The Upside Down Economy

A message blinking in his peripheral vision roused Isaac from a light sleep.

A familiar symbol was flashing, below it was the single line of glowing text.

“You have been accredited for contribution.”

In and of itself, this was nothing unusual small accreditations for this or that were getting pretty commonplace these days. He focused sleepily on the message, this triggered the link to carry him through for more information, materializing what looked like a sheet of paper appeared floating in front of his face above his bed.

He blinked incredulously at the digits at the bottom of the page. 300 microbits? It must be some sort of mistake. He would have enough to pay his rent for years with that. Hell, he could probably buy the place for it. This couldn’t be right.

He pushed further into the document. Apparently an accreditation agent had identified several comments he had made to a thread on the future of medicine some time in 2014.

2014? That’s ancient history… these accreditation bots just keep digging deeper, thought Isaac.

His comments had been deemed second order attribution status for several innovations made by BioMark.

He could not believe it, how could he have had any impact on one of the largest companies in the world.

Comments, what comments? Of course he couldn’t remember some comments he had made over 15 years ago on some archaic website.  His thoughts pulled him seamlessly through the document and into an archived version of the Reddit comment history for the user name “SmellingBee”.

How clever, he snorted and rolled his eyes as an irresistable smile crept across his face. He was lost for a moment in nostalgic memories of being a young student in the thundering teens. The tone of the room changed subtly, reflecting his mood, memories sublimated into memorabilia fading slowly into existence. A movie poster, a television, a smart phone. The objects of a simpler time, a bygone era. He could hear an old favorite song somewhere.

Apparenly SmellingBee had made some predictions on the future of biomarkers and their role in the medicine of the future. The words flashed across his retinas.

The smart bathroom will be as important as the smart phone to the future medicine. Think about it, if you want to figure out what is going on inside of someone you access to something from inside their body. People don’t want to give blood or tissue, but they can’t help shitting and pissing all the time.

The smart bathroom will know more about your body than you will, and it will be a medical revolution.

He remembered the comments only hazily. He like so many others had been overtaken with excitement for futurism back then, surely this was only one amongst thousands of comments.

Of course, he wasn’t the first to come up with such an idea for a smart bathroom, the Japanese had been experimenting with it for years by 2014, but the digital record showed no signs that he had been exposed to these ideas. As far as the accreditation agent could identify, evidence indicated that he had come up with the idea independently. More importantly the digital record also showed that Noah Marks himself had first come across the idea of a smart bathroom in his post.

His heart accelerated. Noah Marks read my comment? The founder of BioMark, the company that ushered in the true age of smart medicine? Isaac could hardly breathe.

A glossy review of the history of BioMark began playing on his wall.

Noah Marks started BioMark in 2014 as a small medical app company in his garage. His first apps collected simple data on blood pressure and body temperature and provided a conduit for doctors to access patient data. The first BioMark breakthrough came as the company applied new artificial intelligence algorithms to the huge amounts of medical data they were collecting. With this, BioMark developed a proprietary algorithm to predict heart attacks several days before they happen.

The field of medicine was transformed overnight, with BioMark at the center of the revolution. Our software and algorithms quickly became integrated into the fabric of every insurance plan in the country. The rates of heart attacks plummeted, and the IPO for BioMark was the largest in the American history.

A picture of Noah Marks shaking hands with the president of the United States slid across his wall. 

The next wave of BioMark breakthroughs came with the release of smart bathroom technologies. Within a few more BioMark provided the data necessary to cure many diseases including intestinal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, among others. 

BioMark, delivering you to the future

The cheesy byline was accompanied by images of healthy looking old people smiling. By this time Isaac wasn’t paying attention anyways, he was excitedly pacing back and forth in his small room, head down and thinking rapidly.

It might be small, but he lived comfortably. And anyways, it did not seem so small when on only a whim he could change the aesthetics to put him in any place he might want to be. He could as easily live in a 15th century castle or on the surface of mars.

Isaac’s life had until now been a very typical one for the late 2020’s, spending his hours coming up with creative ways to meet his spending allotments. He was the product of the turmoil of the early 2020’s, the time known as “the upset”. A time when the automation of the economy had reached record levels and finally left the majority of people out of work.

In response to this the governments of the western world had finally realized people were far more important to the economy as consumers than as producers. Seemingly overnight, swift changes were made to implement a clever plan of Mincome for all of their citizens.

People would receive money without the need to work, but this money did not come without its own chains. People were now required to meet daily, weekly, and monthly spending requirements. For the health of the economy, people were legally required to spend a significant proportion of their days making strategic spending decisions. The luxurious lives of the privileged few in the 20th century, was the trap of the 21st century.

The robotic economy could produce all the goods that humanity could want, but it needed people to create the demand to keep that economic engine running. So, people whiled away their days endlessly browsing consumer goods, entertainment, travel, luxury goods, trying their best to meet their spending requirements; stuck on a treadmill of receiving money and finding creative ways to spend it.

The only way to exit the endless loop of spending was either to pay someone else or hire an artificial intelligence agent of sufficient power to spend in your stead.  These options were too expensive to be available to the majority of people. Average people might save what little was left after they met their spending requirements, in hopes of one day retiring from spending, but it seemed that fewer and fewer could afford it every year as spending requirements constantly inched up to feed a growing economy. 

There were of course those who had the resources to outsource their spending, those free to spend their time working. Once inside, workers earned more than adequately to pay for outsources spending AIs. Those on the inside, stayed inside. The world had turned upside down, but somehow all the parts had stayed in the same place.

Power still flowed up an economic ladder without rungs in the middle. Those in control stayed in control, and everyone else did what they were told. This is how it always was, and how it stayed. 

But 300 microbits, that would change things for him. He could easily afford to lease the computational resources to pay for an AI to meet his economic obligations. He was free. Isaac threw on some dirty clothing from the day before and walked out of his door.

——–

In thinking about the future automated economy many see the institution of some kind of a “Mincome”, or basic income, for all people as already a forgone conclusion. If we take this to its logical extreme and imagine a world where nobody needs to work but everybody needs to spend, what does this world look like? This is the first in what I hope to be a recurring series following the life of Isaac in the world of the upside down economy. 

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12 thoughts on “The Upside Down Economy

  1. We’d be idiots to create a world where everyone needs to spend. That would be extremely shortsighted. What we need is a sensible world where nobody needs to work, nobody needs money and everyone gets the resources they need, provided by the jointly owned automation on our jointly owned world. I sincerely hope we never see “Isaac”‘s hideous dystopia, personally. The days of needing any kind of currency should already be behind us.

    • Its not meant to be a utopia or a dystopia. It is one possible outcome for a society bent on maintaining a growth economy in an automated world.

    • Money and the price system are needed to ensure efficient allocation of resources. What we’re talking about is not a world were no resources are spent, but a world where manual labor as a resource has been ~100% automated.

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