Subject: Re: How accurate is Metcalfe's law? (Was: Ximian software)
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 04 Jan 2002 11:50:04 -0800 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.
> All of the proposals I know about for switching away from capitalism for
> a complex society either failed miserably or were never implemented.  My
> judgement of the ones not implemented is that they would have failed as
> well.  Betting on a successful replacement being found does not strike
> me as wise.

Well, if you want to consider a world in which robots can replace
humans to be a dystopia, go ahead.  Personally, I'll just kick back
and let the robots build my house and grow my food.  My main cost will
be energy, I suppose, but I expect we'll have cheap fusion by then (if
you can assume smart robots, I can assume cheap fusion).  Since
increases in living standards historically tend to reduce birth rates,
we may even avoid severe population pressure.

> It may be wildly optimistic.  Let me redo the estimate.

I replied off-list, but basically I think this skips all the hard
problems and focuses on the easy ones.

> > 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.
> My answer, in brief, to the FSB problem is to locate the bottlenecks
> where potential abundance meets scarcity, plant yourself there, and
> make yourself an efficient solver of that scarcity problem.  But if
> you (as many naively want to) find the abundance and position yourself
> to stand in the middle of the abundance providing more, you may have
> fun but you are likely to starve.

Well, if I described the problem correctly, then the scarcity is
people's time, and the positioning you mention means finding an
efficient way to translate people's time into software which people
need.  In other words, a consulting business priced by value to the
customer, which I believe is in fact where most FSBs make money.