Robin Hanson asks

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.


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.

For those not up on the lingo, Ems are robots made by copying human brains. There are reasons to think copying human brains may be a lot easier than programming smart robots from scratch.

The thorny issue is that then the minds of these Ems will have all of the properties of human minds, including the capacity for joy and suffering. If we think most of these ems will lead good lives then that’s a wonderful thing. If we think most of them will lead bad lives then it’s a horrible thing.

What economic analysis suggests is that most of them will live lives that are relatively heavy on work and short on play. Is that a good life?

Well as Robin suggests if we get ems that are workaholics it probably will be. In my mind this puts some premium on making sure we Em the right people and that we understand what makes them tick.

If I am reading Robin correctly he’s suggesting that either that it will be natural to pick people who like to work, or that through competitive pressure Ems made from those people will come to dominate the population of Ems.

This makes sense but there is an alternative concern. What about folks who are willing to work hard and be productive under stress but don’t really enjoy it. They would rather live lives of philosophical contemplation but if the choice is work or starve (or be deleted) they will work hard and work well.

Its not immediately clear that choice by the original scanners or competitive selection pressures will drive these people out of the population. It could also be the case that selection chooses people who are driven by discontentment to strive for economic status that it will be impossible for everyone to share.