The age of Em

The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth

Robots may one day rule the world, but what is a robot-ruled Earth like?

Many think the first truly smart robots will be brain emulations or “ems.” Scan a human brain, then run a model with the same connections on a fast computer, and you have a robot brain, but recognizably human.

Two major logical issues with Robin’s thesis.

1/ equating the connectome with understanding intelligence. The connectome is certainly part of the picture, the modulome is at least as important – the biochemical modulators of synaptic connections and wider neuronal function. In terms of raw computational grunt I strongly suspect the modulome will outweigh the connectome, and both are required. We have a long way to go in our understanding, and scanning will need to be at the molecular level.

2/ The continuation of using scarcity based valuation mechanisms in an age of abundance. Markets cannot deal meaningfully with universal abundance – they must always assign a value of zero or less.

If we want any sort of reasonable security in our future, the dominant social systems need to be based on widely and deeply distributed trust networks with diverse value bases. Common measures of value are not even a logical possibility in an age of real freedom – value sets (outside of the basics of life and liberty) can only diverge. Money and market measures of value must become bit players in the social systems of our future.

That is something most economists have a hard time even conceiving, let alone accepting.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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3 Responses to The age of Em

  1. robinhanson says:

    But I don’t at all claim that only the connectome is needed. I do claim that scarcity continues to be relevant. You can’t just wish that away; if you disagree you must try to SHOW that scarcity goes away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Robin
      I didn’t address your first point directly.
      We have no technology even on the horizon that will allow a non destructive scan of a brain at the molecular level. We have the possibility of scans at the level of cells, that may give a reasonable probability of accuracy at the cellular level of the deep brain, but nothing on the horizon that I am aware of that will go to molecular level.
      Without such technology – mature and safe, Ems are not a real possibility. Any such thing as is produced will be a very poor shadow of the real thing – more Zombie than Em.

      So your thesis that Ems are possible does seem to me to be directly related to the idea that the connectome will deliver an accurate Em.


  2. Hi Robin

    It depends very much how one defines scarcity.

    Yes, sure, we live in a finite universe, there are real limits, and when you actually do some numbers on what those limits are – there is no need at this time for any human to experience scarcity of anything related to survival or freedom.
    Sure, we can’t all have personal Nimitz class floating hotels, and we can all reasonably go where-ever we choose in a reasonable time (anywhere on the land surface of the planet in less than 2 days, with most places accessible in less than two hours). Getting into space and back requires quite a bit of both energy and risk, not likely to be very popular for quite some time.

    So Yes some degree of scarcity will remain.

    And when one looks simply from the survival and freedom perspectives, there is no need for scarcity.

    We have ample evidence that scarcity goes away. Just look at computation and energy and information.

    Computational capacity is doubling every year. I now have more computational and digital storage capacity in my house than existed on the planet when I first started programming computers. I probably have more capacity on my person now than existed in New Zealand at that time.
    We have some 20 TB devoted to storage of digital photographs that my wife takes.

    Energy is changing. Most think in terms of oil, but oil is minuscule. Total world oil use is about 100 million B/day. A barrel is about 160 l. That gives a global use of 6×10^12 l/year, or a layer over the earth’s surface about 1/100 of a mm thick. Solar energy is equivalent to a layer of oil 150mm thick over the entire planet every year.
    Yes – sure, much of that energy is already used by living systems, but way less than half, and conversion efficiencies are not that great in many instances (from a human perspective).
    The solar cells on the roof of my house run at about 20% efficiency. Growing biomass on my section for burning runs at about 3% efficiency (sunlight to heat).

    There is no shortage of energy. The sun produces enough energy for every human being alive to have as much energy available to them as humanity as a whole currently uses.

    Look at information.
    The major reason information is scarce is the need to make profit. Copyright and other IP laws are there only to make information scarce. It would be easy for every person to have every book, every article, ever produced available to them for their search tools. It is mostly the needs of markets that prevents that happening (some aspects of security around information that is potentially very dangerous to all if misused, and that is a small fraction of the total available).

    I know many of the best programmers in this country, and a few from around the planet, and most of us are not working in automation because of the socially destructive outcomes of our efforts.
    If the system were fair, if it actually met the reasonable needs of everyone for secure access to clean air and water, wholesome food, shelter, energy, healthcare, education, communication and travel, then all of those things could be completely automated very quickly – within a decade 99% confidence, within 2 years 50% confidence – in a globally cooperative context of teams working together, rather than against each other.

    Those of us who program well do it (when we do) because we love to do it, and we are not doing it in the areas above because of the destructive consequences in the current market economy context (I have explicitly had this conversation with the three best programmers I know).

    Molecular level manufacturing combined with solar energy will change everything.
    Sure, it is in its infancy right now. We are seeing generation 1 3D printers – little more than toys, and already disruptive in some industries. By the time we get to gen 4 machines, the entire game will have changed.

    Market rules will not work for the majority of people – they will have nothing of market value to offer.

    There is another way.

    Distributed high fidelity trust networks can take Dunbar’s number from the current 150 to many times the current global human population.
    The strategies catalogued by Ostrom et al are proven to work – over very long times. Wolfram et al have demonstrated that Ostrom’s set is but the simplest instances of an infinite set of sets of strategies that work in similar stabilising fashion to make cooperation stable.

    In a context of relative abundance, cooperation always out performs competition.

    We are not short of mass.
    We are not short of energy.
    We are not short of either ideas or technology.

    Relative abundance is easily possible – from a technical perspective.

    What traps the majority of people is their unexamined assumptions – like the fake Mark Twain quote says “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” It may belong to Josh Billings or it may be far more modern, and to me it does capture something very real.

    I don’t have absolute certainty in my world.
    Platos Truth and Newton’s clockwork universe are in my world necessary illusions, like Nietzche’s ladder as portrayed by Wittgenstein. They are ideas one must use to get to something beyond them.

    I see the world as complex systems, of an infinite variety of forms, some predictable to various degrees, some not. Absolutes are to my understanding illusions for children. As adults, all any of us really have are probabilities, useful heuristics and intuitions not yet falsified by experience.

    The exponential trends so clearly demonstrated by Kurzweil eliminate most of what most people consider historical certainty, even if very few can get any real sense of that yet.

    The Dao changes – we live in interesting times.


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