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The Venus Project – critique

I watched the Venus Project's latest video [48min], encouraged by the fact that they recently decoupled themselves from the dubiously cultish, conspiracy-theorizing Zeitgeist folks.

After a bit of introductory fear mongering (collapse of society imminent!) and some statements nobody's going to argue with (War bad! Education good!), the project's central thesis is revealed:

All our problems and conflicts stem from scarcity.
But that "can be solved when technology and the methods of science are used to serve all people."
I almost agree with this – but that's the extent of our agreement.

They call their proposed solution the "resource-based economy": We declare all worldwide resources common heritage, make a big digital inventory of them (like Bucky envisioned in his 1970s World Peace Game), automate much of the labor and finally "intelligently manage" those resources & distribute the abundance to everyone using computers.

Profit seeking is portrayed as bad. The current economy is supposedly driven entirely by supply: "Products must continuously be sold", which is achieved by building in planned obsolescence. Competition is a waste of talent – why have many architects designing different buildings when you could just have The Platonic Architect design The Perfect Template? What's keeping us from realizing that vision is the monetary system: Our technological capabilities could "if managed intelligently" already create abundance, but we don't "have enough money" to pay for it. Hmm.

The film is rather tight-lipped on how such a gigantic, world-wide (re-)distribution system would work in practice, beyond some pretty lines-crossing-the-globe animations and this end-user scenario:
Instead of shopping, you go to centers that are so overflowing with an abundance of everything anyone could ever conceivably need that you can just "check out" your required products like in a library today.

Among the obvious, glaring questions that remain open: Who's going to program that world-wide distribution system? Who will be smart enough, given that even small social web platforms are mostly just an ugly pile of bitrotten bugs after a few years (*cough*)? Who will make the millions of necessary design decisions, and on what basis?
Who will get the Ferraris? Everyone? Or will there be none, the desire for them having spontaneously ceased in our newly abundant world? But then who gets the waterfront/mountaintop/... property?
I'll defer to Wikipedia here for more post-scarcity society issues that go uncovered.

By that point, the video has moved on to a lengthy sales pitch for a futuristic (actually rather retro-futuristic) city designed by the movement's guru – turns out he's the plantonic architect! Well, what a coincidence!
It's a gleaming symmetrical, uniform, clean-slate architectural fantasy planned out in inappropriately meticulous detail ("Anything you need is available in the Outside Access Domes™. City to city transfer will be by Monorail. VTOL™ aircraft will transport freight.") that reminded me of WALL-E's spaceship city only, of course, without the rampant consumerism.

I love and share much of the optimism for both humans and technology on display here, I really do.
But ultimately this is a monocultural (in the agricultural sense), centrally planned fantasy. Yeah, I know, THIS time the planners will be wiser, because this dude has some neat ideas for buildings, and because COMPUTERS *waves hand*

I wish it were that easy. From my own little point of view, no central intelligence, human or likely even otherwise, will be able to beat emergent systems in managing the insane complexity of efficiently and "fairly" deploying resources and products to satisfy different needs and desires.

Far from providing what you need beyond maybe basic food staples, those domes will end up full of what someone convinced of their smartness thinks you should (have) want(ed a year ago), and soon the Master Architect and Master Programmer will be corrupt and/or incompetent guys whose main achievements are being owed favors by other powerful people (who, in turn, got to be where they are for the very same reasons) – plus, it seems there'll be no peaceful way left to replace those people, having completely done away with government.
Alternatively, if no people are supposed to be involved in significant roles (the video does not go into that at all, but the website FAQ hints at it), the Master AI will do whatever the fuck it wants anyway and it makes little sense for us to think we can plan for that time and paint pretty pictures of it.

In my own utopia, win-win markets – achieved through true transparency, equal opportunities and empowered actors (all of which we're miles away from today) will be joined in their emergent organizational capability by collaborative networks (think crowdfunding, liquid democracy, wikis and a bunch of other yet-to-be-built social software) – and by their powers combined we'll reach a technology-fueled post-SUFFERING society hopefully sooner rather than later.
For the fulfillment of anyone's desires at any time, however, we'll have to work harder on (or wait until human ingenuity, technological progress and, yes, market forces hand us) a molecular assembler or the holodeck – I'll pass on Mr. Fresco's plan in the meantime.
Reposted byscyphi scyphi

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