- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198754620
- ISBN-13: 978-0198754626
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.2 x 6.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth 1st Edition
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"Robin Hanson brings intelligence, imagination, and courage to some of the most profound questions humanity will be dealing with in the middle-term future. The Age of Em is a stimulating and unique book that will be valuable to anyone who wants to look past the next ten years to the next hundred and the next thousand." --Sean Carroll, Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology, author The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
"What happens when a first-rate economist applies his rigor, breadth, and curiosity to the sci-fi topic of whole brain emulations? This book is what happens. There's nothing else like it, and it will blow your (current) mind." --Andrew McAfee, Professor of Business, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"A highly provocative vision of a technologically advanced future that may or may not come true--but if it does, we'll be glad Robin wrote this book now." --Marc Andreessen, cofounder Netscape, Andreessen Horowitz
"In this brilliant analysis, Robin Hanson shows that our hyper-smart "downloaded"--or emulated--heirs will still have ambitions, triumphs and thwarted desires. They'll make alliances, compete, cooperate ... and very-likely love ... all driven by immutable laws of nature and economics. Super intelligence may be a lot more like us than you imagined." -David Brin, two times Hugo award winner
"Robin Hanson provides a richly detailed portrait of a future society where brain emulation is widespread. Drawing on physics, economics, sociology, history, and a host of other disciplines, he describes a world that is wonderfully strange and yet strikingly familiar. Far out? Yes. Fascinating? That too." --Hal Varian, chief economist Google, Emeritus Professor of Economics, U.C. Berkeley
"A fascinating thought experiment about the future, written with clarity and verve by somebody who thinks very deeply and freely." --Matt Ridley, columnist The Times
"Robin Hanson has a remarkable mind and has written a remarkable book. Whether you agree or disagree with each of his specific predictions, each page will entice you to think more deeply." --Erik Brynjolfsson, coauthor The Second Machine Age
"There are different paths to the Technological Singularity. In The Age of Em Robin Hanson explores one such possibility. With this book, Hanson owns the Em scenario." --Vernor Vinge, five times Hugo award winner
"Robin Hanson is a thinker like no other on this planet: someone so unconstrained by convention, so unflinching in spelling out the consequences of ideas, that even the most cosmopolitan reader is likely to find him as bracing (and head-clearing) as a mouthful of wasabi." --Scott Aaronson, author Quantum Computing since Democritus
"Robin Hanson's new tour de force will dazzle and delight you. Anyone who loves books should read The Age of Em." --Tyler Cowen, columnist New York Times
"The Age of Em combines Hanson's expertise in social science and artificial intelligence to paint a stunning vision of the future of intelligent life. The result is a noble effort to subordinate science fiction to science." --Bryan Caplan, author The Myth of the Rational Voter
"Robin Hanson integrates ferocious future forces: robotics, artificial intelligence, overpopulation, economic stagnation--and comes up with a detailed, striking set of futures we can have, if we think harder." --Gregory Benford, two times Nebula award winner
"Robin Hanson is one of the most original thinkers in the world--and this fascinating account of our future society is like nothing you'll read anywhere else. Astonishing stuff." --Tim Harford, columnist Financial Times
"Hanson is pioneering a new style of science fiction: using calculations rather than mere stories to imagine what a world of artificial humans would be like." --Kevin Kelly, author The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
"The Age of Em is a rare wonder: a book both fully intellectually rigorous, and boldly embracing of the radical possibilities the future holds. Far more clearly than from any work of mere science fiction, one gleans from Hanson's book a clear idea of what a future world dominated by brain emulations or 'Ems' might actually be like." --Ben Goertzel, founder AGI Society, OpenCog Foundation
"Nobody else could have explored the implications of whole-brain emulation in such visionary yet plausible detail. It's one of the most important books you'll ever read." --Geoffrey Miller, author The Mating Mind, Spent, Mate
"Carefully reasoned, thoroughly researched, and incisively argued, this book will change the way you look at our uploaded future, and the entire concept of the Singularity." --Ramez Naam, author Nexus, The Infinite Resource
"Most futurism is remarkable chiefly for its lack of imagination. The Age of Em is that rare book that pushes the boundaries of our understanding of what is possible." --Tim O'Reilly, founder & CEO, O'Reilly Media
"Here we have a systematic attempt to envisage what could well be the next technological disruption of the human condition: a world after the 'anthropocene' which does not conform to the usual ecological scenarios." -Steve Fuller, author Humanity 2.0
"Hanson takes a few simple assumptions and relentlessly follows their implications to paint a fascinating and chillingly plausible posthuman future, realised in fractal-like detail. A tour de force of rigorous speculation that draws equally upon physics, economics and neuroscience, every page of The Age of Em brims with fascinating ideas." --Hannu Rajaniemi, author The Quantum Thief
"The best way to predict the future may be to create it, but to create it you first must study it. Read this book!" --Robert Freitas, author Nanomedicine
"Hanson puts Nostradamus to shame, foretelling humans moving from flesh and blood to abstract immortal "emulations", computer programs made of bits, our civilization uploading to gigahertz processors exchanging gigabytes 24/7." --Ralph Merkle, co-inventor public key cryptography
"Hanson honors the physics and the likely future economics of emulated minds. Students of AI, virtual reality, economics, and science can benefit in multiple ways from this extraordinary work of thoughtful and courageous technological forecasting." --Neil Jacobstein, Chair, AI and Robotics, Singularity University at NASA Research Park, Mountain View CA
About the Author
Robin Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. Professor Hanson has master's degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of Chicago, nine years experience in artificial intelligence research at Lockheed and NASA., a doctorate in social science from California Institute of Technology, 2800 citations, and sixty academic publications, in economics, physics, computer science, philosophy, and more. He blogs at OvercomingBias.com, and has pioneered the field of prediction markets since 1988.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is important for two reasons.
The first is that it directly concerns the welfare of trillions of future lives (who may suffer under slavery, total dictatorship, torture, and constant genocide, or who alternatively may live in a paradise of comfort, meaningful work, and total fulfillment). Small actions, taken early enough, could have a big impact on the Age of Em; this book gives us that head start.
Secondly, the book is important in its focus on values. Hanson demonstrates that values are a biological adaptation like any other (the bird's wings, or the fish's scales) and that nature and nurture conspire to ensure that animals end up with productive values. While you may value "family" or "free time", your decedents might be workaholics with no family at all (for reasons beyond their control). As a result, if EMs could meet their ancestors, they might be confused or disgusted.
In other words, this Age threatens to erase, from the world, everything that you believe is important.
This book is essentially an encyclopedia of predictions about the future. These predictions are derived using mainstream social science, and they are clear and concise.
This book is also an extremely *efficient* tour of psych research. Anyone who reads this book two or three times over would probably know as much, or more, as someone graduating with a Psych BA from a leading university. This is because Hanson cherry picks the highest-relevance items. It's also because, by stepping *outside* our Age, it is a little easier to see it for what it is (and, by comparing multiple Ages, one gets a sense of which features are Age-based [and, on what] and which are permanent).
The book is frustrating in that the factual predictions mostly take place in the next century. It's like watching someone hand in an exam, and waiting 100 years to see it get graded; no "payoff". And imagine, for a moment, that a hunter-gather sat down to write a book about the Next Era. Would he get it mostly right? Or, would it be so wrong, that reading it would be a waste of time? One can argue that we have more "data on eras" now, but, alternatively, the very power-laws these data seem to obey, could be used to argue precisely the opposite (ie, that the pre-X "data" aren't representative). The introduction notwithstanding, it is hard to see how the book's ideas affect anyone or anything in our reality. It's hard to get invested.
Correspondingly, my favorite section, "Dreamtime" had a higher (data & logic)/predictions ratio. It had nothing to do with EMs specifically, instead, Dreamtime simply reminded us of our place in the history of mankind. And it suggests that, of all the decisions that ever were made or will be made by anyone, only those of our Era will really matter. It's flattering and sobering, overwhelming and motivating. (And it is in the free Amazon preview section.)
I'm happy with my choice of Favorite Section, because I think a focus on "whether or not Hanson's EM Era actually arrives" is sorta missing the point. Instead, the point is that we should raise our game -- predictions about the future should be of approximately *this level* of breadth, detail, effort, and empirical corroboration.
writer and economist. However, I found his premises quite bizarre. 1. it will take centuries to achieve
human level AI through conventional computer science. 2. Alternatively, we can produce whole brain
emulation at much earlier point in time 3. Once we have these "EMs" we can use them to replace various
human activities for the person who has been emulated. Gonzo stuff. It simply doesn't make any sense
Hanson repeatedly tackles questions that scare away mainstream academics, and gives relatively ordinary answers (guided as much as possible by relatively standard, but often obscure, parts of the academic literature).
Hanson's scenario relies on a few moderately controversial assumptions. The assumptions which I find most uncertain are related to human-level intelligence being hard to understand (because it requires complex systems), enough so that ems will experience many subjective centuries before artificial intelligence is built from scratch. For similar reasons, ems are opaque enough that it will be quite a while before they can be re-engineered to be dramatically different.
Hanson is willing to allow that ems can be tweaked somewhat quickly to produce moderate enhancements (at most doubling IQ) before reaching diminishing returns. He gives somewhat plausible reasons for believing this will only have small effects on his analysis. But few skeptics will be convinced.
Some will focus on potential trillions of dollars worth of benefits that higher IQs might produce, but that wealth would not much change Hanson's analysis.
Others will prefer an inside view analysis which focuses on the chance that higher IQs will better enable us to handle risks of superintelligent software. Hanson's analysis implies we should treat that as an unlikely scenario, but doesn't say what we should do about modest probabilities of huge risks.
Another way that Hanson's assumptions could be partly wrong is if tweaking the intelligence of emulated Bonobos produces super-human entities. That seems to only require small changes to his assumptions about how tweakable human-like brains are. But such a scenario is likely harder to analyze than Hanson's scenario, and it probably makes more sense to understand Hanson's scenario first.
Wages in this scenario are somewhat close to subsistence levels. Ems have some ability to restrain wage competition, but less than they want. Does that mean wages are 50% above subsistence levels, or 1%? Hanson hints at the former. The difference feels important to me. I'm concerned that sound-bite versions of book will obscure the difference.
Hanson claims that "wealth per em will fall greatly". It would be possible to construct a measure by which ems are less wealthy than humans are today. But I expect it will be at least as plausible to use a measure under which ems are rich compared to humans of today, but have high living expenses. I don't believe there's any objective unit of value that will falsify one of those perspectives .
The style is more like a reference book than a story or an attempt to persuade us of one big conclusion. Most chapters (except for a few at the start and end) can be read in any order. If the section on physics causes you to doubt whether the book matters, skip to chapter 12 (labor), and return to the physics section later.
The style is very concise. Hanson rarely repeats a point, so understanding him requires more careful attention than with most authors.
It's odd that the future of democracy gets less than twice as much space as the future of swearing. I'd have preferred that Hanson cut out a few of his less important predictions, to make room for occasional restatements of important ideas.
Many little-known results that are mentioned in the book are relevant to the present, such as: how the pitch of our voice affects how people perceive us, how vacations affect productivity, and how bacteria can affect fluid viscosity.
I was often tempted to say that Hanson sounds overconfident, but he is clearly better than most authors at admitting appropriate degrees of uncertainty. If he devoted much more space to caveats, I'd probably get annoyed at the repetition. So it's hard to say whether he could have done any better.
Even if we should expect a much less than 50% chance of Hanson's scenario becoming real, it seems quite valuable to think about how comfortable we should be with it and how we could improve on it.
 - The difference matters only in one paragraph, where Hanson discusses whether ems deserve charity more than do humans living today. Hanson sounds like he's claiming ems deserve our charity because they're poor. Most ems in this scenario are comfortable enough for this to seem wrong.
Hanson might also be hinting that our charity would be effective at increasing the number of happy ems, and that basic utilitarianism says that's preferable to what we can do by donating to today's poor. That argument deserves more respect and more detailed analysis.