Imagining a Singularity What if Uploads Come First
Imagining a Singularity What if Uploads Come First
The AI community is divided on how much control humans would have with a singularity via artificial general intelligence. As an alternative, what would the world look like if the technological path was mind uploading instead?
In his new book The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth (Oxford University Press, 2016), Robin Hanson, an economics professor at George Mason University, discusses the economic and social implications of a world run by whole brain emulations (ems).
Ems would provide a fully functional model of human brains copied and stored in computational devices and robots. Hanson expects we would only need to select the brains of several hundred hard working and smart people with personalities that are likely to follow new norms. These ems would need electricity for cooling and power to run hardware, but unlike humans they would not need food or have diseases. This would lead to increased efficiency in the speed of thoughts â?? with an individual em a thousand times faster than a typical human.
Trillions of these ems could work in robotic bodies in high rise buildings, but most would probably exist in virtual reality, according to Hanson. This could create a whole new fourth human eraâ??a booming em economy. Hanson calculated that in the first three human eras: the foraging economy doubled every quarter million years, the farming economy doubled every thousand years, and the current industrial economy has doubled every fifteen years. He projects that an em economy would double every month.
Hanson's vision of an em economy is based on several assumptions. Mind uploading requires fast computers, non-destructive brain scans, and models of human brain cells in order to process their features and connections. Currently, scanners degrade brain cells. Also, mapping the brain is very complex, and it is unclear how deep in the brain signaling processes scientists will need to understand. Experts estimate that it could take anywhere from two decades to a century to develop the necessary enabling technologies.
It is possible that artificial brains could actually develop sooner than ems via advanced AI algorithms. This assumes that compouter power continues to advance several decades into the future and algorithms can exceed human capabilities without understanding how the brain works completely. Following nine years as an AI researcher and programmer for Lockheed and NASA, Hanson became skeptical of a grand AI theory that will lead to humanlike supercomputers and wrote If Uploads Come First (in 1994). Another possible singularity path is human machine interfaces such as a synthetic neocortex linked to a human brain and connected to the cloud.
Hanson also assumes that the forces of supply and demand will prevail without forbidding regulations. However, intelligent individuals would have to be willing to end their Earthly life, since human brains would not survive the current scanning processes. Also, ethical review boards would have to allow research on human brains since lab animals would not translate into useful human findings.
Given all these assumptions, The Age of Em provides an unprecedented look into the future and thought provoking reading for those interested in a wide range of topics such as philosophy, economics, neurotechnology, future studies, and science fiction. However, it does assume that the reader has a basic understanding of mind uploading and virtual reality. For some of the technical details on these topics, I have sought clarifications from Hanson.
TechCast: On the topic of consciousness, emerging technology forecasters, like myself, roadmap the number of things that need to occur for an event to happen. If em consciousness is not achievable, it seems like this is a moot discussion, or could favor other paths to the singularity. Are you proposing more of a thought experiment? Also, you refer to em's gender, personalities, emotions, and memory. These traits assume em consciousness. Is that even knowable?
Hanson: The entire em world is exactly as I describe it even if ems are not conscious. The only one difference is that they are not conscious. But they act and talk as if they are conscious. That topic is a tar pit which soaks up too much discussion of ems. That is why I avoided it in the book. But my opinion is that all matter is capable of consciousness, so ems are conscious.
TechCast: You discuss possible slave/owner relationships among ems similar to those in human history. Do humans own the ems, and can humans unplug ems if they get out of control?
Hanson: It is probably hard to get humans to volunteer to be destructively scanned to become ems if they believe that they will become slaves. It is possible that they could be surprised, and become enslaved anyway. But if there are em slaves they are probably a minority of the em population, just as slaves have always been through history. Once there is an entire civilization of ems, with humans living out on the margins in a conformable retirement, it is too late to unplug the ems.
TechCast: For virtual reality, you discuss ems skiing and having offspring which I find difficult to visualize. Can you elaborate on this concept?
Hanson: Ems could ski or anything else we could do in their virtual reality environments. Ems can make copies, but they don't create babies like humans do.
TechCast: If this scenario develops, this means life extension for the brains of selected individuals. Although ems have a life span, humans, or perhaps even ems could replace worn out parts or just make copies. If they can reproduce and make copies of themselves, how does that work?
Hanson: The entire em era may only last a year or two, after which something else may happen, I know not what. The typical em experiences thousands of years in that time. If they have a physical body that wears out, they just move to a new body fresh from a factory.
TechCast: By new body--do you mean hardware substrate or a human created virtual reality body?
Hanson: For ems, I mean an android body suited to its job task.
TechCast: Humans would live a lifestyle similar to retirement and live off the work of robots. How is money allocated in the em economy?
Hanson: In this sentence, by "people" you mean biological humans - ems will see themselves as "people." All human jobs are threatened equally, both white and blue collar. Ems jobs are not vulnerable. The em economy works just like our economy. Everything is owned by someone, and owners get the income that things generate. Ems could take out loans to pay for their creation, and they might get evicted if they can't pay their rent. The rich can get richer if they are careful, but many are not careful and fall into poverty.
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