Matt's Blog

Energy slaves

Fri Aug 11 21:52:30 BST 2006

Another concept from "Utopia or Oblivion": energy slaves. A human can do a certain amount of work per day unaided, call this the energy value of a human. Each person in a developed country uses more than this amount of energy, by making use of energy stored in fossil fuels, nucelar power, wind power etc, or by explotation of other humans or animals. Each person therefore has a number of energy slaves (their energy use divided by the average human energy value) working for them. Increasing efficiency of technology leads to more energy slaves per person, as long as the underlying energy supply lasts. A fundamental limit of the total amount of new energy available is the energy output of the sun, together with energy stored in spin-orbital angular and linear motion of objects in the solar system.

Consider extending the energy slaves concept to other aspects of humans existence. As well as moving around matter and energy, humanity also processes information. On average a human can process a certain amount of information per day unaided, so any data processing in excess of this is due to use of data slaves. However, it is less clear how to define the amount of data processed by a human in a day.

Some measures are:

  • Average computational speed
  • Image recognition speed for example security staff identifying objects in X-ray images
  • Decision speed

Psychometric testing is used by industry to give an indication of the abilities of employees, so perhaps this offers some useful measures of mental speeds and processing abilities.

For non-conscious data processing devices such as present day computers it is possible to determine a fairly accurate measure of the amount of information that can be processed, in terms of the number of instructions per second that of which the machine is capable. This is harder to convert to an accurate value for conscious devices due to the large amount of parallel processing and inference that leads to analysis of input data (basically, we don't know the information complexity costs of the data processing algorithm of a conscious agent).



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