With all the spectacle of wealth excreting semi-conscious software based juristic entities (still working on that name) that has gone on this week here, now seems like a good time to consult our old friend Benjamin Franklin for a word of caution:
"Whenever we attempt to mend the scheme of providence, we had need be very circumspect lest we do more harm than good."
- Benjamin Franklin, found in Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
This picture of a painting of Benjamin Franklin linked to from A. Meyers' Flickr photostream, he owns the picture; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.
Here's a nightmare scenario, as conceived by Charles Stross in his novel Accelerando. What if these weird, self-sufficient economic entities become self organizing and conscious, and able to guide their own further elaboration? The creatures I've been describing are like caveman versions of the entities which come to be known in his book as the Vile Offspring. In the book, the Vile Offspring are post-human intelligent entities evolved from a variety of Artificial and Human Intelligence combinations that participate in a highly accelerated economy that unaugmented humans can't comprehend, and even augmented humans can't fully join. This blaze of resource allocation reorganizes all the matter in our solar system on a molecular level into a substance called computronium, in which these post-human entities can live and conduct their incomprehensible business.
Too bad for the rest of us.
It's the economic version of the runaway fission reaction that physicists feared might ignite the atmosphere as they were contemplating detonating the first atomic bomb.
I don't know if that outcome is very likely, though I do think it will be possible to build a self-sustaining software based wealth generator that might well have some attenuated legal personhood. You won't be able to steal from it or abuse it without being subject to prosecution. It will probably be on the level of an idiot-savant, good at its specialty, otherwise dependent on human custodians (legal guardians, i.e. a board of directors) to look after its other needs.
Though I'm using Ben Franklin above as a source of caution, I actually think he would have enjoyed thinking out the shape of these imaginary creatures. If he can be quoted saying cautionary things, it's generally right before or right after his indulging in an elaborate bit of futurist tale spinning.
Finally, since it's Friday, I'll leave you with another quote from The First American:
Beer is proof that God loves us and want us to be happy.
This picture of a pint of beer linked to from Stig Andersen's Flickr photostream, he owns the picture; made available under a creative commons license, some rights reserved.