the deeper they lay and the heavier they are weighed. Characteristics which originate in the new friend might also play a role, but not so importantly. The same works with all likes and dislikes, as done by an associative neural network, which we suppose aliens evolve with, just as all sentient creatures on Earth have.

So on the consumption side, taste and appreciation are keys to the usage of surplus time. Taste is the learning of what is good to consume, in any area of consumer goods, and appreciation is the ability to recognize that which matches the taste that has been learned. Taste and appreciation are categories of time allocation which can go on past the genetic grand transition. To give an example, mobile land creatures on an alien planet where intelligence has been achieved need a power source, likely plants and other creatures being reduced and burned with oxygen from the atmosphere. In other words, alien creatures would likely breathe. That means breathe the atmosphere, unless the planet was one of the rare ones where life could possibly develop underwater. Still, the atmosphere recharges the dissolved gases in the ocean. So the same point could be made even in these exceptional cases.

Taste means knowing what atmospheric constituents should be present and what should not, from the point of consumption. Appreciation means being able to tell when the atmosphere is short of one or possesses too large a fraction of nugatory constituents or even something toxic.

Since consumption in an alien civilization which passes the robotics grand transition is likely to be very diverse, taste and appreciation can certainly pull their weight in using up the time freed up by the grand transition. Perhaps it should be number one of the things to be explored.

The other three will have to wait for a different post to be discussed.

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