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The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life When Robots Rule the Earth

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  185 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Robots may one day rule the world, but what is a robot-ruled Earth like?
Many think the first truly smart robots will be brain emulations or "ems." Scan a human brain, then run a model with the same connections on a fast computer, and you have a robot brain, but recognizably human.
Train an em to do some job and copy it a million times: an army of workers is at your dispos
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 1st 2016 by Oxford University Press
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Mark Hebwood
Sep 12, 2016 Mark Hebwood rated it did not like it
Frustration and Incredulity

Well... this was a complete waste of time, a surprisingly pointless and, dare I say it, sloppy, attempt at projecting a possible future.

An era in which brain simulations run on computer hardware and allow the original owner of the consciousness to live on forever in her digitalised incarnation holds astounding opportunities, and intimidating risks. Such a technology would potentially alter society into something that differs from what we know today at the level of its
Atila Iamarino
Um livro muito estranho, para dizer o mínimo. É um exercício de predição dos melhores, em uma situação muito peculiar, um futuro onde simulações de mentes humanas imperam como uma nova forma de computação. Me valeu bem mais pelos insights sobre o presente que Robin Hanson usa para extrapolar o futuro do que o cenário futuro em si, que são excelentes.

A abordagem dele de economia e sociologia para entender o presente e falar sobre o futuro é bem diferente da maioria e, espero, inspiradora. Mas o
Clare O'Beara
Mar 25, 2016 Clare O'Beara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction, i-t
Ems or robot/computer brain emulations of people, are the subject of this book, with sociological implications and a note that this may be a short section of the future, replaced by something even stranger. I'm puzzled that the author speculates that ems will 'live' in a few major cities which don't have humans and the humans will all go and retire. Where to? There's already not enough land to house and feed the seven billion of us plus the few billion who'll be coming along in the next few year ...more
Brian Clegg
Jun 07, 2016 Brian Clegg rated it liked it
I recently said about Timandra Harkness's Big Data, 'welcome to the brave new world', but if there were ever a book to fully reflect Shakespeare's complete original line in The Tempest, 'O brave new world that has such people in't', it is surely Robin Hanson's new book The Age of Em.

I don't know if it was done so the book title would echo 'age of empire' , but I find the author's term for uploaded personalities 'ems' a little contrived, like many made-up names - it's just a bit too short for wha
Long speculative study based on the assumption that simulating human brains becomes possible (then cheaper and more practical), and then goes to the effort of seeing what a human society would look like from there. Goes to the effort of guessing what fatigues these simulated humans ('ems' he calls them), but also speculates about the minutiae. Three pages about the future of swearing. Three pages about the future of democracy.

Why go to the effort of simulating human brains instead of using 'nar
Jayson Virissimo
Sep 29, 2016 Jayson Virissimo rated it it was amazing
Futurism, but without pretending social science doesn't exist.
Nathan Taylor
Jun 18, 2016 Nathan Taylor rated it it was amazing
Robin Hanson has written the best book I've ever read on what the future may hold. Rather than explore many alternative possibilities, he deliberately picks a single future scenario to explore in great depth. Then leaves to others to work out alternates, building from his baseline. Hanson's chosen scenario is one where humans upload their minds to computers to create human emulations or ems. He uses standard social and physical science to grind out the details of what this world might look like. ...more
David Gross
May 14, 2016 David Gross rated it liked it
Shelves: geeky, non-fiction
It's looking increasingly likely that eventually we'll be clever enough to create artificial intelligence with at least human-level capability. Two likely ways we might do this are 1) to increase the sophistication and coordination of our intelligent algorithms, or, 2) to learn how to simulate the human brain in a computer in such a way that the simulation has equivalent capabilities to the original brain. Hanson puts his bets on the second option happening first, and has written this book to ex ...more
Andrei Khrapavitski
Feb 09, 2017 Andrei Khrapavitski rated it really liked it
The work of a futurist is rarely appreciated. It is extremely hard to predict the future. Sci-Fi authors like to portray a distant future either as a dystopia where life is barely worth living or as some amazing paradise of abundance.
This work is different. Robin Hanson is an economist, and his portrayal of the world of full brain emulations or Ems is based on his reading of our current political and economic theories. He tries to imagine the world of ems through our current prism. Of course, s
Garrett Petersen
Jun 17, 2016 Garrett Petersen rated it it was amazing
[Full disclosure: I invited Robin Hanson onto my podcast, Economics Detective Radio, to discuss the book. You can hear the full interview here.]

There's so much to love in this book.

Hanson starts his foray into futurism with the assumption that we will eventually develop the technical ability to create human whole brain emulations, or "ems." That is, we will be able to scan a brain in all its detail, then simulate the functioning of that brain sufficiently well to have it mimic the thought proces
Apr 13, 2016 Gaspar rated it it was ok
To be honest I thought this book will be like the book "The next 100 years" by George Friedman. I was wrong.

This book is about a very very very specific future scenario where there are a few relegated humans and the majority of the population is made by ems (shorter for brain emulations). Some of this ems live in a virtual world and a few live in the physical world. The author makes a very thorough and detailed explanation of this fictional future and spend most of the book outlining the organiz
Arnaud De Herrypon
Jun 18, 2016 Arnaud De Herrypon rated it it was amazing
The Age of EM is a wonderful exercise in "world Building", that is science fiction without the plot and characters. I particularly recommend the book if, like me, you often get frustrated with the superficiality of the background against which, otherwise, good futuristic stories take place (implausible dystopian political institutions, technological incoherence etc..). Robin Hanson, an economics professor known for his eclecticism (he trained in physics, worked as an AI researcher, studied many ...more
Dec 30, 2016 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was going to rate this book a 3/5. However, for sheer idea/concept per page value it is easily a 5/5. The writing may be dry and fairly methodical (possibly a positive?) and there are definitely some gripes with the methods (for example Hanson cites a statistically insignificant study on marriage at one point) but overall this book certainly delivers. It isn't so much about conceptualising ONE future as the most likely, but more about conceptualising ONE PLAUSIBLE future, with the main intent ...more
May 30, 2016 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Robin's book creates a unique genre that anyone who is interested in the trajectory of humanity in the next century should embrace. Hanson makes the point that far more people are historians that futurists. Futurism has been left to Sci-Fi and is often compelling but lacking in either economic or scientific rigor. Hanson actually is a good historian in the book and extrapolates a future that is hinted at by Sci-fi but explained in rational way in this book. He may be right or he may be wrong. It ...more
Tyler Fisher
Feb 02, 2017 Tyler Fisher rated it really liked it
A brave attempt at predicting the future from a former professor of mine. This book imagines the world after brain emmulation technology has arrived. That is, a technology that allows a humans brain to be copied, and for that em to do thinking and living on its own. A crazy topic, but only one that can be understood by picking up the book.

At times technical, academic and repetitive it can be hard to read, but anyone who finishes is left with a great reward: a serious study of our future. And, a
Jul 06, 2016 Nick rated it really liked it
I would read this not so much for an accurate prediction about the future [0] , but rather for a holistic look at how Robin Hanson views the world, with insight into economics, business, politics, and society. This book serves as a great survey of, e.g., the qualities that distinguish the best workers, the most important factors determining economic growth and firms' success, and inefficiencies in political/social systems and how they respond to drastic changes like the arrival of ems.

[0] See ht
Sep 19, 2016 Sean rated it liked it
Wasn't quite what I was expecting -- I just gave it a skim after reading the introduction and first chapter. Very interesting concept, but not something I'm looking to spend a lot of time on today.

Note to self: revisit if/when brain uploading becomes a thing.
Santino Maguire
Oct 09, 2016 Santino Maguire rated it it was ok
This book was a slog -- couldn't force myself to finish it. The concepts are interesting enough, but the writing is drryyyyyy.
May 16, 2017 Shawn rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, psychology
An extremely speculative and extremely detailed look at a possible future for humanity (or what it may become.) Hanson sees ems (computer emulations of human brains) arriving sometime in the next century, while viewing actual artificial intelligence of human or greater capability as unlikely to come sooner than three or four hundred years from now. (His reasons for believing that emulation will be so much easier aren't very clear.)

Once they do arrive, he sees ems (descendants or copies of proba
Tony Boyles
Mar 24, 2017 Tony Boyles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that I kind of love, but won't recommend.

Hanson starts out by (paying lip service to the rich Sci-Fi history of the concept) and then constructing a rationale for why it is likely to actually occur at some point in the future. However, the majority of the text is devoted to investigating the consequences of such technologies, and the society of Ems that should emerge. In this, Hanson succeeded in his stated goal of writing a work that should read like an anthropology textbook, onl
Nic Don
Mar 18, 2017 Nic Don rated it it was amazing
The book is a delight to read and the arguments are fascinating to consider. Whether one believes in their likelihood is really neither here nor there. Robin Hanson describes the processes involved in his (not technically) predictions with expertise and erudition, and depicts an imminently possible (even if practically implausible) world in detail. The concreteness of the proposal is precisely what separates Hanson from most futurism on the market, which tends to be boring, derivative, vague and ...more
Mar 05, 2017 Ian rated it liked it
I appreciate Hanson's approach and method. Exhausting and thorough. He gives the occasional impression of being a highly analytical alien living among humans.

Remarkably idea-dense. Hard to skim, despite being very academic, because one quickly becomes aware that every paragraph has a gem.

It's like a sci-fi author started writing a paragraph of exposition at the beginning of a novel, and it just turned into a 600 page book itself.
Joshua Gutman
Feb 24, 2017 Joshua Gutman rated it liked it
I don't know why I keep trying books like this. I think it's interesting to think about the future especially with divergent technologies, but to it's a bit too much to take a few debatable working assumptions and describe the whole world that exists. The book allows for a bit of uncertainty in possible outcomes, but the uncertainty fills such a narrow band of possibilities.

The discussion is interesting, but I think you have to be particularly interested in the topic of whole brain simulation an
Jury Razumau
Jun 21, 2016 Jury Razumau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1. I’m afraid that extrapolating features from the currently most productive humans will in fact tell us too little. Yes, ems will be 10 percent more X, but for the most Xs other changes will modify X by a larger percentage.
2. I’m also not convinced that even pre-selected ems will be uber-rational enough to do things like all those complicated dances with the correct backup timing all the time: flossing has become a habit, but paying bills on time hasn’t.
3. Moreover, if a world is mostly populat
Sep 07, 2016 Paul rated it it was ok
Fittingly published on the 1st of April this book can be read in two ways. One is to treat it like an RPG setting book. An imaginative world with highly detailed descriptions, complete with cool potential plots for your campaign. The second way to read it is as a book trying to predict the future in much the same way as The Flintstones is recording history. Everything is strange yet it's all mimicking the current world with superficial differences.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter about computa
Oct 02, 2016 djcb rated it really liked it
Robin Hanson's book about "EMs", or brain-emulations, which are human brains executing on some computer substrate, allowing for cheap copying and running at various speeds, depending on the cost/benefit ratio of whatever they need their thinking for, and to a large extent replacing flesh & blood humans for many tasks. Think of it as the non-fiction version of Permutation City.

Hanson discusses what the impact of EMs would be on our worlds, and meticulously goes into all kinds of details, basi
Pete Welter
Oct 06, 2016 Pete Welter rated it liked it
The overall premise of the book was fascinating - a thoroughly researched discussion of what a world dominated by whole-brain emulations (or ems) would be like. These would essentially be human brains in silicon, and because of the properties of the ems - that they are easy to duplicate, that they process at faster (and slower speeds), that they never forget, and that they don't have human physical frailties, the social, economics and cultural fabric of their existence would differ significantly ...more
Nov 25, 2016 Russell rated it liked it
This was a really interesting book, but also took me a really long time to read. I attribute this to the fact that it's kind of like flipping through an encyclopedia or something like that in that it's very very dry, though still mostly accessible. This was consistent with the warnings given in the opening chapters though, that the book is not to be treated as something to be read through, and that there would be segments of dense material on which little else in the book depends.

I guess I might
Jun 17, 2016 Joshua rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-books
Hanson stares straight into the future and extrapolates honestly.

This is not science fiction. Science fiction is far too conservative. Star Trek is set in 1969 and Star Wars Episode IV in 1977, but Hanson's look at the future really looks at the future.

What would happen if humans ran on a computer substrate, in a world created for them by software; a sort of Second Life with emulated minds of real people? These humans would not need food, just some electricity. Their minds could potentially run
University of Chicago Magazine
Robin Hanson, AM'84, SM'84

From the author: "Robots may one day rule the world, but what is a robot-ruled Earth like? Robin Hanson applies consensus science from many fields to construct a detailed picture of a future ruled by a certain kind of smart robot. Short for ‘brain emulation’, an ‘em’ results from taking a particular human brain and scanning it to record its particular cell features and connections, and then building a computer model that processes signals the same way. The picture
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