Ancestral simulations and happy puppeteers

From: Emil Gilliam (
Date: Mon Dec 03 2001 - 22:18:48 MST

Eliezer claims:

> A Friendly SI outcome does not allow for nonconsensual
> simulations, and most ancestral simulations would presumably fall into
> that category.

I find it difficult to believe that nonconsensual simulations should
not be allowed, ever ever ever.

Suppose Bob is a puppeteer, known for his masterful manipulation of
wooden marionettes representing human characters. In one sad skit we
see a character to whom very unfortunate things happen, and we see
its expressions of suffering. Bob feels *happy* doing this dramatical
production. He himself does not feel the character's pain (except in
the metaphorical sense). If all we saw was the puppet we would
conclude that its suffering is nonconsensual. Is Bob's action immoral?

And of course, you see where this is going. Suppose we have six
billion happy puppeteers controlling six billion "suffering" human
puppets in a simulation, including some who have the line "I hope I'm
not in a simulation; if I were, I'd want out of it now!" (Don't
nominate this drama for a Pulitzer.) Is this immoral?

The possible resolutions:

1.) What Bob does is immoral and should not be allowed. I truly fear
for our freedom if a Friendly AI decides that a street puppeteer
Pedestrian can't even put on a innocuous tragic puppet show (or, for
that matter, that nobody can perform Shakespeare).

2.) What Bob does is okay, but the six billion isn't allowed. How
many happy puppeteers would have to get together before their
sorrowful simulation isn't allowed? On what rational basis could a
Friendly AI pick such a number without it being somewhat arbitrary?
There is no such basis.

3.) What Bob does is okay, and what six billion puppeteers do is
(generally) okay. Then I think one of the following would be true:

   3a.) All simulations of civilizations, including ancestral ones, are okay, or

   3b.) There might be something special about ancestral simulations, as opposed
   a simulation of a civilization that never historically existed.
   To do a true ancestral simulation would require getting information that is
   (as far as physics knows right now) irretrievably lost to history.
Either this
   remains impossible forever, in which case it is a moot point, or if
   post-Singularity we discover some physics that allows this information to be
   retrieved, the very act of retrieving it might involve doing something else
   that is definitely immoral. But note that the immorality would then lie in
   that (currently unknown) "something else", and not in the act of doing a

- Emil Gilliam

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