I have identified just three necessary ingredients for achieving a fully sustainable, post-scarcity economy – open information, open manufacturing and full regenerative use of local materials. All of these are proving to be unstoppable.
Lets look at each of them in a little detail:
1) Open Information – The modern trend towards increasingly open information began with the Gutenberg printing press in 1436 and became unstoppable ever since. There is not a single instance anywhere in history where information has been successfully censored indefinitely. The Internet is merely the most recent and dramatic example of this ongoing information explosion. Despite the best efforts of powerful interests everywhere to control and censor information, information wants to be free, and makes it so. The end result will be a totally decentralized and uncensored global network “brain” where everyone will be able to create, share and receive bits from anyone else. For example, the Pirate Bay, the biggest victim of censorship attacks, is now designing and building solar powered, high-altitude (70,000 feet) wireless servers that will be extraordinarily difficult to shut down. Open source hardware devices like the $50 Arduino and $25 Rasberry Pi, are only the beginning of cheap, widely available general purpose computing devices. With the rapid digitization of everything, including books, music, movies, money, recipes, formulas, designs, manufacturing processes, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, state secrets, solutions of every kind, and most importantly computation itself, the genie is out of the bottle for good on this one. No amount of laws or wars to stop it will succeed. Sadly, until the old order collapses, much of the progress in these domains will be done by outlaws.
2) Open Manufacturing – With the advent of open-source desktop manufacturing, the means to create physical goods locally will be made available to all. Open sourced manufacturing generates some dramatically positive outcomes:
- Radically improved product design without planned obsolescence – think 50-100 year product lifetimes. Indefinite product lifetimes means no further expenditures on tools, and radically reduced requirements for new materials. This translates to far less consumption, waste and strain on the planet.
- Modular construction methods for easy and rapid construction, repair and upgrading. Example: Wikispeed designed a totally modular car in less than 3 months that gets 100mpg, has 10 minute average repair times, and can be changed from a gasoline to an electric car (and back again!) in less than an hour. Currently automobiles are deliberately designed to fail within a few years, in which repairs and parts are both expensive and difficult to replace. This planned obsolescence is a deliberate design flaw for maximizing auto industry/auto mechanic profit margins. Open source automobiles totally eliminates this waste and expense.
- Designed from the beginning to use local and biofriendly sources of raw materials – current business models favor the use of expensive or hard to obtain materials for maximizing profit margins. If the materials are cheap and readily available, prices can’t be fixed by resource hoarding. There are strong incentives withing the current closed-source system for incumbents to use materials and processes that are hard to duplicate elsewhere. Prices only drop when their is genuine competition in raw materials. By designing open-source products to use locally available and renewable resources, the price fixers, hoarders, renters and other middle-men are completely cut of of the equation.
3) 100% Regenerative Use of Local Materials – Currently many of the products of our civilization require precious materials from far away places. However the means to create advanced technologies like high capacity batteries and computer processors is becoming possible using everyday organic materials like carbon. A good example is graphene, a new and spectacular type of carbon molecule whose strength and electrical conductivity is greater than any material ever recorded. Already people have figured out to make graphene supercapacitors and do microlithography (the process used to make microchips) using nothing more than a $50 DVD burner! The continued work on creating new materials using readily available recyclable and biodegradable resources makes the possibility of having an fully regenerative, earth friendly, advanced technological, post-scarcity, thriving abundant civilization, a tangible possibility. See Spime.