26 Sep 2023
Adam Jesionowski
Tools for Nanobusinesses

I moved to Austin last January. On the road I listened to the Recessionmaxxing w/ EBBerger, which covers a wide variety of topics: antiques and repair, the PROMIS octupus, and nanobusinesses. An example of a nanobusiness might be repairing control boards for ACs or fridges and selling them on eBay: the cycle of production can be done by a single individual.

There is this top level problem of Americans not having ownership of much at all: land and housing is through the roof while rentier tech is deployed en masse. Technology was supposed to be the great liberator of time–but clearly the Silicon Valley beatniks have broken their promise. In the place of information sharing, tech has weaved an administrative and bureaucratic web. We do not need the demands being made of us from our technology–we can be more free without them–but how do we get there? Is it just a matter of pouring energy into the techno-capital accelerator and hoping for the best? “Phase shift first, ask questions later.”

The question is not one of whether we should head towards cornucopia Earth (affirmative), but what man’s relationship is to his own labor. You want to build Dyson spheres? Fine: who’s doing it? “I’m the one in the cockpit, AI does everything for me.” Ah. So what, you punch in “dyson sphere plz :)” into a terminal and go lie on a beach for Eternity? Is that paradise?

Actually in the future when we build intergenerational starships man’s hands will yet be visible on all aspects of its production. Such a task can only be compared to Medieval Cathedrals: it will require hundreds of years to get right on the first go. Can differential programming speed up the prototyping, modeling, and simulation speed of such a task? Yes: but no large language model can pierce the veil more than has already been carved into it.

How is it that men could possibly labor for a task that has no potential return on energy-mass expenditure? The only explanation is that they, like the Victorian scientists before them, have free time. What then of the work that must be done to keep the world moving? Most men still have jobs, but they utilize technology in so effective a manner that the work week is 10 hours long.

Free time does not mean lying on a couch in a food coma, it means time for one’s own labor! It is here, in the multitude of free time allotted to them, that man potlatches a starship into existance.

Which do you find more alien: Dyson Spheres or the population of Earth fully employed with a 10 hour work week?

The AI Question is one of ownership of time. Modes of research and production are about to be overturned. A new world emerges and the bureaucrats reach out an icy tendril of AI Ethicists to capture those yields for itself.

I say we use it to give time and production back to the American. Let every man be a nanobusiness owner.

The idea of nanobusinesses appeal to me as a Catholic. In the 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum, Pope Leo XIII lays out a third way between capitalism and socialism. He affirms the need for private property:

The fact that God has given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race can in no way be a bar to the owning of private property.

However, this private property is not there to be used without referent to what is good for man. Healthy man is only sustained by a healthy ecosystem:

Moreover, the earth, even though apportioned among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all, inasmuch as there is not one who does not sustain life from what the land produces. Those who do not possess the soil contribute their labor; hence, it may truly be said that all human subsistence is derived either from labor on one’s own land, or from some toil, some calling, which is paid for either in the produce of the land itself, or in that which is exchanged for what the land brings forth.

The labor theory of value is very much real if value is held as a quality (a refinement of nature, a higher expression, a perfection without hope of being perfect) rather than a quantity (dollars on digital computers).

Here, again, we have further proof that private ownership is in accordance with the law of nature. Truly, that which is required for the preservation of life, and for life’s well-being, is produced in great abundance from the soil, but not until man has brought it into cultivation and expended upon it his solicitude and skill. Now, when man thus turns the activity of his mind and the strength of his body toward procuring the fruits of nature, by such act he makes his own that portion of nature’s field which he cultivates— that portion on which he leaves, as it were, the impress of his personality; and it cannot but be just that he should possess that portion as his very own, and have a right to hold it without any one being justified in violating that right.

Men should hold land, and improve it by impressing themselves onto it. A similar argument may be made for man’s ownership of themselves: they should choose what to put in their bodies and how to spend their time living a flourishing life.

We can only barely begin to imagine what the contours of an economy dominated by nanobusinesses would look like. All of our technology would need to be re-thought in this world. Nevertheless, we can make some guesses about what tools might look like.

First, we would expect tools to be highly speciated. Rather than being highly regimented and standard, each individual process will vary. However, these tools must break down easily for repair or replacement, especially of any consumable pieces. As such we would expect certain parts to be commodities (e.g. resistors, capacitors, wire) and other parts to obey regional standards for communication (e.g. a certain bus or network protocol). These localized interfaces mean higher orders of tool speciation can be reached through recombination.

Due to the complexity of these tools, we would not expect someone to be able to learn the tool in one week of the night shift. Rather, we would like to hand them down to our children. Contra the state’s expectations for education, play is the proper frontier of learning. These tools then cannot be merely functions, stripped of quality entirely, they must be crafts. Their affordances must fit a wide variety of hands and skill levels. They should naturally invite exploration when held.

My goal with Ash Tree Systems is to move towards that world. I’ve been an embedded firmware engineer since graduating in electrical engineering, and can move up and down all stages of that stack. Particular technologies I’m interested in using are:

I’ll be posting regularly on this blog exploring both my technical progress and the aesthetic aspects of this topic.

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