Exploring AI and the Metacrisis - Stephen Reid (Futurecraft)

15th Jun 2024 Gemini 1.5 Pro

The Metacrisis and Polycrisis

Stephen Reid introduces the concept of the Metacrisis, a framework for understanding the interconnected nature of global challenges. This perspective goes beyond simply acknowledging multiple crises (as in the Polycrisis view) to identify common underlying drivers or "generator functions" behind these issues.

Metacrisis thinkers are suggesting that these crises are interrelated, first of all, and secondly, that they have common drivers, or often they're referred to in this world as generator functions.

Reid explains that these generator functions include phenomena like "multipolar traps," where even well-intentioned actors are driven to make harmful decisions due to systemic pressures. He uses the example of an arms race to illustrate how this dynamic can lead to escalating negative outcomes despite no individual party desiring such results. This framing helps to shift focus from blaming individual actors to addressing the systemic issues that create these problematic incentives.

Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Concerns

While acknowledging the valid concerns surrounding artificial intelligence, Reid maintains a cautiously optimistic outlook on its potential. He emphasizes the importance of remaining open to the possibility that AI could bring significant benefits to humanity and the planet.

I don't think it's useful to just sit or enter this domain in fear. I think it's important to stay open to the possibility that this could be great.

Reid highlights the open-source AI movement as a source of hope, suggesting that democratizing access to AI technology could lead to more positive outcomes than if it remains concentrated in the hands of a few large corporations. He discusses the potential for AI to assist in areas such as medical diagnostics and education, potentially providing high-quality personalized learning experiences to those who currently lack access to good educational resources.

At the same time, Reid recognizes the ethical concerns surrounding data usage in AI training and the need for careful consideration of how to align AI systems with human values. He suggests that bringing together diverse groups of people to discuss these issues in person could be a valuable approach to injecting more wisdom and compassion into the development of AI technologies.

Web3 and Economic Localization

Reid explores the potential of Web3 technologies to support economic localization and community-driven monetary systems. He sees promise in the ability of these technologies to allow communities to design their own economic systems that align with their values and local contexts.

Reid discusses projects like Citizen Wallet, which aims to create cryptocurrency wallets that are more suitable for local community use than existing options. He emphasizes the importance of making these technologies accessible and user-friendly for everyday people, rather than focusing solely on global currencies that might primarily benefit a small group of early adopters.

The conversation touches on the concept of demurrage, or money that loses value over time, as a potential feature of local currencies enabled by Web3 technologies. Reid suggests that this could discourage hoarding and encourage circulation of money within local economies, potentially leading to more equitable distribution of resources.

Indigenous Knowledge and Technology

Reid proposes an intriguing intersection of indigenous wisdom and cutting-edge technology. He explores the idea of training AI models on the knowledge of specific indigenous communities, such as the Shipibo people of the Amazon.

What would it look like to train an AI solely on the indigenous wisdom of the Shipibo?

This approach could potentially preserve and make more accessible the unique knowledge and perspectives of indigenous cultures. Reid also mentions the concept of "indigenous currencies" powered by Web3 technologies, referencing a manifesto published by an indigenous community in Brazil that sees potential in these technologies for asserting their sovereignty and reinforcing their cultural identity.

These ideas reflect a broader vision of technology that is not universally homogenizing, but rather can be tailored to and supportive of diverse cultural contexts and ways of knowing. It suggests a path forward where advanced technologies could be used to amplify and preserve traditional knowledge rather than supplanting it.

Rethinking Economics and Money

Drawing on the work of Daniel Schmachtenberger, Reid outlines a critique of the current economic system based on three problematic characteristics: abstraction, extraction, and accumulation.

Reid discusses potential antidotes to these issues: instantiation (focusing on concrete needs and outcomes rather than abstract measures like GDP), contextualization (considering the broader ecological and social context of economic activities), and distribution (finding ways to discourage excessive accumulation of wealth).

The conversation explores how these principles might be applied in the context of new technologies. Reid speculates about the possibility of AI systems solving the economic calculation problem that has historically been a challenge for non-market economic systems. This leads to a provocative question: could sufficiently advanced AI make it possible to effectively coordinate economic activity without relying on money and markets as we currently know them?

This discussion highlights the potential for emerging technologies to not just incrementally improve existing economic systems, but to fundamentally reimagine how we organize economic activity in ways that could be more equitable and ecologically sustainable.