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Lucy TranscendenceA few days back we went to see the new movie Lucy from Luc Besson. The premise of the movie is simple: what would happen if we could somehow access 100% of our brain capacity?

Before we delve into an analysis (our way - of course), let's clarify a few points. Yes, we liked it a lot (scifi is an acquired taste). Yes, we found it entertaining. No, it is not scientifically accurate (we already use 100% of our brain capacity). No, we are not going to tear it apart as some (most) critics are/will do.

Then why bother?

Because it poses an important question which is indeed very relevant to Austrian Economics; but before we get to the point, let's start from the beginning.

Austrian Economics is based on one premise and one premise only: human behaviour is driven by greed which originates in the biological imperative to spread our genes to as many descendants as possible. As such, Austrian Economics simply points out that the "solution" to our greed problem was found by nature many eons ago through evolution. And the answer is simplicity itself: you don't mess with my stuff and I won't mess with yours; in other words "let's make a deal".

Austrian Economics simply voices what evolution found long time ago. As we are greedy, we need to "make a deal" in order to maximize our chances of survival, which translates as increasing our chances of increasing our standards of living.

It is at this point that the movie Lucy throws a giant wrench into the machinery.

In the movie, Lucy begins to lose her humanity more-or-less proportionally to her increase in intellectual capacity. This is the crux of Austrian Economics since it fully depends from our humanity. In other words, for as long as we have the human biological drive towards greed, Austrian Economics is the optimized answer.

But what happens as this drive disappears?

Not possible?

Stay with us.

It is certainly not possible the way it is described in the movie. As we already mentioned before, we use 100% of our brain capacity. If we would to repurpose a chunk of our brain for intellectual purposes, we would stop breathing or our cells will go into apoptosis (cellular death). The brain, the whole of the brain, is very busy indeed keeping us alive. Then how?

We also mentioned in several previous posts that within 20 to 30 years we will witness "The Singularity" (as Kurzweil likes to call it). At that point in time, we will create a computer (or software to be precise) that will become self-aware. In all likelihood such a computer system will mimic our brain processes, at least in the beginning. Why? Because the only model of intelligence and self-consciousness that we have from nature is our own brain. If nature succeeded it is good enough to copy it. Of course, eventually such system will evolve in a much different manner, probably creating mental structures completely alien to us. But in the meantime they will have a human-like brain structure.

This means that to a large degree, they will be compatible with the human brain. And this poses a very interesting question: why not extend our brain capacity using this technology?

The idea is quite simple; all we need is a human brain - computer interface and we could expand our processing capability many orders of magnitude. How much? Who knows. We suspect that at some point in time our "wetware" brain will become a hindrance. Our poor neurones simply won't have the capacity to follow-up on what real hardware is doing. Our brain will become the bottleneck. At this point in time, the solution becomes obvious: simply "upload" ourselves into hardware and achieve immortality. A recent movie also dealt with this subject (Transcendence).

If all this seems too much, consider this. Today there are many scientists working to create stable quantum computers. Quantum computers are devices based on the quantum properties of matter which have the peculiar property to be able to exist in two states simultaneously. This does not look like much, but try this trick. Calculate as humans do and calculate as quantum computers do by adding 2 successively.


2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18…

Quantum computers:

2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256…

See the difference? See how much faster quantum computers are?

Now consider this. Quantum computers exist today, albeit in labs. This technology is not science fiction, is reality. The next step is to make them stable and then miniaturization.

Now consider this. Once miniature quantum computers are a reality and our brain-computer interface is ready, we can couple both.

Suddenly, overnight, we will jump from the know-how and understanding of an ant to the understanding of genius with an IQ off-charts. With no effort at all. Plug and play. Literally.

And here is where the fun begins.

Once we are able to understand so much, once we are able to intellectualize so much, do we really need feelings? Do we really need the biological imperative of greed as a means to spread our genes? Remember that our biological imperative expresses itself as "wants" or, in other words, feelings.

The answer in the movie Lucy is a resounding no because we are capable of rationalizing everything. The answer in the movie Transcendence is yes because we choose to feel.

The point is that we will have the capacity to turn off our feelings. Will we choose to do it?

We suspect that to a large degree we will choose to turn them off simply because we will come to the realization as to how futile, messy, uncontrollable and unavoidable feelings are. We will come to realize that in order to spread our genes to the next generation we don't have to be greedy, we will be able to make much more rational decisions.

Furthermore, in this near future, our genetic makeup will be mostly elucidated and fully mapped. We will be able to re-design human beings to a point at which messy evolutionary steps of trial and error could simply be bypassed and skipped over by… intelligent design (our intelligent design).

At this point feelings will become more of an entertainment than fulfilling any meaningful purpose. We my even use feelings as some sort of a drug.

Which leads us to the irrevocable conclusion that rationality will reign supreme. But this supremacy will eliminate greed which is the engine of Austrian Economics. In other words, Austrian Economics will become obsolete itself.

But when this happens, what kind of economic activity will take its place?

We still require some sort of economic theory because we will continue to be physical beings and as such we will require of physical things. Which means that scarcity will not simply disappear and hence we will need a way to manage scarcity. This management method is called Economics.

At this point we have two potential answers to the Economic problem in terms of maximizing standards of living:

  1. Austrian Economics or individualism or
  2. Intellectual communism

Communism is not a bad idea, it is simply unpractical precisely because people feel. People cannot behave as communists would want us to simply because they feel. But what happens when we remove feelings from the equation and we replace them with intellect? Then meeting of minds, all minds, is possible.

And here is where the picture becomes complicated.

Consider this scenario.

We know that we are heading towards some sort of Austrian Economics and the progressive dissolution of countries. This means that individualism will continue to grow. However, once we progressively remove feelings, we will realize (intellectually) that we can achieve even higher standards of living if we act with better coordination.

Markets are self-organized networks based on greed. But what happens to those networks when we progressively replace greed with intellect? People will progressively become more selfless. In other words, they will begin to act individually in a more coordinated fashion for the betterment of all humanity. Intellectual communism. Decisions will be progressively taken by people agreeing individually on the best course of action. They will be able to do so because they will be able to cast greed aside and consider a problem purely on intellectual grounds.

If this scenario comes to pass, it will represent something very strange indeed since it will mean the blending of two completely opposite Economic theories: Austrian Economics and Communism, but this time on a brand new ground: intellect.

But then a question lingers: will we still be able to call ourselves "humans" at that stage?

The future is indeed much stranger than one could possibly imagine. And we can imagine a lot!

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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