This is a quick write-up of a 'person-affecting' & preference utilitarian idea that came to my mind (a normally totally total and hedonistic utilitarian). I don't think this is worth pursuing due to x-risk related priorities seeming overwhelming more important but I thought the idea was sufficiently interesting to share.
TLDR: Maybe in future we will want to "revive" past people by simulating a lot of digital people such that many of those digital people will be more or less identical to many past people? The intuition is that this way we can partially redeem the tragically suboptimal lives that specific individuals today and in the past had to endure.
A friend of mine once mentioned that he’s leaving as many of his thoughts in recoverable digital form so it would be more feasible to reconstruct his mind digitally at some point in the future. This would allow a very close digital version of him to live a fulfilled utopian life even after his biological body and mind will have disappeared.
My reaction back then was to doubt that his written words would allow a particularly close copy, such that this whole idea is more or less irrelevant as humanity would not be able to realistically recover people and there’s consequently less reason to spend large amounts of resources on this in the future. But the idea of allowing past people, especially those who had to experience a lot of tragedy and suffering and unfulfilled potential, to live another time under conditions very conducive to a fulfilled life stuck with me.
Feasibility of recovering current and past people without perfect brain scans
Recently I reconsidered the feasibility of recovering specific past people digitally because of three thoughts that randomly crossed my mind:
A) I hadn’t considered before that a utopian version of humanity might be able to spend astronomical amounts of compute on generating a lot of close-by copies of past humans, such that at least one of the copies will likely be a very close version of the actual person.
B) I hadn’t considered how much information about our minds is shared among all humans, such that for each person there is already a reasonable baseload of information available.
C) I hadn’t considered that recovering the DNA of a person probably would supply a decent chunk of information about the mind of that person.
Many people today leave fairly big digital footprints via things like chats with friends, pictures, personal notes, recorded behaviour on platforms such as Google and Facebook, and additionally genetic codes. My completely made-up guess is that such a person today could be reasonably considered recovered if there are somewhere between one thousand to one million plausible digital copies created for him or her in future? A lot of details about the person will never be instantiated, but the conditions of an ethical redemption for a given past person might still be met? One criterion might be that the past person would likely have said that they recognize themself in one of the digital minds after doing a very extensive assisted Ensuring test.
Some open questions
- Has this topic been discussed somewhere?
- How likely can you recover past and currently living people based on the available information such that one can honestly say that this past person has been recovered to live the life that this person would find very fulfilling?
- I imagine there might be some function that estimates a rough interaction of i) the amount of information available for a given person, and ii) the number of copies that would make successful recovery very likely.
- Related to 2., how much compute would it cost to recover people from the past?
- Maybe some fraction of the people from the past hundred years could be recovered fairly “cheaply” based on written notes and diaries, reports from surviving relatives, pictures, genetic samples, biographical knowledge. In contrast, people whose genes we can’t recover and who didn’t leave much autobiographical text might be very expensive to allow another life.
- How much less good would the simulated past people’s lives be compared to the kinds of lives and minds that will be possible in the future?
- If the difference in quality of experiences would be big, then simulating past lives would come with immense opportunity costs.
- E.g. I can imagine that many past people were shaped into personalities that are not conducive for living a happy live. But I also imagine that those people would than choose to change their minds into forms that are conducive for their flourishing.
- Is “righting past wrongs” a reasonable ethical position?
- I’m fairly sympathetic to the idea that personal identity is not a helpful and reality-carving concept and often leads to confusion.
- But I also have a strong intuition that I would support any person whose life has been cut short due to unjust circumstances (e.g. murder or disease) or whose live was largely unfulfilling and stricken with suffering to be offered a second chance.
- Are there some cheap options available today to enable recovering more people?
- E.g. one might preserve DNA samples of people who might die soon or who have died in the past, one might invest more in preserving personal documents of the deceased in some form, one might invest in a service to file the memories of people.
Thanks Jasper and Tilman for feedback, I will try a little harder to preserve my memories of both of your wonderful souls, just in case.