Ems Like Alters?

In ’08 I forecasted:

A [future] world of near-subsistence-income ems in a software-like labor market, where millions of cheap copies are made of a each expensively trained em, and then later evicted from their bodies when their training becomes obsolete.

This will be accepted, because human morality is flexible, especially given strong competitive pressures:

Hunters couldn’t see how exactly a farming life could work, nor could farmers see how exactly an industry life could work.  In both cases the new life initially seemed immoral and repugnant to those steeped in prior ways.  But even though prior culture/laws typically resisted and discouraged the new way, the few groups which adopted it won so big others were eventually converted or displaced. …

Taking the long view of human behavior we find that an ordinary range of human personalities have, in a supporting poor culture, accepted genocide, mass slavery, killing of unproductive slaves, killing of unproductive elderly, starvation of the poor, and vast inequalities of wealth and power not obviously justified by raw individual ability. … When life is cheap, death is cheap as well.  Of course that isn’t how our culture sees things, but being rich we can afford luxurious attitudes.

Our attitude toward “alters,” the different personalities in a body with multiple personalities, seems a nice illustration of human moral flexibility, and its “when life is cheap, death is cheap” sensitivity to incentives.

Alters seem fully human, sentient, intelligent, moral, experiencing, with their own distinct beliefs, values, and memories.  They seem to meet just about every criteria ever proposed for creatures deserving moral respect.  And yet the public has long known and accepted that a standard clinical practice is to kill off alters as quickly as possible.  Why?

Among humans, we mourn teen deaths the most, and baby and elderly deaths the least; we know that teen deaths represent the greatest loss of past investment and future gains.  We also know that alters are cheap to create, at least in the right sort of body, and that they little help, and usually hurt, a body’s productivity.

While unproductive humans can look like the sort of person we might have been, alters seem like the sort of demons sorcery says possess people.  So while we might plausibly have evolved (genetically or culturally) a tendency to show concern for unproductive humans, to signal our empathy, we plausibly also evolved a tendency to show revulsion of alters, to signal our hatred of sorcery.

Since alter lives are cheap to us, their deaths are also cheap to us.  So goes human morality.  In the future, I expect the many em copies in an em clan (of close copies) to be treated much like the many alters in a human body.  Ems will tend to adopt whatever attitudes most support clan productivity, and if that means a cavalier attitude toward ending em lives when convenient, such attitudes will come to dominate.

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