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WasCy's avatar

What if we all lived in Lotos Land? See the details and follow-up questions.?

Asked by WasCy (10090points) April 10th, 2011

Yeah, it’s a hypothetical, so feel free to pass it by. I wanted to post in Social, but for some reason that’s not possible. Consider it there.

Imagine that we had a machine that could replicate any manufactured, processed, painted, sculpted, written, cooked or otherwise human-produced object. As part of this scenario, the machine itself could also be perfectly copied and would work the same for everyone. (Ignore “energy”, “resource” and “space” issues for now.)

So… everyone could have a Maserati. And a pickup truck, airplane, Winnebago, yacht, house on the shore (and in the mountains and in town), or any number of all of those things. We could all own copies of the Mona Lisa, and every other piece of art we wanted (and the owners of those things would agree to them being copied). I was going to say that we could have 14 billion Mona Lisas, one for the home and one for the office, but then I wondered… “Who would have an office?”

We could all eat the exact equivalent of meals cooked in 5-star restaurants, as long as someone cooked the original meal to be duplicated. (Or we could eat, also “for free,” whatever was grown in gardens or orchards or farms anywhere. However, since we couldn’t replicate a living thing, we couldn’t have any meat that hadn’t already been processed, or a copy of a piece of processed meat. But that wouldn’t bother anyone, because no one anywhere would ever be able to distinguish the copy from the original, forever.) Essentially there is “zero difference” between any copy and any original.

Maintenance of the machines would be a non-issue. Since they could be copied, if yours got a scratch on it because you attempted to replicate a jumbo jetliner, for example, and you dinged the thing as the wings passed through, then you could junk the machine itself and get a copy from any of your neighbors for free.

You can have any thing that you want, at no cost. (Which would hardly matter, since the concept of “counterfeit currency” ... and currency itself… would have no meaning.)

However, this near-Nirvana isn’t quite perfect.

Humans would still age, sicken and die from the same things that afflict them now. Ditto for animals and plants and every other living thing. (On the plus side, if you need prescription medications or medical equipment it’s all yours for the asking.) In addition, humans would be no closer to perfection than they are now in any other way, either. We’d still be subject to pride, anger, jealousy, gluttony, sloth (all of the seven deadlies and any others you want to think of) and would still suffer from various mental impairments, so we’d still hurt each other and ourselves unnecessarily from time to time.

Now the questions:

What would be the role of artists and “knowledge workers” in this society? Since the factories would generally shut down (presumably), and there would be no more need or desire for “money”, what would be the role of, say, doctors, lawyers, athletes, painters, writers, sculptors, singers and actors?

How would we compensate any of them for what they do?

Do you think we would even have any?

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15 Answers

cockswain's avatar

They’d have fame, respect, influence, and very attractive, sexy mates.

flutherother's avatar

Human society is older than the idea of money, I’m sure we would manage. Artists don’t create simply to make a buck. People will continue to help others because it is what they want to do. And they will have our gratitude for doing so.

cockswain's avatar

I like this question, and I keep thinking about it. Aesthetic skills might become the most valued thing in such a society. If a machine can make anything, like a Mona Lisa-esque work of art, it would cheapen the perceived value of the art. Things that require years to perfect would be even more highly valued perhaps since we’d respect the effort one put into them (not too dissimilar from the situation now).

Picture the smooth jazz pianist in a bar, captivating a room. No amount of money would change the way the crowd enjoys the music, nor would money change the way the pianist feels in that moment when he knows he’s playing great music. Nor could the pianist find a substitute for those people that are loving what he’s doing at that moment.

Maybe artistic pursuits and development of skills would be the only respected things.

diavolobella's avatar

I agree with @cockswain that aesthetic skills would become more valuable and add that knowledge would also. After all, you can’t copy someone’s brain and their creative ideas or inventive thoughts.

I’m wondering, if this were possible, how quickly we would run out of room on the planet. I mean, if everyone could have a huge estate, a jumbo jet, all the materials goods they wanted, etc. there would soon be no room for more houses and not enough airspace for all the planes, etc.

WasCy's avatar

Yes, @cockswain. That’s why I should have added “inventors” to the list of “what if” people. I did want to be clear that nothing “new” would ever be produced by those machines, only copies of what we already have or can have.

@diavolobella try to forget about “space” for now. Imagine, for example, that we were much fewer, and we lived in a microcosm of the world we already have, say, a small city with all of the goods that you might want already there, and all of the people who could perform the “services” and aesthetics you’d want, too.

I’m just wondering how long we would have those people.

@flutherother I agree that “humanity” predates money, obviously. But it doesn’t predate “exchange”. If we could all have any thing that we want, then who would still produce something new? Who would teach anyone who wanted to be that inventor? What would we exchange with them?

cockswain's avatar

It’s sort of like asking “what do the wealthy do with their spare time?”

What do Bill Gates and Paris Hilton choose to do?

CaptainHarley's avatar

Perhaps people could finally work at the sort of things they truly enjoyed, just for the pleasure of constructive work, instead of grubbing for the almighty dollar.

BTW… there are those who think that this type of world is a distinct possibility, given the rise of nanotechnology! : )

skfinkel's avatar

Wouldn’t we still have wars? People would still want to kill each other, being human? People would still want “power” and would enlist others to get it for them. I don’t see how this would disappear in your hypothetical situation.

WasCy's avatar

Maybe, @CaptainHarley. We can hope so. But I think that as generations go by, there would be less and less “work” done by anyone. In the first place, I think that “education”, including the kind of discipline that is required by teacher and student alike, would fall away (as it already seems to have in the USA).

I’m afraid that you might be right, @skfinkel. It seems to me that “some” forms of thought would predominate over others. I think mysticism and religion would flourish… and not in a good way. With material goods covered for anyone who wanted them, there’s less need for power in a material sense, but “power over others’ minds” would be highly coveted, I think. (For the earthy reasons of fame, pride and ego, I suppose, if no others.) On the other hand… who would fight the wars? That goes back to the same issue as above, with education in warfare, training and discipline, not to mention motivating troops.

gmander's avatar

…and the intellectual property lawyers shall inherit the Earth!

You can’t copy music or video files unless you pay for it (or unless you are willing to break the law). These machines will just make these rules apply to everything. They would be protected like nuclear weapons! Only a few people would even get to see one. Anyone caught without a properly licensed machine would probably never see the light of day again.

WasCy's avatar

Thanks for your response, @gmander, but I think we can assume that “piracy” wouldn’t matter a damn in that society. Less than it matters now, in fact, especially since “profit motive” wouldn’t mean a thing. What would artists care about money, if they can already get everything they want without it?

More to the point, I think… who would become an artist? Even if you think that people are born with the talent to be a great artist, it still takes a certain amount of time, study, discipline and perseverance to “become” one. Who would do it, I wonder? Who would teach that person?

LostInParadise's avatar

Teachers might finally get the respect they deserve. It is one thing to be able to copy a personal aircraft and something else to be able to fly one.

augustlan's avatar

I think artists (and the like) would continue to exist into the foreseeable future. Mainly because these types of people (in our actual world) first take up the activity purely for enjoyment and only discover along the way that they have an actual talent for it. It’s only after that discovery that profit ever enters their minds.

Many people are great artists (etc), but can’t make a living at it (in our real world). As more time is spent earning money, less is spent on their craft. In this hypothetical world, I actually think these folks would thrive. Without the need for monetary reward, they’d have all the time in the world to enjoy their craft. Even without money, there’d still be great benefits to doing so. The joy of the act itself, the thrill of discovery and creation, the praise of your peers, etc. Sounds pretty much like Utopia, to me.

augustlan's avatar

By the way, I moved this question to Social, since that’s where you meant it to go. :)

WasCy's avatar


I expect that you’re right about respect, but I wonder how long that would be enough of an exchange. (Maybe respect itself would be more highly valued, when “things” had no value.)


I agree about “foreseeable future”; that is, for as long as currently skilled / trained artists and writers continue to exist. But who’s going to have the discipline to work at a craft, study past masters and endure all of the first part of the learning curve, if he didn’t have to? (And likely do it without a teacher or mentor, most likely. Socrates wasn’t a great teacher, I think, solely because he loved to teach: Socrates had to earn his daily bread like the rest of us and did something he was good at. He worked with a lot of adolescent boys. Who would do that by choice, if the other option was to lounge in the Lazy Boy recliner and watch old movies?)

Aside from art, which maybe we could agree would survive with some people simply because of their natural inclinations that way, who would study (and practice) law and medicine?

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