What Status Ems?

While many things count for status in our society, most of us have a rough idea of their relative weight, at least for common evaluations. But we understand the origins of these weights poorly. This ignorance seems especially clear when we consider how status might change in the future. For example, I’ve been pondering the scenario of a future world dominated by ems (whole brain emulations), and realize that it seems especially unclear what would count more for status among ems. Some possibilities:

  1. Pure physical size or power
  2. Impressiveness in conversation or verbal sparring
  3. How well its personality embodies the ideals of its age
  4. How mental, complex, or abstract is its job
  5. # other statusful ems this em commands or controls
  6. The accomplishments of this copy, since its last split.
  7. # other high status ems know it personally
  8. Political influence of this em in local disputes
  9. Personal em wealth
  10. Current daily wages
  11. Current daily profit, of wages minus cost to exist
  12. The status its human had in the pre-em world
  13. Total time this mind has experienced subjectively
  14. Time expected until em forced to retire/archive
  15. # active copies expected of this em at a future date
  16. # active “clan” copies, all of the same pre-em human
  17. # active copies expected of this clan at a future date
  18. The total accomplishments of the entire copy clan
  19. # other high status ems know anyone in clan
  20. Total wealth of its copy clan
  21. Total potential political influence of its copy clan

Of course if we had a good theory of status, we could use that to predict future status. For example, if status were a measure of future evolutionary success, then #15 would make sense. But if status were instead a measure of the value of an ally in local coalition politics, then #8 would make more sense.

Many of these measures (e.g., #14) could produce an abrupt change in status when a new copy is created. Do abrupt status changes make sense when others’ opinions about you haven’t changed?

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  • nazgulnarsil

    Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects explores #14 quite a bit.

  • http://webtrough.wordpress.com DW

    They’re going to be copies of us, right? Then they’re going to be insecure of that probably so, like children imitating parents, want to be “big boys and girls”.

    Human mimicry.

  • Mitchell Porter

    My advice on how to think systematically about this:

    First, refine this concept of “status”. There are numerous distinctions to be made. Originally, status just means state; in this sense everything has a status. OK, here we specifically mean “social status”, which is a type of state possessed by a human being, and/or ascribed to a human being by other human beings. Wikipedia makes a distinction between a social status possessed on account of a social role, and a social status attributed by others and expressing some assessment that they make. This bears some resemblance to your distinction between dominance-status and prestige-status.

    So already we have three distinctions that can be made regarding the concept of social status: possessed objectively vs attributed by others; signifying a social role vs signifying a social judgment; dominance-status vs prestige-status. And one way to understand the relation between these three distinctions is to collapse them into a single dimension and say that they all go together – dominance status is possessed objectively and signifies a social role, prestige status is attributed by others and signifies a social judgment. However, I think it would be better to treat these three distinctions as three separate dimensions, and see if one can’t find a few types of status which inhabit all eight possible combinations.

    A similar analytical breakdown is desirable when thinking about individual psychology, social psychology, innate dispositions, and learned / acquired dispositions, as they pertain to the attribution of social status, interpretation of social status, and response to social status. When one individual assesses the social status of another, are they making a judgment governed mostly by inherited categories, or by learned categories? When they make that judgment, is it individualistic cognition or socially affected cognition? If it is socially affected cognition, is it an inherited effect or a learned effect? (By socially affected cognition, I mean any biasing of thought processes due to consideration of other people. This is something that could be conscious or unconscious. The unconscious and inherited type of socially affected cognition would be a matter of brain cognitive subsystems which are selectively activated in response to social cues.)

    Finally, there’s the reflexive cultural aspect. What happens once people have the idea that there is such a thing as social status and that they respond to it? How does that affect the effects of status, both in the individual mind and in society?

    All of those questions are relevant for the analysis of social status in the existing human world. Now when you extend such an analysis to a world of whole brain emulations, you have a few further executive decisions to make as scenario-builder. Do you assume 1) no further change in the popular and scientific understanding of how status psychology works 2) no modification of the cognitive subsystems in the ems which regulate their status judgments and responses?

    These questions actually lead us back to the earlier ones. Suppose we entertain the idea of ems which have had a “statusectomy”. Their cognitive apparatus for status attribution has simply been removed. How does that affect their behavior? Does the scenario even make sense? It highlights the question of the extent to which status judgments and decisions are made by a well-defined, self-contained cognitive module, as opposed to arising from the interplay of subsystems whose primary function is something else. Cognitive resource bounds make the use of heuristics – concepts that group together many entities under a single category, which is then used to make snap judgments about all members of that category – something to be universally expected in effective thinking agents. Would a concept of social status naturally emerge even in ems in which the hypothetical specialized cognitive module for social status judgments had been removed, simply because the effective pursuit of any utility function in any possible world is going to require a similar concept with a similar functional role? Etc.

    • nazgulnarsil

      reads like the papers I crank out for lazy undergrads in humanities programs.

      • Mitchell Porter

        On your blog I read the statement, “Language is not about communication of abstract concepts, it’s about communication of status.” Shall I interpret your comments that way in future?

      • http://hopefullyanonymous.blogspot.com Hopefully Anonymous

        Haha Mitchell Porter. Well played.

      • Mitchell Porter

        In order to prevent a destructive vendetta which could permanently blight the futures of the Porter and Narsil copy clans, let me acknowledge that Narsil’s remark may have been an innocent factual observation, rather than unconstructive criticism. Such are the risks of communication in the uploaded world, shorn of the old-fashioned nonverbal context…

  • prop

    how much livelihood they can share with other ems?

  • donK

    Since we’re talking about the future it’s clear their status will be shiny and blue.

    • Robert Koslover

      Yes. Nicely done.

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    What possible utility do ems have for status? If status can’t be converted into something that ems find valuable, then what good is it?

    You should add another one

    22. How much malware of what level of destructiveness is set to be activated if the em is thwarted or disconnected.

    This seems to be what most high status humans use to maintain their high status. The malware that humans use isn’t called that, but it is what lawyers, guns and money represent.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      Ems are uploaded humans, so they will initially retain many human features. Afterward they can be expected to evolve, and just as humans evolved status-consciousness ems may evolve analogues that are useful to their perpetuation.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        I see, that is a scary thought. The first ems will be former wealthy humans who signed up for cryonics so they will have formerly had high desires for high status and had successfully achieved high status and experienced high status.

        Initially the status of ems will be below the status of flesh humans (the way they are now). The initial goal of ems that were former humans would be to raise their status relative to flesh humans. The easiest and surest way to do that is to make the lives of flesh humans much harder, or to kill them. Killing flesh humans is probably the easiest way for ems to gain status.

        Of course the ems don’t want to be so overt that they are detected. They would want to kill flesh humans in stealth mode, and initially low status flesh humans.

        Of course humans who have signed up for cryonics may already be planning how to do this. For example runaway global warming would be an ideal method, provided there is sufficient technology to maintain em sustainable infrastructure. Once that happen, status conscious ems will want to eliminate all humans. If humans have status above ems, then killing humans raises the status of ems. If humans have status below ems, then there is no reason to not kill humans.

        There are already signs of this, where status is measured by access to health care. Already there are people who say let people without health insurance die and people without jobs starve. Status seekers could corner the market on grain, use it to generate biofuels and send the price of food so high that some flesh humans starve. This would raise the status of entities that don’t need food to survive.

        Some humans are already doing this.

  • Pingback: Overcoming Bias : A Theory Of Status

  • These days, those days

    #9, “personal em wealth,” could well be broken down into two different items on the list: Things like bank accounts on the one hand, and conspicuous consumption on the other (and there are many different kinds of conspicuous consumption, but the list doesn’t need different items for an expensive house vs. suits of expensive clothes).

    All conspicuous consumption is status-raising (by definition, otherwise it’s just consumption) in the sense that owning a 500,000 mansion is higher-status than buying a cheaper house and keeping the rest of the money in the bank. And of course, conspicuous consumption usually seems, to the imagining mind, like an irrational trait that wouldn’t be indulged in by a sentient computer–but the same is true of social status in general. In both cases, there are sound game-theory reasons why ems might find it useful to not only have a system of social status, but to have various forms of conspicuous consumption. Maybe not to the extent that conspicuous consumption is important in human life, but on the other hand maybe to just as great an extent.

    What forms might it take? Well, there is the ownership of a nice living area, an expensive artificial body, useful possessions, practically useless works of fine arts, owning and maintaining a territory of land; all of these are part of our human conspicuous consumption and might be part of the ems’ system. And if you’ve read Thorstein Veblen, he explains how many aspects of slavery are influenced by conspicuous consumption (in terms of both chattel slavery, and the kind of personal servants who are not slaves). The status on ems might well be based on owning or hiring domestic animals, humans, and other ems, as many of them as a high-status em could gain and maintain.

    • http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~criedel/ Jess Riedel

      And of course, conspicuous consumption usually seems, to the imagining mind, like an irrational trait that wouldn’t be indulged in by a sentient computer–but the same is true of social status in general. In both cases, there are sound game-theory reasons why ems might find it useful to not only have a system of social status, but to have various forms of conspicuous consumption. Maybe not to the extent that conspicuous consumption is important in human life, but on the other hand maybe to just as great an extent.

      This is an important point that I hadn’t thought of before. However, it’s worth emphasizing that if the ems are able to modify their own desires, the results could be very different than the case of human status for two reasons.

      First, human status games are governed by genes determined mostly in the ancestral environment. Ems, even ones very much under evolutionary pressure, almost certainly wouldn’t reach the same equilibrium of status games as humans simply because they could evolve quickly (under self-modification) to the modern environment.

      Second, though I agree with Robin that all forms of life (no matter how intelligent) are ultimately subject to continuing evolutionary pressure (barring a singleton scenario), there’s no reason to think that such pressures will be enough to govern em status on the timescales we’re talking about (i.e. when cities are still sensible). It’s easy to imagine that most ems will rationally remove the desire for (certain kinds of) status because it makes them unhappy on the net, and this situation will persist for a very long time.

      All this depends strongly, of course, on the technological scenario we are talking about. If ems are just simulated human brains and no one knows how modify them at all, then your statement (about status games being game-theoretic equilibrium to which we should expect ems to evolve) is moot. And if ems are capable of full self-modification, that’s basically the singularity.