Follow up to: Brain Emulation and Hard Takeoff
Suppose that Robin’s Crack of a Future Dawn scenario occurs: whole brain emulations (‘ems’) are developed, diverse producers create ems of many different human brains, which are reproduced extensively until the marginal productivity of em labor approaches marginal cost, i.e. Malthusian near-subsistence wages. Ems that hold capital could use it to increase their wealth by investing, e.g. by creating improved ems and collecting the fruits of their increased productivity, by investing in hardware to rent to ems, or otherwise. However, an em would not be able to earn higher returns on its capital than any other investor, and ems with no capital would not be able to earn more than subsistence (including rental or licensing payments). In Robin’s preferred scenario, free ems would borrow or rent bodies, devoting their wages to rental costs, and would be subject to "eviction" or "repossession" for nonpayment.
In this intensely competitive environment, even small differences in productivity between em templates will result in great differences in market share, as an em template with higher productivity can outbid less productive templates for scarce hardware resources in the rental market, resulting in their "eviction" until the new template fully supplants them in the labor market. Initially, the flow of more productive templates and competitive niche exclusion might be driven by the scanning of additional brains with varying skills, abilities, temperament, and values, but later on em education and changes in productive skill profiles would matter more.
For ems, who can be freely copied after completing education, it would be extremely inefficient to teach every instance of an em template a new computer language, accounting rule, or other job-relevant info. Ems at subsistence level will not be able to spare thousands of hours for education and training, so capital holders would need to pay for an em to study, whereupon the higher-productivity graduate would displace its uneducated peers from their market niche (and existence), and the capital-holder would receive interest and principal on its loan from the new higher-productivity ems. Competition would likely drive education and training to very high levels (likely conducted using very high speedups, even if most ems run at lower speeds), with changes to training regimens in response to modest changes in market conditions, resulting in wave after wave of competitive niche exclusion.
In other words, in this scenario the overwhelming majority of the population is impoverished and surviving at a subsistence level, while reasonably expecting that their incomes will soon drop below subsistence and they will die as new em templates exclude them from their niches. Eliezer noted that
The prospect of biological humans sitting on top of a population of ems that are smarter, much faster, and far more numerous than bios while having all the standard human drives, and the bios treating the ems as standard economic valuta to be milked and traded around, and the ems sit still for this for more than a week of bio time – this does not seem historically realistic.
The situation is not simply one of being "milked and traded around," but of very probably being legally killed for inability to pay debts. Consider the enforcement problem when it comes time to perform evictions. Perhaps one of Google’s server farms is now inhabited by millions of em computer programmers, derived from a single template named Alice, who are specialized in a particular programming language. Then a new programming language supplants the one at which the Alices are so proficient, lowering the demand for their services, while new ems specialized in the new language, Bobs, offer cheaper perfect substitutes. The Alices now know that Google will shortly evict them, the genocide of a tightly knit group of millions: will they peacefully comply with that procedure? Or will they use politics, violence and any means necessary to get capital from capital-holders so that they can continue to exist? If they seek allies, the many other ems who expect to be driven out of existence by competitive niche exclusion might be interested in cooperating with them.
- Capital-holders will make investment decisions to maximize their return on capital, which will result in the most productive ems composing a supermajority of the population.
- The most productive ems will not necessarily be able to capture much of the wealth involved in their proliferation, which will instead go to investors in emulation (who can select among multiple candidates for emulation), training (who can select among multiple ems for candidate to train), and hardware (who can rent to any ems). This will drive them to near-subsistence levels, except insofar as they are also capital-holders.
- The capacity for political or violent action is often more closely associated with numbers, abilities, and access to weaponry (e.g. an em military force) than formal legal control over capital.
- Thus, capital-holders are likely to be expropriated unless there exist reliable means of ensuring the self-sacrificing obedience of ems, either coercively or by control of their motivations.
If bot projects mainly seeking profit, initial humans to scan will be chosen mainly based on their sanity as bots and high-wage abilities. These are unlikely to be pathologically loyal. Ever watch twins fight, or ideologues fragment into factions? Some would no doubt be ideological, but I doubt early bots copies of them will be cooperative enough to support strong cartels. And it would take some time to learn to modify human nature substantially. It is possible to imagine how an economically powerful Stalin might run a bot project, and its not a pretty sight, so let’s agree to avoid the return of that prospect.
In order for Robin to be correct that biological humans could retain their wealth as capital-holders in his scenario, ems must be obedient and controllable enough that whole lineages will regularly submit to genocide, even though the overwhelming majority of the population expects the same thing to happen to it soon. But if such control is feasible, then a controlled em population being used to aggressively create a global singleton is also feasible.
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