The Age of Em – summary of policy-relevant information

In this post I summarize the main (potentially) policy-relevant points that Robin Hanson makes in The Age of Em.

If you don’t have time to read the whole post, only read the section The three most important take-aways. My friend and colleague Ruairí also recommends to skip directly to the section on conflict and compromise if you already know the basics of Hanson’s em scenario.

You may check whether Hanson really makes the statements I ascribe to him by looking them up in the book. The page numbers all refer to the print edition, where the main text ends on page 384.

Mini-Review

Many parts of the book are not overly interesting and not very policy-relevant. For example, Hanson dedicates a lot of space to discussing how em cities will have to be cooled. Some things are very interesting, because they are weird. For example, faster ems will have smaller bodies (some of them (if not most) have no bodies at all, though). And some things could be policy-relevant. Also, I learned a lot of interesting stuff on the go. E.g., what kind of hand gestures successful and unsuccessful people make. Or that employees are apparently happier and more productive if they just try to satisfy their bosses instead of trying to do good work. Hanson makes extensive use of valuable references to support such claims. In addition to the intrinsic importance of the content, the book serves as a great example in futurology without groundless speculation.

There is also a nice review by Slate Star Codex, which also gives an overview of some of the more basic ideas (section III). I find the whole Age of Em scenario a lot less weird than Scott does and also disagree with the “science fiction” criticism in section VI. Section V rips apart (successfully, in my opinion) the arguments that Hanson gives (in the book) to support the assumption that whole brain emulation will arrive before de novo AI.

What’s an em, anyway?

Hanson’s book argues that soon, human brains can be scanned and then run in a way that preserves their functionality. These scans are called mind uploads, whole brain emulations or ems. Given the advantages that these digital versions have over meat-humans (such as the possibility of speed up, copiability, etc.), these ems would quickly come to dominate the economy. Ems are similar to humans in many regards, but the fundamental differences of being digital have a variety of interesting consequences for an em-dominated world. And this is what Hanson’s book is about.

If you are not familiar with these ideas at all, consider for example Hanson’s TEDx talk or section III in the Slate Star Codex review.

The three most important take-aways

  • The elites of our world will dominate the em world. So, focusing on certain elites today is more important for the em scenario. Also, our memes should be tailored more to elites than what would be the case in a scenario without ems.
  • The transition to an em world could cause major upheavals in moral values. It’s conceivable that in some em scenarios, the world could end up much closer to my values (panpsychic, welfarist, more willing to see some lives as not worth living, etc.) than in non-em scenarios. However, ems could also be largely egoistic and not care about philosophy much.
  • AI safety will probably be easier to solve for ems, i.e. ems are more likely to create de novo AI that is aligned with their values.

Competition and Malthusian wages

Without substantial regulation, the em world will be a lot more competitive (see p. 156ff.).

“The main way that em labor markets differ from labor markets today is that ems can be easily copied. Copying causes many large changes to em labor markets. For example, with copying there can be sufficient competition for a particular pre-skill type given demand from many competing employers, and supply from at least two competing ems of that type. For these two ems, all we need is that when faced with a take it or leave it wage offer, they each accept a wage of twice the full hardware cost [if they want to work at most half of their time].” (p. 144)

So even if for each job there are just two ems who are willing to do the job at very low wages, wages would fall to near-subsistence level almost immediately.

Who is in power in the em world?

In the em scenario, an elite-focus for our movement is more important than it already is. The elites (in terms of intelligence, productivity, wealth etc.) of our world will completely dominate (by number!) the em world. Therefore, influencing them is strategically much more important for influencing the em world. The elites within the em world will also be more important, e.g. because the em world may be less democratic or have a more rigid class and power hierarchy. This also suggests that it may be a little more important than we thought that the memes of our movement should make sense to elites.

Who becomes an em?

Which humans will be chosen to become ems and be copied potentially billions of times?

  • Young people (that is, people who are young when the ems are created) are probably more important, because living in the em world will require many new skills that young people are more likely to be able to acquire. (p. 149)
  • Because ems can be copied, there is not really a need to have many different ems. One can basically just take the 1000 most able humans (or the most talented human in every relevant area) and produce many copies of them (see pp.161). Therefore, the em world will be completely dominated by the elites of the human world.
  • The first people who become ems will tend to be rich or supported by large companies or other financiers, because scanning will be expensive in the beginning. Also, the chance of success will be fairly low in the first years of whole brain emulation, so classic egoists may have inhibitions against uploading. (On the other hand, they may want to dominate the em world, or want to be scanned while they still have a chance to gain a foothold in the em world.) The very first ems may thus be over-proportionately crazy/desperate, altruists who want to influence the em era, terminally ill, and maybe cryonics customers who are legally dead (see p. 148). Because first movers have an advantage (p. 150), it seems especially promising for altruists to try to get scanned in the early days when chances of success are at rates like 20% (and the original human is destroyed in the process of scanning) which would discourage others from daring the step into the em world. Having some altruistic elite members is therefore more important for an altruistic movement in this scenario than having many not so committed or not sufficiently talented members.
  • “It is possible that the first ems will come predominantly from particular nations and cultures. If so, typical em values may tend to be close to the values of whatever nations provided most of the ordinary humans whose brains were scanned for these first ems.” (p. 322) This suggests that not only personal eliteness but also being a national of an elite country will become important. This is similar to space travel (and maybe other frontiers), e.g. NASA employs only US citizens. Off the cuff, the most important countries in this regard are then probably the US, China, Switzerland (because of the Blue Brain project), some EU countries (because of high GDP and recent ESA success) and Japan.
    • “The first em cities might plausibly form around big computer data centers, such as those built today by Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Such centers likely have ample and cheap supporting resources such as energy, are relatively safe from storms and social disruptions, and are also close to initial em customers, suppliers, and collaborators in the richest parts of the industrial economy. These centers prefer access to cheap cold water and air for cooling, such as found toward Earth’s poles, and prefer to be in a nation that is either relatively free from regulations or that is small and controlled by friendly parties. These criteria suggest that the first em city arises in a low-regulation Nordic nation such as Norway.” (p. 360) Of course, such low-regulation countries in which em cities are built could nonetheless have little influence on the policies and values of the em world itself, e.g. an em city in Norway may consist of brains that were scanned in the USA.

More stability in an em world

Overall, the class hierarchy of the em era will probably be more rigid than in the human era.

  • “Ems with very different speeds or sizes might fit awkwardly into the same space, be that physical or virtual. Fast ems whizzing past could be disorienting to slower ems, and large ems may block the movement or view of small ems.” (p. 110) Some kind of segregation seems convenient: either areas of an em city have a certain standard speed or ems of the wrong speed class will be filtered out from what ems can see. “So there may be views that hide lower status ems, and only show higher status ems. This could be similar to how today servants such as waiters often try to seem invisible, and are often treated by those they serve as if invisible. The more possible views that are commonly used, the harder it will be for typical ems to know how things look from others’ typical points of view.” (p.111, also see p. 218)
  • There will probably be a few distinct speeds at which ems run as opposed to all kinds of em speeds being common because ems at the same speed can communicate well, whereas ems at speeds differing by a factor of 1.5 or more will probably have problems. (See pp. 222, 326)
  • Many of the ways in which more regulation is possible make it possible to prevent upheavals and oppress non-conformist positions.
  • Since ems can be copied after training, few ems will be in training. Instead, most ems will be at their peak productivity age, which for humans is, according to Hanson, usually between the ages 40 and 50—but could be much higher for ems given that their brains don’t deteriorate. (p.202ff.) So, ems may be somewhat older (in terms of subjective age) than humans. (See Wikipedia: List of countries by median age.)
  • Many aspects of aging can be stopped in ems. Therefore, ems may be able to work productively longer and hold on to their power much longer (p. 128f.). This means there will be fewer generation changes (per unit of subjective time). Since people tend to change their ways less often when they are old, the overall moral and political views of the em worlds might also be a lot more stable (judged by subjective em-time).
  • Em societies may be non-democratic (p. 259).
  • “Political violence, regime instability, and policy instability all seem to be negatively correlated with economic growth.” (p. 262) The stable em cities may come to dominate.
  • “As ems have near subsistence (although hardly miserable) income levels, and as wealth levels seem to cause cultural changes, we should expect em culture values to be more like those of poor nations today. As Eastern cultures grow faster today, and as they may be more common in denser areas, em values may be more likely to be like those of Eastern nations today. Together, these suggest that em culture […] values […] authority.” (p. 322f.)
  • “[Because] ems [will probably be] more farmer-like, they tend to envy less, and to more accept authority and hierarchy, including hereditary elites and ranking by gender, age, and class. They are more comfortable with […] material inequalities, and push less for sharing and redistribution. They are less bothered by violence and domination toward the historical targets of such conflicts […]. […] Leaders lead less by the appearance of consensus, and do less to give the appearance that everyone has an equal voice and is free to speak their minds. Fewer topics are open for discussion or negotiation. Farmer-like ems […] enforce more conformity and social rules, and care more for cleanliness and order.” (p. 327f.)

Conflict and compromise

It’s unclear whether cooperation and compromise will be more easy to achieve in an em world and whether there would be more or less risk of conflict and AI arms races.

  • CEV-like approaches to value-loading might be easier to implement (see the section on AI safety).
  • Because ems can travel more quickly, it will probably be easier for them to communicate more often with ems in other parts of the world (pp.75-77).
  • “Groups of ems meeting in virtual reality might find use for a social ‘undo’ feature, allowing them to, for example, erase unwelcome social gaffes. At least they could do this if they periodically archived copies of their minds and meeting setting, and limited the signals they sent to others outside their group. When the undo feature is invoked, it specifies a particular past archived moment to be revived. Some group members might be allowed a limited memory of the undo, such as by writing a short message to their new selves. When the undo feature is triggered, all group members are then erased (or retired) and replaced by copies from that past archive moment, each of whom receives the short message composed by its erased version.” (p. 104) I am not sure such a feature would be used in diplomacy, because being able to undo and retry makes signals of cooperativeness and honesty less credible. Of course, this could be addressed with the limited memory of the undo. If such a feature were used in diplomacy, it could make interaction across cultural difference more smooth.
  • “As the em era allows selection to more strongly emphasize the clans who are most successful at gaining power, we should expect positions of power in the em world to be dominated even more by people with habits and features conducive to gaining power.” (p.175) Such people tend to be more suspicious of potential work rivals (p. 176) and often refer to us-them concepts (p. 177). This should increase risks of conflict.
  • Fewer restrictions on international trade and immigration are economically more efficient (p. 179). To the extent that different em cities are indeed competing strongly, we would expect such  behaviors from em governments as well. Fewer restrictions in these regards might decrease differences between cultures.
  • For various reasons ems may overall be more rational, which increases the probability that they will be able to avoid “stupid” scenarios like escalating arms races. E.g. they could implement combinatorial auctions (see p. 184ff.) (humans can probably do so as well, though), have more trustworthy advice from their own copies (pp. 180, 315ff.), lie less (p. 205), can be better prepared for tasks (you only have to prepare one em and then can copy that em as often as you wish) (p. 208ff.).
  • Because shipping physical goods across the globe will take ages in fast ems’ subjective time (cargo ships probably can’t be sped up nearly as much as the thinking of ems, so cargo ships will seem extremely slow to fast ems) trade of such physical goods between em cities may hardly happen at all (p. 225).
  • Most ems will be at the peak productivity age, i.e. 40-50 or above (p. 202ff.). 50-year-olds tend to be less supportive of war than younger people (p. 250). Again see Wikipedia: List of countries by median age.
  • Poorer nations wage war more often and most ems will be poor (p. 250).
  • Having no children may make people more belligerent (p. 250).
  • The gender imbalance (more males than females) may increase the probability of war (p. 250).
  • If male ems are “castrated” (or, rather, something analogous to it) because of the gender imbalances and the obsoleteness of sexual reproduction, they will tend to be less aggressive and more sensitive, sympathetic and social. (p. 285)
  • Similar to family clans, the importance of copy clans may lead to less trust, fairness, rule of law and willingness to move or marry those from different cultures (p. 253).
  • Ems can have on call advisors, which can answer questions all the time. (pp. 315ff.) This could make diplomacy smoother, because the advisors are more likely to assume a long-term perspective (i.e. a far view), which, e.g., could make diplomats less driven by emotions like impatience, fear, anger etc.
  • “As ems have near subsistence (although hardly miserable) income levels, and as wealth levels seem to cause cultural changes, we should expect em culture values to be more like those of poor nations today. As Eastern cultures grow faster today, and as they may be more common in denser areas, em values might be similar to those of Eastern nations today. Together, these suggest that em culture […] values […] good and evil and local job protection.” (p. 322f.) This could increase the probability of conflicts.
  • There is a possibility of conflict between ems that come from our era and ems that grew up in the em era. “[T]he latter ems are likely to be better adapted to the em world, but the former will have locked in many first mover advantages to gain enviable social positions.” (p. 324) Similarly, there could be a conflict between humans and ems. (p. 324f., 361) In both cases, the newcomers may be very different due to competitiveness and thus could have a strong motivation to change the status quo.
  • “A larger total em population should [..] lead us to expect more cultural fragmentation. After all, if local groups differentiate their cultures to help members signal local loyalties, then the more people that are included within a region, the more total cultural variation we might expect to lie within that region. So a city containing billions or more ems could contain a great many diverse local cultural elements.” (p. 326) This suggests a higher probability of at least smaller conflicts.
  • “Poorer ems seem likely to return to conservative (farmer) cultural values, relative to liberal (forager) cultural values. […] Today, liberals tend to be more open-minded […]. If, relative to us, ems prefer farmer-like values to forager-like values, then ems more value things such as […] patriotism and less value […] tolerance […]. […] They are more comfortable with war […]. They are less bothered by violence and domination toward the historical targets of such conflicts, including foreigners […]. […] Conservative jobs today tend to focus on a fear of bad things, and protecting against them.” (p. 327f.)
  • “Today, ‘fast-moving’ action movies and games often feature a few key actors taking many actions with major consequences, but with very little time for thoughtful consideration of those actions. However, for ems this scenario mainly makes sense for rare isolated characters or for those whose minds are maximally fast. Other characters usually speed up their minds temporarily to think carefully about important actions.” (p. 332) In this way, even action movies could set norms for thoughtfulness, whereas nowadays they propagate a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality.
  • As described in the section on AI safety, ems may have a much better understanding of decision theory, which makes compromise and the avoidance of defection in prisoner’s dilemma-like scenarios much easier.
  • “[M]ost ems might [..] be found in a few very large cities. Most ems might live in a handful of huge dense cities, or perhaps even just one gigantic city. If this happened, nations and cities would merge; there would be only a few huge nations that mattered.” (p. 216) This would make coordination a lot easier.

Values

It is highly unclear to me what values ems will adopt.

  • Ems have no reasons to farm animals for food or use animals for testing of drugs. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that this will make the majority care about animals more than they do today.
  • “As a cat brain has about 1% as many neurons as a human brain, virtual cat characters are an affordable if non-trivial expense. Most pet brains also require the equivalent of a small fraction of a human brain to emulate. The ability to pause a pet while not interacting with it would make pets even cheaper. Thus emulated animals tend to be cheap unless one wants many of them, very complex ones, or to have them run for long times while one isn’t attending to them. Birds might fly far above, animals creep in the distance, or crowds mill about over there, but one could not often afford to interact with many complex creatures who have long complex histories between your interactions with them.” (p. 105)
  • As opposed to most humans, em copies will mostly be created on demand. I.e. if you are an em, you apply to jobs (or employers offer them to you) and for every job that you get, you create a copy that fills this jobs. (In some unregulated dystopian scenarios it is also possible, of course, that ems can’t veto on whether they want to have a copy made of themselves.) This means that the question of “will this specific life be worth living?” will be more common among ems (indeed, more forced upon ems) than humans, who usually don’t know what the lives of their children will be like. They will also feel more responsible for having made the decision to live their current lives, so unless they decided to make a copy for ethical reasons, they are much less likely to be anti-natalist. After all, they decided themselves to be copied (see p. 120). Also, there is strong selection pressure favoring ems who consider, say, a life without much leisure to be still positive (see p. 123). Similarly, there are selection pressures towards ems wanting to make many copies of themselves.
  • There is a strong selection pressure against ems who are not willing to create short-lived (i.e., quickly deleted) copies of themselves. If competition will be strong enough (and human nature sufficiently flexible), ems will value that at least one of their copies will survive, but they likely would not disvalue the death of a single of their copies much. This could lead to values along the lines of “biodiversity applied to humans”, where copy clans count as the morally relevant entities, as opposed to individuals. This would be similar to how many people care about preserving certain species instead of the welfare of individuals. This would not only be bad for em welfare but also move the moral views of ems farther away from mine. On the other hand, hedonic well-being could fill the gap of death as the center for moral concern.
  • Hanson argues that ems probably won’t suffer much (p. 153, 371), because their virtual reality (and even their own brain) can be controlled so well. Given that experiencing suffering is probably correlated with caring about suffering, this might be bad in the long term.
  • Assuming that ems can be tweaked, they may be made especially thoughtful, friendly and so on.
  • Because of higher competition, ems work more (e.g. see pp. 167ff., 207) and are paid less. Therefore, they don’t have the resources for altruistic activities that modern elites have.
  • People who are more productive tend to be married, intelligent extroverted, conscientious and non-neurotic. Smarter people are more cooperative, patient, rational and law-abiding. They also tend to favor trading with foreigners more. So, because ems will be selected for productivity, they will tend to have these features as well. (p. 163)
    • It is somewhat unclear whether ems will be more or less religious. Apparently religious people are more productive, but they are also less innovative. (p. 276, 311) Hanson expects that religions will be able to adapt to the em world’s weirdnesses (p. 312).
  • Workaholics tend to be male and males are also more competitive, so the em world may well be dominated by males (p. 167), which are less compassionate and less likely to be vegan or vegetarian.
  • “While successful ems work hard and accept unpleasant working conditions, they are not much more likely to seriously resent or rail against these conditions than do hard-working billionaires or winners of Oscars or Olympic gold medals today. While such people often work very hard under grueling conditions, they usually accept such conditions as a price for their chance at extreme success.” (p. 169) So perhaps ems won’t take the suffering of less fortunate individuals very seriously.
  • “[O]lder people tend to associate happiness more with peacefulness, as opposed to excitement.” (p. 205) So, old people may be more focused on avoiding very bad experiences relative to bringing about very pleasurable ones.
  • Most ems don’t have children (p. 211f.), which could make them more compassionate towards others.
  • At some point, it may become attractive to scan children to turn them into ems, because they can better adapt to the em world (p. 212). This could give an advantage to ruthless countries and children of psychopathic parents, who are themselves more likely to be psychopathic.
  • Space will lose some appeal, because it takes ages of subjective time to get there (p. 225).
  • If male ems are “castrated” (however that would exactly work for ems) because of the gender imbalances and the obsoleteness of sexual reproduction, then they tend to be more sympathetic. (p. 285)
  • “Ems can travel more cheaply to virtual nature parks, and need have little fear that killing nature will somehow kill them.” (p. 303)
  • The classic targets of charity—alms, schools and hospitals—will all be a lot less necessary than today (p. 302). This may lead ems to support other kinds of charity.
  • “New em copies and their teams are typically created in response to new job opportunities. Such teams typically end or retire when these jobs are completed. Thus ems are likely to identify strongly with their particular jobs; their jobs are literally their reason for existing.” (p. 306, also see p. 328) Maybe this implies that ems will be less involved in pursuing ethical causes.
  • For ems it is obviously much more natural to be anti-substratist.
  • For ems, it is more natural to consider consciousness as coming in degrees. For example, em minds differ in speed, but there could also be partial minds (p. 341ff.).
  • “If ems are indeed more farmer-like, […] they are less bothered by violence and domination toward the historical targets of such conflicts, including foreigners, children, slaves, animals, and nature.” (p. 327)
  • Ems will care more about their copies than humans that have never been copied.

AI safety

Overall, ems seem more likely to get AI safety right. Arguments beyond Hanson’s are given in a talk by Anna Salomon (and Carl Shulman). Consider also a workshop report by Anna Salamon and Luke Muehlhauser on the topic.

  • Because ems tend to have many copies, decision and game theoretical ideas that are relevant for AI safety will be more common and practically tested in em society.
    • There is the possibility of mind theft, i.e. that someone steals a copy of an em to interrogate it. (p.60f.) So, ems may pre-commit against giving in to anything like torture to disincentivize mind theft (p. 63).
    • There may be “open source” ems (p. 61), which are free for everyone to copy. These must have pre-commitments against any kind of coercion to enforce a policy of only working for those which grant them a certain standard of living.
    • “An em might be fooled […] by misleading information about its copy history. If many copies were made of an em and then only a few selected according to some criteria, then knowing about such selection criteria is valuable information to those selected ems. For example, imagine that someone created 10,000 copies of an em, exposed each copy to different arguments in favor of committing some act of sabotage, and then allowed only the most persuaded copy to continue. This strategy might in effect persuade this em to commit the sabotage. However, if the em knew this fact about its copy history, that could convince this remaining copy to greatly reduce its willingness to commit to sabotage.” (p. 112, also see pp. 60, 120) Such weird processes could make ems a lot better at anthropic reasoning.
    • It will be easy to put ems into simulations to test their behavior in certain situations (p. 115ff.). So, Newcomb-like problems are a very practical problem in the em word. Ems also often interact with copies of themselves, which could sometimes be similar to a corresponding variant of the prisoner’s dilemma.
  • The possibility of mind theft (or in general the fact that ems live in the digital world) lead ems to increase spending in computer security (p. 61f.), which makes both AI control (e.g. via provably secure operating systems) and AI boxing easier. AI boxing is also made easier by fast ems being able to “directly monitor and react to an AI at a much higher time resolution.” (p. 369)
  • Whole brain emulation makes CEV-like approaches to AI safety easier.
    • “Mild mindreading might be used to allow ems to better intuit and share their reaction to a particular topic or person. For example, a group of ems might all try to think at the same time about a particular person, say ‘George.’ Then their brain states in the region of their minds associated with this thought might be weakly driven toward the average state of this group. In this way this group might come to intuitively feel how the group feels on average about George.” (p. 55)
    • Hanson believes that there may be “methods to usefully merge two em minds that had once split from a common ancestor, with the combined mind requiring not much more space and processing power than did each original mind, yet retaining most of the skills and memories of both originals.” (p. 358)
  • Messier AI designs may be feasible in an em world. Such designs might be less controllable, e.g. because the goal is less explicit.
    • On p. 50, Hanson writes that small-scale cognitive enhancements may be possible for ems. Some of them may allow ems to have much better memory, which allows them to work on less modular AI designs.
    • One can save a copy of a programmer who wrote a piece of software to later let them rewrite that piece of software. (p. 278) This avoids some of the typical problems of legacy systems and could lower quality standards.
    • Once serial computer speed hits a wall, em software needs to be very parallel to not appear sluggish to fast (highly parallelized) ems (p. 279). So, ems will become much better at writing parallel computer programs. This may lead to more messy approaches to AI (e.g., society of mind, many subagencies etc.), which are more difficult to control. However, there could probably be very systematic approaches to parallel computing as well. In that case, the parallel computing trend would not make a big difference.
    • Programmers can have many copies and run at very, very high speeds and then finish huge pieces of software on their own (p. 280f.). This could allow them to get away with idiosyncratic systems that would otherwise be impossible to implement for a human team. Again, this could lead to more messy approaches to AI.
  • De novo AIs could still be partly ems, for example they could be created by replacing subsystems of ems by more efficient programs while keeping the motivation system intact.
  • Because ems live longer (potentially forever), they have less motivation to create AI quickly.

Appendix A: Why regulation might be easier to enforce in an em world

Hanson largely assumes a scenario with low regulation, which makes sense—if only to be able to make predictions at all. However, there are also many reasons to believe that much stricter regulation could be enforced in the em world:

  • Mind reading might be possible to some extent (pp. 55ff.).
  • One can test an em’s loyalty by putting it into a simulation (pp. 115ff.).
  • Virtual reality makes surveillance much easier (pp. 124ff., 273).
  • If death of a single copy is considered to be no great harm (pp. 134ff.), you could quite easily shut off all copies of a criminal (except, maybe, one which you retire at very low speed.
  • The em world is probably dominated by a few hundred “copy clans”. This should make coordination a lot easier.
  • Most ems will probably live in just a few cities (p. 214ff.). This makes coordination easier.
  • Crimes can be discouraged more decisively by holding copy clans legally liable for the behaviors of members (p. 229).
  • Em firms will be larger than today’s firms (p. 231).
  • “[T]here is a possibility that ems may create stable totalitarian regimes that govern em nations.” (p. 259, also see pp. 264ff.)
  • “Archived copies of minds from just before a key event could be used to infer the intent and state of knowledge of ems at that key event.” (p. 271) This makes jurisdiction easier.
  • It seems plausible that after the first em is created, the technology will be in the hands of one country or coalition for a while. (On the other hand, the USA caught up within months after Sputnik.) This will make it easy to set up an em world in a way that conforms with the agenda of this coalition. Assuming that the creation of ems will yield a transition as significant as Hanson makes it out to be, the first coalition might already have a decisive strategic advantage. Of course, this just means that there will be an arms race towards whole-brain emulation instead of one towards de novo AI, but the former wouldn’t have many of the negative consequences of the latter, because ems can’t be uncontrolled.

Appendix B: Robin Hanson’s moral values

What’s interesting about the book is that, while the scenario Hanson outlines would be considered dystopian by many, Hanson seems to consider it an acceptable outcome. (Consider his “Evaluation” section (pp. 367ff.).) Some striking examples are the following statements:

  • “Of course, lives of quiet desperation can still be worth living.” (p. 43)
  • “[A] disaster so big that civilization is destroyed and can never rise again […] harms not only everyone living in the world at at the time, but also everyone who might have lived afterward, until either a similar disaster later, or the end of the universe.” (p. 369, emphasis added)

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