Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Emulated Horror

So one interesting blog I've been introduced to, Overcoming Bias, has been running a number of discussions about producing simulated humans, which can run copies of the brains of educated people, so that companies can immediately hire the copy, as it doesn't need to go through the extensive educating process that most people would have to. The author seems to think that this scenario is, essentially, inevitable. But I find it horrible. Allow me to elaborate.

In the scenario, emulated people must "rent" bodies. These bodies function the same as my biological human one, but merely being "born" (Ie: copied) does not give you ownership of your body. If the emulated person fails to pay rent, they get evicted. Without a backup of some kind, this would be death for them. Now in a good economy, this death is unlikely, as the emulated person is "born" educated and ready to work at a high paying job.

Now presumably, the original controls when copies are made. None of the scenarios described how copy-making is controlled, but obvious problems can be found if corporations were able to "copy" people against their own will.

However, the economy doesn't always stay good. Let's say I make ten copies of myself, and all eleven of us get computing jobs. Then the market changes. There is a depression. Some of the companies decide that they can no longer afford parts of their IT department, and 5 of us lose their jobs. There's no IT work to be found, and the replacement job at McDonalds isn't quite paying enough. The copies are behind on payment. Uh oh, here comes the collection agency, here to kill you and steal you body and brain!

I don't think my copies are going quietly. Aside from stealth movement out of the country, they'd probably resist attempts to erase their brain. Fairly violently, if need be. It's hard to claim it's not justified, seeing as failure would mean death. Now you have five people who have no reason to cooperate with society anymore. This is a bad thing.

Aside from that, I also predict that it would utterly commoditize labor. Let me bring up two profiles of prospective workers. Pretend you're a hiring manager, looking for a new IT worker.

The first one is a famous, well-known man, has worked for MIT, IBM, and Kerberos. He has made many contributions to the Linux kernel, including the filesystem, but also has considerable experience with Windows and Macintoshes. He's had near-continuous working experience since 1990, and thanks to the copying technology, a new copy wants to work for you.

Our second candidate just graduated. He's had on and off jobs, but nothing serious. He's in bad standing with some of his clubs, which he hopes to pay the respective fines soon. He doesn't like his current job -- he thinks his boss's habit of making sure he comes in on time is insufferably fussy. Your company specializes in his latest major, which is why he's interested in the job. Actually, the original version of him got hired by a small company, which inspired him to make the copy, which is now providing you his resume.

The first candidate is Theodore T'So, legendary programmer. The second is from a deliberately bad resume that I dug up to demonstrate a somewhat more ordinary candidate. (I wanted an ordinary, just graduated student, but found no such resumes. Curious.)

In a world with emulated people, I imagine everyone is going to want the legendary candidates, and nobody is going to want the ordinary kind. Depending on how many copies Mr. T'so makes of himself, they might or might not fulfill this. With the market saturated with legendary workers, wages go down, and opportunities will be hard to come by. The surplus of skilled jobs will go away now that there are more skilled people to work them, never mind that these new people are simulated. For the non-legendary, there are few opportunities, and society offers you little. Chaos ensues as they chose from a number of awful choices, like begging, welfare, and crime, none of which are socially helpful.

To say nothing of Indian programmers, which would now be out of favor due to the difference in time zone and culture.

Worse, every downturn there will be simulated people fighting off the collection agencies, who have rather literally come for their heads.

As one last consideration, a rich enough simulated person would be, effectively, immortal. If I assume that a person could run themselves on a hard drive, I could copy my brain into a RAID-1 setup. As long as I or the copy could afford a new hard drive, a solar panel, a submarine battery, and a shack in the middle of nowhere, the copy would live forever. Forever. The original me would die of old age and the copy would go on right as before. For hundreds of thousands of years.

If it could manufacture its own hard drives, it could outlive humankind itself. If not, lack of ability to buy storage media to replace corrupted old media will be the thing that eventually lays it low.

Also, if I could buy myself a duplicate body, I think I could send the duplicate on missions to other planets. By myself, it'd be a fool's errand, as I have work here that I can't just abandon for 60 years, but the copy has no such restriction.


Robin Hanson said...

So what you are saying is, that it is better to be rich than poor?

themadengineer said...

It is obviously better to be rich than poor -- wealth brings survival, comfort, and power. The wealthy can escape any situations thrust upon them more easily than the poor, if for the power alone.

I have to agree with the commenter Carl on your blog, that emulated people would make life cheap, disrupting society. I don't agree with him that it would necessarily cause a totalitarian world government, but chaos would definitely ensue.

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