What a world run by virtual humans will be like

Robin Hanson gives a Ted talk

Economist Robin Hanson is the latest to weigh in on the thorny questions accompanying the future of AI, but approaches it with the tools of a macroeconomist to describe how emulated human brains—or as he calls them, "ems"—will interact with us in the economy of the future.

What Hanson predicts: In a recent Ted Talk, Hanson argues that in a world in which we have figured out how to recreate the human brain using computers, human labor will instantaneously become obsolete, because "they just can't compete" with artificial brains that will be as capable as the most intelligent humans (though not more so, as Hanson is not theorizing about the so-called "singularity" when artificial intelligence becomes super-human).

  • Because human emulations will be so productive, the economy will grow at unprecedented rates, making humans collectively very rich.
  • But because most "humans today don't actually own that much besides their ability to work," Hanson argues, we need to devise ways to share wealth in the future, or "most humans will starve."

Why we shouldn't worry that artificial intelligence will destroy humans: Hanson says emulated brains will not "kill us all and take our stuff" for the same reason we allow unproductive retirees to live in peace today. These computers will be created to be like us, and will share the same empathy and affection for humans that we do. At the same time, it will be in the AIs interest to keep human populations alive — killing us would disrupt the very institutions — governments, courts, and voluntary organizations—that bind together society and the economy. What will ems be like: Emulated humans will be modeled after the most productive humans, like Olympic gold medalists, Nobel Prize winners, or Fortune 500 CEOs. But because they won't face the same biological limits to processing speed the human brain faces, their artificial brains will operate much more quickly than ours, to the point that time moves much more slowly to them than it does to us. Ems will need resources like materials to make hardware and cooling apparatuses, just as humans need food and shelter.Ems will be very poor, however, because they will be able to replicate themselves much faster than the economy will grow. They will earn subsistence-level wages just as the vast majority of humans have throughout history. Therefore, ems will be working most of the time. The human race will adapt: The transition between a world of biological intelligence to artificial intelligence could be a rocky one, but it's likely that humans will decide to become ems themselves by artificially recreating their own brains, putting "humans" on a level playing field with their artificial bretheren.

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