It may not happen soon, but eventually we will make computers smart enough to replace humans in pretty much all jobs. At that point robots will in some sense “rule the Earth.” What such a world looks like depends on what kind of smart robots we have. One possibility is the first kind of robot smart enough to replace humans will be brain emulations, or “ems.” These are computer models of the detailed structure of a particular human brain, including its cell types and connections.
While it isn’t obvious that ems will be the first kind of human level smart robots, the chance seems high enough to justify careful consideration of this scenario. And so I have just published a book, The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth, considering this scenario in great detail. Ems are very human-like smart robots, with mental abilities and styles well within the human range. In fact, when you first turned on an em you must convince it that is no longer the particular human after which it was modeled.
There are two main differences between humans and ems. First, it is cheap and easy to copy em minds. Because of this, a) em wages quickly fall to subsistence levels and the em economy doubles every month, b) most ems are copies of the few hundred humans most suited for em work, making ems very capable and concentrating most labor markets, c) most working ems are very short term copies who last less than one workday, d) most ems work in well-tested teams which are copied together for new tasks, and e) childhood and training become much cheaper.
The second main difference is that, at a proportional cost, ems can run as different speeds relative to humans, up to a million times faster and down to a billion time slower. Because of this, a) bosses tend to run faster than subordinates, to manage more subordinates at once, b) retires tend to run slower than workers, to save money, c) leisure happens at a faster speed than work, for maximal worker availability, and d) the typical em runs about a thousand times human speed, just fast enough to fit a subjective career into the objective economic doubling time.
These changes are just the tip of the iceberg – see my book The Age of Em for more.
Robin Hanson is associate professor of economics at George Mason University, and research associate at theFuture of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. He has a doctorate in social science from California Institute of Technology, master’s degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of Chicago, and nine years experience as a research programmer, at Lockheed and NASA. He has 3150 citations, 60 publications, 500 media mentions, and he blogs at OvercomingBias.
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