TED Conversations

Mitch SMith


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What do we trade-off for the comfort of technology?

We all go for it - the quick-fix.

But later, we often find that our ignorance has been exploited for the advantage of someone else .. who's only virtue was to get there first.
Evolution has nothing to say about getting there first .. there's nothing there to code in genes.

So .. what I'm asking is - what are we giving up for comfort?

How much comfort is constructive, and at what point is it exploitive at the benefit of comfort for a few, but at the detriment to our species?


Closing Statement from Mitch SMith

The conversation went quite wide.

I am disappointed that few actually got the point of what advantage is traded off for comfort - and who gets it.

There are even those so vein to think that they are in total control of their lives.

Hey ho - at least we explored it a bit.

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  • Jun 30 2013: A very good question, and extremely difficult to answer comprehensively.

    Anyone who makes broad use of modern electronics has traded off privacy.

    Everyone who uses an alarm clock to get up in the morning has given up sleeping as long as we need. Inadequate sleep results in further costs from mental and health problems.

    Automobiles have many costs, both direct and indirect. We have turned paradise into a parking lot.

    Too many times I used the TV to keep our children occupied; now, considering the trade-off for that is scary.

    If I tried, I could probably go on for hours. Its almost too frightful to consider, especially when you consider the societal costs plus the personal costs. How many extremely bad decisions have been made by managers and politicians because they did not get enough sleep?
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      Jul 1 2013: Yes, it's a difficult one.

      I get a feeling that there might be some simple metric .. something to do with how humans balance long and short term decision making. There's a lot of material on this with offering long term Vs. short term rewards (would you like a dollar today or 2 dollars next year?).

      I keep thinking of that escalator leading up to the exercise gym.
      • Jul 1 2013: It seems that you are more interested in the personal trade-offs, rather than societal trade-offs.

        That escalator is indeed interesting. Apparently, the proprietor considered it to be a good investment. Entrepreneurs can be a good source of behavioral insights.
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          Jul 1 2013: What societal trade-offs did you have in mind?
          It would be interesting to explore the synergy.

          Yes - entrepreneurs are adapt at harvesting advantage - it is a deeply psychological art, well worth examining.
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        Jul 1 2013: Anyone who wants to search this literature could use "discount rate" as a key word.
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          Jul 3 2013: Thanks for the suggestion Fritzie!

          It's been a few years since I did a business case.

          The good thing about applying monetized NPV is that it directly addresses advantage - if you accept that money is the unitisation of advantage.

          From that basis one would have to look deeply at the profit motive.

          Here is where it gets gnarly. For instance, I have noticed that successful entrepreneurs only apply discount rates as a bottom threshold for any particular venture .. they hire accountants to do that for them because their motive is not so much the profit, but the thrill of winning it - or the thrill of getting huge amounts of it. The accountants' mindset is not motivated in that way.

          It occurs to me that the studies on the affects of dopamine are cogent here, but that all of it devolves, ultimately, to moral and ethical imponderables.

          And externalities are often akin to common-sense - sometimes you can't know them until after they appear.

          The main problem with comfort is that it manifests as a threshold - above which is survival, below which is sickness and death.
          We then get a temporal frame .. for instance, it may be prudent to lay-in stores for winter if you want to still be alive next summer.

          I think the core target of my question here is: how do we measure the upper threshold?

          Diminished returns seems like a good place to start.
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        Jul 3 2013: Are you saying that you think of sickness and death as below a low threshold, then comes survival but not comfort, and then an upper threshold defines the boundary between survival and "comfort?"

        The concept of diminishing returns describes something continuous, whereas the concept of threshold sounds more discrete.

        There is no reason in principle that you could not discount utility rather than money. It's about now versus later rather than about cash now versus cash later.
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          Jul 3 2013: Hmm I've not been clear ..

          The lower threshold is like the bottom end of a range you could call comfort.

          So Comfort begins at survival, goes through a range suitable for risk variability, but beyond that becomes discomfort via unintended consequences.

          Adaptability infers a similar range .. a point at which the adaptability is exceeded by conditions.

          I agree that money is not sufficient to fully measure advantage. There's something significant about that .. apart from utility - any ideas?
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        Jul 3 2013: I see. You are looking for upper and lower bounds on comfort. And normally when people write diminishing returns, they mean diminishing marginal returns. I see now your different meaning.

        Are you thinking, then, that utility is a concept connected to an individual and you want an aggregate measure?
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          Jul 4 2013: Well . yes.

          But there's a dross in the forge .. so to speak . that is the fractal egress of the self.

          This thing bothers me .. that I wanted to define a self as being a nucleus/membrane model ..and that they are essentially the same thing . and that the membrane is the thing that modulates entropy with the nucleus being the purpose of the membrane .. a definition .. or something like a standing wave. The membrane modulates entropy in negentropic and super-entropic flows (flux?)

          .. in a way, these flows are independent .. I was looking for the singularity where the flows produced a vertical flux barrier that precipitates the explosive negation of the self ..
          But what I am finding is that there is always a fractal escape path .. the self cannot be isolated .. no self can exist without relation to another - and the relation can connect through grain-definitions that exceed perceptional field-size.

          There is an old traditional concept that describes the breaking of the circle .. so far it looks like there is no such thing as a circle in this universe - and that the break-point is not arbitrary.

          So when I talk about diminishing returns .. I am looking at identifying the reality break-point of any particular confluence of negentropy.

          I suspect that the exit point is the beginning of an exploration into the super-entropic field - each self creates the environment in which other selves must manifest in order to balance the conservation of entropy.

          What I'm getting at is that the universal entropic bias is the entire genesis of the universe .. and that it need be no more than 1:1-(1/infinity). The interaction of the prime singularities. (Boolean = not no-thing .. not not = not is minus not not .. and has no negative)

          Nearest to the break-in-the-circle are the diminished returns - nothing of this self can pass through without being a part of the self on the other side.

          Look at us .. we do this miracle routinely.
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        Jul 4 2013: There is indeed no question that our utility/satisfaction/well-being both affects and is affected by others. And in this we have the connection or interdependence among utilities. The social utility is not merely an aggregate of independent others.
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          Jul 6 2013: Yes - it is the true increase.
          GDP assumes zero sum - which cannot be .. which is why it is always equal to population growth.
          Reality does not care about population.
          Humans are fools to think that GDP is anything but a lie.
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        Jul 6 2013: I have never thought of GDP as attempting to capture quality of life. It is simply an indicator of stuff produced and its market value and tends, I believe, to be correlated with other things like availability of health care and sanitation.
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          Jul 7 2013: Mind wandered.. I've been looking at alternate interpretations of "wealth" .. specially to do with the source of negentropy .. and how/why it is stored.
          Current economic practices assume that all increase is harvested and entropized by specialised individuals who's only function is to destroy increase.
          (edit: That role might be available to evolutionary forces .. accelerated entropy does not seem the required pathway just now .. Sapolsky has some hints about an alternate path .. but it's not politic for me to point that out - no one wants to know just yet)
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        Jul 7 2013: Could you rephrase the second paragraph?
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          Jul 8 2013: OK .. don't want everyone to get a heads up on that one just yet .. we'll keep it to ourselves ;)

          But just between you and me and anyone else who can read .. do you think that subtracting humanity from the local entropic system is advisable?
          The best of wisdom is that we should all go solar .. and that means we don't need anything else on the planet to remain alive .. the most complete monoculture in the universe!

          What an achievement!

          And so much for the quality of human wisdom :)

          And don't worry - no one ever reads these long threads .. it is like the ultimate "cloaking" technology.

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