Sunday, May 14, 2017

Later Stages of the Industrial Revolution

It’s not completely simple to figure out the stages of an alien civilization’s climb to technological sophistication and the accompanying societal changes, but at least we here on Earth have one example. We have some recorded history of the agricultural revolution, some archaeological results, and some understanding of agricultural technology’s stages to use. For the first part of the industrial grand transformation, we have just recently lived through it, and have an infinite amount of detail to examine. But for later stages of the industrial grand transformation, meaning the technological revolution and the societal changes they induced, we have to project forward. More care is needed.

The first stages of the industrial grand transformation involve energy sources, transportation, mechanical devices, and chemical engineering. The elements were discovered, oils were found to be useful for lubrication, coal was found for energy, and the engineering process of conceiving a new invention, testing it in gradually increasing steps, and then developing a manufacturing process to produce it came into being. The scientific method initiated by Francis Bacon gets all the credit, but the engineering process was as much a contributor to the industrial revolution as was the scientific method. These two methodologies contributed to all stages of all subsequent grand transformations.

Later stages of the industrial grand transformation are only speculation, as we do not know, for example, if fusion will become a success story and power humankind for the next many millennia, and neither do we know if any alien civilization will succeed, even if we fail. Possibly if we do fail, there will be some scientific understandings that will result from the attempts that can clarify the possibilities with fusion. For now, we can only guess that the difficulties will eventually be overcome, in some manner, and power will be available. Without it, an alien civilization might power itself with uranium, dug on its own planet or on ones closer to its star, stellar photons collected on the planet in some way or another, in space or on some other planet. It even might have monumental sources of chemical energy, such as we might tap by skimming hydrogen from Jupiter and somehow bringing it back to Earth for combustion. Power sources make a huge difference in an alien civilization’s options for star travel, and the only way to deal with this unknown is to consider both options, fusion and no-fusion.

The internals of the alien civilization are not affected so much by the sources of energy as by the computational powers and communication options afforded by the electronics component of these later stages of the industrial grand transformation. They eliminate the need for aliens to work, and work itself transforms from a dire necessity to an interesting amusement. This represents a huge upheaval in the organization of their society. During the agricultural phases and the early part of the industrial grand transformation, work had to become specialized and these specializations led to stratification of society, inevitably. But when work disappears, what is left to provide a stratification and a hierarchy of control? There is nothing that is mandatory, and this means that any alien civilization will have organizational options available to it that we can only imagine.

In our society, work is used as a rationale for the existence and magnitude of the hierarchy of wealth and power that exists. Would an alien society, in the later stages of the industrial grand transition, have anything but legacy to justify these hierarchies to an increasingly intelligent population? It is hard to see how the inevitable result of the later industrial grand transformation would be, after some long duration of social change, anything other than more egalitarianism.

Another product of the later stages of the industrial grand transformation is a reduction in scarcity. Technology makes production increase, and if it occurs fast enough, more rapidly than population increases, this will mean a higher level of per capita production. If the diversion of production to capital and infrastructure costs is not too great, this means scarcity diminishes. Thus, unless deliberately enforced by the alien civilization, material needs and wants are increasingly satisfied to some mininum level, and an increasing segment of the alien population sees no need for work, as it becomes less and less tied to the alleviation of scarcity. A legacy hierarchy would see less and less aliens willing to work in lower positions, and more and more substitution of automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Does this still respond to such a legacy hierarchy top members’ desires for feeling superior and in control of others? Possibly not. So, not only would there be less interest in maintaining a legacy hierarchy from the bottom, but also from the top levels as well.

Property, or better the desire to possess property, is a result of scarcity, plus other factors. To think about this, imagine a situation. In an alien civilization, there was housing available in abundance. For whatever reason, completely furnished dwellings were everywhere vacant, and maintained by the in-house automation. What would be the reason a particular alien would want to own one? The costs of one would be nil, as there were vacant ones, completely in good order, paid for by the civilization itself rather than by any individual aliens. Wouldn’t the aliens adopt a habit of moving whenever it suited their needs? This might be thought of as a hotel culture, as opposed to a home culture. This is simply one more example of how technology determines culture, as embodied in one of the main ideas of this blog, technological determinism. What would it mean to the society if there was a surfeit of housing and anyone could move into a vacant dwelling, all largely identical, anywhere they chose? With no work to tie them to a particular location, aliens would become internally nomadic.

The lack of ties to particular pieces of property does not mean than individual aliens would become nonchalant about maintaining them in good condition during their period of residency. This attitude is more connected with cultural norms in the property surfeit situation. It the prior stages of the alien civilization, there was scarcity to propel individual aliens to protect and maintain property that they had control over, but with scarcity gone, something else would need to take its place, and only cultural norms seem to fit that requirement.

Now it is possible to ask a germane question: With no sense of desire for property, would the aliens in such an advanced civilization want to go and establish colonies on distant exo-planets, far from their star? How much does the desire to avoid scarcity establish a psychology for colonialism, and after centuries of experiencing none at all, does this impetus remain?