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Economist Robin Hanson’s new book “The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth” imagines a not-too-distant future when robots are commonplace in our life. And the smartest of these will be “ems,” or brain emulations. These will be super-detailed scans of actual human brains that run as models on computers. And once we figure out how to pull that off cheaply, ems will take over most human jobs.
The advantage ems will have is that they’ll be running 1,000 times faster than an actual human brain. You’ll also be able to copy them. Wouldn’t you rather scan and duplicate the brain of a Stephen Hawking and have that em do almost everything?
The moment when ems will take over is similar to the singularity famously proposed by the futurist Ray Kurzweil. But Hanson thinks a brain em will come in the next 100 years, sooner than self-aware AI because they will be recreations of brains rather than harder-to-create brain consciousnesses. Brain ems can come as a culmination of the technology we already employ, like brain scans and models. One day we’ll just know everything there is to know about brains and will be able to get computers to mimic them.
How will we create ems? The book explains:
“An em results from taking a particular human brain, scanning it to record its particular cell features and connections, and then building a computer model that processes signals according to those same features and connections. A good enough em has close to the same overall input-output signal behavior as the original human. One might talk with it, and convince it to do useful jobs.”
And once that happens, ems will “basically beat humans at being more cost effective at all jobs,” says Hanson In an interview with Business Insider.
The Industrial Age will end and the Age of Ems will begin.
Emulations will perform most of their tasks in virtual reality, and for physical jobs like factory work they will have some specialized “bodies”. Ems will be functioning creatures that will develop and live in the same world as humans but will eventually develop their own civilization.