Trade With The Future

Richard Chappell rises to my challenge:

We're not doing the world any favours by populating the future with our primitive 20th(-21st) century minds. … So cryonicists must assume that it is better to extend an existing life than to create a new one. … Many people are (quite reasonably!) wedded to the particularities of their life and situation, … insofar as this newly awakened person would be enculturated into a new society, acquiring new values and life projects, they are effectively becoming a new and different person. But … then revival is unjustified: a better new life could be created 'from scratch', so to speak.  So cryonics is (at best) only justified for people whose central concerns and life projects could continue to be fruitfully pursued upon revival in a transhuman society.

Imagine a volcano is about to destroy an island and we go to local villages telling the natives boats are waiting at the shore, and urging people to leave without delay.  It would be odd to object saying their lives somewhere else will be different enough to make them different people, and so the world would be better off just raising new people to live in those other places.  Perhaps you just want us to remind people that maybe they would really rather just die than live such a different life, but even that seems a bit odd.

You could make a similar argument against the retirement of folks whose identity is tied up closely in their jobs; they should either keep working till they drop or commit suicide the moment they stop working.  After all, they aren't nearly as useful to the world in retirement as in work.  You might say it is their continued connections to family and friends that justifies their staying alive in retirement, but we also urge people to be frozen together with their family and friends.

It is too easy to slip into the mode of assuming that each thing we do that effects the future must be in their interest; we can instead trade with the future.  In a voluntary trade, each side expects to benefit from the whole package, but not usually from each part of the trade.  Ordinary interest rates make it very cheap for us to benefit the distant future by enormous amounts just via savings, making enormous gains from trade possible if only there were things we wanted from the future.  Cryonics revival is such a thing we can want from them.

It really is a terrible shame people feel so free to ignore the wishes of ancestors who sacrificed to benefit them.  The law often allows us to violate the letter and intent of wills when that seems in our interest.  We should instead be trying to promote more trade across the generations, by trying to give our ancestors whatever they wanted and reasonably paid for.  We should promote such a norm of not breaking deals not just out of fairness, but also so that our descendants will not break our deals with them. 

If I want to live longer in the distant future, even as a "different" person, and am willing to save a bit more now to pay for it, why isn't it enough that this is a win-win package deal? 

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  • Unit

    Suppose we discover a frozen body in a glacier from hundred thousand years ago, and it turns out scientists are able to revive it. Wouldn’t it be subjected to all kinds of experiments, kept confined, etc…What are the chances that future generation will allow unfrozen 21st century folks to mingle with them on an equal foot?

  • michael vassar

    The fact that we don’t trade with our now powerless ancestors but instead collude in defecting against them seems relevant to the hope that generic AGIs will not collude to defect against us once we are powerless.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    I think I tend more to try to do nice things for the Future in the hopes that they will be nice people who deserve it. Nice people urge their friends to sign up for cryonics, sign up for cryonics themselves, and revive cryonics patients.

    It’s interesting that cryonics would actually make it possible, for more or less the first time, for intergenerational transactions to operate on a “give back” principle as well as a “give on” principle. Not that I really believe this, of course, but shouldn’t environmentalists be urging people to sign up for cryonics in the hopes that they’ll take a more personal view of global warming?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aroneus/ Aron

    There is some hesitation to bring back the woolly mammoth and neanderthals because of its assumed ill-fitness. I find some variation of ‘the future decides it would be immoral to reanimate us’ as a possible failure scenario for our popsiclized explorers. The natural response is to say ‘just reanimate them, show them the world, and they can always choose suicide’ but the exit scenario of suicide is not easily taken for most people and the future would know that. You can say that the frozen head made a choice, but you can also say that the head hadn’t really any good conception of the future it would be born into (as debates here suggest is likely).

    I suspect a world where reanimation is possible will be more different than now, than now is from the dawn of civilization by a long shot. Societal consensus at that time about identity and free volition are likely to have been put under significant pressure for refinement (in uncertain directions).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Eliezer, but trading with people is a nice thing to do for them.

    Michael, yes of course.

  • Dr. Commonsense

    “Ordinary interest rates make it very cheap for us to benefit the distant future by enormous amounts just via savings, making enormous gains from trade possible if only there were things we wanted from the future.”

    Robin, aren’t you ignoring the rule against perpetuities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_against_perpetuities)? As it stands, you *cannot* rely on ordinary interest-bearing investments to fund your revival. Any other ideas?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/halfinney/ Hal Finney

    The problem with modeling cryonic suspension as trade with the future is that the future is not around to consent to the trade. We can at best give the future something that we think will be valuable to it, in the hopes that it will give us something of value in return. But these kinds of exchanges often do not work out well in practice. Many of us may have experienced the discomfort of being offered a gift where the giver then will expect us to be obligated to them in ways that we might not want.

    Also, I’m not sure the funds suspendees supply to the cryonics organizations upon death should count as gifts to the future. Those moneys are supposed to be invested so that the interest will pay for continuing maintenance, while the final balance can pay for resurrection. Suspendees aim to recoup potentially the entire future value of the investment, so who is receiving the gift?

    And Chappell makes a good point that it is questionable whether it is better to keep an old person alive than to let them die and create a new person. Recall in our discussion of the ems scenario that it was important to recognize the moral value of creating new instances of life as a balance to old instances which might be replaced. I thought people were overemphasizing the loss of life and failing to value the new lives that could be created. It seems likely that in a variety of future scenarios, there will in fact be a tradeoff between bringing someone back to life versus creating a new person. It does seem appropriate to ask which person most deserves to live, the old or the new.

  • steven

    I think it’s worth emphasizing that if the future will one day create any significant fraction of the people that it could create, a mind that was around to experience the 20th century will be a 1/10^20+ rarity. If everyone on Earth were an Earth in themselves, and on all these Earths there was only one person with a certain interesting property, that person would still not be as rare as a cryonicist will be in such a future. So I don’t find it at all implausible to say that cryonicists themselves will be valuable to future society in a way that yet more newly-created people will not be.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Dr, my point is to argue against such legal rules preventing trade across generations.

    Hal, with the right legal rules, you could allow additional savings to accumulate in a trust, who is instructed to use the resulting resources to buy your revival, and failing that to destroy those resources.

  • http://www.daegmorgan.net Raven Daegmorgan

    You can say that the frozen head made a choice, but you can also say that the head hadn’t really any good conception of the future it would be born into (as debates here suggest is likely).

    One could say the same thing about choosing to have children and making that choice for them (since, not even existing yet, they hadn’t any good conception about being born, or any conception whatsoever). Which hasn’t stopped us yet.

    I do think all this talk of trade and value to society is over-thinking the issue of whether or not a cryosuspended individual would be brought back. That said, isn’t life itself enough of a trade? Or will the future be full of individuals who view lives purely in terms of economies and cost-benefit analysis to the whole, with doctors deciding who lives and who dies based on their fitness, rather than the centuries-old desire to sustain and prolong the life of all patients (along with maintaining or improving their overall well-being).

    The way this discussion has gone, it seems the participants believe doctors of the future will abandon ages-old human behaviors reaching back to the Hippocratic Oath and before, and begin approaching their professions’ work bureaucratically, as triage coupled to cold justifications?

    That’s a terrible future, and not likely, I think, if morality, social justice, and respect for all life continue along the increasingly positive course it has been heading in global society for centuries.

  • http://aidevelopment.blogspot.com/2008/12/cryonics.html Dennis Gorelik

    “Imagine a volcano is about to destroy an island and we go to local villages telling the natives boats are waiting at the shore, and urging people to leave without delay.”

    Robin, I may excuse idealistic Eliezer for claiming that “Cryonics” is the same as “escape on the boats”.
    But you as an economist have no excuse to think so.

    Escape on the boats:
    – Has great chance of success (50%+).
    – Makes rescued people available for productive life immediately after the escape.
    – Inexpensive (~$100 per escaped person).

    Cryonics:
    – Has extremely low chance of success (much less than 1%).
    – In case of success rescued people would be able to start productive life only centuries from now.
    – Quite expensive $80K per person.

    Cryonics just doesn’t make sense.

    Note, that even “escape on the boats” not always make sense.
    Sometimes from the rescuer viewpoint such operation could be too expensive, too risky, or people in danger are not valuable enough.
    You can find such examples (of not rescuing) everywhere.

    Cryonics almost never makes economic sense.
    (Unless you consider Cryonic as business of selling hope).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Raven, even today few docs do procedures unless they expect to get paid.

    Dennis, this post is responding to Richard’s argument which didn’t depend on the specific costs, times, and chances. My first cryonics post started to address those issues.

  • http://aidevelopment.blogspot.com/2008/12/cryonics.html Dennis Gorelik

    Raven,

    You ask: “isn’t life itself enough of a trade?”

    My answer is: life itself is not enough for a trade.

    Humans routinely kill other animals and even other humans.

    Even “highly moral” societies don’t really value life that much:
    – Pets are neutered.
    – Birth control is actively promoted.

    What are your reasons to believe that it would change in the future?

    Note, that it’s much easier “not to revive frozen body” than “to prevent unwanted birth”.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/aroneus/ Aron

    The economic argument is feeble. The question should be whether the future would feel compelled ethically to do it. The distance between ‘possible’ and ‘possible AND cheap’ is probably narrow. A civilization that can reanimate you, with high fidelity, and with tools to PROVE that fidelity, can likely mine your physical patterns for whatever information it may purely be curious about. That is, any question you could answer conscious, they would already have your answer for. Perhaps that is in someway actually BEING reanimated when your physical pattern is simulated for the purpose of data mining. At any rate, their consideration of our attachment to ‘living’ may be a laughable consideration. And I think reanimation is possible, but almost certainly post-singularity. We have no idea what ride we are buying a ticket for.

  • http://aidevelopment.blogspot.com/2008/12/cryonics.html Dennis Gorelik

    Robin,

    “this post is responding to Richard’s argument which didn’t depend on the specific costs, times, and chances.”

    I’m confused:
    Do you imply that replying to Richard allows you to ignore common sense?

    “My first cryonics post started to address those issues.”

    It would be nice to see your view on Cryonics issue from economics perspective.

  • Dr. Commonsense

    “Dr, my point is to argue against such legal rules preventing trade across generations.”

    I agree with this goal, but do not think it’s the most efficient avenue of attack. Unless you can think of practical reasons other than cryonics to roll back the rule against perpetuities, any realistic chance of repealing this rule would be contingent on there already being substantial public support for cryonics, and as we know that by itself it a difficult political/memetic challenge.

    What I’m curious about is what else we as cryonicists can offer in trade to the future?

    Historical data? The coordinates for valuable artefacts that we’ve hidden? What else?

    What kinds of bounds can we place around what intelligent entities of the future will value?

  • Dr. Commonsense

    And that, Aron, is why patternism should not be permitted a monopoly over the “mainstream” cryonics world view. It should at most be one of many recognized theories about what constitutes individual survival.

  • talisman

    Economists help please: I think I understand what it means for me to save for the future, but what would it mean if everyone wanted to do cryonics and so everyone wanted to save for the future? Would there be such a thing as “normal interest rates” anymore?

  • http://www.daegmorgan.net Raven Daegmorgan

    @Robin: I do not disagree as that is true enough, though my point in bringing up doctors was otherwise. Yes, they would (likely) want to be paid to bring you back (assuming continued modern capitalist economies); however, assuming this is any doctor worth their salt, your life would not simply be a payment to them (that is, the doctor would actually care about succeeding or not in terms of the value of your life entirely apart from being paid for the job).

    @Dennis: I’m sorry, but whatever experiences and observations your arguments are based on fly in the face of my own, nor do I see any evidence that your foundational premises are accurate measures from which we can logically measure expected future (or even present) human behaviors and choices. The society you suggest is far different from the one that actually exists.

    For example, you state “humans routinely kill other humans” implying that, ergo, modern humans thus do not value life.

    Yet I am fairly certain I live in a society that (ie: among individuals who) overall does, in fact, value and respect my life.

    I say this due the simple fact that I can walk down the street or visit with my neighbors without being in or needing to be in constant fear for my life, and expect that should something untoward happen to me that threatens my life, someone will at the very least call 911.

    I will further note, to stem any possible argument that people only act this way due fear of punishment and not out of a respect for life, that the members of our armed forces have to be trained how to unflinchingly kill people, because the vast majority will either not pull the trigger, will look away before firing (severely reducing the chances of a hit), or will fire over the head of the opponent when faced with the prospect of firing on another human being.

    According to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (expert on the psychology of killing, U.S. Army (retired)), Christianity Today, Vol. 42, No. 9, “Trained to Kill”:

    “Patty Griffith demonstrates that the killing potential of the average Civil War regiment was anywhere from five hundred to a thousand men per minute. The actual killing rate was only one or two men per minute per regiment (The Battle Tactics of the American Civil War). At the Battle of Gettysburg, of the 27,000 muskets picked up from the dead and dying after the battle, 90 percent were loaded…even more amazingly, of the thousands of loaded muskets, over half had multiple loads in the barrel–one with 23 loads in the barrel.

    In reality, the average man would load his musket and bring it to his shoulder, but he could not bring himself to kill…

    …During World War II, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall had a team of researchers study what soldiers did in battle. For the first time in history, they asked individual soldiers what they did in battle. They discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual riflemen could bring themselves to fire at an exposed enemy soldier.”

    That somehow this equates to a disrespect for life of the sort you imply, that people are such bastards they flatly won’t care, I fundamentally disagree as I see no support for the assertion when examining the broad populace and their actual concerns and practices in daily life.

    As well, I find your comparison of birth control (preventing new life from arising due concerns about ability or desire to provide care for said life) to cryostatic revival (restoring an existing life) flawed: apples and oranges.

    Case in point: it’s much easier “not to perform CPR” than “to prevent unwanted birth”. Your claim and logic, against common experience, infers we would simply let them croak. Or, perhaps, it’s much easier “not to revive drowned and frozen child” than “to prevent unwanted birth”. Yet, again, we still choose to invest significant effort in saving life. Clearly, human respect for life, at least other existing human life, is a significant factor of our psychology.

  • http://knol.google.com/k/james-miller/james-miller/1j9f9ffxxeue5/1# James Miller

    “Economists help please: I think I understand what it means for me to save for the future, but what would it mean if everyone wanted to do cryonics and so everyone wanted to save for the future? Would there be such a thing as “normal interest rates” anymore?”

    If everyone used cryonics right after “death” but we devoted more resources today to investments and technological research then we would have more and better stuff in the future. Interest rates would fall, but would still keep their meaning and importance.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    “Saving”, in theory, means that you trade off a claim on present consumption for a claim on future consumption, presumably by diverting present-day effort from current consumption to building infrastructure that will produce future goods and services.

    A “financial system” would let you do this, but unfortunately, as Steve Waldman points out, We Simply Do Not Have A Financial System.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Eliezer, James is right; while our financial systems has many failings it does in fact allow choices between current and future consumption. If not for legal prohibitions, the system could allow for trade with the future, to pay for cryonics revival.

  • Captain Obvious

    >Economists help please: I think I understand what it means for me to save for
    >the future, but what would it mean if everyone wanted to do cryonics and so
    >everyone wanted to save for the future? Would there be such a thing as “normal
    >interest rates” anymore?”

    I was wondering about that, too… relying on compound interest only works as long as enough other people are still “awake” and keeping the economy running. Otherwise we could all be arbitrarily wealthy by just putting all 6 billion of us to sleep for, say, 10,000 years and we’d all wake up millionairs!

  • Sean C.

    I wonder if this paper might be of help in defining the economics of trade with the future:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~pkrugman/interstellar.pdf

  • Andrew

    Um, hasn’t there been a lot of trouble in the past with people “reaching from beyond the grave” to interfere in current affairs. I think that society has, out of necessity, mostly disregarded influence from those who have died.

    (from the article) “It really is a terrible shame people feel so free to ignore the wishes of ancestors who sacrificed to benefit them. ” – this assumption needs to be defended.

  • http://www.philosophyetc.net Richard

    Robin – “Perhaps you just want us to remind people that maybe they would really rather just die than live such a different life, but even that seems a bit odd.

    Why? I’m not sure I’d treat living as an end in itself. It’s simply a necessary means to whatever true ends we might have, i.e. those things (our core values, relationships, life projects, etc.) that we live for. So: faced with the option of a longer but radically different life, we have to ask whether that future life would still contain the things we really care about. This is hardly a foregone conclusion.

    Your response to my post is to offer two cases of less-radical change (resettlement and retirement), and to note that most of us would intuitively consider these futures worth having. That could well be true: most of us have life projects that could still be advanced in light of those changes. But that doesn’t say much about whether this would still hold in case of far more radical change. (Or are you trying to suggest that we consider longevity to be an end in itself?)

    If anything, I think your analogy helps my case. Though most people would rather rebuild on a new island, it isn’t that hard to imagine the odd person or two — an old tribal chief, say — who’s so attached to his home village that he’d rather be buried with it than start anew elsewhere. And this is a pretty modest change we’re talking about. So when you scale up the example to the sort of radical change we can imagine post-cryonics, it’s plausible that a correspondingly higher proportion of people would have trouble seeing this future as offering a continuation of what they really care about.

    (It’s also worth noting that most people’s intuitions and preferences about the future are based on the false belief that they are magically enduring Cartesian Egos. Someone who fully internalizes the truth of reductionism will care far less about mere “survival”, relative to their other values.)

  • http://aidevelopment.blogspot.com/2008/12/cryonics.html Dennis Gorelik

    Raven, you wrote:

    you state “humans routinely kill other humans” implying that, ergo, modern humans thus do not value life.

    You are wrong: I don’t imply that modern humans don’t value life.
    They do.
    Modern humans value life against other lives and other valuables.
    Sometimes that evaluation results in killings. More often it results in healing.
    But the most common result of such evaluation is preserving status quo: whatever life can take care of itself — lives. Whatever “life” cannot take care of itself — disappears.

    Dead frozen bodies cannot take care of themselves, so their fate is to disappear.

    Life is respected.
    Dead frozen bodies — not so much.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Richard, we agree that many of us may not value the creatures who we become much beyond other creatures in our society if that creature is different enough from who we are now. We disagree I think on just how different your cryonics-revived future self would be.