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Showing 1-10 of 17 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 30 reviews
on February 27, 2017
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the future or artificial intelligence. Robin Hanson has a fascinating and unique perspective on AI and society. The book is very well written in an entertaining albeit dry style that makes the logic supporting each statement very clear. Although I couldn't stop reading it, I had to go in spurts to digest the information as it is rather heady and difficult to take in all at once. I was inspired by the ideas in the Age of Em and have incorporated some of them into my personal science fiction project.
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on January 23, 2017
Very dry. I'm generally interested in his topics and agree with his thoughts, but I just lost interest based on the presentation.
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on December 14, 2016
Hanson's book poses a challenge to those interested in the future to think as clearly as possible about how different futures might come to pass. It is not an easy or a light read, because this is not a trivial or fluffy book; Hanson combines several different disciplines' insights to justify his visions of a world populated by "people" who are essential scanned copies of previously homo sapien individuals. It is worth reading for anyone who cares about the future(s) of humanity.
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on December 13, 2016
Good material but, it reads like several textbooks cobbled together.
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on December 10, 2016
I don't disagree that Robin Hanson is a very knowledgeable observer of the AI ecosystem and a skilled
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
to me.
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on October 17, 2016
I found the book deeply fascinating and found myself ruminating on its ideas for weeks after reading it. Early on the book, he names a few reasons why people might like it. One of these reasons is "envisioning foreign times can help you to see the distinctive features of your era." It was this perspective from which I found myself enjoying the book most.
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on October 5, 2016
Gulliver's Travels in the future. Hanson pretends to know how the future will be but fails to accomplish anything. Lot of words without substance. It was a great disappointment. No ems will be come ever. Instead humans will face an ucertain future that threatens with the advent of robots equipped of AI. But ems certainly never would come.I hope that Robon Hanson has just made a joke and his next book will be of more worth to buy and read. This one is thrash.
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on October 1, 2016
For those who are intellectually curious and willing to engage in serious discussions about cities filled with trillions of emulate human minds, you should read this book. It was one of the most fascinating nonfiction books I read in the past decade. Even though this review is quite long, the book and subject matter are complex enough that it is virtually impossible to hit on every important point so I will just give a few.
This book is unique to say the least. I fear many sci fi fans will pick it up, read the first few pages. and then fall into a state of deep confusion. It is more or less its own new category of thing, perhaps it could be called "speculative future economic history"? I am unsure. I am also unsure about the overlap between people who can appreciate and understand this book and people who won’t scoff off hand at the premise, but Hanson takes this unconventional topic deadly seriously.

Things I liked
- I would elect Hanson as one of the first people to study an alien world. He manages to paint a world far different from ours in vivid detail and without the typical lens or moralizing one sees. While science fiction is filled with either blue modern humans or impossible space monsters, the world of ems is populated by humans that are farther from our reckoning than either. For most readers I would imagine that he is describing the most alien world they have yet to encounter(myself included).
-Despite his constant insistence to the contrary, after finishing the book I felt the most to be gained was not so much the actual conclusions from the analysis but the process of the analysis itself. Following Hanson’s train of thought can be a fascinating example of how economics can be used to think about outcomes of wildly foreign scenarios. In addition, this book provides a good introduction and application of many concepts in Hanson’s world view: foragers vs farmers, signaling etc. Which are valuable ideas very much worth considering. It also presents some other ideas of his that are highly interesting though unlikely(see futarchy).
-The world itself is highly immersive and novel, you can spend hours daydreaming about the implications.
Criticisms

-Some highly technical parts that don’t seem to add too much- I might have moved the physics section to the appendix. As it stands, it is currently almost like a wall before the very interesting analysis(if you find yourself not too engaged with it I would recommend skipping it) . On the other hand, some of his key assumptions did not gain support in the physics section. For instance how easy it would be to switch speeds is vital to much of the analysis though not really discussed.
-I am somewhat doubtful about speed and the number of future ems- In Hanson’s future, meat bag humans are not really productive. Humans simply own pieces of things and are fabulously wealthy through millions of ems are willing to serve them in exchange for a small chunk of what they own. Due to high levels of competition that easy copying creates, ems will be pushed down to a subsistence level. This means that for extra ems to exist, they essentially need to bring about an increase in power, cooling, and hardware produced roughly equal to that required for them to exist. There will be other types of consumption of course, such as VR environments, for which only a few could serve many, but for the most part, ems need to focus on producing things that will keep them alive. It is very similar to farmers of old, their productivity was little above their own ability to support themselves, so few other specialists were possible (little in terms of percentage, this could still mean a millions of other specialists given a large enough population). But if newly created ems could produce significantly more cooling/energy/hardware required for their existence it would be profitable to make more until they, once again, are brought down to being able to produce only roughly enough for their existence.
Though logistics are an important part of any modern production (and in many cases could benefit from higher speed ems, as could research and development). Much of cooling and power production are linked to physical processes which probably would not benefit from very fast ems(which would take away many of the interesting parts of the analysis). In addition, it is unclear whether or not such forms of production could benefit vastly from several thousand times more labor. If not, this would also put a much lower limit on the size of future em cities.
-Lasers vs shotguns- I feel that in his enthusiasm to show what can be done, Hanson tended to spread out ideas too much, a shotgun blast of conjecture if you will(some of these side predications, though the most likely prediction we can currently make, are still so unlikely, it hardly seems worth discussing them). I felt the book could have benefited from focusing on the key big predictions, though I do understand the intent.

Criticisms of others criticisms
-One constant criticism I see floating around is that ems will be much more like toasters than humans, which would undermine a great deal of the book. I honestly can’t see this as likely however. For most tasks, reducing a brain to that level of an “unfeeling system” seems unlikely to yield the best results in most applications. Any creature possessing sufficient need of fluid intelligence to perform tasks in their environment seem to possess traits that we would associate with feeling beings. To think that it is all an evolutionary glitch and we would be better suited for survival and productivity had we been designed without the need of breaks/play etc seems odd to me. Such tasks are unlikely to benefit from ems to begin with vs. standard automation.
Now this does not preclude people from living in Kafkaesque nightmares (from our current perspectives). A person could for instance experience a reverse groundhog day, they start each shift refreshed and ready to work on their relatively repetitive chore knowing that the shift will only last about eight hours. At the end of their shift they clock out, are erased and replaced with the version of themselves that started the last shift. Though there are few such repetitive tasks that would be both too complicated for automation and at the same time not complicated enough to require memory of the previous day’s work.
More complex tasks would most likely require not only fluid intelligence, and with it require ems to possess at least some elements of that which we recognize as human, but also project specific experience.
Romance seems more plausibly something that might be eliminated in the em world due to either self selection of asexual humans or libido suppression(which is able to already be done in modern humans).

other notes-
While reading the book I kept thinking that it would make an amazing setting for stories. I hope that one day a science fiction author will pick it up.
Hanson displays a good amount of humility, he is not trying the say this exact scenario will happen, instead he is arguing given that there is some chance it will it is worth giving thorough analysis.
If you made it through this entire review chances are you would benefit by picking up a copy. Since reading it several months ago, I still find my thoughts constantly drifting to this strange world and its strange implications.
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on September 26, 2016
I have been tempted to stop reading the book several times as it is a little abstruse and perhaps too encyclopedic. At the same time the predictions are not very definite. Things could turn this way or could turn the opposite. Perhaps this is unavoidable since the author is imagining the world quite far in the future.
If I understood well most of ems will be software entities and only some will use bodies as needed. Since reproduction will be asexual it would have been interesting to deal more with the meaning of mating in an em society. These abstract entities who will be tweaked to imrpove them, although they will be our descendants, will they have similar feelings like us? The subject of love is not dealt deeply either.
I don't quite understand what role fashion and clothing can have when you have an artificial body (in some cases a body only 2 mm tall!). Will the bodies be totally metallic or some kind of soft android bodies as in some movies?
The relations with humans, which are only described in the last pages could be something to explore more profoundly. Humans will not be able to compete with ems for jobs and the autor recommends to buy patents, stock or buildings to have sources of income. He thinks that the number of humans will be about the same as before the em era, which in view of the lack of jobs seems not very possible as the alternative soursces of income do not seem to be aplicable universally.
It seems that the em era will have a duration of only a couple of years, but the author declines to speak of what he thinks will come later, at least in this book.
There are also surprising predictions such as coal and oil being important materials when one could dream of a future in which solar is probably a dominant energy source. There is also the reversing of current trends from mass customitzation to mass production. The em society does not seem very apppealing from the point of view of humans. For example, the buildings are not going to be icònic, they might be just containers. And there are not so many advantages to this society. There can be wars, identiity thefts, slavery, nepotism, fraud, clan fights, etc. However, according to the autor ems will be happier that people today. Although there is leisure the main activity is work, although it is not clearr which value has this work.

The em economy could double almost every month or week, but if about 80% of ems do not use bodies one wonders whcih products may consume. It would seem that virtual reality would be the main activity and the construction of powerful computers, transmission lines and energy power statiosn to power and cool the computers would be the physical sources needed.

The subject of the book is interesting but the reading is so perplexing that I would recommend a section of FAQs, either in the book or online. I feel quite lost after the reading of the book. it does not help that there seems to be some contradictions. In some cases it claims that the ems will be more innovative and in others one has the impression that the economy will be driven by the growth in the number fo ems, not by innovation.
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on August 14, 2016
This book has so many flawed premises in just the first 30 pages, as to effectively bury the author in a black hole of logic from which he never escapes.
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