Subject: Re: How accurate is Metcalfe's law? (Was: Ximian software)
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 04 Jan 2002 10:00:53 -0800

Ben_Tilly@trepp.com writes:

> As before, humans get displaced.  But now for every job a human can
> learn, the same machines are able to learn more cheaply, and are better
> for the employer than a human is.  So people get displaced and stay
> displaced.  The worth of a human's work is now capped by effective
> competition - the cost of buying a machine.  As the price of that
> machine falls, well you see why I call this a nightmare scenario...

It's not a nightmare scenario.  We just have to shift to a different
economic system.  Capitalism is not the only way to organize economic
life--in fact, in human history, it's a relatively recent one.

(In any case, I think your time estimates for robots which can do most
things which humans can do are wildly optimistic.  It's not merely a
matter of raw computing power.  I would guess that nanotechnology,
which also presents problems for the economic system, is more likely
to happen first.)

(The economics of the world in which robots can replace humans was
satirized by Frederik Pohl in a series of stories collected in Midas
World.)


I think one of the things this list struggles to investigate is the
economics of abundance.  Our current system of software licensing
based on copyrights and patents imposes scarcity on what would
otherwise be an abundant resource.  It does this because some people
think that is the best way to grow the resource; capitalism, which is
the best way we know to grow resources, is based on managing scarcity.
But the only true scarcity in the software world is people's time, and
software licensing is not closely tied to that resource.  If we
eliminated the artificial restriction of software licensing, what
would the economics look like?  That is the world that FSBs live in.

The discussion is somewhat warped by the fact that many people became
very rich at Microsoft.  So some FSBs look at that, and try to figure
out how to also become very rich.  But is it possible?  Microsoft is
the exception even in the artificial world of software licensing.

Ian