January 16, 2012

The rich will get richer in a world of emulated brains

Thought-provoking article by Robin Hanson on why he believes wealth inequality could expand dramatically in a future economy run by emulated brains. If you've never come across Hanson's ideas before, you should probably start with his paper, If Uploads Come First. From his recent post:
In the em era [i.e. emulated brain era], I expect firm distributions to stay similar, but expect city and individual wealth distributions to change. I’ve talked before about how I suspect strong gains to em concentration, as they suffer less from travel congestion, leading perhaps to most being in a few dense cities. In this post, let me talk about em wealth.

Since em lifespans should be limited mainly by em wealth, em lifetimes can vary a lot more than human lifetimes, and ems can have more long-term spending consistency. While some ems will spend their wealth on more copies, others will hoard their wealth. Some may even manage to consistently reinvest most of their wealth via something like a Kelly criteria. This seems likely to make future em wealth evolution more akin to today’s firm and city evolution. I thus expect a near Zipf distribution for the high tail of em wealth.

This change in tail power should make em wealth distributions more unequal. Under a tail power of ~1.4, today’s richest person has about $75B, which is about 0.04% of the world’s $200T wealth. Under a power of ~1, the richest person might be about a hundred times richer, holding ~4% of the world’s wealth, or $7.5T.

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