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The Age of EmWork, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth$
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Robin Hanson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198754626

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198754626.001.0001

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11 (p.142) Farewells
The Age of Em

Robin Hanson

Oxford University Press

Em minds age with experience, becoming less flexible and thus less able to adapt to new skills and environments. Because of this, old ems eventually become substantially less productive than young competitors, and need to retire. Here is why. Imagine that you were asked to modify an ordinary (i.e., stock) car into a truck to haul rocks. If after that you were asked to create a racecar, you would probably prefer to start from another stock car, rather than the stock car that you had turned into a truck. Similarly, species of beetles that have adapted to a varied and oft changing environment have simpler designs than beetles adapted to more stable environments. These simpler beetles are more likely to successfully invade and adapt to new environments that become available, relative to beetles that have adapted to specific stable environments ( Fridley and Sax 2014 ). A similar effect causes large software systems to “rot” with time. As software that was designed to match one set of tasks, tools, and situations is slowly changed to deal with a steady stream of new tasks, tools, and situations, such software becomes more complex, fragile, and more difficult to usefully change ( Lehman and Belady 1985 ). Eventually it is better to start over and write whole new subsystems, and sometimes whole new systems, from scratch. Similarly, while more complex and higher quality business products tend to become better adapted to circumstances, and to sell for higher prices, simpler cheaper products tend to have more descendants in new products, at least for products sold to firms ( Christensen 1997 ; Thompson 2013 ). In multi-cellular animals, flexible generic stem cells create other more varied cells that are better adapted to particular body tasks. Yet new organisms descend mostly from generic stem cells, which have far more descendant cells in the long run. All of these examples suggest that as systems become better adapted in detail to particular situations, they become more fragile and less able to adapt in detail to very different situations.

Keywords:   assets, bets, breaches, communication, existence, global laws, intellectual property, loyalty, many, networks

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