Monday 19 March 2012

Post-postmodern state: Corporates and Intellectual Property

I read Friedman's article on where Japan is heading and thought I'd try and visualise what a post-postmodern state could look like taking into account technological change, specifically greater thought integration of individuals and a larger proportion of GDP being comprised of information goods and services. Here's the paragraph that got me thinking:
There also remains a third possibility: that Japan could pioneer a technologically advanced society for the post-consumer age in which it manages both a sustained increase in production despite decreasing consumption and sets an example for many other countries facing similar demographic declines (though it is hard to tell what such a post-postmodern state would look like).  
First off, I'd argue it's a misnomer to suggest consumption has been falling in Japan during its 'Lost decade', the quantity of information goods consumed has increased exponentially. A majority of this consumption cannot be monetized as it isn't tied to rent-able intellectual property. I'm going to go out on a limb and say eventually it will be tied to intellectual property and the growth of the real economy will be linked more directly to the growth in information goods.

In my post-postmodern state, corporations will survive as will intellectual property, with corporations retaining responsibility for IP creation and dissemination. Also, governments will continue to become more 'Orwellian', increasing the behavioural conditioning and surveillance of individuals. This goes against the grain of a lot of free-market libertarian progressive thinkers but I will add some fat to my argument later on. First off here's more the mainstream view:

Ben Goertzel - Will Corporations Prevent the Singularity?
Charles Stross, in his wonderful novel Accelerando, presents an alternate view, in which corporations themselves become superintelligent self-modifying systems—and leave Earth to populate space-based computer systems where they communicate using sophisticated forms of auctioning.   This is not wholly implausible.   Yet my own intuition is that notions of money and economic exchange will become less relevant as intelligence exceeds the human level.  I suspect the importance of money and economic exchange is an artifact of the current domain of relative material scarcity in which we find ourselves, and that once advanced technology (nanotech, femtotech, etc.) radically diminishes material scarcity, the importance of economic thinking will drastically decrease.  So that far from becoming dominant as in Accelerando, corporations will become increasingly irrelevant post-Singularity.  But if they are smart enough to foresee this, they will probably try to prevent it. 
The thing is, contemporary corporate organisms are trying to transition from the control of production, trade and consumption of material goods, to a similar system for the production, trade and control of intellectual property! Once you realise the marginal cost for the propagation of information is almost zero, you realise IP is not related to scarcity but rather controlling what gets created and how it is disseminated. Here's some more libertarian thinking, Stephan Kinsella on IP:
But IP is widely seen as basically legitimate. There have always been criticisms of existing IP laws and policies and many calls for "reform." But I became opposed not just to "ridiculous" patents and "outrageous" IP lawsuits, but to patent and copyright per se. Patent and copyright law should be abolished, not reformed. The basic reason is that patent and copyright are explicitly anti-competitive grants by the state of monopoly privilege, rooted in mercantilism, protectionism and thought control. To grant someone a patent or copyright is to grant them a right to control others' property − a "negative servitude" granted by state fiat instead of contractually negotiated. This is a form of theft, trespass, or wealth redistribution.
I think Stephan has a point, IP law is inefficient but what could it be replaced with? As soon as you have a piece of intellectual property being created for more than the pure interest and enjoyment of the inventor/artist then there needs to be a reward. This especially applies to a piece of IP which requires a team of people to produce. In the corporate model an individual may be tasked with the creation of a 'piece' of a puzzle which doesn't interest them but still must be produced, economic incentives are the primary form of motivation in this scenario. Arguably Only when thinking power (ability to absorb, create and distribute information) is no longer scarce would economic regulation of IP no longer be needed (and how would you define thinking power scarcity? there is always something to think about).

The more interconnected the team members are which are producing a good, the more they function as a single organism, the higher the quality of the IP that can be produced, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I don't think it makes a difference whether this high level of interconnectedness occurs within some kind of anarcho-capitalist 'free-market', our current corporatist model or even via an Orwellian totalitarian political structure. In each case you have a set of thought connected individuals functioning as an unconscious mind, with its information feed regulated by data-mining super-computers (big brother Google, functioning as the eyes and ears). 

Eventually these hives may obtain greater consciousness, but that might not be needed, in fact it might not even engage an individual's conscious mind, but rather unconscious thought processes within different individuals will communicate with each other (they already do: culture, manner, feelings etc.). Barry Adams says:

There are strong indications that the subconscious mind, those thought-processes that by their very definition we are unaware of, are actually responsible for many, if not most, of our intellectual capabilities. Our subconscious mind might even be making most of our decisions.
The theory goes that our brains, over many millions of years, evolved a very capable subconscious mind that ensured our survival. The conscious mind is a relatively recent development, merely the icing on the cake, the latest addition to our brains. (An addition that, on the enormous time-scale of evolution, has yet to prove its long term value.)

I think these emergent corporate minds will operate within a political/economic model which incorporates free-market forces regulating corporate entities with a splash of Orwellian thought policing. The financial markets will continue to be the impersonal (for a while at least) forces driving the globe, mixed with a hybrid corporate government political structure. Corporates will retain responsibility for increasing economic output (which will mainly be IP generation and distribution), and governments will increase the behavioural regulation of individuals.

Why Corporates will survive:
Libertarians tend to see big corporates and big government as economically inefficient, but what they do show as an increase the hierarchy, complexity and centralised decision making which is identical to nature. Greater hierarchy means greater complexity, greater complexity means greater fitness - or so the evolutionary paradigm goes. If you strip down corporates and governments leaving decision making to 'free market forces' you are really just transferring decision making from one elite to another. The libertarian free market world would require more complex and overarching financial control mechanisms which in the end would replicate the complexities of corporate and government organisms.

Why government will become more 'Orwellian'
George Orwell's 1984 with it's totalitarian state was right on the money, however it is proving a much nicer place to live then he thought. Sure we live in a constant state of war, but we have small manageable wars which have little material impact on us. We don't quite have 'thought police' but the regulation of human behaviour is increasing through education and media which allow the state to build the kinds of individuals it needs. Concern has been raised by the large increasing of spying on the individual but I would argue this is required. The problem is as technological development increases the amount of damage an individual can inflict on society increases (viruses, terrorism etc.), the only way to prevent this is through behavioural conditioning, and surveillance.

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