Jiro Lives Worth Living

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a well-reviewed documentary mostly celebrating the world’s best sushi chef. Which is worth pondering, because Jiro is an extreme workaholic. Roger Ebert:

Jiro Ono is 85 years old. As a young boy, he ran away from home to become an apprentice in a restaurant and has been making sushi for more than 70 years. He is apparently not happy doing anything else and prefers to work all day, seven days a week, every day in the year. … You realize he must be a rich man. But to what end? … While watching it, I found myself drawn into the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes in his life? Secret diversions? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough? (more)

Jiro’s life is also quite routine – he repeats the same actions over and over and over, always seeking slight adjustments to improve quality.

I haven’t seen anyone says this movie describes a terrible tragedy of a wasted worthless life. Most seem to accept Jiro’s life as worth living, and many consider his an exemplary life. Yet let’s imagine some variations on Jiro’s life, and ask if they are also worth living.

First, imagine that Jiro is not rich. He is still the very best, but he gives his sushi away. He has enough to eat, stays warm, and is healthy, but has few luxuries. But since he spends most of his time at the office, it probably doesn’t make that much difference to his quality of life if he is rich or poor.

Second, imagine someone with Jiro’s unsurpassed skill, overwhelming dedication, and fascination with their work, except that this person makes plywood, not sushi. Would that also be a life worth living? It would be a lower status life, as our culture lauds sushi chefs more than plywood makers. But he would still be the very best plywood maker in the world. Isn’t that enough?

Third, imagine holding constant this person’s skill, while increasing other workers’ skills, so that this person is now only of median quality. His subjective experience of working on the job would be similar, except he couldn’t feel superior to everyone else. Would his life be worth living then? That is, can status by itself make the difference between a life worth living and one not? If when he isn’t noticing his status, he has the same feeling of flow, immersion, and fascination in his work, wouldn’t that be enough for a life worth living?

Some of you probably see where I am going with this. Imagine we take the few hundred very best most dedicated workaholic humans, and fill a world with trillions of em copies of them, so that they are mostly working at near subsistence wages, yet have enough food, warmth, health, etc. Is this a world full of creatures with lives worth living?

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  • http://webtrough.wordpress.com DW

    Depressing if the highest achievement is only rewarded with subsistence wage.

    • Ray

      I don’t fully agree, and I think many “high achievers” would also disagree. From the high achievers I know, money is well down the list of their motivators. I’ve known people to live in very meager conditions and spend 12 hours or more every day working on something that moves them. They could easily find a job making 100k+ a year, doing something very similar, but without quite as much self direction (or maybe even with it), yet they don’t, because it’s just not a concern to them.

      • Noumenon

        Are you talking about people programming indie video games?

  • Doug

    Counter question: Are a trillion lives having experiencing very very similar mental states and subjective experiences morally worth the same as a trillion highly unique lives which run a far wider gamut of mind states?

  • Dremora

    What in the world would they do all day? What activities can be performed by trillions of high-speed people whose results can’t be replicated digitally (including material objects via additive manufacturing) or otherwise automated?

  • John Maxwell IV

    Additionally, we might even be able to fool the ems into thinking they are high status!

    Although, I’m skeptical of drawing intuitions from this movie because it seems unlikely that we would say a high status person’s life was not worth living.

  • Carl Shulman

    Or we could contrast to a world that has not burned the cosmic commons and resources are applied to produce orders of magnitude more experiences, and those are optimized for welfare, even at the expense of competitiveness.

    • Poelmo

      Noooooo, then the 0.1% would have to work for a living and we can’t have that!

  • Evan

    Robin, as an economist surely you are familiar with the concept of Diminishing Returns. If you create a ton of people who are all nearly the same their contribution to overall utility will gradually diminish. At the same time the fact that their existence will decrease average utility, which will lower overall utility.

    I used to think that I had to either embrace Total Utilitarianism and accept the Repugnant Conclusion, or Average Utilitarianism and accept that a world of one ecstatic person is better than a world of a trillion happy people. It was economists like you who taught me differently. Thomas Sowell introduced me to the concept of Categorical vs. Incremental values. I’m sure you already know what they are, but for your readers sake, a categorical value asks questions like “Which should we pick, X or Y?” and an incremental value asks “How much money should we spend on X and how much on Y?”

    I think you see where I’m going with this. I realized that choosing between total and average utility was a false dilemma. Both are morally valuable. That’s what’s wrong with the Repugnant Conclusion that you seem to accept. I was happy to discover that Alan Carter, a philosopher at Glasglow, had come to the same conclusions as I had. I think everyone who rejects the Repugnant Conclusion will realize, upon reflection, that it is their true rejection

    I think that because moral philosophy occurs in Far Mode, and Far Mode tends to oversimplify, we tend to think Categorically and believe we have to choose one value over another. Our detail oriented Near Mode thinks incrementally, so it causes us to recognize that the Repugnant Conclusion is Repugnant, even if we can’t vocalize why in Far Mode.

    That would be an excellent couple of posts for you Robin, Far is Categorical and Near is Incremental.

    So basically, Robin, your scenario is bad because it maximizes quantity of life at expense of quality, even if it doesn’t bump quality all the way down to “not worth living.”

    Some other concerns:
    In the present day Jiro’s existence benefits nearly everyone, the harm he does by increasing the price of resources is outweighed by the benefits he causes by lowering the price of good sushi. In a Malthusian world the existence of emJiro #585,235,932,633 would harm nearly everyone, the harm he did by increasing the price of resources would outweigh the benefits he caused by decreasing the price of good sushi.

    Nextly,

    Imagine we take the few hundred very best most dedicated workaholic humans, and fill a world with trillions of em copies of them, so that they are mostly working at near subsistence wages, yet have enough food, warmth, health, etc. Is this a world full of creatures with lives worth living?

    I am skeptical that the em revolution you describe would stop there. Wouldn’t ems willing to work for wages that would make them the em equivalent of hungry, cold, and starving have a huge evolutionary advantage? You might argue that that’s their revealed preference, but revealed preference is a terrible way to determine what people really value.

    Also, if I accept that you believe that copying is equivalent to life extension (I’m still on the fence, but you make some great points), then such a world would have vast inequality of lifespan. A few workaholics would live for quadrillions of years, while most other ems would have to settle for far less.

    Finally Doug says:

    Counter question: Are a trillion lives having experiencing very very similar mental states and subjective experiences morally worth the same as a trillion highly unique lives which run a far wider gamut of mind states?

    I agree with him. Diversity and novelty are valuable. Having most ems be of the same type of people would make life less interesting.

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

      I don’t think the em equivalent of cold and starving is very functional – for most jobs you’d get more work out of them per resource spent by having them feel at most just a bit cool or hungry.

  • RobS

    First, imagine that Jiro is not rich. He is still the very best, but he gives his sushi away. He has enough to eat, stays warm, and is healthy, but has few luxuries. But since he spends most of his time at the office, it probably doesn’t make that much difference to his quality of life if he is rich or poor

    .

    Agreed, his life is still worthwhile and admirable. He’s bringing enjoyment to people, he’s probably providing a role model to young aspiring sushi chefs, he’s pushing forward a skill, perhaps in a way that’s satisfying to his creative instincts (haven’t seen the film yet).

    Second, imagine someone with Jiro’s unsurpassed skill, overwhelming dedication, and fascination with their work, except that this person makes plywood, not sushi. Would that also be a life worth living? It would be a lower status life, as our culture lauds sushi chefs more than plywood makers. But he would still be the very best plywood maker in the world. Isn’t that enough?

    I’m not sure. It would be so idiosyncratic. In this counterfactual world are we to suppose there people who greatly appreciate plywood and are connoisseurs of it? If not, our plywood maker won’t be spreading pleasure and appreciation, so his work would indeed be of lesser value (and perhaps therefore less enjoyable to him).

    I don’t know much about plywood, but I suspect there’s a ceiling on how good it can get, whereas you can keep pushing sushi making to new levels of artistry and deliciousness.

    Third, imagine holding constant this person’s skill, while increasing other workers’ skills, so that this person is now only of median quality. His subjective experience of working on the job would be similar, except he couldn’t feel superior to everyone else. Would his life be worth living then? That is, can status by itself make the difference between a life worth living and one not? If when he isn’t noticing his status, he has the same feeling of flow, immersion, and fascination in his work, wouldn’t that be enough for a life worth living?

    Now you’ve lost me. There’s more of a difference between these situations than status:

    (1) In this situation Jiro would no longer be doing something unique. Uniqueness is of value and brings pleasure to people who seek out his sushi. If they can get the perfect sushi at the McSushi on every corner, it will become an everyday experience and therefore less valuable and less enjoyable for diners.

    (2) In this situation where Jiro is one of millions, he can no longer be said to be expressing his unique vision for sushi, and probably he wouldn’t find creative fulfilment. The creative instinct tells us to try to do things not just better than anyone else but differently. It tells us to take the art of sushi making forward in a way no one else could. This satisfaction and possibility of innovation would be removed in the new situation you describe.

    To put it another way, being a pioneer in a field is harder and more rewarding than just doing what others are doing.

    In summary, I don’t think the situation you describe is coherent because you’re not just changing Jiro’s status, you’re also changing the value of his work, as perceived by other people and as perceived by him, and you’re changing the nature of his work so he’s no longer a pioneer but an effective mimic.

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

      Yes, we are imagining that his work is seen as less valuable by others, and that he is less unique. But does that really make the difference between a life worth living vs. not?

      • Poelmo

        Yes, it does make a very big difference, maybe not enough for Jiro to want to kill himself but probably enough to make him unhappy about his work and willing to quit. If he is then forced to continue working then that’s slavery in all but name.

      • RobS

        Maybe not, but even a miserable life can be worth living.

        All I’m saying is that, if you’re going to be a workaholic, your work had better be special. A clone workaholic is just a sad idea. I’d say as a general principle: If work is going to be miserable for a person, that person deserves to have the spare time to have a worthwhile family and social life. If work is going to be great and self-actualising and all that, then maybe they’ll have to devote themselves to it more completely. Hence, 16 hour days on a production line appal the moral senses. 16 hour days working on a novel don’t.

        PS to anyone: I’ve joined this blog only recently and I may have made some faulty assumptions about what an em world would look like. Are they supposed to be purely software based? Who if anyone is supposed to remain in the physical world to look after power stations etc? Do theorists imagine that ems would be deemed morally on a level with flesh and blood people?

        Very interested to know if there are any books or papers discussing these practical considerations. My suspicion is that many people in these abstract discussion threads have quite different mental imagery going on and are therefore talking across each other…

  • http://modeledbehavior.com Karl Smith

    My short answer is yes.

    My still present concern is over what can be done to maximize the possibility that ems will have the preferences that Jiro does.

    I understand and agree that we expect in equilibrium the Jiro like Ems to dominate, however, there is model uncertainty and the stakes are quite high. I think its worth thinking about what policies increase that equilibrium.

    Just as an example, suppose some sort of regulation was passed for “Em equality” which was designed to make it difficult for a few original personalities to dominate the Em environment. This could be very damaging as many personalities may not be suited for the Em environment.

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

      Yes, regulations to limit who could be ems might backfire.

  • http://omicron-theta.blogspot.com/ Ari

    I’m sure many of those lives could be worth living. I don’t think that is even that important. But have you talked with moral philosophers and asked about their average opinion on whether such a Malthusian end is desirable, that is to what extent such situation is to be preferred to an alternative. Or some papers related to this like Kai Chan’s. Do you disagree with the moral philosophers, and why?

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

    If Jiro gave away his sushi, then Jiro’s sushi would go to those who could hire the most line standers.

    Eventually for-profit sushi producers would have employees stand in Jiro’s lines and take more of Jiro’s sushi than they could eat so that other consumers would have to purchase inferior sushi from for-profit sushi producers.

    These inferior for-profit sushi producers start a marketing campaign to convince consumers that Jiro’s sushi was inferior, and that is why Jiro was giving it away, because he couldn’t sell it. The people paid to stand in Jiro’s lines all agree that Jiro’s sushi is inferior but they lie and say they eat it because it is free.

    The for-profit sushi producers start rumors that Jiro’s facility is unsanitary. The lines to get Jiro’s sushi are shorter now, because only people hired to stand there do so. They still eat Jiro’s sushi, but make retching sounds as they do so. Fishermen no longer take their best fish to Jiro, they only take inferior fish. Eventually they stop taking Jiro any fish.

    Jiro’s only pleasure in life, providing the highest quality sushi to people so that they enjoy it, has been destroyed. Jiro loses the will to live, stops eating and dies.

    • nmbr

      This could be the basis for a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film!

  • Poelmo

    If you made billions of copies of these master craftsmen then their mastery would become meaningless since they go from being the very best to being average and that will probably demotivate them.

    Also, I can imagine Jiro finds the reward of a smiling customer and the recognition het gets enough to work for, but if he becomes merely one of billions of automatons working for soulless megacorporations, while never having contact with the customer anymore and not being known by anyone of them anymore he’ll probably want to quit.

  • Poelmo

    One more thing: good luck finding workaholics with a passion for digging holes or cleaning sewers…

    • Poelmo

      Another thing, will Jiro still be a workaholic after hundreds of years when he knows he will live forever and most of his life’s experiences now stem not from 1950s Japan (where hard work paid off and everyone did their part), but from some dystopian future where EMs are exploited by rich humans? I guess you could solve that “problem” by re-setting the Jiro EMs periodically but if we’re willing to do that we might just as well reinstate slavery while we’re at it.

  • Matt

    Why not? Why should our standard to be alive be so high? I mean, to fulfill self-actualization you would probably need to get more out of life, but that’s not the same as existing. My standard for existing is pretty low. Actually, it’s zero. Also, I think extreme workaholics’ brains work slightly different then the rest of ours, and I doubt they think of life in the terms you have described. I think very few workaholics would consider their own life not worth living.

    • Poelmo

      So if working as a slave in all but name is so great, why do you need someone else to do it for you, surely you would want to experience the pleasures of that lifestyle yourself, right?

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

        Some people are lucky enough to experience great pleasure from the workaholic lifestyle.

        Unfortunately there are a few poor saps (about 1% or 0.1% or so, depending on who you talk to) who are unable to do that. They can only experience that pleasure vicariously, by having other people work as workaholics. These people try to work, but they get so little pleasure from it that to compel themselves to work they must be paid 100x or 1000x as more than the very lucky people such as Jiro, who can derive their pleasure from work.

  • richard silliker

    Don’t know.

  • Confused

    I can’t see how this is different from taking clones and raising them to be happy slaves. Are their lives worth living? They would never have lived otherwise. Probably but I don’t want to be in a position to decide such things nor to encourage them.

  • Vaniver

    There’s a Warren Buffet quote that’s stuck with me: “Intensity is the price of excellence.”

    Jiro seems to exemplify that- he is about as intense as you can get, and unsurprisingly that makes him excel. But the excellence is what people respect / want for themselves, and the intensity is just one way to get it (which most people are not willing to undergo). If you try to argue that intensity is okay even once you remove the excellence, that’s like arguing pregnancy is okay even once you remove the baby. Some women report enjoying being pregnant, but for most of them pregnancy sucks and they’re glad when it’s over. Most women that choose to put up with it do so only because the value of a baby is higher than the cost of pregnancy. Suggest a way to get the costs without the value, and people will look at you askance.

  • raducu427

    no, not worthing, most of lives not worthin’ jiro or ems even less

  • Evan

    Robin says:

    I don’t think the em equivalent of cold and starving is very functional – for most jobs you’d get more work out of them per resource spent by having them feel at most just a bit cool or hungry.

    Let’s imagine that, in the present day, another chef called Saito shows up who is better at Jiro at sushi preparation in every way. The result: Saito competes with Jiro, causing Jiro’s wages and status to lower slightly.

    Now, let’s imagine Saito shows up in emWorld, where a billion emJiro’s exist who spend their time making sushi. The result: All the billion copies of emJiro are erased to make room on their mainframes’ hard drives for copies of emSaito. Maybe one or two emJiro copies survive because they own stock or land or something.

    Now let’s imagine that, in the present day, a new automated process is invented that can make sushi just as well as Jiro at his best. The result: Jiro retrains to make fugu or something and becomes nearly as awesome a fugu chef as he was a sushi chef.

    Let’s now imagine that in the future emWorld a new nonsentient software program is invented that can make sushi just as well as emJiro. The result: Nearly all the billion copies of emJiro are erased to make room for a nonsentient software program that can’t really be said to live, and therefore can’t have a life worth living. Maybe a few copies of emJiro that own land or stock survive and retrain to make fugu, allowing them to gradually rebuild their numbers. But they live in constant fear that a fugu-making program will be invented and the slaughter will repeat itself.

    Is a world where such mass slaughter can occur really a good world? Even if you don’t consider killing a copy of an em the same as killing a unique person, is this a good world? Does the constant nagging fear that such a thing might happen make the emJiro’s life less worth living?

    I think a good candidate for the em equivalent of “cold and hungry” would be the constant fear of being deleted if someone or something more talented at your job than you comes along.
    It seems to me that would cause an awful lot of pain, stress, and fear.

    Also, I would like to repeat my objection that I do not think “worth living” is the criteria by which we should judge whether or not to create a life. “Worth living” seems more like the criteria to judge whether mercy-killing someone is morally acceptable. It seems to me that once a decent number of lives worth living are in production it would be just as moral, or maybe even more moral, to focus on improving those lives, rather than make even more.

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

      People now have a wide range of attitudes to a Star Trek style transporter – some think it a horrible death, and others see it as like walking through a door. People can have a similarly wide range of attitudes toward temporary copies. It is those who think it no big deal that will populate the em world.

      • Poelmo

        Then what will keep those ruthless EMs (or humans) from executing humans they don’t consider to be efficient enough?

        How will you justify a law that says killing billions of EMs is OK, but killing a single human isn’t, do you really expect EMs to be fine with that? They run the economy and can hack into any computer with their thoughts, so it wouldn’t be wise to ignore their opinions.

    • Dremora

      Let’s now imagine that in the future emWorld a new nonsentient software program is invented that can make sushi just as well as emJiro.

      It seems obvious to me that in a world that can copy people, experiences are routinely copied too. The experience to eat world-class sushi is one of the first things that will be in a free experience library online, to be freely used by trillions. This will be true for all kinds of art, experiences, and physical designs to print by 3D printing or nanomanufacturing. If property rights are preserved, and rent-seeking from owning a share of a dyson sphere, asteroid mining facility etc. works profitably, the owners will not pay other ems to do hard work. They will primarily copy themselves as often as possible, with the sole purpose of having them experience the best experiences possible, over and over again, in a rich diversity that can be copied freely. Which means the vast majority of ems won’t work at all, they’ll be happy leisure copies of stuff-owners.

      Unless everybody’s drowned in zero-sum games. Lawyers lawyering up against other lawyers, hackers hacking other hackers, military people killing other military people. Let’s hope the fraction of this phenomenon will be limited. In that case, I can’t see who the malthusian scenario is realistic.

      What am I missing?

  • http://eradica.wordpress.com Firepower

    This is one of the few blogs that actually stimulates my brain, so:

    Robin Hanson

    Imagine we take the few hundred very best most dedicated workaholic humans, and fill a world with trillions of em copies of them, so that they are mostly working at near subsistence wages, yet have enough food, warmth, health, etc. Is this a world full of creatures with lives worth living?

    Such a world is not worth living in; that world is only worth surviving in.

    Those fortunate few, who eat sushi made by an expert one day, then go on to buy shoes from a calfskin shoemaking-expert the next, are those with lives worth LIVING.

    But, then again, this is the current situation of the world.

    Jiro makes sushi
    At Paris Hilton’s party
    They mock his wages

  • Mark M

    A world filled with trillions of Ems, every one of them over-achieving work-a-holics, and all of them poor?

    How does that happen?

    Worth living? In whose judgment? Everyone who doesn’t truly want to end their life believes their life is worth living.

  • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

    What is required to subjectively find life meaningful? Roy Baumeister proposes a framework consisting of four “needs for meaning” humans experience; satisfy those, and you have a well-functioning human who’s convinced that life is worth living:

    Based on a review of empirical findings on a broad array of topics including love, work, religion, culture, suicide, and parenthood, Baumeister [Meanings of Life, 1991] concluded that the human experience is shaped by four needs for meaning, which can be understood as four ingredients or criteria of a meaningful life. First, a sense of purpose is reached when people perceive their current activities as relating to future outcomes, so that current events draw meaning from possible future conditions. Second, people desire feelings of efficacy. People feel efficacious when they perceive that they have control over their outcomes and that they can make a difference in some important way. Third, people want to view their actions as having positive value or as being morally justified. That is, people are motivated to act in a way that reflects some positive moral value, or at least to interpret their behavior as conforming to ideals and standards of what is approved and acceptable. Fourth, people want a sense of positive self-worth. They seek ways of establishing that they are individuals with desirable traits. Finding some way of believing oneself to be better than other people seems to be a common form of this need for meaning. [Italics in original; bolded emphasis mine.]

    Status (feeling superior to others) is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of finding life meaningful. Slaves, socially considered the lowest of the low, were able to find life meaningful by defining themselves as superior to other groups of slaves (Christians v. heathens, etc.), or as superior morally to their masters, or as superior to certain non-slaves (hence the term “white trash,” which Baumeister notes was probably created by slaves to distinguish them as superior to poor whites.)

    It only seems necessary to feel superior to others, not to actually be superior by some objective measure. So the cheery optimist might propose that everyone could subjectively feel superior to someone by lying to themselves – and self-deception in that direction does seem to be required for happy mental functioning. It seems at counter purposes to the mission of this blog, though.

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

    In all of this discussion on whether sentient entities have “lives worth living”, why is the effort focused on creation or destruction of entities and not on trying to ensure an environment where all (or even more) entities have “lives worth living”?

    In the case of Jiro, he has simple needs. It would be pretty easy to increase the “worth” of his life. A few kind words, sufficient nutritious food, a decent place to live and work, neighbors, associates and friends who care about him, free time to recover from the stress of his work.

    Why is the discussion focused on ways to reduce Jiro’s quality of life to the bare minimum?

    My explanation is that this discussion isn’t really about entities like Jiro, it is about what is the minimum level of quality of life that the 99% can be allowed to have, as if the only threshold that matters is whether the life is worth living, or not.

    This is the metric that bullies use. They don’t want (or say they don’t want) their victims to have such a poor quality of life that they kill themselves, they just want to make their victims a little worse off. The bully wants plausible deniability that the bullying they did wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back and drove them to suicide. As if that is all that matters.

    This is really about exploitation. How much can entities be exploited to deliver the most benefit to their employers at the lowest wage, not to deliver an acceptable (or even high) quality of life to more or even most entities.

    Reasoning that “even overworked slaves want to remain alive”, does not justify working entities so hard that they are on the verge of being suicidal.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Poelmo, Robin Hanson has a paper on burning the cosmic commons. There is no 0.1% aristocracy, just masses of hardscrapple Malthusian ems. Any entity that doesn’t expend all its “wealth” in maximizing reproduction is outbred by those who do.

    Evan, the Repugnant Conclusion comes from repeated steps. At every step you have an incremental decision to make. So what steps would you take and when?

    daedalus2u, I am confused as to why you have Jiro giving away sushi for free, since that’s neither done by the actual Jiro nor Hanson’s hypotheticals. In the absence of price rationing you are right to expect line-waiters. But we don’t see your scenario too often in real life because for-profit producers endeavor to get good reviews and spread word-of-mouth. They might give out free samples, and in that case people would find out that the line-waiters were lying. Also how often do people just cease eating voluntarily and die? Anorexics might die inadvertently, but others I’d expect to commit suicide in a quicker way.

    Poelmo, good point about trying to fill low-status jobs. That’s why I agree with Jeffrey Friedman’s “There Is No Substitute For Profit and Loss”.
    Regarding ems killing humans, Robin has previous said we can rely on the legal system. But it would be rather tempting for ems and it’s likely they would come to develop an ingroup identity which excluded meatbags. On the other hand, they might become “bred” for domestication.

    daedalus2u, the reason the focus is on the creation of more entities is because that’s what Hanson expects natural selection to produce in the absence of a singleton, because he doesn’t think our coordination ability is high enough to produce a singleton.

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

      Jiro giving away his sushi for free was part of Hansen’s scenario.

      First, imagine that Jiro is not rich. He is still the very best, but he gives his sushi away. He has enough to eat, stays warm, and is healthy, but has few luxuries. But since he spends most of his time at the office, it probably doesn’t make that much difference to his quality of life if he is rich or poor.

      There are issues with giving away things for free. Google recently lost an unfair trade lawsuit in France brought by map sellers because it gave google-maps away for free, and was ordered to pay damages. M$ giving Internet Explorer away for free was part of their business strategy to maintain their monopoly in operating systems and extend it to the browser market. By giving IE away for free and subsidizing it with profits from their OS business, they would prevent any for profit entity from entering the browser market.

      For profit producers usually don’t strive for excellence, they strive for monopoly power. You can get monopoly power through excellence, but it is a lot easier to get it through collusion, trickery, fraud, bribery, co-option of regulators, acquisition of competitors or other unfair trading practices.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

        You’re right, he does mention giving away for free, which is different from the em scenario he mentions later where they are working for subsistence wages. I’m now puzzled why he introduced the zero-price hypothetical.

        It’s funny that you bring up I.E, because my windows computers have continued to come with it pre-installed, yet its user share has dropped like a rock!

        Where do you think excellence tends to come from?

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

        I think that excellence comes from individuals who want to achieve excellence, not from capitalists who want to make a lot of profit.

        Many people are like Jiro, and want to do the best that they can, particularly if it is a job that they love. Much of their satisfaction comes from pride of workmanship, not what they are paid. Capitalists take advantage of this and pay wages below the value of the work because people get personal satisfaction too. This is one of the reasons that teachers are paid such low wages. Some people love to teach children, and will tolerate low wages and terrible conditions and still love to teach children.

        What companies are associated with excellence? I can think of only two offhand, Polaroid and Apple.

        Both of them were dependent on a CEO who made excellence an important criteria. There are plenty of companies that make more money and who are run by CEOs who get paid a lot more, but excellence isn’t measured in terms of profit.

        Would Jiro sell sushi that had gone bad? Would a for-profit sushi seller?

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

        I don’t believe Sukiyabashi Jiro is a non-profit, thus it is for-profit. But I’m using for-profit in the legalistic/categorical sense, whereas you seem to be talking about personal motivation.

        There’s a question of the degree to which nominally for-profit organizations actually do have that motivation. Entrepreneurs start businesses because they have a plan, but typically need to promise profits to investors. In a publicly owned corporation there is supposed to be a fiduciary duty to shareholders, but agency problems result in them often being poorly represented. Robin has already mentioned mergers that tend to be bad for the business. Karl Smith used to use Apple as an example of a company that just sat on cash because they refused to pay out dividends, but he can still use Microsoft as an example of a company that wastes money trying to stay relevant and compete with superior companies when they should just expend their assets and cash flow on dividends to their shareholders.

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

        There is a difference between being “for profit” and being “for rapacious profits”.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    True happiness is finding your highest value, which is generally where you are most appreciated, because this necessarily maximizes your potential. Now, one is probably never on their ‘global maximum’, but local max is pretty good. I suppose any skill that can be described really well can in theory be replaced by a machine, but a lot of life is timing: specific skills have very different values each decade, but general skills are more stable.

    I do think monomaniacal experts are not as interesting or worthy of emulation as those who can see the context around them, appreciating others, etc. Moderation in all things.

    The universe is infinite and individuals are finite, so if you want to matter to the universe as an individual you are doomed. You don’t have to be essential to be important, but you do have to matter to some people. Striving to be above average is therefore a good intermediate goal.

  • Evan

    Robin says:

    People now have a wide range of attitudes to a Star Trek style transporter – some think it a horrible death, and others see it as like walking through a door. People can have a similarly wide range of attitudes toward temporary copies. It is those who think it no big deal that will populate the em world.

    I doubt that very much. Who do you think will work harder, a person who thinks it’s no big deal if they are deleted because another copy exists somewhere, or a person who is terrified of being deleted because they think it will kill them? I know that if I was a ruthless and heartless corporation I’d hire ems who thought deletion was a horrible death. They’d be so terrified of being deleted that they’d work themselves to the bone.

    I doubt ems that see deletion as no big deal will have an easy time finding jobs. There’d just be too much competition from the haggard, terrified ems that are willing to work themselves to the point of death to avoid being erased.

    @Sister Y:

    It only seems necessary to feel superior to others, not to actually be superior by some objective measure. So the cheery optimist might propose that everyone could subjectively feel superior to someone by lying to themselves – and self-deception in that direction does seem to be required for happy mental functioning. It seems at counter purposes to the mission of this blog, though.

    It isn’t necessary for people to deceive themselves. All they need to do is feel superior to other people at something that they deem important while the other people are superior at something else they deem important. They don’t need to feel superior to others in every conceivable way. All we need to do is make sure everyone feels superior is for some people to be superior at X and inferior in Y and other people to be superior at Y and inferior in X.

    The Robber’s cave experiment provides a good example of this. One group of boys thought they were superior at being tough and manly, the other group thought they were superior at being pure and religious. Both were objectively superior in those attributes, and both derived meaning from their superiority. The fact that neither group had absolute superiority over the other did not bother them.

    @TGGP

    Evan, the Repugnant Conclusion comes from repeated steps. At every step you have an incremental decision to make. So what steps would you take and when?

    I would determine the point where population will reach such a size that drain each person places on their society’s wealth will soon begin to exceed the amount of new wealth they create by increasing division of labor. I would establish that as a Schelling Point and stop population growth there.

    It’s no different from stopping littering. Each person has an incremental decision to make, and each of those decisions won’t do a lot of harm by itself (honestly, what’s just one more bottle on the side of the road?). But those millions of incremental decisions added up cause a bad scenario no one wants (roadsides covered in garbage). So society establishes a Schelling point (don’t litter at all, in this case).

    In the Mere Addition Paradox itself, I would simply deny that A+ is necessarily better than A, since the two populations added together would have both lower average utility and lower equality of utility than A.

    In terms of resource percentages, I haven’t got an exact number nailed down, but as a ballpark estimate based on intuition, I would say that if a society gains control of some new resources, it should use no more than 50% of those resources to create new people and no more than 90% of them to improve the lives of existing people. In other words, spend 90%-50% on average utility, 10%-50% on total utility. It may be acceptable to spend more on increasing the population if the population is so small it is at risk of extinction but otherwise increasing quality of life is at least as important as increasing quantity.

    @daedelus2u

    My explanation is that this discussion isn’t really about entities like Jiro, it is about what is the minimum level of quality of life that the 99% can be allowed to have, as if the only threshold that matters is whether the life is worth living, or not.

    No, Robin is making speculations about the moral nature of a hypothetical future society. He is not trying to secretly slip pro-rich people propaganda into this post. Or any of his posts for that matter. I think you are just really interested in talking about the negative behavior of rich people and are reading this into Robin’s post because it gives you an opportunity to expound on it.

    Reasoning that “even overworked slaves want to remain alive”, does not justify working entities so hard that they are on the verge of being suicidal.

    I agree with you here. But Robin does not. He believes that as long as most people have enough resources that their lives are “barely worth living” that it is always morally better to use excess resources to create new people, rather than improve the lives of existing people.

    Robin holds this belief for philosophical reasons, not because he is a shill for the rich. If I were to attribute any ulterior motive to him it would be that his beliefs allow him to make many novel, unique, and unorthodox moral arguments that signal much more intelligence than a more normal moral position would. But even in that case, his views should be evaluated independently of the history of their formation.

    • Dremora

      I doubt ems that see deletion as no big deal will have an easy time finding jobs.

      But the type of em that includes copies in their identity concept will be more likely to use resources to create such copies with the purpose of having them be happy. If total wealth increases (as Hanson suggests) and ems work for others in a market with property rights, then there must be stuff-owners (Hanson imagines trillionaires) who are swimming in wealth. Those are most likely to use that wealth to spawn leisure copies of themselves. Imagine you live in that era and you are very wealthy. What else would you do with the resources?

    • mjgeddes

      He is not trying to secretly slip pro-rich people propaganda into this post. Or any of his posts for that matter.

      I personally think Hanson is yet another example of a very smart person who believes very weird things. It’s clear the Em scenarios are the product of a Libertarian bias (i.e., the scenarios painted is just Libertarianism carried through to its extreme logical conclusions). It only sounds plausible to ideologes, to most other people its madness (in fact, it’s a good reductio ad absurdum of pure Libertarianism).

      • Evan

        @Dremore

        But the type of em that includes copies in their identity concept will be more likely to use resources to create such copies with the purpose of having them be happy.

        I would not want to make copies of myself for the purpose of being happy unless the copies could share the memories of the fun things they did. Robin speculates that, while ems will be able to share memories eventually, there will be a long period at the beginning of the Em Era when it is impossible. He also states that his analysis is primarily focused on the pre-memory-sharing era and much of it will not apply once memory sharing is developed.

        @mjgeddes

        It’s clear the Em scenarios are the product of a Libertarian bias (i.e., the scenarios painted is just Libertarianism carried through to its extreme logical conclusions). It only sounds plausible to ideologes, to most other people its madness (in fact, it’s a good reductio ad absurdum of pure Libertarianism).

        I am currently a moderate consequentialist libertarian, but I will become much less libertarian when ems are invented because I agree with you that Robin’s scenario is mad. I believe that the “natural regulation” that it is impossible to mass produce people is one of the things that makes libertarian capitalism produce morally positive results. If that regulation is “repealed” by scientific progress the consequences would be disastrous. Hopefully it can be replaced by a legal regulation that restricts em reproduction.

        Out of curiosity, what do you find implausible, the belief that Robin’s scenario is likely to happen, or the his belief that such a scenario is morally good? I find Robin’s scenario to be morally awful, but believe that it is very technologically plausible and a likely path for the future development. The only assumption of his I find at all implausible is his belief that there will be a relatively long period of time between the invention of ems and the invention of things like memory-merging, sideloading, and de novo AI.

      • mjgeddes

        Out of curiosity, what do you find implausible, the belief that Robin’s scenario is likely to happen, or the his belief that such a scenario is morally good?

        The latter of course, the scenario is morally repulsive.

        I believe that the “natural regulation” that it is impossible to mass produce people is one of the things that makes libertarian capitalism produce morally positive results. If that regulation is “repealed” by scientific progress the consequences would be disastrous. Hopefully it can be replaced by a legal regulation that restricts em reproduction.

        I think a few more regulations than that are needed. Libertarianism is in need of more serious ‘philosophical surgery’ here ;) In a future of uploads and AIs, a Singleton will have to get control of and regulate the whole environment of natural resources and living things in my view, to prevent not only unchecked population growth, but also catastrophic monoplies of space-time-computational resources and burning of the commons.

        The political philosophy of Georgism could be a far more better model for such a future than conventional Libertarianism in my view.

  • Dremora

    @Evan

    I would not want to make copies of myself for the purpose of being happy unless the copies could share the memories of the fun things they did.

    Well, I would. Apparently you’re one of the people who don’t include copies into their identity concept – the distinction between those who consider Star Trek style transporting to be a form of death and those who are rational enough to see why it is not would also shape motivations in the em era. Who, of the two mental phenotypes, do you think will spawn the most copies? Who will spawn the happiest? If you’re one of the em trillionaires Hanson dreams about, what will you do with the computation? You obviously run yourself as fast as possible, but that has downsides and diminishing returns. You pay other ems to do some stuff, but as mentioned above, there’s only so much you can meaningfully have them do without playing absurd zero-sum games. After all, art and design, including that of material objects, can be copied. So an obvious way of investing resources is existence donations to other ems, or creating more copies of yourself who are not doing near subsistence work but enjoying themselves. The majority of ems in the system will be leisure copies of rich people.

    • Evan

      I consider an em copy “me.” However, I consider creating a copy for the purposes of fun and never sharing memories with it equivalent to adding extra years of fun to my life and then erasing the memories of the fun I had during those years.

      That might be worthwhile if it’s productive fun, like writing a novel or doing science research, but why create an em to read a book or go to an amusement park?

      • Dremora

        I was more thinking of the best possible sex or superstimulus narrative, or maybe drug high, but yeah, why not go to an amusement park.

        Isn’t the reason obvious? You’d do it for the same reason you now do these things: They are fun.

      • Dremora

        and then erasing the memories

        Sorry, I didn’t quite address this. If you only counted the memories of experiences, not the experiences themselves, you would run out of luck as soon as it became clear all memories will eventually cease to exist. If the inevitable increase in entropy holds, all of us will definitely one day die, and then all memories of all good and bad experiences will inevitably die with us. Unless you think that the experiences themselves, in those regions of space and time in which they exist, have value, fun shouldn’t count at all.

  • gwern0

    The term _shokunin_ seems like it could be useful to repurpose to describe just highly dedicated ems.

    (Only just got around to watching & reviewing it: http://lesswrong.com/lw/cst/june_2012_media_thread/6qo2#body_t1_7epw )