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Serious musings

Influencing Scarcity

Post-scarcity is often talked about in utopian terms. It generally refers to the state of society when every material need can and is satisfied, that goods are not rivalrous. In a post-scarcity society everyone can have everything because manufacturing(magic) has scaled to be able to supply every want.

Or at least in themselves; housing supply may be unlimited, but houses in the mountains will always be limited by the number of picturesque perches. And while, post-scarcity, money is no longer necessary for purchasing material things, many, many things cannot be made abundant, having scarcity and limit as fundamental. In the absence of real constraint, societies will quickly invent constraints to distance sub-units from the mainstream. Think back to high-school and how culture, dress, jokes, leisure all varied widely across friend groups and cliques. Influencers aren't going away, that is, because they create the differences we crave that allow us to distinguish ourselves from each other.

One way to achieve post-scarcity is to dystopically constrain choice to those things that can be supplied equally to all. At the other extreme, where everyone has StarTrek replicators(magic), the constraint becomes creating new things, things that stimulate and excite. I think, and hope that, this is where we're heading.

Already we are shifting our appreciation from real to digital goods, and with continued improvement in AI content creation, what limits the creation of satisfying goods?

Well, in one sense the only limit on digital goods is the evaluation of whether they satisfy. For instance, there have been many attempts at creating algorithmic music, and I have yet to find one that would be equivalent to Pandora or boring DJ mixes, let alone good ones. That is, even when we have a surplus of possibly-satisfying goods, our ability to experience these is limited and that slows refinement of the technology.

Now, the ongoing fracturing of the monoculture into overlapping niche cultures naturally allows more and different goods to be tried and used to create cultural distance and increase in-group affiliation, but there is still a limit on the diversity of goods that may be tried. This explains the growth of influencers, those charismatic, photogenic people who create and give life to a persona located around certain new products. As their ranks expand, they will be able to speak to more of these niche cultures and so create demand for diverse goods and content, but there are limits to how quickly influencers can influence and how small each crowd of influencees can be.

What limits AI creation is not base creation but creating things that satisfy people. And determining what will satisfy people is much more the domain of influencers than AI, and this sounds like jobs that filter AI outputs for market success.

(And will we ever be sufficiently satisfied with material things to pursue philosophy?)