The future of artificial scarcity

There was a time, before the information age, when all goods where inherently scarce. Material products consume natural resources, require one or more perhaps costly steps of manufacture, and then need to be physically shipped to retail outlets or customers.

In recent years, a new class of products has emerged: The purely informational product. Songs, games and movies no longer require a physical substrate on a per item basis, but rather can be sent directly to the consumer through a common electronic pipe.

The inherent per-unit cost for such a product is so low as to be essentially zero.

In order to maintain a viable economy, this development has required the introduction of artificial scarcity: Even though the cost per copy is now essentially zero, creators still need to protect the investment they have made in the creation of such products.

Therefore a system of system of licensing has been developed, either as a payment per downloaded product, or in the form of a maintenance fee for monthly service.

One day, perhaps, the Singularity will arrive, after which we will all be able to upload our minds to the Cloud. Physical brains and bodies will no longer be necessary.

When that day comes, there will be no practical technical limitation on how many copies there are of each of us. There could be five of me in the Cloud, and twenty of you.

But it is likely that such unrestricted copying would violate my sense of myself as my own “intellectual property” — my feeling that the investment I made into being me, over the course of my life, has a unique value. And you will probably feel the same way about your own self.

I suspect that this will lead to restrictions on copying of someone’s mind within the Cloud.

The principle will be the same as it is for today’s economy of downloadable information products: Although the cost of replicating a human mind may become essentially free, the owners of those minds will likely insist upon a system of artificial scarcity, to protect their investment.

One Response to “The future of artificial scarcity”

  1. Stephan Ahonen says:

    My problem would be missing out on all of the memories and experiences that all of the other “mes” are having. I would welcome having many of myself out in the world doing all of the things I want to do but lack the time for, as well as being the perfect work partners, I just want a way to make sure that I also get to remember doing all of those things.

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