Monday, November 14, 2016

Hanson on long-run survival

Economist and futurist Robin Hanson makes an important point that seems widely understood yet rarely discussed:
It is easy to assume that what is good for you is good overall. If you are an artist, you may assume the world is better when consumers more art. If you are a scientist, you may assume the world is better if it gives more attention and funding to science. Similarly, it is easy to assume that the world gets better if more of us get more of what we want, and thus move higher into Maslow’s Hierarchy. 
But I worry: as we attend more to higher needs, we may grow and innovate less regarding lower needs. Can the universe really get filled by creatures focused mainly on self-actualization? Why should they risk or tolerate disruptions from innovations that advance low needs if they don’t care much for that stuff? And many today see their higher needs as conflicting with more capacity to fill low needs. For example, many see more physical capacities as coming at the expense of less nature, weaker indigenous cultures, larger more soul-crushing organizations, more dehumanizing capitalism, etc. Rich nations today do seem to have weaker growth in raw physical capacities because of such issues.
On a species-wide level, we are not at all close to achieving the sort of long-run existence that everyone should wish for. Our position is precarious and entirely dependent on the integrity and productivity of one planet. Nudging our collective resources towards a greater emphasis on space exploration and technological innovation is a really good idea. To the extent that reducing existential risks like climate change, pandemic and asteroids help to maximize the probability of long-run survival in space, we should do more. To the extent that economic growth and poverty reduction increases the number of researchers working on these problems, it's valuable. To the extent that institutions, norms and beliefs geared around individual self-actualization increase technological progress and ensure the structural stability necessary to continue the work, we must defend their integrity.

No comments :

Post a Comment