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Charles Collis * The next phase of civilisation: Post-scarcity through Open-source design and Advanced automation (was: [ox-en] Conference documentation)

Hi list!

And here is the presentation of Charles Collis - IMHO one of the
highlights of the conference...



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The next phase of civilisation: Post-scarcity through Open-source design and Advanced automation

Oekonux 4, March 2009 

Charles Collis

Post-scarcity through Open-source design and advanced automation

This talk is distilled from my attempts at some holistic thinking over
the last few years.

Going back to first principles and trying to understand the limits of
what is possible employing current technological knowledge and the
open-source development model applied to the physical world.

Aimed to be food for thought...


* Open-source design 

  * Design tool-chain 

  * From virtual designs to physical objects 

* Advanced Automation 

  * Self-maintenance, repair 

  * Automated infrastructure 

* Fundamental resources 

  * Material 

  * Energy 

  * Information 

  * Intelligence 

* Post-scarcity

Open-source design

* Applying principles from the FOSS movement that provides a powerful
  new way to design physical objects, machines and systems.

* Nascent field with huge potential to radically alter the way we
  create goods, machines and systems

* Not only for personal or community items but all the way up to
  components of national or global infrastructure

* Potential to supercede limitations of commercial forms of production


Requirements for widespread adoption of O.S. design: 

* User-friendly CAD - lower barrier to entry - not just for geeks

* Collaborative functions

* Easily accessible commons of objects and components

* Analysis and simulation

* Easy interface to CAM, both local and remote

* Doesn't currently exist, but likely to emerge soon

Also easy physical replication...

Virtual designs into physical objects

* Virtual designs need to be brought to life as physical objects.
  Expensive and slow compared to compiling or downloading software

* However atoms are starting to catch up with bits in terms of ease of

* Ever increasing (and evolving) array of computer-controlled
  fabrication techniques, both small and large scale

[see slide 6, 7]

Some options for fabricating virtual designs:

(current and future)

* Get your hands dirty and craft it yourself or in a group

* or use someone else's hands - e.g. local engineering firm

* Personal fabricators (additive fab., CNC, sheet material cutters)

* Use of local FabLab (commercial facilities emerging too)

* Mail-order fabricators (e.g. eMachineShop)

* Contract manufacturing (bulk order with others)

* Automated construction - (Contour Crafting)

* Products of fully automated economy

Advanced automation

* Proper automation

  - no humans required in the loop for normal operations

* Self-maintaining and repairing

  - modular components replaceable by machine. Parts containing tiny
    embedded sensors for failure diagnosis. (Super-advanced AI not
    required to run these systems)

* Developed and controlled by people, using open-source design

* Ultimately scalable

* Enable entirely new things not previously feasible

[see slide 8]

Automated infrastructure

General trend seems to be towards distributed solutions, but
industrial systems likely to remain to some degree.

Apply advanced automation to:

* Mining

* Material processing

* Large scale energy generation

* Transport systems

* Agriculture

* Environmental engineering

* Certain ultra-sophisticated manufacturing and operations (e.g. jet

* Certain safety critical operations

* Large scale robotic fabrication - buildings, ships, rail etc

Fundamental resources

So what have we got to work with?

Mankind's fundamental resources are:

* Energy

* Material

* Information

* Intelligence

What we are able to create / do depends only on these things

Present systems of civilisation suffer from unnecessary layers of
complexity (for historical reasons) which only add friction,
inefficiency and informational 'noise' - only helping to obscure the
big picture, and restrict what is actually possible.

1. Energy

The energy available from solar and geothermal alone far exceed our
current energy requirements and could sustain humanity indefinitely.

Steadily increasing energy efficiency due to improved system design
should become a significant factor in our energy usage.

2. Material

Air, water and the twenty most abundant elements in the Earth's crust
provide almost all the material needed to create the multitude of
machines and goods that mankind requires:

* Food, medicine, houses, vehicles, robots, industrial machinery,
computers, consumer goods etc.

*Ephemeralization* - doing more with less

Design for recycling

(design for refurbishment?)

* List of most abundant elements

  (land, sea and air)

3. Intelligence

Human intelligence

* In short supply?

  No, just not using it effectively

* Education becoming more pervasive

* Increasing numbers of brains

* Proposed adv. automation freeing up more people to work on
  significant problems

Machine intelligence

Increasing exponentially due to:

* Increasing processing speeds

* CPU numbers increasing

* Algorithms and programming techniques constantly improving

4. Information

* Generally not in short supply any more. Amount of critical
  information being held artificially scarce is dwindling too

* The issue is letting the good information rise to the top to be
  easily accessed (by both humans and automated systems)

* Information has been first obvious thing to transcend limits of


* What do I mean by scarcity? Significant scarcity. All needs (and
  most of wants).

* I don't see a free-rider issue, when goods become as easy to
  duplicate as information

* Advanced nanotech not required

* Transition period - how will emerge and how society copes

* Conventional economics founded on notion of scarcity

* This can all be done with technology and know-how we have today

* Coming from two directions (commercial competition and open-source

* Abundance Journal

charles collis gmail com

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