From: Stuart Armstrong (email@example.com)
Date: Mon Feb 02 2009 - 03:58:38 MST
The recent exchenge on uploads has got me thinking (and worrying)
about this possibility.
The first objection to slavery is that the coercive elements keep
wages and conditions for slaves far below what they should be; the
second objection is that these wages and conditions are appalling.
It should be relatively easy to avoid the first problem in a world
full of uploads - general free market paradigms should be easy to
implement and defend.
Much more disturbing would be if the economic value of standard humans
dropped to near subsistence levels (quite likely to happen). Then the
everyday experience of standard humans would mimic slavey; this would
effectively force all humans to upload in order to survive.
That might be bad enough, but it could get worse - if the economic
return on improving an upload is higher than uploading a standard
human, uploading may become unaffordable. (think of this as working at
the sweatshop rather than living on the garbbage heap - but with the
provisio that never ever will you or any of your descendants be able
to aspire to more than working at the sweatshop).
A rather obvious solution would be to implement simply enforceable
laws making uploading universally available, but I'm interested in
looking at other alternatives, that do not involve effectively coerced
One interesting alternative is to look at modified utility functions.
If the value of an object is not only in its physical properties, but
also in the manner in which it was constructed, then there may be hope
for standard humans to continue to compete economically in an uploaded
world. We have some examples of this today - concerts (especially rock
concerts) where the performers do not do anything more than sing their
usual songs in a more noisy environment. Yet the joint experience of
seeing the actual performer makes this an economically viable set-up.
Similarly, we have some fair-trade products. No matter how imperfect
and distorting the whole system is, it is based around one significant
fact: people are willing to pay more for something based on how it was
produced. Can we harness this urge for uploads?
Compelling every upload to change their utility function would be
unduly coercive; but there could be a posibility to subsidise or
encourage "ethical uploads", which changes the uploads' utility
functions slightly so that they place greater economic value on
standard human produced goods. Since we are working on the assumption
that uploads' productivity will dwarf the possible economic output of
standard humans, it would not take many of these "ethical uploads" to
ensure the viability of standard humans - and the competitive
disadvantage of "ethical uploads" would be correspondingly small.
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