Response to Robin Hanson

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I recently wrote about masculinity in the context of Robin Hanson’s book, The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth. Hanson has written a critique of this article that I would quickly like to respond to.

In short, Hanson claims I have misread his book. He states,

“For the record, I didn’t say the em world selects for ‘competitive types’, that people would work alone, or that there’d be more men. Instead I have a whole section on a likely ‘Gender Imbalance’”

Certainly, the phrase “competitive types” was mine. But the word “competitive” in the context of the em world is used on many occasions throughout the book, including in relation to the ems. For example, Hanson writes,

Today, successful people in very competitive jobs, professions, and industries often work a great many hours per week. This makes it plausible that selection for em productivity will produce a world of ems who are also very hard-working, even ‘workaholic,’ perhaps working two-thirds or more of their waking hours, or 12 hours or more per day.”

Hanson also clearly alludes to “working alone” when he writes that workaholics,

rise early to work alone and they often use stimulants (Kemeny 2002; Currey 2013). These patterns weakly suggest that ems will also tend to be early rising males who use simulating mental tweaks and socialize more at standard scheduled events”.

In regard to gender, certainly the Gender Imbalance section is neutral on the matter, but in the early summary of the book Hanson writes of “An unequal demand for male versus female em workers”, and in the above quote writes “that ems will also tend to be early rising males”. So certainly, there is discussion of gender balance, but it seems fair to me to interpret the scenario as being weighted towards men. You can decide for yourself if my reading seems reasonable.

Ultimately, the point of my article was not to say that Hanson is wrong, after all his vision is only ever speculation (albeit perfectly reasonable given the evidence). The point of my article is about future-building. I write,

“As Hanson notes at the beginning of the book, there are far more historians than futurists; however, the future matters more than the past, because we can influence it. If you are at all dissatisfied with how gender functions today, or how others predict it will function in years to come, you have only one choice: to become a futurist, and shape what is to come rather than leaving the task to others who may have an altogether different agenda.”

Hanson’s vision is one that replicates our current pre-occupation with Stage 2 on The Five Stages of Masculinity. I have written elsewhere that Stage 4 and 5 are future-orientated, and invite you to construct these futures rather than allow the continuation of the status quo.