April 25, 2014

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CopyBot Roils SecondLife Economy

Here’s one from the It-Was-Only-a-Matter-of-Time file. Somebody in SecondLife, a popular multiplayer virtual world, created a gadget called the CopyBot, which can make a perfect copy of any object in the SecondLife world. (Here’s a Reuters story.) This raises some interesting technical issues, but I want to focus today on how it effects SecondLife’s economy.

If you’re not familiar with virtual worlds, you might think the word “economy” is a stretch. But really it’s not. SecondLife has about 1.5 million residents. Residents are given a sophisticated toolset they can use to design complex objects, specifying the objects’ shape, appearance, and behavior. Objects can be sold for a currency called Linden Dollars. Linden Dollars are real money – they can be traded for U.S. dollars on currency exchange markets. Quite a few people make their living in SecondLife, running businesses that make Linden-Dollar profits, which are then cashed in for U.S. dollars. Most days, the SecondLife economy sees transactions worth a total of between $500,000 and $1,000,000 (real U.S. dollars). This is clearly a real economy.

To understand the possible impact of CopyBot, imagine such a thing existed in real life. Point this CopyGadget at any real-world object, push a button, and you get a perfect copy of that object. Want a new Lambourghini sportscar? Just find one in a parking lot and copy it. Like the lime sorbet at the local ice cream parlor? Buy a cup, take it home, and fill your freezer with copies. When you get down to the last cup in the freezer, just copy it again. You get the idea.

Needless to say, this would cause Big Trouble in the real-world economy. Lambourghini would have trouble selling cars. There would be no waiting at the ice cream parlor, even on the hottest summer night. Could these businesses survive? Could any business that provided goods survive?

A SecondLife business that designs and sells virtual objects faces the same challenge. If you design an object in SecondLife, the system lets you make copies of the object, but if you mark the object as uncopyable, the system won’t let other users copy it. So if you design a cool virtual widget, you can “manufacture” copies to sell to people, but your customers can’t re-copy the widgets they buy. Only you can make widgets, so people have to come to you to buy them. Like Lambourghinis and sorbet, manufactured virtual objects couldn’t easily be copied – until the CopyBot came along.

It’s too early to predict all of the impacts this will have. All we can say for sure is that it will be fascinating to watch. Already the story has several interesting facets, which I’ll write more about next week.

Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    You seem to be lacking perspective when you say that a real-life copybot would this would “cause Big Trouble in the real-world economy.” The end of scarcity is hardly something to be feared.

  2. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Way back in 2000 I foresaw this issue (obvious to those with two brain cells). Here’s a tiny segment of umpteen conversations I had on the subject (this one with the MD involving a colleague called ‘X’):

    I had a very brief discussion with X recently of how revenue would be obtained from the MMOG game, i.e. by charging for sales of creatures from a gallery: either of those developed in-house or by players (who would be remunerated in some way).

    The problem with this is that the creatures must be prevented from being copied – in order not to quickly jeopardise further sale of the creature at an economic price. And it would be quite a development effort (as well as a hit on system performance) to engineer a system that could secure creatures from being copied.

    I mentioned to X that one of the ways of avoiding the costs of preventing copying (let alone copyright infringement), is to abandon the attempt altogether.

    If we intend to obtain revenue through sale of creatures to a potentially very large market, then given that these things are digital artefacts I’d suggest that they are sold in a single transaction thus securing the full revenue in one go. This means we need the ability to address the market as a whole and facilitate a sale to that market as a whole. If the market wants a creature, then they collectively stump up the money. Of course, this requires that the market is able to act collectively in making a deal with the vendor of the product. I have attached a document I knocked together yesterday that sketches out how such a revenue model could work. I think the arrival of the web is the key that now makes it all possible.

  3. Jamie says:

    “You seem to be lacking perspective when you say that a real-life copybot would this would ’cause Big Trouble in the real-world economy.’”

    Andrew,
    No matter how you look at it, it would “cause Big Trouble in the real-world economy.” The current economy is not set up to handle abundance like that. This is not a value judgment on whether an economy based on abundance is a good thing or not. It is simply a statement of fact that under our current economy a “copybot” would cause a lot of problems. Abundance of a resource is always good for society overall, but the transition from scarcity to abundance can cause a lot of short term problems for society.

  4. Dennis C says:

    @Andrew
    Eventually. Maybe.

    However, in the physical world, there’s a good chance wars would break out over both the copying technology and the resources needed to make it work. Just look at what’s happening in the music industry. Besides, just because you can make anything doesn’t mean you have the energy to do so. That’s the essential difference between the virtual world and the physical world.

  5. Bunny says:

    I’m with Andrew on this one, for the most part.

    That being said, technology like that does exist in real life, too; the only difference is that it’s limited to certain industries, like the software industry. However, despite the fact that copying a piece of software is both extremely easy as well as – basically – without costs, the software industry still exists.

    Given that, I think questions like “Could these businesses survive? Could any business that provided goods survive?” are a bit too dramatic: yes, they could. And even if they didn’t… I’d imagine that an equivalent of the free software movement concerning tangible objects would appear in no time.

    And thinking about it, I think I’d prefer to live in a world like that, too. :)

  6. Hawkeyeaz1 says:

    Offtopic:

    Have you seen HBO’s documentary on e-voting?
    9 9+/- video clips, no commercials: http://hackedgadgets.com/2006/11/11/hbo-special-hacking-democracy-diebold-vote-manipulation/#more-617

    HBO’s about page: http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/hackingdemocracy/synopsis.html

  7. Hawkeyeaz1 says:

    Err, 9 clips @ 9+/- minutes long

  8. Neo says:

    “And thinking about it, I think I’d prefer to live in a world like that, too.”

    Good, because you’re going to have to, unless you plan to die or go to Pluto sometime in the next 20 years. :)

    Perhaps the greatest value in the current IP wars and in simulations like Second Life is that they can give us a relatively low-consequences training course in how to make the transition.

    Of course, there’s still money to be made after 2026. For one thing, everything is still scarce when it doesn’t exist, so there’s money to be made constructing the first instance of a desired object. Originals carry special significance to human minds, so that first instance can not only generate revenue up front (pay me and I’ll build it) but after the fact too, in a museum for instance (build it and they will come), since the original, to the extent of its extra significance, remains necessarily scarce.

    There’s also the commodity market. It would survive, trading various elements and simple compounds and of course energy in the form of electricity, fuels, and suchlike. There’s also land (“It’s the one thing they aren’t making any more of, and people will pay through the nose for it” — spot the reference, win a cookie) and services (construction of the first of something desirable but tricky to R&D and prototype into being would seem to qualify as a service). Some services will remain difficult to automate for some time (including R&D). (Once we have automation smart enough to do our R&D for us, we have a whole new upheaval on our hands — that sort of “automation” is basically a new kind of person, so I guess in a sense there are jobs that will always require people, because doing them requires whatever does them be so smart in a general-purpose way as to qualify as one…)

  9. joe says:

    It’s very similar to the replicators or whatever that they had on Star Trek… and I don’t believe that they had much, if any, of an economy. I bet the things that are valued are things that are too big to be replicated or require human effort to do something. Sounds like a neat future for our civilization if it were only in meatspace.

  10. Jon Marcus says:

    Fortunately or unfortunately, the Second Life situation isn’t quite as analogous to a real-world replicator. The CopyBot only duplicates shapes (called primitives in Second Life) not the scripts that activate those shapes. It also doesn’t duplicate clothing.

    So in Ed’s Lambourghini analogy, it’d be more like being able to create cars that look just like Lambourghinis, but have no engines. The ice cream analogy obvious breaks down in other ways.

    What I find very interesting is the mob panic that seems to have resulted from this situation. Although the actual harm is limited to the few people who create desirable shapes (e.g. virtual sculptors, architects, etc.) there’s been a very wide-spread economic reaction.

    And from a hacker’s point of view, there’ve been calls for the lynching (virtually and not!) of the group of hackers whose work with the Second Life communication protocols inadvertently released this genie from its bottle.

  11. Dan says:

    In the real world, conservation of energy would demand that some raw material be used by the replicator. The demand for this raw material would increase, and vendors could move into that market.

    For example: (Padlock) keys can be replicated with a machine. But someone has to make the machine, the blanks, the raw material for the blanks, the electricity, etc…

    In the online world, apparently one can create virtual matter from nothing. That’s a flaw in the online world.

  12. Ben says:

    I recommend reading a rather old (1958) sci-fi short story by Ralph Williams entitled “Business as Usual, During Alterations”. It’s a story about humans coming into possession of a “duplicator”. It’s a pretty accurate representation of what might happen if one existed.

    The world becomes a credit-based economy (no cash as it can be duplicated), with people paying for original goods (ie, one off rather than mass produced).

  13. adi11235 says:

    “Abundance” is the holy grail of Socialism since the beginning. Unfortunately, it will never be achieved. Because time will remain a scarce resource. Even if we live forever and have godly powers. There is only a limited number of things we can do at any given time. Individuals are inherently scarce (there is only one Madonna) and some things are valuable just because they are unique (like the Mona Lisa – a perfect copy would not be the same thing).

    But to the article. Second Life is popular because it can mimic certain aspects of life (such as resource scarcity). It’s in part valuable because it has an “economy.” Economies only exist when there are scarce resources (from the verb – “to economize”). So if we value economies, then we would value scarcity. Therefore, this copybot could reduce the value of Second Life.

    Outside of Second Life, a copybot would instantly end 90% of all conflicts, possibly more. It would be a boon, there’s NO DOUBT about that. But if we value Second Life because it replicates this world of scarcity, the copybot would reduce that level of “satisfaction.”

    Think of gravity as a like- restriction. A lack of gravity in a flight simulator would be a little… problematic, don’t you think? ;-)

  14. Jesse says:

    Indeed, this is something to be embraced, not feared. If such a technology existed in the real world, it’d deliver a hard shock to everyone whose business model depends on objects being uncopyable, but there’d still be demand for the design of new products. Groups of people interested in seeing a new design of car or a new flavor of ice cream would band together and pool their money to hire a designer, and then once it was designed, everyone would enjoy the fruits of his labor (whether they had paid or not – but everyone knows that if no one pays, no one gets anything, so whoever values novelty the most would end up paying).

    In any case, the economic difficulties would be more than balanced out by the human advantages – a world where no one ever lacks food, clothing, shelter, or medication because it can all be replicated for free? That’s a world I want to live in for sure, even if the hoarders are right and there’s little incentive to innovate (which I don’t believe would be the case).

    Second Life’s economy, at least the part that involves selling copies of objects that have already been designed, is essentially based on an attempt to apply DRM to “physical” objects. Just like any other form of DRM, it’s fatally flawed. If you give someone the ability to watch a movie, you necessarily give them the ability to copy it; and here, if you give someone the ability to see an in-game object (by sending them models and textures), you necessarily give them the ability to keep a copy (by saving those models and textures to disk). Everyone should know that. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who thinks the rug has been pulled out from under him, when it should’ve been obvious from the beginning that this system wasn’t going to hold up for long.

  15. Taran Rampersad says:

    there has to be a balance, and a creator should have the right to choose how they distribute their goods. Certainly, I believe that they should be encouraged to distribute things openly – but there’s little incentive to do that. If one could increase the incentive for allowing things to be released openly…

    Well, look at it this way. The Free Software movement has been around since 1983. How much has happened since then?

    It takes time, unfortunately, and even then the clams or dollars have to come from somewhere.

  16. adi11235 says:

    I’m not exactly sure what is the data substrate for SL objects. Or if these “instructions” or “blueprints” can be accessible from within SL. Does the copybot use the “blueprints” of objects to recreate them, or does it analyze the outward appearance and produce a copy? The second instance would be a simple case of backwards engineering.

    Well, it would be interesting to see how this matter develops…

  17. Taran Rampersad says:

    adi – it intercepts data and creates *almost* exact copies of attachments to avatars; textures and shapes are copied but scripts (contents of the attachments) are not.

    If you want to know more and go beyond academic discussion, a good start might be to log in. It’s hard to explain things outside of that context.

  18. Tel says:

    We already have a CopyBot in real life, we call it “China”. The lower the value of manufactured goods (as the manufacturing process gets more efficient), the higher the value of both basic resources (e.g. water, oil, unspoilt land) and the service industry. Of course our economic system can handle such a shift… prices change, some people lose, some people win.

  19. David says:

    While certainly an interesting event, this is 100% analagous to music copying on the Internet. The old Napster, Morpheus, Grokster, etc. are the equivalent of the CopyBot, and the SecondLife businesses who sell objects are the record companies and bands.

    Full-fidelity copying of digital creations is proven easy once again, to the dismay of the creators. Good DRM is essentially an unsolved problem.

    Unfortunately, when it is easy to copy digital creations, creators lose financial incentives to create. It is clear that we need to keep searching for a good solution that balances creators’s incentives with users rights.

  20. Steve R. says:

    David: Creators in many cases create for the joy of creating, not financial gain.

  21. David says:

    I have a Second Life avatar, and I’ve created goods in that world. I “sell” them for one Linden, about 0.003 USD. (Comparable goods are usually 150 – 300 Lindens.) I sell them rather than give them away only because the transaction records let me know who got a copy of my works, not because I wish to profit from the sale. I created my goods because I personally wanted them, and couldn’t find anything satisfactory already in SL. Having created them, I am happy to share with my fellow SL residents, and I am gratified when I see someone using one of my creations.

    If there were a perfect CopyBot in the real world, it is true that the incentive for innovation would be reduced. It does not follow that innovation would disappear. It would shift, as people invent new forms for reasons other than economic profit.

    Innovation would potentially diminish, but do we really need a whole raft of “me-too” goods only slightly different from what we already have? Do we really need dozens of similar 4-megapixel digital cameras? If we didn’t have engineers engaged in recreating what already exists, perhaps they would be free to create 40-megapixel cameras, or cameras with extended battery life or better low-light sensitivity.

    To have CopyBot in real life means we would accept a less diverse assortment of goods — perhaps — in exchange for the elimination of scarcity. It’s a bargain I would gladly accept.

  22. Taran Rampersad says:

    Tel – most of the stuff is manufactured in China, anyway. You might be surprised that the difference between a knockoff and a brand name is… a brand name. :-)

    David – the Copybot isn’t quite like those things. Napster, Morpheus and Grokster are/were about sharing, Copybot is more like… anything you can do on your computer anyway.

    Steve – the joy of creating is a good point, but not starving is also a factor. So there’s a need for some balance.

  23. Hal says:

    The actual response that Linden Labs is taking is to encourage creators to sue (in the real world!) people who have infringed on their copyrights by copying their designs without authorization. In order to facilitiate this they are adding some features to the game to provide a sort of virtual and automated “copyright registry”, so that every new creation can be timestamped as to when it came into existence, with a record of who created it. In this way the plaintiff will be able to prove priority over the defendant and show that they created the design first rather than vice versa. How this court system will work in a game that spans the globe, and in which few goods are worth more than $2 or $3 remains to be seen.

  24. Crosbie Fitch says:

    I suspect it could be a cunning plan to seduce the courts to extend their jurisdiction even into the virtual world – and then demonstrate their folly by pulling the rug.

    Otherwise, just think of all those virtual worlds terminated at a stroke. No longer will it be possible to play in a fictitious virtual world where copyright law didn’t apply.

    Ceci n’est pas une pipe

  25. Crosbie Fitch says:

    Does a 2nd lifer actually manufacture a work that they have in their possession? Do they get a digital representation – or is one merely held on their behalf?

    Do the players who appear to manufacture virtual copies actually do the infringement or is it simply that they instruct LL to do so on their behalf?

    Do the reproducers of copies manufacture copies on their own computers?

    In Disney’s animation, does the sorceror’s apprentice violate the sorceror’s copyright when he duplicates his broom?

    Should the real world care?

    This is probably a promotional tactic by LL to kid everone that 2nd life is up to scratch in simulating reality. The second the law sticks its oar into the virtual world, it is no longer speech, but becomes territory.

    They say the law is an ass; it will be a virtual ass too if it is not careful.

  26. Jamie says:

    @adi11235
    “‘Abundance’ is the holy grail of Socialism since the beginning.”

    I don’t think you have it right. Socialism is based on the idea that there is a fixed quantity of wealth. The goal of socialism is to equally distribute that wealth, so that all individuals will be equal.
    Capitalism in contrast, assumes no fixed upper limit to wealth. The goal of capitalism is to individually maximize the wealth that each person can attain, by creating new wealth.
    So I would say that the goal of “abundance”, is more a capitalist goal rather than a socialist goal.

  27. Neo says:

    “Steve – the joy of creating is a good point, but not starving is also a factor. So there’s a need for some balance.”

    A real-world duplicator makes starving to longer a factor, as long as raw material and energy remain available.

    A real-world duplicator that can convert generic organic matter plus sand (for the silicon oxides) into any of a) parts for a duplicator that can be easily snapped together by Joe Schmoe to make a working duplicator, b) instructions on paper for assembling same, and c) food, powered by sunlight, and which can also d) purify water solves 70% of the world’s problems at a stroke — including the “starving” bit in “poor starving artist”.

    (The new garbage problem becomes junked broken duplicators; they need to be able to recycle broken-up pieces of one another too, long term.)

  28. wolfe says:

    Jon Marcus…
    So in Ed’s Lambourghini analogy, it’d be more like being able to create cars that look just like Lambourghinis, but have no engines. The ice cream analogy obvious breaks down in other ways….

    Anyone thought of what happens when reprap is finished?
    http://staff.bath.ac.uk/ensab/replicator/
    This is the real world version of Copybot.

  29. MacGyver says:

    If this existed in the real word, it would be great, after a bit of problems. We don’t live forever, and the time we spend doing work for others to make money, to buy stuff, would stop. Innovation would not stop, it would continue in a more perfect form. People would no longer HAVE to work; they would pursue things of pleasure and WORK on inventing things they wanted, collectively. We would become a society of learning, not so that you can get a job, but to better yourself, and the rest of the world. If your goal is to amass stuff, then yeah, you would be a unhappy, now being unable to validate yourself through having more stuff than others. So what. Some people would be lazy, some people wouldn’t. You can only do things for so long before getting bored and wanting to do something else; society would advance by the collective want for something different and better. Space exploration would jump by leaps and bounds, and our control over the universe would be have no end. We would build giant solar panels in space around the sun for energy, and mine the dead planets for raw materials. As far as the music comment is concerned, do you think the first musician got paid? No they did it because they could, and they enjoyed making it, and sharing it with others. That’s a true artist, and they’ll always be around. So will TRUE teachers, scientists, and doctors.

  30. Andi says:

    There would be serious disruptions, none of which would be more serious than aids, poverty, or wars over scarce resources.

    Aids drugs could be duplicated and distributed freely. Basic needs could be provided for the poor. No one would fight over oil when you can duplicate full gas tanks of refined product.

    The human race would be buried under miles of duplicated items. Hmmm… how about duplicating pretty people, that would end the scarcity and the need for sex.

  31. enigma_foundry says:

    One question:

    Can the copying machine make duplicates of itself?

  32. Kinenveu says:

    >>> Can the copying machine make duplicates of itself?
    Yes of course. That’s the point. You only need to *build* 1 (one) copying machine in human history. All the other ones are copies of the first.

  33. Scott Craver says:

    If such a copying machine existed in the physical world, wars over energy resources would probably intensify.

  34. Andi says:

    >>>If such a copying machine existed in the physical world, wars over energy resources would probably intensify.

    Why Scott? Who would go to war over something that could simply be duplicated with a duplicating machine? Maybe a war over megalomaniac dominance, but not over physical material.

  35. Fuzzy says:

    Andi, I believe Scott’s point was that the theoretical duplicating machine will take energy (basic thermodynamics). That energy has to come from somewhere.
    Having a duplicating machine introduces other problems.
    If everyone duplicates a Hummer and the gasoline to power the vehicle, the rate of green house gas emissions will go up enormously. Even if everyone just duplicates a Prius, the world would have problems absorbing the pollution.
    Even if you duplicate a food, both the original food and the new food will have aged. There has to be a constant renewal of new food into the system to be duplicated.
    Same thing with medicines (like antibiotics). Duplicating an expired medicine will just result in another expired medicine.
    Unless the duplicating machine is able to take in existing matter, the rate of production of garbage also goes up as people discard old items and make new items rather than cleaning or fixing the old items.
    What happens if you duplicate a living being? I suppose it might be interesting for studying some religious questions, but gives a whole new meaning to cloning.

  36. Neo says:

    One assumes that the duplicator can record a representation of something and then run off as many copies as needed from the representation at any later date. So the molecular structure for penicillin might be stored on a disk, or a given prepared meal scanned in once, and reproduced as needed at various future times from the recorded data and available matter.

    Obviously it will need energy and raw material; ideally it would consume garbage and sunlight. If the garbage is composed of the very stuff we tend to make and use, once discarded, then it should have just the right element mix to produce more of the same items anyway. So we’d really be making the ultimate recycler.

  37. Andi says:

    >>>the theoretical duplicating machine will take energy (basic thermodynamics).

    Yes, conservation of matter and energy. But the theoretical copy machine proposed by Ed already violates that physical law and is impossible making the whole discussion moot.

    >>>Want a new Lambourghini sportscar? Just find one in a parking lot and copy it.

    If one is extrapolating science fiction one must remain true to the original device or premise that allows the fiction. OK, we’ve established that Ed’s fantasy copy machine cannot actually be built in the real world, but the question was “Could any business that provided goods survive?” which is just a corollary to “wars over energy resources would probably intensify.”

    Either we preserve the original premise or just concede that physical laws make most science fiction impossible fantasy…

    Preserving the premise the answer to the question about businesses surviving is, “No, but it doesn’t matter because the general abundance would overcome all problems in time.”

    Likewise the assertion about wars. *If* the copy machine is possible, then there would be no wars over scarce resources.

    If you are going to continue insist that matter and energy must be accounted for then go ahead and build this machine first and we’ll resume the discussion.

  38. Jon Marcus says:

    For a more dystopian take on abundance, try “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” by Nancy Kress. (Teaser available at http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0607/nano.shtml, and Escape Pod podcast a version at http://www.escapepod.org/2006/10/12/ep075-nano-comes-to-clifford-falls/)

    In a nutshell: In the short term, most people stop working because they can get any goods they need for free. But that includes service personnel, such as teachers, police, and firefighters.

    I think there are some flaws in her conception. But it seems more true to human nature than the idea that abundance would usher in heaven on earth.

  39. Andi says:

    >>> I think there are some flaws in her conception. But it seems more true to human nature than the idea that abundance would usher in heaven on earth.

    Indeed human nature is often ugly but I dislike the dystopian POV unless it truly does serve to prevent a dystopia. I find most dystopian stories luddite, unnescessarily alamist and depressing. Let’s go with abundance and deal with the problems as they arise instead of fearfully thwarting progress.

    How’s work coming along on that copy machine?

  40. Neo says:

    “In a nutshell: In the short term, most people stop working because they can get any goods they need for free. But that includes service personnel, such as teachers, police, and firefighters.”

    What a joke. If people can get any goods they need for free, they’ll spend their money on services. You’d just have a transition to a pure-service economy (and a credit one). When services are increasingly automated (by easily copyable machines), then service workers are out of a job, but the services they used to have to pay for are now also free…

    *does a double take* This is from Nancy Kress? The author of the probability trilogy? What the heck happened to this author?

  41. john says:

    It would definitely not mean the end of society. True, (at least many) people wouldn’t be able to work for money, but they wouldn’t need to. You could simply copy all the food, generators, water, etc. necessary for survival. In time, (although this might be too utopian) people would create things because they wanted to, rather than for profit. Open source items would probably become commonplace.

  42. Tel says:

    Taran — of course that stuff is manufactured in China. What would be the point of attempting to compete with the CopyBot when you know it can manufacture goods faster and quicker than you can? This state of affairs was not always the situation but it seems that the economy adapted and most people didn’t even notice (to be more specific, some people lost their jobs and factories were closed but the rest of the population didn’t notice).

    It is completely logical that the brand name is the only place where Western economies can still value-add and then only because of strict border controls and trade regulation. Why would this surprise me? Another 6 months and Second Life will introduce a brand-name system and everyone will be happy again.

  43. Tel says:

    Err, “faster and cheaper” was what I wanted to way.

  44. Neo says:

    This is kind of funny in light of this discussion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_One

    Apparently, the whole war my namesake ended up winning, er, negotiating peace to end, for the humans started with cheap goods flooding the economy. I hope that doesn’t mean that in the real world, we’ll be fighting WW3 with China soon … :P

    (More likely it just means that while fiction can be fun, it’s usually not very realistic…)

  45. Taran Rampersad says:

    This thing has strayed so far into fiction… the copybot couldn’t copy EVERY object.

  46. MRab2 says:

    Replicaotr or copying technology is still in the realms of science fiction but is widely expected to become science fact at some point in the future. Atomic manipulation is a major scientific goal and coupled with nanotechnology and nuclear fusion would change our society beyond recognition. It will render capitalism as we know it obscelete.
    The ability to turn any lump of matter into any other lump of matter with the simple addition of energy (and presumably software) will make manufacturable everything virtually worthless.
    But some things will still have value, land, as someone mentioned before is a good example, but certain rare elements will still have value. Time, again as someone mentioned, will still be a limited resource as will power so there’s still room for commodities. It will end consumerism as 95% of the stuff we covet will be freely available and old landfill sites will become treasure troves of elements to be recycled into new products. In fact if we take everything we’ve thrown away and recycle it with 100% efficiency into new products there’ll be enough for us to literally fill our homes with stuff.
    It is indeed a situation we should be striving to attain as it will make even the poorest members of society materialistically wealthy by our current standards and make us a waste-free society, which is good for the planet. It will put a lot of people out of work but with zero shortages for 95% of available products this shouldn’t prove to be a problem and we may have to re-evaluate the working week. 40 hours may simply be too long to have the majority of the population gainfully employed.

    But anyway, I’m hearing the copybot only copys form and not function in which case its impact will be minimal across the board and its only real effect will be in a small sector.

  47. Neo says:

    The future is fiction until it happens.

    Time as remaining scarce though? Oh, pshaw. Not once people are replicating themselves, overclocking themselves, and just plain using ever-advancing automation, methinks. Nevermind that Einstein conclusively demonstrated that time is somewhat malleable at the fundamental level of physics, granted enough energy (and I believe you mentioned clean cheap fusion power)?

    Even attention gets nonscarce eventually. The final frontier of scarcity is actually likely to be bandwidth, since there is that annoying cosmic speed limit, combined with growing evidence from physicists that the boundary of a volume of space has a limited permeability to information flow…

  48. Neo says:

    Tinker with this?
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1996321846673788606
    (Warning: large Flash video)
    Talk about clean, cheap energy. (And there’s something interesting going on with “supercontinuum” laser light too, which might mean bandwidth too cheap to meter coming soon to an ISP near you. Although in the long term, i.e. 50 years or so, even that bandwidth will be a joke…)