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I've got a device that can change matter to energy (or energy to matter. Or any combination!) with perfect efficiency and absolute clarity of design. So far I've used it to build a large, global company with employees capable of performing pretty much any task I need done, and I've built my global public and political image to the point where everyone really, really likes me.

I've got a global presence and infrastructure complete enough that I could deploy various robotic designs based on my invention in a matter of weeks, rendering pretty much any industrial or resource gathering operation irrelevant. However: I'm still paranoid that the human race will tear itself apart if I do that, not least because they'd have all the material they need for materiel.

As I sit twiddling my thumbs and wondering about the next steps, I need a baseline on which to build a plan for the transition of humanity to the post-scarcity era as smoothly as possible. To that end, this is the question:

Which market sector would take the longest to cease operations if they suddenly became irrelevant: Energy, mining/refining, or raw food production? Please provide numbers on lead/wind-down times if you have them.

Please note: I haven't included construction, manufacture or food processing in the question as these sectors require a human design element that can't be made fully redundant. If you can think of a long running industry sector whose final product does not require any human design let me know and I'll add it to the list. By 'Cease operations' I mean 'no more major national/international networks designed to facilitate these markets'. Small local networks or crazy paranoid hermits don't count as part of the market (thanks Frostfyre).

I'm thoroughly expecting the answers here to be along the lines of chaos and horror, but any world that's in a post scarcity society must have dealt with this issue at some point, so the question needs asking before anybody can plan to fix it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you including parts of the market where people don't trust your device will work continuously for the foreseeable future or you won't withhold products? The paranoid will probably continue the market indefinitely. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 18 '15 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre: An excellent point. Updating with a clarification. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 18 '15 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ What are your assumptions on governments and laws working against you? As an example, you might have to submit every single food variety to the FDA in the US, causing a 20 year backlog as somehow their funding just got cut. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Nov 18 '15 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Energy will definitely fall first. Some independent generation will stay forever as backups (e.g. current data centres MUST have a diesel engine for independent power backup). But most of humanity will switch to your dirt-cheap electricity delivered via high temperature superconductors real, real fast. Bye bye oil, bye bye hydro. $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Nov 18 '15 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ I really enjoy your line of question concerning your "Earth-changing invention." Very entertaining and well thought out. $\endgroup$ – Quiquȅ Nov 22 '15 at 2:12
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Let's analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each sector (against the disruption from your device).

Energy

Strengths

  • All those cars, trucks, tanks, ships and airplanes need fuel for their engines, and the oil companies own the distribution network.
  • Energy is vital to national security, so countries that can afford it will take measures to prevent a dependency on your machine.
  • Powerful lobby in the US and other big countries. State-owned industry in Russia and China as well as the Middle East.

Weaknesses

  • High extraction and operating costs and volatile global market makes them extremely vulnerable to a crash in oil and gas prices.
  • Industry has zero popular goodwill and burning coal and oil causes global warming. Your greener alternative will be attractive.

Predictions

All these timeframes start from the point where you turn on your first large scale plant/factory in a market.

  • Coal industry will collapse in the West and third world in exactly the time it takes for their first big contracts to expire. Biggest concern: the state-owned industry in China.
  • Natural gas will be nationalized and put into hibernation as a strategic reserve. This could take several years. Biggest concern: Russia depends on gas exports.
  • Oil is a tricky one. Oil futures prices will slide, but current volumes are huge and unless you start selling Mr. Fusion kits for vehicles, gasoline will still be in demand. Your choices are:
    • Decrease demand by producing batteries or entire electric cars to go along with your cheap electricity
    • Undercut suppliers by producing cheap refined oil products with your machine.

Either way, you can expect a few years of slow decline as people keep filling up their cars, industrial buyers can't risk having their plants sit idle and oil has a lead time of 6+ months. Then a tipping point will be reached as traders admit to themselves that you are for real. Panic selling will destroy oil prices as countries dependent on that income rush to sell off their reserves. Biggest concern: Chaos and war will ensue in the Middle East as everyone tries to claim part of the suddenly finite pie. Then a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions follows.

Food

Strengths

  • People would rather not eat your Frankenfood if they have a choice. See the ongoing GMO food struggle between the US and EU for reference.
  • Heavy regulation and labeling requirements will work against you.
  • Like energy, food is a vital strategic resource. Governments will not accept being dependent on you for food supplies.

Weaknesses

  • A significant part of the world population does not have enough food.
  • Food processors have less concerns about the ingredients they use, though only if it's not traceable.
  • Animal feed is less regulated and consumes a large portion of the world's food production.

Predictions

You're not going to make food production for First World humans irrelevant in under two generations. Fortunately, you don't have to, as your main goal is an end to food scarcity.

The two likely spearpoints are outlined in the weaknesses: Feed the starving and the animals.

For feeding the starving, you can make good use of the NGO contacts you cultivated before. Have them perform thorough testing on your food, then use their credibility and network to distribute. For animal feed, there will be interest because of the lower cost, but fear of being associated with Frankenfood. The best way to fix this is to make deals with either farms or trading companies to multiply their real shipments and share the profit. This is untraceable and works for everyone. After some of the suspicion is lifted, cattle farms will start asking about getting the feed right at the farm.

Both strategies have the same effect: They will lower food prices worldwide in 2-3 years. That includes initial testing, convincing the first countries and companies to try it and then ramping up production. Bad harvests and disasters may speed up this timeframe.

Hopefully, there will be no collapse as farmers switch from the highest yields to high quality (organic) foods, lowering output and stabilizing prices. First world farms will still struggle with the permanently low prices and may be subsidized or close down. This will probably happen over at least 5-10 years as farmers relearn their business.

General manufacturing

The assumption here is that your machine can replicate complex components like circuitry and computer chips. A replicated smartphone may not boot, but it will after loading the software. If that's too delicate for the machine, you move one or two steps down the production chain.

Strengths

  • Patent law, Intellectual Property rights and treaties effectively prevent you from making your own versions of products.
  • Perversely, China's weakness of depending on manufacturing for its economy counts against you here, since it's likely to aggressively protect its turf.

Weaknesses

  • The entire industry has been in a race to the bottom for many years now, sacrificing quality and durability plus social and environmental responsibility on the altar of quarterly profits.
    • Your prices are unbeatable, you will be buried under a mountain of company reps looking to outsource their manufacturing to you.
    • Consumers will be delighted with the higher quality of your products.

Predictions

Chaos, horror, war, massacre, bloodbath, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, meteor strikes, NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE!!!

Okay, maybe not all of those, but here is where things get grim. Unlike the food sector's soft landing, or the relatively small numbers of people affected by the energy sector's collapse, now you're instantly making a good (and labor-intensive) part of the world economy obsolete.

Quite a few countries in the world will lose a large chunk of their export income, as all that hard-won copper/steel/gold/rubber/wood/rare earth metal/you name it is suddenly worth as much as the mud under the miners' boots. Then the countries where those materials used to get shipped and where the processing and assembly happens get hit (how badly depends on how finished a product you can deliver). This covers probably half the world and could potentially leave half a billion people unemployed if you produced everything from phones to cars instantly in your machine.

It's impossible to give even a rough guess for this time-frame, since if you do it the quick way (start mass-producing iPhones, fridges and Tesla cars in plants inside the rich countries), war is all but inevitable. Even if you generously travel around the world and provide the newly unemployed with free iPhones, fridges and Teslas, they will still be stuck with no purpose in life and no way to get ahead. The social disruption will be too great and civil wars will break out. China may try to head this off by taking you out before it happens, and unlike the Middle Eastern countries affected by the oil price collapse, China has nukes and the means to deliver them to your doorstep. (Tip: don't be home.)

The optimal strategy is to gradually work your way up the manufacturing chain. Start by offering raw materials and those semi-finished products that take a heavy toll on the environment. Leave the most labor-intensive parts (assembly) for last. Do all you can to support the most-at-risk countries, helping them transition their economies to services and consumption before their manufacturing collapses. At this rate, you may need 20-40 years, depending on just how much goes wrong along the way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Gotta say, I'm actually really intrigued by the potential for the other sectors! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 20 '15 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ I had it all typed out on my mobile this morning. Then someone called me and the app didn't save the draft :-( I will type it all up again in the train home. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Nov 20 '15 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ I deliberately left manufacture out as I knew it was going to be the 'horror and death' option. Like your plan though. Coupled with some of the food-replacement strategies and some social engineering you could speed up that transition quite a lot by making it easier to live outside of the manufacturing markets and emphasising the non-material jobs. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 23 '15 at 15:49
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The industries of energy production, mining, manufacturing and transport will all collapse first. As the comments under your question suggest, the FDA and its equivalents in other countries will defend the food-production industry, at least until your machine learns how to make perfect replicas of existing fruits, vegetables and other already approved food-stuffs. Medicine production and distribution will also be a hold-out due to its heavy regulation.

What is nice is that you can create wealth directly in many forms: gold, water, food, electricity, etc. So you can buy any hold-out industries from their current owners and transform them manually into their post-scarcity equivalents. Buy all the drug companies and lower all prescription prices to zero. The analysts will insist that your companies must go bankrupt from such a move, but you can just keep sending those companies the operating money that they need, and prove the analysts wrong.

In pursuing a post-scarcity economy, your goal should be to wear down the dominance of the scarcity mindset. Once people get used to always having enough, they can be slowly conditioned out of the need to own things. Over time they might then stop hording things and stop investing their time and efforts in protecting those hordes from others. Enjoying life is a very alluring alternative compared to the effort needed to maintain a possessions. If your global company makes both options available to everyone, most will choose joy.

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I think that (raw) food production will hold out longest.
Not because of any feature the industry has, but because first, large numbers of people are very careful about food, and will not easily switch to anything "non-organic" (yes the term is bonkers, but still...), especially if they can afford the "healthy, and-picked, ecologically farmed" food, and second, the "original, ecological, (...) foods our grandparents cooked" will be regarded as much more hipster and thus sought after.

One small factor that will help the food industry is that at least some parts of the industry do not require as massive machinery as the other two sectors, which makes them easier to scale up or down, and thus quicker to respond to varying demands.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1, and good points, but I think it is more than just being 'hipster'. Humans tend to place a value on hard work, and a value on knowing how to do something. Farming is a bit more complicated than "Take any seed, place it in some dirt, set it in the sun, water it regularly and wait", though all those things are required and that is basically the instruction set most people know. If raw food production goes away, we loose a lot more than "that smell of a truly vine-ripened tomato". People will hold on to that. $\endgroup$ – IchabodE Nov 20 '15 at 19:22
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Another area that you are kind of leaving out is globalization.
For instance, there are some really neat energy producing technologies that are starting to get traction in some parts of the world right now, like plasma gasification and molten salt reactors for instance, but they are having a hard time in the developed world because of entrenched interests, start up costs, and regulation.

Where you're technology will have the biggest impact is the developing world, because there is no infrastructure.
Cell phones in Africa is a good example of this. They are everywhere, and stuff like mobile payment is way more common than over here, because there was nothing there for cell phones to push out. No land lines, no debit cards. America probably has a few years before we catch up to what they are doing.
Or internet in South Korea (which is not a developing country), which is fast and cheap, because there was no existing regulation or monopolies to keep things from happening as fast as possible.

There are areas where you could take the food production stuff, start to explain "Yeah, this is replicated food" and they won't care because their children are starving. I'd sacrifice my own dog to keep my baby from going hungry. Replicated food? Gimme gimme!
For energy production, they'll just be happy to have lights and a way to cook stuff easier.

In the developed world it'll be different, and take a bit longer, but not much, especially if he's politically connected.
Energy falls fast and hard. It's the 1980's oil glut all over again, but with electric cars. Automakers with experience in electric cars take off like rockets, and the rest scramble to catch up.

For food cheap and plentiful wins 8 times out of 10. Ramen noodles and college students, fast food chains, etc.

I think it would have a really weird effect on the economy, where industries would crash all over, and the economy would dip for a really short amount of time, and then take off again, with the wealth getting redistributed a bit. A few very wealthy people will lose their wealth (gas, oil, mining, etc), others will get a lot more (electronics) and the cost of living will go way down, meaning that people will have a lot more disposable income to spend and that will keep the economy from crashing.

Edit:
New use I just thought of. Since your device can take energy and turn it into matter, then one area this will simply revolutionize is space travel.
One of the reasons space travel is so expensive is because the biggest thing that you have to push around is the fuel to push the fuel around.
Say you want to go to Mars. Using the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation you figure out how much energy you need, then how much fuel you need to get that energy, but you also need to take into account the mass of the unburned fuel you have to move.
Energy to mass removes this problem. You simply launch a craft with the device and a reactor, and create the fuel as you burn it from energy. Now space travel is incredibly cheap.
You also have to figure out how much food you need for the trip, but that's not a problem any more either.
Once you get to Mars you need to set up a base and grow food, except that you don't. Shipping a few devices over, you convert dust into energy to produce food, produce living space, make air, whatever you want.
It would even be interesting to have devices who's only job is to eat dust and spit out atmosphere or soil (Mars soil is not good for planting. To much salt, no nutrients or microbes that plants need to grow). It would be a long, long project, but who cares. This will give earth some breathing room.
With the solar system open to you, you have the entire mass of the gas giants to build anything you want, including interstellar ships, and with the fuel problem solved, flight times wouldn't need to be as long.
You have the energy to travel at 1G the whole way, so you could get to Alpha Centauri in 5 years or so.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some very good points about differences in economic factors globally! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 23 '15 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs Had a few more thoughts about potential uses... $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Nov 23 '15 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ Nice comments. They aren't useful for this question, but they will come up later. Literally. Next question. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 23 '15 at 16:58

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