A reader has been asking me this question, and my answer is…no!
Don’t get me wrong, I still think it is a stimulating and wonderful book. And if you don’t believe me, here is The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Hanson’s book is comprehensive and not put-downable.
But it is best not read as a predictive text, much as Robin might disagree with that assessment. Why not? I have three main reasons, all of which are a sort of punting, nonetheless on topics outside one’s areas of expertise deference is very often the correct response. Here goes:
1. I know a few people who have expertise in neuroscience, and they have never mentioned to me that things might turn out this way (brain scans uploaded into computers to create actual beings and furthermore as the dominant form of civilization). Maybe they’re just holding back, but I don’t think so. The neuroscience profession as a whole seems to be unconvinced and for the most part not even pondering this scenario.
2. The people who predict “the age of Em” claim expertise in a variety of fields surrounding neuroscience, including computer science and physics, and thus they might believe they are broader and thus superior experts. But in general claiming expertise in “more” fields is not correlated with finding the truth, unless you can convince people in the connected specialized fields you are writing about. I don’t see this happening, nor do I believe that neuroscience is somehow hopelessly corrupt or politicized. What I do see the “Em partisans” sharing is an early love of science fiction, a very valuable enterprise I might add.
3. Robin seems to think the age of Em could come about reasonably soon (sorry, I am in Geneva and don’t have the book with me for an exact quotation). Yet I don’t see any sign of such a radical transformation in market prices. Even with positive discounting, I would expect backwards induction to mean that an eventual “Em scenario” would affect lots of prices now. There are for instance a variety of 100-year bonds, but Em scenarios do not seem to be a factor in their pricing.
Robin himself believes that market prices are the best arbiter of truth. But which market prices today show a realistic probability for an “Age of Em”? Are there pending price bubbles in Em-producing firms, or energy companies, just as internet grocery delivery was the object of lots of speculation in 1999-2000? I don’t see it.
The one market price that has changed is the “shadow value of Robin Hanson,” because he has finished and published a very good and very successful book. And that pleases me greatly, no matter which version of Robin is hanging around fifty years hence.
Addendum: Robin Hanson responds. I enjoyed this line: “Tyler has spent too much time around media pundits if he thinks he should be hearing a buzz about anything big that might happen in the next few centuries!”