Chace on Age of Em

Soon after I reviewed Calum Chace’s book, he reviewed mine:

I can’t remember ever reading a book before which I liked so much, while disagreeing with so much in it. This partly because the author is such an amiable fellow. .. The writing style is direct, informal and engaging ..  And the book addresses an important subject: the future.

As we disagree on much, I’ll just jump in and start replying.

Robin’s insistence that AI is making only modest advances, and will generate nothing much of interest before uploading arrives, seems dogmatic.

Given two events, my estimating that one is more likely to happen first seems to me no more dogmatic than Chace estimating the opposite.

Because of this claim, he is highly critical of the view that technological unemployment will be widespread in the next few decades. Fair enough, he might be right, but obviously I doubt it. He is also rather dismissive of major changes in society being caused by virtual reality, augmented reality, the internet of things, 3D printing, self-driving cars, and all the other astonishing technologies being developed and introduced as we speak.

I don’t dismiss such changes; they are welcome, and some will happen and matter. I just don’t see them as sufficient reason to think “this time is different” regarding massive job loss; the past saw changes of similar magnitudes.

He seems to think that when the first ems are created, they will very quickly be perfect replications of the target human minds. It seems to me more likely that we will create a series of approximations of the target person.

The em era starts when ems are cheaper than humans for most jobs. Yes of course imperfect emulations come first, but they are far less useful on most jobs. Consider that humans under the influence of recreational drugs are really quite good emulations of normal humans, yet they are much less valuable on most jobs. So emulations need to be even better than that to be very useful.

The humans in this world are all happy to be retired, and have the ems create everything they need. I think the scenario of radical abundance is definitely achievable, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, and I would imagine much more interaction – good and bad – between ems and humans than Robin seems to expect.

I don’t understand what kinds of interaction Chace thinks I expect less than he does here.

A couple of smaller but important comments. Robin thinks ems will be intellectually superior to most humans, not least because they will be modelled on the best of us. He therefore thinks they will be religious. Apart from the US, always an exceptional country, the direction of travel in that regard is firmly in the other direction.

In the book I gave citations on religious behavior correlating with work productivity. If someone has contrary citations, I’m all ears.

And space travel. Robin argues that we will keep putting off trying to colonise the stars because whenever you send a ship out there, it would always be overtaken by a later, cheaper one which benefits from better technology. This ignores one of the main reasons for doing it: to improve our chances of survival by making sure all our eggs aren’t in the one basket that is this pale blue dot.

I didn’t say no one would go into space; I pointed out that high interest rates discourage all long term projects, all else equal, including space projects.

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