Robin Hanson an economist at George Mason and author of the Overcoming Bias blog, has a new book The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth. Em stands for brain emulation, a computerized version of a human brain processes including consciousness, all the wants, desires and faults of a human brain. An em can be created by copying from a human brain or another em, it can be stored and restored, slightly tweaked and can run faster or slower depending on the power consumption. Reminds me a bit of the cookies in the White Christmas episode of Black Mirror. Hanson also talks about clans, the collection of all the ems that descend from a particular human.
The book has two distinct parts. The first gives a plausible physical and social explanation as to how and why the em world will come to be. Hanson gives the odds of such a world developing at one in a thousand. I put the odds much lower, especially since we have no true understanding of consciousness. For example if consciousness requires quantum entanglement, we would have no hope of copying into an em without destroying the old em (or human) it came from. More likely I expect we would have em-like machines that can perform a number of human-like tasks but won't have any true consciousness. Nevertheless I'd acknowledge that Hanson's world is at least possible given our current knowledge of the brain.
I enjoyed more Hanson's discussion about the world of the ems given that they exist. Hanson takes a science, as opposed to a science fiction, approach to the topic, carefully thinking about how ems would work as a clan, how they interact politically, socially and economically. You can see the variety of topics in the table of contents on the book's website. For example, Hanson argues that it makes economic sense to have ems split off as "spurs" to do more menial tasks in parallel in exchange for a short working life, as short as a few minutes, and a long retirement, with the retirement in a slower low-powered mode. Hanson has done some strong research and advocating for prediction markets (we even have a joint paper on the topic) that there is no surprise that markets show up as a decision making systems for ems.
I don't agree with all of Hanson's conclusions, in particular he expects a certain rationality from ems that we don't often see in humans, and if ems are just human emulations, they may not want a short life and long retirement. Perhaps this book isn't about ems and robots at all, but about Hanson's vision of human-like creatures as true economic beings as he espouses in his blog. Not sure it is a world I'd like to be a part of, but it's a fascinating world nevertheless.