Robin's Turing Test
By Bryan Caplan
Robin recently tried an Ideological Turing Test for a subset of my critique of his Age of Em. He understands me better than before, but there’s still room for improvement. “Correct” means Robin has described my view to a tee.
Bryan sees sympathy feelings as huge influences on social outcomes.
Not just feelings between people who know each other well, but also
distant feelings between people who have never met.
For example, if not
for feelings of sympathy:
1. Law and courts would often favor different disputants.
2. Free workers would more often face harsh evaluations, punishments, and firing.
3. Firm owners and managers would know much better which workers were doing good jobs.
Partly correct. The primary issue is that firm owners and managers are squeamish about acting on their knowledge. But if they were less squeamish, they would admittedly be more interested in acquiring knowledge.
4. The US would invade and enslave Canada tomorrow.
Incorrect. There are also plenty of prudential reasons not to invade and enslave Canada. My claim, rather, is that if the US could profitably invade and enslave Canada, it still wouldn’t do it. Indeed, few Americans would consider it.
5. At the end of most wars, the victors would enslave the losers.
Partly correct. Most wars don’t end in abject defeat of the losers. But without sympathy, abject defeat would lead to slavery, yes.
6. Modern slaves would earn their owners much more than they would have as free workers.
Correct. Workers’ credible threat to quit has massive distributional effects. How could it be otherwise?
7. In the past, domestic, artisan, and city slaves, who were treated
better than field slaves, would have been treated much more harshly.
Partly correct. Domestic slaves were better treated because most people have greater sympathy for people they see every day. (Field slaves’ overseers saw them every day, too, of course, but overseers were selected for their lack of sympathy). In contrast to domestic slaves, however, I think artisan and city slaves were better treated because of imperfect information about productivity.
8. The slave population would have fallen less via gifts or purchase of freedom.
Partly correct. Sympathy explains most of the gifts, but with imperfect information there is a selfish reason to give slaves some positive incentives, which ultimately allowed some to purchase their freedom.
9. Thus most of the world population today would be slaves.
Incorrect. There would have to be numerous major wars ending in abject defeat for large populations for this to happen.
Of course even if Bryan were right about all these claims, he needn’t
be right in his confident opinion that the vast majority of biological
humans will have about as much sympathy for ems as they do for mammals,
and thus treat ems as harshly as we treat most mammals.
Actually, I expect we would treat ems worse than we treat non-human mammals – closer to the way we treat videogame characters. The animal/machine divide mightily influences human feelings. Check out every Twilight Zone episode where attitudes change on a dime once people realize that something that looks human on the outside is only machinery on the inside.
This sympathy-driven view doesn’t by itself predict Caplan’s strong (and not much explained) view that ems would also be very
robot-like. But perhaps we might add to it a passion for domination –
people driven by feelings to treat nicely creatures they respect
might also be driven by feelings to dominate creatures they do not
It’s even simpler. Docile slaves are more profitable than slaves with attitude, because owners don’t have to use resources to torture and scare them into compliance. That’s why owners sent rebellious slaves to “breakers”: to transform rebellious slaves into docile slaves. Sci-fi is full of stories about humans genetically engineered to be model slaves. Whole brain emulation is a quicker route to a the same destination. What’s the puzzle?