A Survey Question

Here is a simple one question survey that I’d like to get a hundred or so folks to answer. It is a surprisingly interesting question, and I have a bet with Bryan Caplan on it, but I won’t say more now, so as not to bias your answer.

Added 9p: The survey(s) are now closed.  I did three of them:  a few of my facebook friends, 100 folks via Survey Monkey, and 1000 folks via Quick Survey . The question was “In a popular book with a modestly technical readership, what word should be used to refer to the set that includes both humans and artificial/robot intelligences?” Here are answer counts:

FB SM QS Total
Sentients 0 20 282 302
Intelligent Agents 3 29 238 270
Agents 26 35 181 242
Intelligences 17 23 176 216
Entitites 1 8 98 107
Sapients 0 8 90 98
Beings 1 8 86 95
Turings 2 1 82 85
Actors 1 8 60 69
Persons 5 6 52 63
People 1 6 38 45
Players 1 1 22 24
Folks 3 1 16 20
Creatures 3 4 10 17
Souls 0 1 14 15
Total  64  159  1445  1668


My bet with Bryan was on if a larger survey would confirm the initial small fb survey. He was right that results changed lots – the final winning item got no votes initially!  The initial survey put the temporarily leading items at the top of the list, while the other surveys randomized the order each time. Also in the initial survey, people could see three comments saying sentients is an incorrect term relative to sapients.

Right now its a hard to imagine filling a book with phrases like “a population of roughly a quadrillion sentients.” But perhaps I’d warm to it. And it would flow smoother than the “intelligent agents” phrase. A term like “sentients” probably wouldn’t make Bryan happy though; he wants a term agnostic on if robots are really conscious.

I’m struck by just how varied are people’s intuitions on how to talk about and compare humans and robots.

Added 9Sept: Bryan is ok with using “sentients”, to avoid reader confusion. That helps me warm to it.

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