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Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth, with Robin Hanson

Robots may one day rule the world. But what will a robot-ruled Earth be like?

This London Futurists presentation by Professor Robin Hanson will explore the idea that the first truly smart robots will be brain emulations - which can be called ems for short.

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 disposal. When they can be made cheaply, within perhaps a century, ems will displace humans in most jobs. In this new economic era, the world economy may double in size every few weeks.

Some say we can't know the future, especially following such a disruptive new technology, but Professor Hanson sets out to prove them wrong. Applying his decades of expertise in physics, computer science, and economics, he will will use standard theories to paint a detailed picture of a world dominated by ems.

About "The Age of Em":

Professor Hanson's forthcoming book about ems, "The Age of Em - Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth", will be published by Oxford University Press in May 2016.

The book discusses em mind speeds, body sizes, job training and career paths, energy use and cooling infrastructure, virtual reality, aging and retirement, death and immortality, security, wealth inequality, religion, teleportation, identity, cities, politics, law, war, status, friendship and love.

While human lives may not change greatly in the em era, em lives will be as different from ours as our lives are from those of our farmer and forager ancestors. Ems make us question common assumptions of moral progress, because they reject many of the values we hold dear.

This book shows you just how strange your descendants may be, though ems are no stranger than we would appear to our ancestors. To most ems, it seems good to be an em.

For more details about this book, see

These topics will be previewed by Professor Hanson in the talk on 19th March.

About Robin Hanson:

Robin Hanson is associate professor of economics at George Mason University, and research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University.

He has a doctorate in social science from California Institute of Technology, master's degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of Chicago, and nine years experience as a research programmer, at Lockheed and NASA. He has 2800 citations, 60 publications, 420 media mentions, and he blogs at OvercomingBias.

For a longer biography, see

Meeting logistics:

2pm-4pm, Saturday 19th March 2016.

Venue: Room B33, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square WC1E 7HX, London.

Room B33 is on the basement level floor in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

Coffee and other light refreshments can be purchased from the Costa Coffee shop in the reception area of the building, either ahead of or after the meeting.

The event will be followed by a chance to continue the discussion in a nearby pub - The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ.

Event hashtag:


Covering meeting costs: 

A small fee (£5) is payable to attend this meetup. This fee covers room hire costs. Please pay in advance, online, after you RSVP.

This will be refunded if the meeting is cancelled or rearranged, or if the attendee cancels at least 3 days before the meetup.

Alternatively, if there are still seats available, payment can be made in cash at the door on the day. (Requesting payment in advance assists with accurate planning of the event.)

Journalists are welcome to attend the meeting free-of-charge - please contact the organiser, notifying us in advance of your plans to attend.

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  • Rich

    You may be interested to watch Horizons - immortalists check it out on BBC iPlayer

    March 20, 2016

  • David W.

    For a video recording of this event, see

    Many thanks to Kiran Manam for operating the camera, to Robin Hanson for his very stimulating presentation, and to the audience members for a fine set of questions.

    2 · March 20, 2016

  • Rich

    Really good thought provoking meetup.

    1 · March 20, 2016

  • terence f.

    Many assertions with a take-it-or-leave-it approach. Interesting to find out prdictios.

    March 19, 2016

  • Terry R

    The premise that humans, once embodied in silicon will continue with exactly the same motivations (or even be the ideal beings modelled by economists) is very bold - and all the more valuable as a thought experiment. I suggest though - that either paternalism - arising from vestigial humanity - or given available computing power, pursuit of number theory are more likely. In any event, religion, which is mainly concerned with who is sleeping with who and how they are doing it seems inconceivable when entities are embodied in silicon. Science fiction may be a better guide to the future than economics.

    1 · March 19, 2016

  • Peter M.

    Sorry I couldn't make it - very much looking forward to the slides.

    March 19, 2016

  • Shereen M.

    Hi there, sorry I won't be able to make it today but hope to see you all next time!

    March 19, 2016

  • A former member
    A former member

    How do I buy a ticket? I have RSVPd

    March 18, 2016

    • David W.

      It's a similar process if you're visiting the meetup page using a desktop browser. There's a "Pay online now" link beside the line on the page that states the entrance fee for the event.

      March 18, 2016

    • A former member
      A former member

      I don't see anything on the mobile app that says "you RSVPd yes without paying". I will try the desktop version when I get back.

      March 18, 2016

  • Steve L.

    Agree with comments that alien intelligences already rule much of today. Whilst corporations ostensibly serve shareholder value, these aliens can not be defined purely by entity boundaries. Instead, they emerge to serve collective self-interests, often harming other stakeholders. See brain-scanning as ambitious even within next century. Why go for general AI when task specific robots built from part bins of code can deliver more for less? To secure wealth it is also easier to model socio-economic systems, than more complex brains: as an extension to what some hedge funds etc. are already doing to corner markets. As multiple models approximate closer to reality, we will then get 'temporal arbitrage' between faster-looser and slower-tighter models. Given the likely race for faster simulations, tomorrow's breakthrough tech. in this space is less likely to be EMS than clockless photonic computers. To me EMS seem more 2200 than 2100. Keen to learn of other views on Sat.

    March 16, 2016

  • Elaine

    Unfortunately I can no longer attend. Hope it will be recorded. All best, Elaine

    February 22, 2016

  • Richard Alexander G.

    Alien Intelligences already rule the earth.
    They call themselves corporations.

    December 22, 2015

    • Ted H.

      Hi Richard et al

      OK this is getting complex, and we seem to be talking straight past each other at present, probably because we do not have agreement about the basics as yet.

      So I am going to take it back out to a new main thread.

      January 5, 2016

    • Geoff B.

      Does anyone remember the Bilderberg Group - they suddenly hit the headlines a few years ago. I've developed this theme in my new novel - 'Species Hs53' see­

      January 23, 2016

  • Ted H.

    Richard wrote "Progress is not so much limited by resources, such as energy, as it is by attention." There is some truth in that, and that statement can also be used to hide some much deeper truths.

    It seems necessary to get really explicit about some of the different basic levels of what an economy is (acknowledging that there are many more higher level strategic structures than I will be explicit about in this piece). And it is important to at least get the major sets of the basic components clear, so that the strategic interactions between them becomes clear.

    At the simplest of strategic levels, money and markets seems to perform two quite independent classes of function.
    1 Creation of "value";
    2 Coordination through transmission of information.

    The first idea I will look at is value.

    January 5, 2016

    • Richard Alexander G.

      I prefer a draft democracy where these things are decided by citizen draftees rather than political gamesmen playing party politics. But, even if we delegate to unpolitical robots, the process still involves proposal, clarification, prioritization, acceptance/rejection, allocation of resources, implementation, and monitoring. Even if it is out-of-sight, it is still happening somewhere. And the process (robotic or not) requires inputs related to relative values. (utility metrics) Some means of comparison occurs in this market place of proposals. Ultimately, the comparison is expressed in the allocation of resources in support of the various proposals.

      January 6, 2016

    • Ted H.

      Hi Richard,
      Ok - putting on my software developer and systems hat ( ;) ) - yes we need mechanisms to reach agreement.

      Here on earth energy is going to be the major limiting factor.

      Anyone wanting to do serious engineering will need to do so off planet (either in person or by remote). I suspect all serious engineering projects will be automated to a substantial degree.

      Coming back to earth, if everyone has a certain share of the energy resources, and can allocate fractions of that to whatever projects take there interest (I expect most people will need less than 10% of their allocation most of the time), then we can use "Kick Starter" type voting of energy to projects we support.

      So we can individually use whatever utility metric we want to make our decisions, and energy (Earth surface area, as adjusted for orbital, tilt and aspect effects) is the metric of allocation.

      January 6, 2016

  • Caroline W.

    Would really love to attend this event, but unfortunately I'm lecturing myself that day. Any chance of getting any of the out put from the day?

    January 2, 2016

    • David W.

      Hi Caroline, We plan to film the event. All being well, the footage will be uploaded, alongside that of other previous events, at http://londonfuturist...­

      1 · January 2, 2016

  • Richard Alexander G.

    People tend to confuse money with process.
    Money is a scoring device.
    But the score depends on the rules of the game.
    The rules consist of goals (promoted by incentives), penalties (situations to avoid), and constraints (illegal moves).
    If you don't like the game, change the rules.

    January 1, 2016

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