[ExI] Em Software Engineering Bleg

Robin D Hanson rhanson at gmu.edu
Wed Oct 8 20:28:54 UTC 2014

Many folks on this list are experts in software engineering, and also interested in the future.
I've just posted this bleg: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2014/10/em-software-engineering-bleg.html
In it I ask those with software engineering expertise to help me guess how software engineering
would change in a world dominated by ems (= brain emulations).

I suggest 9 reasonable premises:
1. Software would be a bigger part of the economy, and a bigger industry overall. So it could support more specialization and pay more fixed costs.
2. Progress would have been made in the design of tools, languages, hardware, etc. But there’d still be far to go to automate all tasks; more income would still go to rent ems than to rent other software.
3. After an initial transition, em hardware would fall in costs about as fast as non-em computer hardware. So the relative cost to rent ems and other computer hardware would stay about the same over time. This is in stark contrast to today when hardware costs fall fast relative to human wages.
4. Hardware speed will not rise as fast as hardware costs fall. Thus the cost advantage of parallel software would continue to rise.
5. Emulating brains is a much more parallel task than are most software tasks.
6. Ems would typically run about a thousand times human mind speed, but would vary over a wide range of speeds. Ems in software product development races would run much faster.
7. It would be possible to safe a copy of an em engineer who just wrote some software, a copy available to answer questions about it, or to modify it.
8. Em software engineers could sketch out a software design, and then split into many temporary copies who each work on a different part of the design, and talk with each other to negotiate boundary issues.
9. Most ems are crammed into a few dense cities. Toward em city centers, computing hardware is more expensive, and maximum hardware speeds are lower. Away from city centers, there are longer communication delays.

I ask: how would em software tools and work patterns differ from today’s, and how would they vary with time, application, software engineer speed, and city location?

Robin Hanson  http://hanson.gmu.edu
Res. Assoc., Future of Humanity Inst., Oxford Univ.
Assoc. Professor, George Mason University
Chief Scientist, Consensus Point
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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