Jordan Chase-Young has a 4400 word short story, “Where Be His Quiddities”, in the current McCoy’s Monthly that is based upon the scenario of Robin Hanson’s The Age of Em, which was my nonfiction book of the year for 2016.
And there went half an hour, well spent.
Me too. It boggled my em-agination.
Damn! There went my schedule for this morning, shot to pieces! And the rest of the day will be interrupted by Ah! But thoughts about life among the emulators.
It is good that Mr. Chase-Young recognized the requirement for Ems to be productive. Even in that world, there is no free lunch. But, one wonders, what kind of “work” could an emulator perform that could not be done better by a computer program running on the same hardware? And, one wonders further, where does the power come from to keep all those Ems running? What happens to the Ems when the wind drops and all those bird-killing wind turbines stop turning? Do Ems sleep? And if so, why?
Ah well! Back to today’s planned schedule – assuming that there really is a “today” and that this is not already an even more sophisticated simulation.
Most of these questions are addressed in Robin Hanson’s book. The fundamental assumption of The Age of Em is that achieving artificial general intelligence will prove much more difficult than many assume and that raw computing power will be able to simulate the human brain long before we are able to make artificial intelligence that is not an emulation of the brain.
But being an emulation of the brain, an em will have all of the strengths, weaknesses, and quirks of the real thing. It will need sleep to perform the background processing the biological brain does. It can be manic, depressed, or delusional. And it will probably become rigid in its ways as it ages. But, it can be copied, backed up, cloned, and otherwise manipulated like computer storage, and will not be subject to degradation due to biological aging. An electronic emulation of the brain may be able to run a million times faster than a biological brain or as slow as desired if its possessor wishes to fast forward through history with low power consumption.
This leads to some very odd characteristics of an economy with ems, including unlimited supply leading to almost all working for subsistence wages which was mentioned in the story.