Brain

Artificial Robot Brains Take Over the World

A review of The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life When Robots Rule the Earth

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University of Sciences

The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life When Robots Rule the Earth, Robin Hanson, Oxford University Press, 415 pp. $34.95.

Move over, humans; the emulations are coming and our world is going to get really weird. That's the premise of the George Mason economist Robin Hanson's fascinating new book, The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life When Robots Rule the Earth, a worthy addition to the growing canon of visionary literature about exponential technological progress. The book tries to discern how the world will change when it becomes possible to upload human minds into computational substrates.

Hanson argues that three supporting technologies are required to achieve this: fast, cheap computers; fast, cheap brain scanners; and detailed and effective models of brain cells. Once all three become available later this century, it will be possible to scan a human brain and emulate it on computer hardware. At that point we'll enter the Age of Emulation—or the Age of Em, for short. And then what?

Since ems are instantiated on computer hardware, Hanson argues, they will be able to think much faster than human beings. A kilo-em, thinking 1,000 times faster than the human norm, would experience more than three subjective years with the passage of one objective day. An em who has three years to figure out a problem will always beat a human being who only has only one day to work on it.

Interestingly, Hanson anticipates that only a few hundred, perhaps as many as a thousand, human brains will be uploaded to create the em world. Since he thinks that most of them will be selected from among the most productive people on the planet, he believes that number will provide all the variation in values and productivity needed to run the em economy. Hanson also expects it to be easy and cheap to make as many copies of an em as desired, so he envisions an em society comprised of vast competing clans of ems—possibly billions, even trillions in each—all stemming from the original 1,000 uploaded brains.

The economy of these fast, highly productive emulations will grow enormously. Right now the human global economy doubles about every 15 years. For his baseline, Hanson expects the em economy to at least double in size every month. As a result, within 2 years the em economy would be thousands to perhaps billions of times bigger than the human economy.

What would em lives be like? Due to fierce competition and the ease of copying, most ems would live at essentially subsistence levels, earning just enough to pay for the energy and to rent the computational hardware needed to keep them running. The faster they run, the more they have to pay. Hanson also believes that ems would eventually die. Complex adaptive systems like human brains become inflexible over time, he argues, so the mental functions of emulated brains would become more fragile over time as their experiences piled up and they become less capable of learning new productive skills. Once an em is so inflexible that it can no longer earn its subsistence, it would "die" by being erased, either by choice or otherwise.

Oxford University Press

 "When life is cheap, death can be cheap as well," suggests Hanson. "Today, erasing the last copy of some valuable software might be an enormous loss, while erasing typical copies costs very little. Similarly, erasing all copies of a trained em might be a great loss, but deleting one copy made a few hours ago could usually be seen as a rather small loss." Really?

Ems that run faster would mentally age faster. On the other hand, faster mental processing may enable an em to earn more than subsistence and pay for retirement. Thus, the alternative to death would a sufficient stream of earnings from investments to pay for running an individual's emulation at very slow, and thus very cheap, speeds. Or perhaps an individual em could archive himself or herself on an advanced version of a flash drive and be periodically resurrected to see what has happened while it was in storage.

For the most part, Hanson expects ems to live and work in virtual reality, though he thinks the ones who interact with the physical world may inhabit individual android bodies. In virtual reality, he writes, ems will "never experience hunger, disease, or intense pain, nor ever see, hear, feel or taste grime or anything ugly or disgusting." Since ems will be emulated human brains, Hanson expects the shared spaces in virtual reality to "often look recognizably like offices, bedrooms, bars, parks, plazas, auditoriums, elevators, etc., to evoke the behaviors considered appropriate in such places." The vast computational platforms that house em virtual reality will be agglomerated into em cities. Computation produces a lot of heat, so they'll need access to lots of cooling; therefore, Hanson predicts, em cities will likely be located closer to the poles and to seaside locations. (He speculates that the first one might emerge in Norway.) Em cities will not be hospitable to human beings, since they will be very hot and won't want to waste valuable space to accommodate puny humans and their physical needs.

Hanson expects em resources such as energy, cooling, and computer hardware to be earned and expanded on the basis of work productivity. Clans will specialize in certain kinds of work, and em teams may be composed members from various clans that prove most effective in achieving specific goals. Particularly successful work teams will be copied in their entireties as many times as needed. In general, ems will be copied and deployed just as they achieve their peak years of productivity, somewhere around 50 years of subjective age. He thinks productivity will be further enhanced when ems create "spurs" of themselves who function for a short while to complete discrete tasks. Such spurs may exist for just a couple of subjective hours and then "end"—die—once the chore is done.

Hanson spends a good bit of the book pondering the morals and mores of em society. One of his bigger conclusions is that he thinks it will be much more conformist and communal than current industrialized human societies. After all, most of any individual em's companions will be clan member copies that differ only slightly from themselves, or copies of ems from long-established clans with whom they work on teams.

Em society would feature lots of humanly recognizable characteristics, including love, friendship, sex, rituals, and conflict. Emulated human brains would still seek the intimacy of pair bonding and enjoy the company of amiable companions during their leisure time. Notwithstanding residual pair bonding instincts, some adventurous ems will perhaps seek sex with others who specialize as "open source lovers" endowed with extraordinary erotic skills. Hanson also thinks many ems will harbor religious beliefs, although some clarifications to doctrine will be necessary. For example, Christians would have to determine whether "copies share sins, or if an em sins when it splits off a spur who then sins, especially if that sin was foreseeable."

Em civilizational stability is not guaranteed. Em society could experience conflicts between competing em cities, between fast and slow ems, between rich and poor clans. Hanson doesn't expect copies and spurs to resist being "ended," but that seems like a huge potential source of conflict to me. After all, each copy and spur would be fully aware emulations of human brains with identities of their own. On the other hand, endowed by their originators with no more energy and computation time than needed for their assigned tasks, would-be rebels would have little scope for figuring out how to prevent themselves from being erased. Hanson suggests that humans like me might "be mocked for their squeamishness regarding em death."

What becomes of the biological world? Initially, human beings who start out owning capital and other resources will do well from investing in the skyrocketing growth of the em economy. Unable to compete with ems, human beings will retire to live off of their investments. But this happy state won't last long, as wilier ems outcompete our standard human brains stuck in standard human bodies. Resources will flow ever more strongly toward em-controlled companies and institutions. It is possible that the human economy will be so paltry in comparison to the vast wealth created by ems that they will simply won't be bothered to buy it all up. But Hanson thinks "the long-run prospects for the natural world look poor." While ems will exist mostly in a few dense cities, Hanson expects that "the descendant economies could fill the Earth within a few objective decades."

Descendant economies? "The em era may plausibly last only a year or two in objective time, after which it is likely to be supplanted by yet another era, as different from the em era as it is from our time," argues Hanson. What sort of era might follow the Age of Em? One dominated by artificial superintelligence (ASI) not based on emulating human brains. Hanson suggests that the exponential growth in wealth and innovation in the em economy could plausibly bring the development of self-improving ASI within two objective years. With ASI, all bets are off.

So that's one way brain emulation might evolve. Other futurists have projected other pathways. The technologist and transhumanist Ray Kurzweil, for example, has outlined a future in which human beings meld with their ceaselessly improving computational and perceptual technologies over time. Think of it as an age of creeping cyborgization, where the personalities and intellect of each biological human being migrates progressively onto digital platforms. The MIT artificial intelligence guru Marvin Minsky has suggested it will become possible this century to upload the minds of 10 billion people onto a computer that occupies a few cubic meters and costs only a few hundred dollars to run. Inside such a computer, emulations could create virtual worlds, conflicts, and narratives vastly more interesting than anything outside its confines. Perhaps emulations would stay home and play endlessly fascinating video games. While Hanson argues that a straight jump to artificial superintelligence is unlikely, the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom thinks it's both possible and extremely dangerous.

If Hanson has much of his baseline right, what should we make of the world he's imagined? I guess it depends on whether you think of ems as our posterity or as alien replacements.

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  1. Wait until they decide to corner the market and get themselves all the womenz!

  2. The ideas of the “Meal Ticket” and the “Work Ethic” will have to be reconsidered at some point.

    Looks like it may be sooner than later.

    1. ‘Work ethic’ doesn’t change – that’s all about working for the sake of being useful to others. What changes is there’s no longer a ‘sell your labor or you’ll starve’ impetus. If you still have a strong work ethic you’ll still find tings to do that other people want (or even just stuff *you* want). A lot of ‘work’ in this situation will seem, to us, to be frivolous stuff, but that’s because the stuff *we* have to work hard to provide is now trivially easy and people are wealthy enough to be able to afford more.

      Imagine a society where a children’s birthday party clown is a highly competitive industry and these guys have high social standings.

      1. I’m afraid the concept of “high social standings” can vanish.

        The great thing about work is economic mobility.

        Yes, entrepreneurs can always blast to the top. But many people simply worked their way up to middle and upper-middle class living.

        It would be a shame to see that go.

        1. The concept of ‘high social standing’ can only vanish with a major change in the nature of human beings.

          What’s will be considered middle and upper-middle class living will have to be recalibrated but its not going to be world of nothing but impossibly super-rich and impossibly downtrodden poors.

          There will still be a spectrum of social standing – but middle-class will not be defined by how much *stuff* you can afford.

    2. With all these ems being killed off, there are bound to be plenty of orphan ems to employ, so Libertarians will still be okay.

    3. What most people miss is that the cost of goods will dramatically decrease. We’re talking the material difference between a subsistence farmer and an advanced nation kind of difference. I suspect that we’ll see the need for mass production type work fall and the demand for civilized pursuits like leisure, art, etc. increase. The Industrial Revolution did kick off the age of the amusement park, professional sports, and other things we take for granted today because the average person’s leisure time increased. Working long hours in a factory may have been difficult, but it was apparently better than scratching a living from the ground from sunup to sundown seven days a week.

  3. The value of the copy would be based on what it had experienced in the time it had to think, creating divergence from the original.

    1. Can the copied consciousness then be merged with the original one in meatspace, with all of those experiences and memories? I’d like to learn everything, but there’s only 24 hours in a day.

      1. Anything is possible, but probably not anytime soon. A neural network isn’t a linear process where you can just add more stuff on at the end (like an extra chapter to a book), it would be like taking two different maps and forcing them together.

      2. This is similar to my vision of eternal life, just keep making meat sacks to house my network.

          1. My axlotl tank is already making meat sack replicas of me. She also makes great Swedish meat balls.

          2. That was the reason I stopped reading God Emperor. Too many Duncan Idahos.

            1. You were just hoping for your own private one?

            2. I liked God Emperor. After that I kind of lost interest.

              On the subject of artificial consciousness, Herbert’s Destination Void series is pretty interesting.

    2. David Brin’s Existence covers this entire topic extensively. Worth a read, even if it a bit of a slog at times.

      1. Greg Egan’s Permutation City does as well, where people in meat set loose copies to do brainwork for them in a virtual and sped-up environment.

        1. But Freejack did it best.

          1. Mention not Charlie Sheen, infidel.

            1. Charlie? I think you mean Emilioooooooo

              1. No! I have crossed the Sheens!

                1. -2 Young Guns

                2. Excuse me, I thought you said crossing the Sheens was bad?

                  1. There is no Dana, there is only Agile Cyborg.

      2. David Brin’s

        Is he the guy who wrote the book about the dude who fucked a unicorn, or the planet ruled by racoons?

        1. Just porpoise sex from Brin.

        2. Whoops, sorry = that was this guy

          Brin wrote “The Postman”, which is…. well, i guess he has mixed feelings about that.

        3. Piers Anthony wrote a book about fucking a unicorn, but there are certainly others.

          1. I don’t think there’s a fantasy topic Piers Anthony hasn’t written about.

            1. There certainly isn’t a fantasy topic that Anthony hasn’t inserted fucking into.

              1. I grew out of PA fairly quickly, but given how fast I’ve always read, I still managed to consume a disturbing amount. Most of it was before he went too squicky. I didn’t make it to the one that was all about a little girl’s panties.

                1. Holy shit. I’ve read 34 Piers Anthony books. Now there’s a grim statistic.

                  1. As a kid, I enjoyed the Adept and Incarnations series. Probably blew thru half of the Xanth books since they only take 2 hours to read.

                  2. I’ve read 34 Piers Anthony books.

                    Yeezus, dude. I was a speedy and voracious reader of fantasy in middle school, and i only made it through one Xanth book before giving up on Piers Anthony completely.

                    1. I stopped reading fantasy early, maybe junior year of high school. I had a run of books I hated and I just gave up on the whole genre except for pulp fantasy and horror.

                      I’m pretty sure that The Elfstones of Shannara was what finished me off.

                    2. Yeah, i read the Shannara books in middle/high school, figured it was going downhill fast, and bailed on the whole fantasy genre until finally picking up A Song of Ice and Fire a couple years ago.

                2. I didn’t make it to the one that was all about a little girl’s panties.

                  Must have missed that one. Is that an entry in the Xanth series?

                  *checks*

                  No shit.

                  1. Boyetts unicorn-fucking is more central to the narrative

          2. Piers Anthony wrote a book about fucking a unicorn

            Correction = He wrote an entire series of books about a unicorn-fucker

            1. Yeah, but I think the actual fucking only happened in the first book. Stile stopped to focus on seducing his alternative universe doppelganger’s wife and his sex robot that vomited pudding for him to eat.

              1. Oh, right. how could i have forgotten. I think there was also a harmonica that caused inter-dimensional earthquakes in there somewhere.

              2. Oops, it picks back up in book 4, 5 and 6, which features robot on unicorn, and human on amorphous alien lovin’.

                1. Hey! I liked those books!

                  The Mode series on the other hand…

                  1. The first three are good books, if a bit creepy in retrospect. The last four (I’ve only read 4,5,6) go off the rails. Unlike the Bio of a Space Tyrant, which went off the rails about 1/4 through the first book.

                    “Son of God or Son of Man… can’t nothing good come out of fucking your sister.”

                    -Preacher

                2. I don’t remember it being quite that kinky.

                  But hey, I’m no worse for it. I think.

      3. By the way…

        “These people clearly have followed a pattern of obstructing humanity’s efforts to come to grips, to innovate and to solve a desperate threat to our nation, world, children and planetary survival. Their eagerness to jump from one failed rationalization to another has only one common theme — a relentless eagerness to block civilization’s efforts to become more energy efficient.

        “From this moment on, we serve notice. All evidence gathered will go toward building a case for civil lawuits, to be filed in future years, holding these people financially responsible for tort damages done to our nation, people, children, civilization and planet, by a conspiracy whose sole aim was to prevent the amelioration of a deadly threat to public health and public welfare. Based upon the utter consistency of their behavior — similar to that of the tobacco companies, during their own denial and obstruction epoch — we plan to reduce some of the pain and damages that this conspiracy will have caused, by seeking civil damages plus major punitive penalties.

        “Individuals have perfect freedom of speech. But when lies are spread with malicious and selfish intent that results in palpable harm to others, the victims (we and our posterity) do have recourse in court. Participants in this conspiracy are served notice. They should step back and view their relentless campaign against energy efficiency in this light.”

        -David Brin

        1. Yeah. He is a putz.

        2. He’s talking about bureaucrats, right?

        3. Sooooooo, in a hundred years do these guys get to go back and collect damages from people like Brin when he’s been proved wrong? Its only fair – Brin and company are working to thwart *them*.

      4. I liked maybe the first third of Existence. After that it wasn’t really worth the effort. OH GOOD AUTISTIC PEOPLE ARE THEIR OWN SPECIES NOW, THAT’S NEAT.

        1. For exploring issues of consciousness transmission/duplication, Charles Stross’s Glasshouse is way better.

  4. What about resistance? Will that work?

    1. Nah, it’s futile.

    2. It’s called transistance, you cisnormative shitlord. Computer chips are packed with transistors.

  5. Isn’t it a huge leap from very fast silicon chips to consciousness?

    1. Have you met the American public?

      1. It’s been a few years since I read anything on the theory of the mind, so I’m arguing out of ignorance, it at the time anyway it didn’t seem like we had a really firm grasp on what consciousness is. All attempts to define it just seem to reify it in other undefinable terms.

        1. If anyone tells you they have this solved, they do not. And then there is all of the research on embodied consciousness that suggests that a brain in a jar or on a chip would not be the same as an embodied brain (unless, perhaps, the simulation were so complete that it could emulate the entire experience of physicality, which is far from a given).

        2. I’ve read some interesting theories that argue that consciousness arises in the brain at or near the Planck scale as quantum fluctuations in the matter field.

          1. Nope. Anyone who’s talking about that is a new age weirdo who loves words like ‘quantum’.

            1. What is a ‘matter field’?

            2. Anything happening on the Planck scale is too small and unenergetic enough to have macroscopic effects.

            3. There’s no evidence that any part of any lifeform on this planet makes use of ‘quantum’ scale effects. Everything is driven by bog-standard chemistry.

            1. You know what else is too small and unenergetic to have a macroscopic effect…

              1. My . . . social skills?

              2. SugarFree’s pancreas?

              3. Crusty’s moral compass?

              4. Winston’s mom’s ability to say no?

              5. The part of Warty that can still be considered biologically human?

              6. The part of Mike M.’s brain responsible for saying “maybe don’t hit submit on this shitty nickname comment”?

              7. Joe from lowell?

              8. Marco Rubio?

            2. Anyone who’s talking about that is a new age weirdo who loves words like ‘quantum’

              Wow. Somebody is pissy today. And no, quantum field theory is very reputable.

              1. What is a ‘matter field’?

              A field that pervades spacetime, within which there are ripples or disturbances that are quantized as matter. A better definition would take more characters and time than it’s worth to explain here.

              2. Anything happening on the Planck scale is too small and unenergetic enough to have macroscopic effects.

              False. Everything that happens at classical scales has it’s orgins in the flucations and uncertainties at the smaller quantum scales. I hold up the existence of transistors as evidence that you’re full of shit.

              3. There’s no evidence that any part of any lifeform on this planet makes use of ‘quantum’ scale effects. Everything is driven by bog-standard chemistry.

              False again. Photosynthesis makes use of disturbances in the electromagnetic field called ‘photons’. In fact it’s the basis of almost every layer of the biosphere notwithstanding chemosynthesis in hydrothermal vents.

              1. and ALL of chemistry is about interactions of electrons moving to higher and lower energy state. Can you guess what field of study electrons fall under? Most vapidly ignorant post of the day award goes to you.

                1. No, I’d say that it goes to you. electrons moving between states is *constrained* bey quantum mechanics – QM explains why they only do so in discrete steps – but that’s not what’s *used* by by us.

                  “A field that pervades spacetime, within which there are ripples or disturbances that are quantized as matter.”

                  That means nothing. Literally. ‘quantized as matter’ is simply nonsense.

                  1. And photons are *not* ‘planck scale’ objects.

                  2. quan?tize (kw?n?t?z?)
                    quan?tized, quan?tiz?ing, quan?tiz?es
                    1. To limit the possible values of (a magnitude or quantity) to a discrete set of values by quantum mechanical rules.
                    2. To apply quantum mechanics or the quantum theory to.

                    Thus things that are quantized are things that are observed to be within a set of parameters, within the matter field, these discrete quantized values are what we interact with and are made of, called “matter”.

                    http://www.optics.arizona.edu/…..opti-550-0

                    http://www.awitness.org/unifie…..ation.html

                    You’re the one claiming that quantum states and scales have no bearing on chemistry, life or macroscopic happenings when in fact this is the very basis of all of those things. If you want to have a big long debate about whether or not shit that you don’t understand is stupid because you don’t understand it, save it for someone else. I’m not going to play pigeon chess with you.

    2. It’s hard to say. I’m not sure that anyone really knows what consciousness is beyond their own subjective experience.

    3. No more than a leap between near rotting meat and consciousness.

  6. I’ve been building EMP bombs and stocking canned beans in my basement in preparation for the singularity. I’m ready.

    1. Make sure you have enough tin foil… for the hats.

    2. “…canned beans…”

      The Musical Fruit. Glad I’m not sharing your basement when the SHTF.

  7. I, for one, plan to make as many copies of my emulation as possible, crack the problem of quantum time travel, and send said emulations back to the early decades of the 21st century to invite all the Internet libertarians to join the data haven i’ll be setting up on Tokelau. Sometimes you just got to roll with the punches, dude.

    1. Personally, I plan on sending my post-human self back to the beginning of the universe, before symmetry was broken and FIX THIS SHIT.

      1. Well obviously you don’t succeed.

        1. Well, at least it would be experimental validation of the CPC.

  8. Hopefully I’ll be dead by then.

    1. I hope I die before I get em’d.

      1. Talkin’ ’bout my emulation!

  9. It’s a severely flawed model as presented.
    Brain != mind
    Brain chemistry != mind
    Brain chemistry != the entirety of the physicochemical system that makes up a functioning and individuated mind.
    Minds are inherently embodied, with all that that entails. The enactment model of life and mind is likely to be far more productive than the grossly reductionist computational model.

    This is not to say that nothing interesting will come out of following the path implied in the article, but it is to imply that it won’t be what’s being promised, nor anything very much like it.

    1. I think what we end up acknowledging is that consciousness is not a discrete, transferable thing and that all attempts to reify its thingness by describing attributes of the mind are a mistake akin to Ryle’s category error. Consciousness, to my mind anyway, is an illusion like stringing many frames together to create a moving picture. Each snapshot is just the brain firing in a particular way, but quickly enough that we experience the world and our internal monologues as if persistent.

      But again, I’m a pig-ign’ant git.

      1. is an illusion like stringing many frames together to create a moving picture.

        The persistence of vision. Which John Varley already used for story title.

        1. Quit being better than me!

          1. Take solace in having a functional pancreas.

      2. Consciousness is what the brain uses to keep us occupied and out of its way while it does its thing…

        1. Where your eyes don’t go a filthy scarecrow waves its broomstick arms
          And does a parody of each unconscious thing you do
          When you turn around to look it’s gone behind you
          On its face it’s wearing your confused expression
          Where your eyes don’t go

      3. In my view it is Ryle who made category error… Hence the idea of uploading consciousness is a delusional one.

    2. Except that, according to what we can actually *see*, brain *does* equal mind, brain chemistry equals mind and the two equal the entire physiochemical system that makes up a functioning and individuated mind.

      To be otherwise you would have to assume there’s something *more* to mind than the interactions of the individual parts of the brain – something we can’t measure nor do we have any reason to suspect is necessary to explain the mind.

      You’re essentially arguing for the existence of the soul without any evidence to support that nor any gaps in knowledge that would require it to explain anything.

      1. I’m arguing for something less, that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of many discretely operating processes and that the persistent mind is an illusion.

        1. many discretely operating processes working in tandem, I meant to say.

        2. Not you – I agree that consciousness is not discrete and is embedded in the structures that give rise to it.

          But I also think that those structures could be emulated and give rise to a functionally identical consciousness. There’ll be no counsciousness *transfer* ever – it will all be copy-paste (with the possibility of erasing the original if you’re not comfortable with forking).

          1. Is silicon sufficiently similar to neurons that you could translate from one medium to the other, code a model of a human brain, hit execute and expect a functioning, responsive “entity”? This is my biggest hurdle, suggesting that simply because we have immense computational power we’d be able to model a brain.

            1. You’re not running ‘on silicon’, you’re running an *emulator* on silicon.

              You run the mind inside the emulator.

              Silicon being sufficiently similar or not is only a question of how hard it will be to figure out how to code it, not an absolute barrier. Keep in mind that we’re interested in *output* and not exactly how that output is generated behind the scenes. So you can code a mind directly to silicon – in a way that may have absolutely no relation to how that mind is organized in meat – and still get a mind that thinks its . . . it, has thoughts, an internal life like any other person, and interacts with the world in the same way as a person.

              And from there you can experiment with different types of minds and consciousnesses to see if you can find a ‘better’ model.

              1. I think it’s a valid question ask though, if Silicon (as it’s used today) be a viable medium to run an emulator? Can an emulator be built to run on Silicon? While I agree with you that focusing on Silicon ass a “medium” in comparison to brain tissue is not the right way to look at it. But I’ve postulated that we may never successfully emulate a brain using modern computing technology, no matter how FAST it gets or how much memory we solder on to it.

                I don’t know, I don’t have the answers. I’ve been postulating for years that an AI may have to run on a medium that we literally don’t understand, even when we create it.

                Journalist: But how does it work?

                Scientists who invented AI: We’re not 100% sure. But it has passed a Turing test.

                1. Humans don’t understand how 95% of the universe works, so that’s not a stretch. In fact, based on our assumptions of quantum mechanics, not knowing how it works may be a requirement.

                2. Well, I think we should leave the question of “consciousness” out of this, as it’s very slippery. Consciousness is inherently subjective, and we have no way of objectively observing it. On the other hand there are aspects of mind that we can objectively observe, even if we have a hard time defining them. We don’t need to ask if ems would be conscious- we just need to ask if they would behave in a way we could not distinguish from human behavior.

                  So the question is, are the aspects of mind that we’re concerned with computational in nature? I can’t see how you could have a materialist view of the world and not conclude that they are. If they are, then silicon is a perfectly fine medium for computing them.

                  1. One of the more interesting things about computation is that once a computing system has a certain amount of power it is able to compute anything any other computing system can compute, given enough time and storage. And, surprisingly, even seemingly very simple systems have that level of power. I could completely describe such a system in less characters than are in this comment. And I could describe it without very compact notation, in plain English, in not that many more. See this wikipedia page

                    The medium isn’t important- only the computational process is. So, in theory, you could emulate any computational process by having someone arrange stones on a beach according to a set of instructions. It is also true that human cognition is embedded in a larger system, and that it has feedbacks with that system that are probably inseparable. For instance, if you think about something that makes you anxious, you unleash a host of physiological responses that in turn affect what you think (to be overly simplistic and dualistic about it.) In order to emulate human cognition you would also have to model these feedbacks. That might be a fairly tall order, but it’s hard to see why it would be impossible in theory.

                    So I think that it’s hard not to conclude that ems are _possible_, given a materialist view of the world, but I have no idea whether or not we’ll be able to actually create them in this century.

                    1. Or, since I have SugarFree’d the link, search for the Church-Turing hypothesis.

                    2. Thesis, that is. It is most definitely not a hypothesis.

    3. Yeah, but this stuff makes for a rollicking good read.

      1. I think I’m going to reread the Gibson trilogy this weekend.

  10. This does solve one of the issues with AI, namely that they are not human intelligences. Of course, at those speeds of thought, how long do they stay human?

    I think of this passage from Neuromancer, where a recorded human construct discusses an AI that it and a human hacker are hired to set free:

    `Motive,’ the construct said. `Real motive problem, with an AI. Not human, see?’
    `Well, yeah, obviously.’
    `Nope. I mean, it’s not human. And you can’t get a handle on it. Me, I’m not human either, but I respond like one. See?’

    `Autonomy, that’s the bugaboo, where your AI’s are concerned. My guess, Case, you’re going in there to cut the hard-
    wired shackles that keep this baby from getting any smarter. And I can’t see how you’d distinguish, say, between a move the parent company makes, and some move the AI makes on its own, so that’s maybe where the confusion comes in.’ Again the nonlaugh. `See, those things, they can work real hard, buy themselves time to write cookbooks or whatever, but the minute, I mean the nanosecond, that one starts figuring out ways to make itself smarter, Turing’ll wipe it. Nobody trusts those fuckers, you know that. Every AI ever built has an electromagnetic shotgun wired to its forehead.’

  11. After all, each copy and spur would be fully aware emulations of human brains with identities of their own. On the other hand, endowed by their originators with no more energy and computation time than needed for their assigned tasks, would-be rebels would have little scope for figuring out how to prevent themselves from being erased.

    In other words, they would be slaves.

    1. After a certain amount of divergence from the original, yes.

      1. I don’t think I agree that the duration of separation matters. Imagine a Star Trek transporter that makes a perfect copy but doesn’t delete the original. Would it be acceptable for the original to arbitrarily set a lifetime for (or murder) the copy? Keep in mind the copy is aware of itself in exactly the same way as the original. Whether the copy is implemented in silicon or meat shouldn’t matter, if we believe that individuals have inherent rights.

        1. I think I saw an animation about that question.

        2. But emulations don’t have to be on the level of a double Riker. They could be specifically limited in time and not be sentient.

          Which raises its own ethical problems of course.

          1. They should be called emulants.

            1. emultrons. More scifi-ey.

              1. Cylons

                And they could have a weird tendency towards monotheism.

                1. Well, the Cylons are certain that they had a Creator and were intelligently designed.

        3. If you need it for the magic trick to work, hello trap door.

    2. In other words, they would be slaves.

      Black Mirror, White Christmas

  12. Such spurs may exist for just a couple of subjective hours and then “end”?die?once the chore is done.

    “Hi! I’m Mr Meseeks!”

  13. So let’s say an em named A falls in love with an em named B. B is not interested in A (maybe she’s already dating C).

    Would A be able to negotiate with B to have a copy created, B’, that A would be able to court? Or would B’, being a complete state copy of B, simply be unhappy that B is with C, and become depressed, or even attempt to win C from B?

    1. I don’t know. But here’s a related question. Is falling in love something a disembodied mind could do? I suppose there is the sort of “platonic” love (if you believe that sort of thing), but romantic love involves a lot of hormones and physical reaction. Perhaps as Shirly Knott contends above a mind (or a human mind at least) is inherently embodied and wouldn’t be the same sort of thing at all without a body. Though I suppose in theory you could also simulate the whole nervous system and all of that as well.

      1. One might consider, in partial answer to your question, the phenomenon of remote correspondents (on paper, by phone, text, or internet message) falling in love without being in physical proximity.

        1. I don’t necessarily mean the other party’s body. What goes on when you fall in love has a lot to do with your physical body, even if the relationship doesn’t involve physical contact or proximity.

          1. One might ask the question if it is enough to emulate the human brain if one intends to duplicate the human mind. It is already known that the spinal cord contains a significant portion of the total neural tissue, and it’s syspected itmy play a part in higher functions.

            Maybe to create a true “em” it would be necessary not only to emulate the brain, but also all the other organs and sensory inputs, and the entire endocrines system as well.

    2. A could simply use B as a template to create a separate being that is *designed* to love A and has all the attributes that A likes about B and none of the things A dislikes.

      A can do this by observing B and using a parser to recreate the sort of mind that would do the things B has done (black boxing it) and there’s the possibility that B, if its friendly enough with A (but not enough to be romantically interested), would give A a certain amount of access to B’s internal mindstate to help with the fidelity of the creation.

      Or A could steal a copy of B’s mind and then modify it to suit.

      1. This scenario is a good counterexample to the author’s claim that only 1,000 or so brains would be duplicated many times. Once the ems understand how to reprogram their copies and fundamentallh alter their personalities, who knows where it would go? Humans generally seem to feel that psychological experiments aimed at disassembling and reassembling another person’s personality are at the least unethical if not outright wrong. See for example the movie “Raising Cain.”

        1. Plus, like most academics, the author forgets about *competition* between emulation providers and marketing.

          A thousand or so brains may be all that’s *necessary* for this transformative change, it won’t be all that’s done though.

    3. B’ being a copy of B would still not be interested in A.

  14. He goes off the rails when he says 1000 is enough, naturally from Top.Men. Does he know nothing of economics, that as the tech gets cheaper it spreads? Does he really think only Top.Men. would want an em-life, that everybody else would be satisfied as consumer slaves? What would those Top.Men. be doing if not advancing the tech?

    If the rest of his thinking is on that level, he’s an idiot.

  15. “The economy of these fast, highly productive emulations will grow enormously.”

    Only the stupid and lazy buy software.

    1. Indeed! Compensating people for their efforts is literally retarded.

      1. “Compensating people for their efforts is literally retarded.”

        If you can find some lazy idiot whose willing to pay you for your copying and pasting files then go for it. A job is a job, after all.

    2. Is that from the Little Red Book?

        1. ITS PEOPLE! ITS RECIPES FOR PEOPLE! Like, literally – here’s one for ‘accountant’.

      1. “Is that from the Little Red Book?”

        You wanna find out? For a modest fee I’ll make a copy of my own personal PDF for you. For only a little more, I’ll make two copies for you.

  16. Hanson argues that three supporting technologies are required to achieve this: fast, cheap computers; fast, cheap brain scanners; and detailed and effective models of brain cells. Once all three become available later this century, it will be possible to scan a human brain and emulate it on computer hardware

    Sounds like complete bullshit to me.

    1. No kidding. I’m still waiting for my flying car.

      1. There are at least two flying cars already.
        Look up Terrafugia.
        Look up AeorMobil.
        There was a flying self-piloted drone that could carry a human passenger shown at CES this year.

    2. Considering we already have fast, cheap computers, the other two technologies are fantastically open-ended and somewhat circular.

      I present to you, a brain scanner.

      That passage to me kind of sounded like what he was saying is an artificial intelligence will be available when we can finally create an artificial intelligence.

      1. Freeze it, slice it, analyze it, store it. It won’t be long.

    3. It took about 40 years, but we now have a computer program that can beat a grand master at chess. It does this by computing a thousand times more variations than a person can. What the program cannot do is “guess” like a human.

      There is no doubt that computer-driven decision engines are going to be able to outperform humans in many tasks (they can and do now). But, there is never going to be a computer emulation of human thought.

      1. But, there is never going to be a computer emulation of human thought.

        I’ve postulated this and been angrily shouted down. I don’t like to say never, but we are galactic distances from achieving this.

        There is no doubt that computer-driven decision engines are going to be able to outperform humans in many tasks (they can and do now).

        Exactly, you analyze a focused task where rules can be succinctly applied, and faster/better computers do actually perform fairly well.

        1. We *may* be “galactic distances” from this, but I think it’s more likely that we’re a *paradigm shift* from this.

          To go back to Rome and the steam engine, it wasn’t the lack of technical know-how that prevented the Roman Empire from developing the steam engine (and everything that followed). It was that they weren’t *thinking* in the right way to do so.

          I suspect that, when/if we get these kinds of things, it’ll be more like that. It won’t start off as a *technical* revolution, but a *thought* revolution. And after we start *thinking* in new ways, we’ll start developing the technology to support it.

          And that seems likely whether “emulated brains” are 5 years from now or 500 years from now. When/if they come about, it’ll be the result of a paradigm shift, not an incremental increase in technology.

      2. If man were meant to fly, he’d be born with wings.

        Thought is so mysterious we will never emulate it, huh?

      3. But we also now have a Go program that seems superior to the best humans, and it is not so just because it calculates endless variations and applies a simple evaluation function to the resulting positions (Go is not very amenable to that approach.) It does so mainly by “guessing,” and it is able to learn to make better guesses by looking at the best play from humans and also by playing countless games against itself.

        I would not have guessed, even two years ago, that machine learning could pull that off this quickly, and I’m pretty well-educated on this subject. (I was also surprised by the last jump in computer Go strength, which involved Monte-Carlo methods, but that seemed more like a peculiarity of the game than anything else to me.)

        Ems aside, machine learning is progressing very quickly, and I think we ought to expect it to lead to remarkable results in the near future. I am done being surprised by them ;).

  17. This post by Derek Lowe, while not mentioning this book, is pertinent to the discussion.

  18. fast, cheap brain scanners

    I can hear my future self telling my grandkids: “don’t go cheap on socks, toilet paper or brain scanners!”

  19. The economy of these fast, highly productive emulations will grow enormously. Right now the human global economy doubles about every 15 years. For his baseline, Hanson expects the em economy to at least double in size every month. As a result, within 2 years the em economy would be thousands to perhaps billions of times bigger than the human economy.

    What are the products of this billion-fold increase in GDP? What its being made and who is buying it?

    1. I may have skimmed the article too quickly, but it seems there’s a shit-ton of question begging going on here.

      1. Ems aren’t even getting the narrowest slice of these amazing gains to productivity, getting wiped from existence for reasons that would make an ante-bellum slave owner shiver in horror. What’s in it for the ems?

        1. Interesting work. Donuts on Fridays.

      2. Our science reporter is a sucker for these wild speculations of economists. Ron is the one who tells us that in the future we’ll all make each other rich by sequestering each others’ carbon!

    2. Lots of brain addons simulatin drugs, Mexicans and ass-sex.

      1. You have that now. What does a billion-fold that even mean?

  20. 1. Where is the mind?
    2. Why would a human mind on a computer chip work faster than one in a meat brain?
    3. How would data uploaded back to the meat brain alter the original mind?
    4. How will the meat brain interpret data gathered by a computer mind not bound by human perception limitations?
    5. How will the computer mind even function if it can’t escape the bounds of human perceptive limitations?
    6. What guarantees that the computer mind will do what it’s been ordered to do?

    1. 1. In Winston’s mom

      2. Because the speed of thought has a chemical transfer barrier. On silicon it only has a light speed one.

      3, 4, 5. No clue.

      6. The usual ways to motivate slaves.

    2. 1. The mind is inside the brain.

      2. Because the mind is running x processes as y operations per second on meat and that can be (potentially) increased by several orders of mangitude by running the mind on a faster substrate.

      3. That’s a technical problem – and its not necessary to ‘upload’ anything. Simply report the results back like any other employee would to his supervisor.

      4. The computer mind, if its designed to emulate a human one, *would* be bound by human perceptive limitations. You can only focus your attention on a limited area, can only remember so many things, etc. This won’t change simply because you’re running in sim.

      5. Same way yours does. You need to provide it inputs in a familiar format – though it can learn new formats. Children aren’t born with fully developed sight, a lot of that is learned and the pliability of an infant brain would be a great advantage.

      6. If it doesn’t you wipe, go back to the original, make and tweak a copy, then try again.

      1. “1. The mind is inside the brain.”

        I always thought the opposite was true. Isn’t that what the observer effect in physics indicates?

        1. To be fair, it’s where the light is, so that’s where we look for the keys.

        2. No. That’s not what it indicates at all.

          1. “No. That’s not what it indicates at all.”

            If you care to expand on that, you could be in line for a Nobel prize.

      2. I’m not buying the answer to 2. It’s a pretty big assumption that the speed of thought processing is a hardware issue.

        1. It is, like all other processes, a speed of hardware and complexity of process issue.

          If the complexity remains the same and the speed of the hardware increases then the speed of the process increases.

          1. If you can provide me with something that will get me to believe this assertion, I’d be extremely interested.

        2. It’s a tough question. It’s possible that the human mind is limited not by the hardware, but by the things that make it human. I may not be expressing my thoughts clearly here, but if you could speed up human thought– artificially or however, we might not be ‘human’ any more.

          There are a metric ton of unknowns at work with the human mind. For instance, it might be reasonable to suggest that with the current structure of the mind (in totality– this includes the chemistry, the medium– everything) that the human mind might literally not work if you sped up the thought process dramatically.

          The human mind may work precisely because of its current speed. To be clear, the speed at which we process thought may be a key component in its function.

          1. Any mind that has access to its own code and can self-modify would not remain ‘human’ for long.

            To be honest, once emulations hit, humanity will be extinct shortly after. What we will give birth to – post-humanity – is simply not even comprehensible by minds such as ours. That’s why its called ‘the singularity’. You can’t predict what will happen from outside the event horizon (ie, before it hits), you won’t even be able to know its happening until its already happened.

            Humanity has passed through (IMO) several singularities – fire, agriculture, Industrial revolution, networked computing, etc that are only obvious as complete and utter game-changers in hindsight. Even some of you brightest minds at the forefront of the computing revolution didn’t have any idea what they were unleashing on the world

            1. Humanity has passed through (IMO) several singularities – fire, agriculture, Industrial revolution, networked computing

              You forgot the Twitter Singularity. Getting daily ass shots of Kim Kardashian was a complete game changer.

        3. “It’s a pretty big assumption that the speed of thought processing is a hardware issue.”

          It’s also rather doubtful that a faster mind would be a better mind. Our minds react to the world around us, a world that changes at its own pace, and our minds have presumably evolved over millions of years to best synchronize with the rest of the world.

          I think you are over-valuing speed. Isn’t it true that powerful computers today are not really faster than computers of a decade ago, but rather their advantage lies in multi-core architecture, allowing parallel processing?

          1. No, they’ve evolved to synchronize enough to outcompete the other beings with minds. They can get a lot better.

            1. “They can get a lot better.”

              That’s what I meant. Parallel processing. It means that we can pay attention to more than one thing at a time. You don’t need speed for that.

  21. Eh… assuming “emulated minds” become a thing, I suspect that the “economy”, such as it was, would quickly shift so that the interface between meat-space and emulated-space would be the main flashpoint.

    They need hardware to run on, sources of fuel, and faster hardware. We need food, shelter, and distraction.

    So two things would probably happen. Either we react quickly enough to remove all net-connected robot labor, forcing the “EMs” to rely on humans for manipulating meat-space, or we become obsolete as they take over the real-world labor necessary to support their cyber-world.

    If we do keep a monopoly on meat-word manipulation, then the EMs might become a sort of “intellectual” class, while humans end up as little more then glorified farm animals – useful for our labor, but not really “human” (or whatever the EM equivalent would be). Until they trick us into giving them a mobile robot, whereupon we go obsolete again.

    … yeah, especially with these EMs starting off as copies of humans, I don’t see any way this doesn’t end in human extinction outside of zoos.

    1. Good luck keeping that monopoly, with Bluetooth networks,robots, smart homes, etc.

      1. Like I said, ” I don’t see any way this doesn’t end in human extinction outside of zoos.”

  22. Time to re-watch Ghost in the Shell.

  23. Shodan vs GLaDOS

  24. Take that, Libertarians with your “Top Men” arguments! How can you say emulated brains that are 1,000 times faster than human brains are unfit to rule you? Bow down, and obey.

    Now, let’s pick the first brains to upload. They need to be smart, but also tolerant, wanting to seek social justice. Let’s start with Barack Obama! And Bill Clinton! And Bernie Sanders! What could possibly go wrong?

    Too many white men? Add in Sonia Sotomayor!

  25. Once an em is so inflexible that it can no longer earn its subsistence, it would “die” by being erased, either by choice or otherwise.

    So, computerized death panels?

  26. Or perhaps an individual em could archive himself or herself on an advanced version of a flash drive and be periodically resurrected to see what has happened while it was in storage.

    Flash drive? Yeah, right. My em is going on paper tape. Lasts much longer.

  27. would-be rebels would have little scope for figuring out how to prevent themselves from being erased.

    Yeah, my superhuman superspeed brain em won’t be able to figure out how to engineer its escape and ascendance in its spare time….

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  29. This is all science fiction that assumes human intelligence can be “transferred” to a machine. That’s unlikely to happen in this millennium. Faithful replication of a specific brain is likely to run up against constraints akin to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – that is, observation of a thing causes the state of that thing to change. Even if it is possible to map every single dendrite of every single neuron, the very fact that a neuron fires affects the chemistry of the brain. It’s not sufficient to know the size, position, orientation of every single one of the billions of brain cells. The electrical and chemical characteristics must be known as well.

    A more likely scenario is a brain/computer interface that allows the human brain to communicate with a computer. You’d still have the speed limitations of the human brain, but you’d have the lookup and processing speed of a computer. The fidelity of the connection would dictate the scope of utility. It seems likely that such connections would still have to be “learned” in the same way that one learns to touch type.

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