Are Workaholics Human?

I might better ask “Are workaholic lives worth living?” — I’m taking about “human” here in the sense that we call “inhuman” people who do things we disrespect, or whose lives lack enough input from the “humanities.” The question is: are the lives of the workaholics around you are within an order of magnitude of being worth as much as typical human lives?

Why ask this? Because this is a key issue for judging if the coming em (whole brain emulation) revolution is glorious or horrifying. I’ve talked about how there’d be a huge em population and that wages would quickly fall to near “subsistence” level. But the images that the word “subsistence” brings to mind often mislead people here I think.

This isn’t world of much famine, disease, war, or pain, of severe isolation, or of drawing-with-sticks-in-the-dust level entertainment. The costs of high bandwidth long-distance communication and vast detailed arbitrarily-luxurious virtual reality would be small compared to the cost of just running an em brain, so the main limits to em enjoyment would be status and time. If you want something because it is in short supply, you may well not get it. And among all the humans available for scanning, the first generation of ems would select for humans who are both very productive, and willing to work very hard. So ems would be world-class-capable workaholics who stop working not much longer than needed to recuperate and rest.

I’ve known quite a few workaholics (many are engineers), and it seems to me that, compared to average lives, workaholic lives are usually no less than half as worth living, and often far more. To me, such folks are quite recognizably human, expressing qualities I respect, and many of the values celebrated in the “humanities.” Yes, workaholics consume fewer stories, and spend less time in idle conversation and play, and ems bodies would alienate them a bit more from their distant human ancestors and feelings. But since such ems seem to me quite “human” with lives well worth living, that suggests the em revolution is more glorious than horrifying.

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