critical reading for the rude

economics, nanotechnology, and post-human social structures: a debate

Oh yeah, you’ll want to go read this

The Hanson-Hughes Debate on
“The Crack of a Future Dawn”

Journal of Evolution and Technology – Vol. 16 Issue 1 – June 2007 – pgs 99-126

PDF Version

Editor’s Introduction

“Follow the money” has been the operational rule for historians and investigative journalists since at least the Watergate era, if not earlier. Futurists do not have a money trail to follow, but instead must predict the trajectory of economic relations based on assumptions of what technological and social developments the future may hold. Many futurists assume that nanotechnology in combination with Artificial Intelligence (AI) will yield a world of material abundance with little or no need for human labor. The nano/AI cornucopia will rain down wealth upon one and all, giving slackers and solid workaholics equal access to almost anything they could ever need or want. But is this really the most likely scenario?

Economist Robin Hanson thinks not. As he reasoned in his paper “If Uploads Come First: The Crack of a Future Dawn” (1994), if the technology to copy, or upload, human minds is developed before strong AI, then the “result could be a sharp transition to an upload-dominated world, with many dramatic consequences. In particular, fast and cheap replication may once again make Darwinian evolution of human values a powerful force in human history. With evolved values, most uploads would value life even when life is hard or short, uploads would reproduce quickly, and wages would fall. But total wealth should rise, so we could all do better by accepting uploads, or at worse taxing them, rather than trying to delay or segregate them.”

In his book Citizen Cyborg (2004), bioethicist (and JET editor) James Hughes took issue with the social implications of Dr. Hanson’s paper. Dr. Hughes objected to Hanson’s upload scenario, characterizing it as a “dismal, elitist utopia” that “recapitulates Marx’s vision of universal immiseration, but this time in the Matrix.”

When Hanson learned of what Hughes had written, on March 29, 2006 he posted a response to the WTA-Talk email list of the World Transhumanist Association. During March and April, a debate ensued. The text that follows is a lightly-edited transcript of that online debate. The original discussion thread, which includes messages from additional participants, can be read at:

The debate text here is limited to what Hanson and Hughes wrote online, but with the addition of closing comments from each man which were written specifically for this document.

I would like to thank Robin Hanson and James Hughes for allowing me to assemble their email debate messages into this document. I hope it will prove to be a more convenient format for readers to follow the fascinating and important issues under discussion. All credit for the content of this document belongs to Dr. Hanson and Dr. Hughes. All errors, omissions, or infelicities of language are my responsibility alone.

Michael LaTorra

Member, IEET Board of Directors
WTA Publications Director
JET Editor


July 2, 2007 - Posted by | books, geo/pol


  1. I’ve long thought that the key to immortality would be to clone oneself and then somehow transfer memories into the mind of the clone. Then one could have the sum of his or her experiences imprinted on the mind of a child version of themselves. Perhaps, this uploading is what I’ve really meant all along.

    Comment by Spencer | July 2, 2007 | Reply

  2. Oh man… there’s a whole lot of flavors to this stuff. The World Transhumanist Organization is a good place to start.

    …political debates (libertarians vs. socialists) wrack the movement… the Extropian branch considers its work done… has closed its doors.

    Comment by woody3 | July 2, 2007 | Reply

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