Monday I debated Robin Hanson for the Soho Forum on the following resolution:

“Robots will eventually dominate the world and eliminate human abilities to earn wages.”

Video will be available eventually, but you can enjoy my slides (in pdf format) now.

The main surprise for me: To my eyes, Robin initially (and uncharacteristically) ran away from his thesis by embracing a very weak sense of the word “dominate.”  Here are Merriam-Webster’s definitions:

  • to have control of or power over (someone or something)

  • to be the most important part of (something)

  • to be much more powerful or successful than others in a game, competition, etc.

Robin appealed to something like definition #2.  When challenged, he bit two bullets.  First, he said that tractors already “dominate” in agriculture.  Second, he denied that Mark Zuckerberg “dominates” Facebook.  This is especially odd because, at least in his Age of Em, robots dominate by all three definitions.  Indeed, as he eventually admitted in the debate, Robin thinks there’s a 30% chance the ems exterminate mankind within a year of their creation, in line with my argument here.  Now that’s domination in its most horrifying form.

Despite my stark disagreement with Robin, it was a delightful debate.  One of my main debate maxims is, “Talk to your opponent like he’s your best friend.”  This is especially easy when my opponent is my best friend!  Right or wrong, Robin’s a genius and a joy.

P.S. Don’t miss the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s cover story on Robin!