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

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  259 Ratings  ·  55 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 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
Brian Clegg
Jun 07, 2016 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
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 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
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 rated it it was amazing
Futurism, but without pretending social science doesn't exist.
Nathan Taylor
Jun 18, 2016 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 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
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I really don’t know what to make of this book. It was on my bedside table for more than 3 weeks. This is very, very unusual. It is not that I couldn’t read it, it was actually quite interesting but I could manage only a few pages at a time, and that’s because I needed time to think about and reflect on what I had just read. It sounded so weird and so unbelievable that I wasn’t sure if this was a serious work from an accomplished academic, as Dr Robin Hanson, or a science fiction dystopia. Perhap ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I was torn by this book. The examination of a future world with human-mind-brain emulations (hence 'em') was a fascinating idea which is why I snapped up the book.

However, the outcome was a science fiction world without a storyline. The author clearly has done a lot of research and thinking about this possible future world, but chapters examining infrastructure of this world, politics and families were a bit...boring. I heartily encourage anyone who is writing science fiction about this world o
Andrei Khrapavitski
Feb 09, 2017 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
Thore Husfeldt
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Futurism done right.

Hanson explores a scenario based on a single, plausible technological and scientific breakthrough: “mind uploading,” i.e., the possibility of copying the brain/mind of a human and running the resulting copy on computer hardware. This scenario does not assume a vast improvement in our understanding of neuroanatomy (after all, the mind is merely copied and its behaviour simulated, not understood), nor does it posit artificial general intelligence.

All Hanson assumes is copy-and-
May 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
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
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a pretty mindblowing book. I've thought more than most about the distant future, robot uprisings, colonizing other planets, entering a Matrix or San Junipero-type simulation, etc., to the extent that I'm even signed up for cryonics to increase my chances of being there. But I realize now I had not thought about the real implications of having the technology to scan brains and emulate them on computer hardware. Robin Hanson has. He lays out a baseline, "least weird" scenario of what the ...more
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is an amazingly well researched book that presents an incredible amount of information about the upcoming age of emulations. Robin Hanson has done a lot of very deep thinking about the way the em world will be, and short of being there and examining it and seeing that it’s different from depicted, I have no reason to doubt any of the conclusions Hanson has made. He cites references to back up each of his claims, tells you when he is uncertain, examines the amount of uncertainty, and discuss ...more
Tony Boyles
Mar 24, 2017 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
Fraser Kinnear
Jul 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sci-fi
I picked this up based on a recommendation from one of my favorite bloggers, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. I got about halfway through and gave up on it.

The majority of this book is forecasting how the world would look with mind emulators ("Ems"), which create for us the Singularity before any previously defined artificial intelligence software would.

While it was fun in a sci-fi kind of way to read ideas regarding how life would be different for Ems, it's also such enormous speculation
Selena Scola
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
The Age of Em, the beginning of the book was phenomenal, it’s one of the first futuristic technology books to cover specs of emulations along with roles and or functions within their social structure and ours. The middle of the book I found to be either disappointing or brilliant. Ems’, imho, were overly humanized, hence the disappointment. If the purpose of overly humanizing Ems’ is to point out how much human growth is needed to safely and eloquently transition to a life alongside these techno ...more
Clive Freeman
Sep 11, 2017 rated it liked it
The main theme of the book was interesting - that the impact of artificial intelligences will be huge. The author believes they will be first achieved by "downloading" humans into machines to create "ems", or emulated humans. Interesting, and worth exploring in some level of detail. The problem with the book for me became the excruciating level to which each of the ramifications of the em world was then explored. I found it tough to finish as a consequence, and ended up skimming that last third ...more
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
An unusual angle for a survey of our current physical and social understanding. Hanson defines a specific scenario and then makes predictions from physics, psychology, economics, etc. I was distracted by the very high level of abstraction for a number of areas (work and personal experience especially). It's partially successful in its goal: it's incredibly thorough , but didn't address how any one prediction would interact with the others. Definitely instructive as an example of how hard it is t ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you're the target audience, this will be the most fun book you read all year.

How to tell if you're the target audience: do you read hard science fiction? If so, do you wish there were more time spent on exposition and less on plot? And if so, have you ever wished there were a hard SF novel consisting entirely of exposition, with no plot whatsoever?

If that's you, The Age of Em is everything you've ever dreamed of.

And like a lot of science fiction, it's not just about the future—it's about wh
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“Humans who attend directly to vivid cases [of inequality] are capable of great empathy with inequality losers. They are also capable of great compassion and even a desire to help. However, we humans are also quite capable of avoiding contact and exposure that might produce such compassion, and of numbing ourselves to the plight of losers about whom it would be inconvenient to feel empathy. So rich people avoid visiting poor neighborhoods and nations, attractive people avoid socializing with the ugly, and pretty young women become numb to the losses of the men they reject.” 0 likes
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