Imagine both humans uploaded into computer networks and biological humans exist in the same society. The uploaded humans have the normal range of human personalities (not an evil-AI-takes-over-the-world plot). For the rest of this question, I will refer to the uploaded human AIs simply as AIs. Because the AIs are running on computer hardware, they can think much faster than a biological human can and make decisions in microseconds. Some humans for various ethical, cultural, and religious reasons have chosen not to upload themselves and join the rest of the human species in becoming a machine civilization. They still try to live in society, with some of them forming their own societies ("human only" cities, a country which has banned mind uploading, etc).

Some extra details: The AIs have cybernetic bodies which they can enter which are physically superior to a human in strength, speed, and precision. A side note is that a poor AI may not be able to afford one and may just exist in a server. Mechanical bodies can also be specialized to be very adept at particular tasks. This means the AIs do not need humans to do general purpose labor.

Approximately 90% of the world population is uploaded people at this point, so biologicals are not unthinkably rare but are still the minority.

The strongest military players are controlled by AIs and defeating the AI nations in a war or uprising is unrealistic.

The question is this: what is the relative value (from a monetary sense) of a human compared to an AI in this scenario? I believe the humans would be comparatively poor, but it is hard to conceptualize just how much poorer. How much more money could we expect the average AI to have than the average human?

Edit: As pointed out by several people, the question of if the robotic bodies of the uploaded humans can self repair is important. They do not have self-repair capabilities. They could fix a broken wrist by replacing a motor, but they couldn't magically fix a fried circuit board. This means that robotic bodies require a large industrial complex to support while fleshy human bodies require relatively simple logistics to support (a fishing rod and a wheat farm).

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    $\begingroup$ Why would you expect a computer program to have money? What does it even mean for a computer program to have money? How do computer programs earn money? Can they enter into contracts? What does it even mean to enter into a contract with a computer program? And if "uploading" ninety percent of humanity into computers is possible, why on Earth does that society still use money? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 17, 2020 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ It's been done: Frederik Pohl's The Boy Who Would Live Forever (2004) explored how virtual persons and real persons can still be controlled (and indeed trafficked) by others, and how wealth and class make a difference, even to the virtual folks, and even in near-utopias. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Nov 17, 2020 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ In any kind of discussion on what the economy would be like with uploaded people, someone simply has to mention the book 'The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth' by Robin Hanson. It's sort of like a SE post answering your question, spanning a few hundred pages, written by a professor of economics who spent years and years thinking about just about every aspect of uploading technology! $\endgroup$
    – EdvinW
    Nov 18, 2020 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ It appears that your scenario doesn't have AI's or AGI's. It has Humans and Uploaded Humans. Edit your question as to not cause confusion for the responders. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt you can make a mechanical body superior to a biological one in EVERY way, A biological one can build its own components out of seeds and dead squirrels without outside help, while being highly resistant to corrosion and UV damage. they can also make more humans. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 18, 2020 at 14:20

6 Answers 6


There seem to be some assumptions in your question that might not be realistic

  1. Apparently the machines are entirely capable of repairing themselves. That sounds obvious, but it isn't. Humans get a scratch and can all but ignore it and it heals by itself. Unless you have Clarkean Magic, when a machine gets a scratch, things seriously stop working (don't believe me? Scratch one of the copper traces on your computer's motherboard. Just one. Pick a small one.) This is a fairly massive assumption.

Detection of hardware failures has been a nonstop effort in the computer industry. I remember working on JTAG Boundary Scan tech back in the day. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to distinguish between "that wasn't expected, but it was legitimate" and "whoa! Something's broken!"

Conclusion: Humans are immensely valuable, possibly even revered to the point of enslavement, because they can fix things when they go very, very wrong.

  1. Apparently this is a post-scarcity economy. It is, IMO, impossible to believe the idea of a post-scarcity economy. Unlimited energy, unlimited resources, unlimited opportunity, and all basically free. In a word: boring. From this perspective, the creation of the hardware necessary to house an uploaded intelligence, the cybernetic body for periodic use, the repair and recharging solutions (infinite battery? That's even more boring), are all incredibly cheap.

In reality, gallium is really rare, as are a great many other technologically useful minerals. Things will be hard (aka "expensive") to build. Frankly, the cost of shifting someone to AI will be (and should be) very non-trivial.

Conclusion: Humans are cheap to create and cheap to maintain. That's valuable in a world where if anything goes wrong, the cost of fixing it technologically could be very high. Besides, mewonders how many of the Cyborg Overlords will want to dig in the mines. (Relevant Star Trek TOS episode)

  1. Finally, I think it's a whomping big assumption that people would actually want to "live forever." We all think about it during our lives, and it's a truism that the people who want to live to be 100 are usually the 99-year-olds, the the truth is much more interesting. What would happen to human sanity, morality, and ethics, once uploaded to an AI that lives, theoretically, forever? It's jumping quite a long way to the isle of conclusions to assume nothing.

In reality, people get bored. Very few people want to do the same thing for decades on end. Most people, I suspect, want to retire. And then they get bored again. That leads, methinks, to either of two things: stupification or madness. And the only thing I can think of that's worse than an expensive AI that has the cognitive and social value of a tomato is the evil-AI-takes-over-the-world madness you appear to not think would happen. I'm not even sure madness would be required for that. Sociopathy and psychopathy should be thought of as dials every human has. For most people, those dials are set within what society calls "normal" ranges. For a few, they're off-center. For (thankfully) fewer still, they're turned way high. And you just gave all those people massively powerful bodies that can live forever. Remember that Facebook bully you hated so much? That person gets to live forever in a very difficult to destroy condition. I'd sure hate to see the legal system of your world.

Conclusion: More people will avoid becoming cyborgs than you might think. Unless forced to it, I suspect many if not most will remain human just because they enjoy intercourse. And beer.

  1. You're assuming that because computers can perform arithmetic faster than humans, that the proverbial positronic brain can "think" faster than humans. The only problem is that computers are really, really, really, really bad at doing anything associative.

Yes, neural network hardware and programming has come a long way, but unless you once again invoke Clarkean Magic, the problem you face is that computers can manipulate data very quickly, but they come to conclusions very slowly. In fact they're bad at it. Look how long it's taken to get even basic facial recognition, and it's still beaten regularly by people growing beards, wearing makeup, or puffing their cheeks when the image was captured. Humans are incredibly good at visual and auditory pattern matching and we're amazing when it comes to putting the proverbial 2 and 2 together.

Conclusion: Jumping into the AI pouch isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are pros and cons to being an AI just as there are to being human. You loose something, becoming a computer simulation. You lose a spark of intuition that lets you realize you're in danger when a computer's "judgement" based on protocols and statistical profiles disagrees. Some call that having a soul. Computers don't have them.

And Finally: From a certain point of view, this question is a bit erroneous. You did not completely explain all the rules of being an AI (its advantages and disadvantages) and, therefore, we really can't tell you what a human is worth in comparison.

The trouble is — it's your world. If you want humans to be valueless you can always come up with rules to force that to be. You literally could tick off the entries in my list and say, "yeah, my robots are better than that...," in which case, humans are worthless.

But that's a really boring story. It's just another kind of godlike character that your average reader can't relate to. One of the most brilliant moments of dialog from the Matrix trilogy was this:

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program.

Neither will your readers.

We already know that computers are flawed and that it's impossible for imperfect humanity to create a perfect machine. So, the real questions you should be answering yourself are, "what are the limitations and restrictions of being an AI in my world? What is the price people pay for cybernetic immortality?"

And if you keep finding roses, you haven't found the right answers. If you have not done so, I strongly recommend reading Asimov's The Bicentennial Man.

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    $\begingroup$ Even if the AI’s are truly self repairing they’ll be smart enough to recognise the utility of redundancy. If there were sentient beetles running around that could perform emergency surgery we’d probably keep some on the payroll even if they couldn’t do calculus. Sure, they might never be needed, but the relative cost is so small compared to the added security that it’s kind of irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Nov 18, 2020 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answer. Yes I did not mention drawbacks of being AI. The project is not a book, it is a role playing game where you play as an uploaded person who goes on adventures in expendable robot bodies. I wanted to have biological people in the world to add some flavor, but I wanted to also have stark class differences between societies which use and don't use mind uploading. I think you make a good point with human bodies being much cheaper than robotic bodies. Robotic bodies take a massive industrial complex to support. Humans take a fishing rod and a wheat farm. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ People would still like to have no natural limit on their lifespans, so they can decide when they're bored enough, not genetics. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Let me point out that that AI like neural networks come to conclusions very quickly! The time when humans were significantly better in these tasks are over, but only recently (the scientific progress of AI has increased dramatically in recent years) GPT-3 it the best, (and most scary) AI for now, but a nice demonstration of progress ist found here - it invents a new face on page reload. The faces are not related to any existing persons: thispersondoesnotexist.com $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ "it's still beaten regularly by people growing beards, wearing makeup, or puffing their cheeks when the image was captured" - to be fair, the first two work on humans as well... to a certain extent at least. And even the third one might be worth some research? Anyways, this doesn't apply to full-brain simulation... and I wouldn't entrust my visual cortex to be replaced by a computer algorithm of today's... irreversibly, at least. As a temporary change, it might provide an interesting "trip" :P (still probably incredibly dangerous so also no) $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 19:57


Believe it or not mere speed is nothing. If you are cooking on a 4 eyes stove and you are using them it matter little of you have an Olympic athlete behind the thing or your 90 yo gramma. In fact I would take the gramma because she probably knows more about cooking that the pure speed guy. I mean the 2 extra second he saves with his speed in moving the pots is nothing compared to babushka's tasty meals

How does this translate into the job market and life?

Intelligence based job are dominated by AI. 100%

Less demanding jobs? Why waste money?

Think of a tech company CEO and a taxi driver, no insult to either or anything. You need your CEO to be very smart to stay on top now and 10 years in the future. So. That CEO as long as he or she is doing well then the CEO is getting paid well. How well? A crapton of money.

Now a taxi driver? I don't care if my taxi driver is the smartest person in the world. I want him to drive the taxi from point A to point B and most of us prefer him being silent.

But the taxi driver is AI enhanced which costs money. The AI enhancement which costs money he has to pay somehow, so he wants a higher wage. But as a company he brings me nothing extra to justify giving him more money and it's just better to hire an average guy for an average job. Why throw money away?

So. Believe it or not you want the cheapest labor that does the job.

In complex jobs you want intelligence true. But in other it does not matter.


I'm extremely quick at math

What is 15*8


That's not true.

Yes. But it was fast

Not only playing the piano faster is not big of a deal as there is speed to be kept. But also Speed or well playing is nothing compared to composing a piece let alone a symphony.

Now I'm certain it would be fun listening to 4 hours of deathmetal, or classical, preform by your AI with CB bodies as they don't tire. But my neck will be dead, metal has this thing called headbanging, and even in classical people want to take a break.

So. To recap: the ability to create art is very prized.

Speed and repetition is good for certain things. Acting, musicians, painters...etc with CB bodies and AI brain will do better to a certain extent, true.

Cybernetic bodies with AI cores are the big thing

I don't mean to just say look your idea is wrong. But the way I see it so far is that a cybernetic body, CB for short, give you all the good stuff of human labor while the AI cores provides the intelligence all without having to worry about human rights.

Think of it this way. A CB + AI core is better than humans but do not follow human laws. Which is perfect. Sell perfect servant suits to people.

They drive, clean, used for sex, protect, cook...etc for you and if you are angry enough to just destroy a bunch of money you can get a sword and decapitate one without any loss expect financial loss.

What is the relative value (from a monetary sense) of a human compared to an AI

So we are back to it so say: Whatever that human, AI, CB + AI, alien, intelligent bear, angel, demon, god, devil, amoeba, transformer...etc brings to the table.

When you are paying money to people you do not give a toss about anything but what they give in return. Sure loyalty and keeping good morals and good fame is nice. But companies are built on you do X we give you Y and all is well.

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    $\begingroup$ hey are you saying that carykh's ai music isnt good. because yeah i would kinda agree, ai isnt that good at making music $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Nov 17, 2020 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ Speed absolutely does matter in art. Consider an Uploaded artist who can run themselves on an increased sim speed, resulting in them finishing commissioned art piece in several hours instead of several days or weeks. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ @DarthBiomech I'd like to add something, too. Consider oil painting. There's only so much you can do to speed that process up before you destroy the 3-dimensionality of the brush stroke. Or my glassblower friend (I really do have one) who's art is valuable because it was made with the imperfection of human hands and not the perfection of a machine. I wonder if humans uploaded as a computer simulation would still feel the desire for homemade soup made by instinct? If not... are they any longer human? I like this answer. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 18, 2020 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ "Not only playing the piano faster is not big of a deal as there is speed to be kept." Being a semi-professional Piano player myself, I'll add to that: being able to play really fast is actually bad if you don't have the artistic talent to play with feeling. Case in point: "those Asian kids" (no racism intended; this demographic is 95% Asian). These are kids who have been playing the Piano since they were 4, and can play really complex pieces extremely fast, and by memory. However, although technically flawless, their playing is so soulless that it's literally painful to listen to. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ "Cybernetic bodies with AI cores are the big thing." Detroit: Become Human would like a word. Though it's an interesting question whether we might develop the hardware capable of running an uploaded human mind before or after we develop the software to generate a true AI mind. These two things may well end up unrelated to each other -- except that if you can upload minds, can you copy them? Can you copy a baby's mind to effectively create an AGI? Does that have more or fewer ethical issues than copying an adult mind? $\endgroup$
    – Miral
    Nov 19, 2020 at 1:00

I believe human capital and human-run operations would have a much larger monetary value than that of artificial intelligences.

Although your question addresses that the AI bodies are far superior to humans, you did not specify the state of software in your world.

It is much easier for terrorists to hack into AI and create AI computer viruses (just as some do with regular computers in the current state of technology) than to biologically engineer genetic or viral weapons against humans. AI are still based on code and programming that can be (relatively) easily modified. This would especially apply to first responder - type jobs where immediate action is required.

When an immediate, reliable, guaranteed response is needed in a job position, humans will dominate.

  • $\begingroup$ A good point. Literal mind control devices would be a threat to an uploaded person or AI, while biologicals would be immune to such a problem. So "bio-mail" could be the most secure way to deliver a package for instance, or for transfer of military secrets. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 14:16

Frame challenge: one could turn this on its head.

Robot bodies just lack a certain something - they don't have the same intensity and quality of emotions. But being a human is much more tedious, one needs to take care of all those biological needs, and it requires space.

In that future, space is a premium, as is organic material, and all of the knowledge and medicine to grow and keep the human body alive, provide backups in case of accidents, etc.

So only the very rich can afford to be in human form - others have to make do with a little bit of storage space...


Maybe Start at Relative Cost to Find Relative Value

Digital existence isn't free. The human mind has roughly $1 \times 10^{15}$ synapses, and they fire at a rate of around 60 Hz. That's $6 \times 10^{16}$ unique firings in the human brain, per second.

If the technology of your uploaded human beings takes the same amount of processing power, it will require $6 \times 10^{16}$ hashes, or about 60 petahashes per second to simulate a human mind at NORMAL speed. Current technology gets you about 100 terahashes (0.1 petahashes) for about 3 kilowatts (3 kilojoules per second).

For some references, a human body (mind and all) typically consumes 2,000 kilocalories (8,368 kilojoules) per day. A machine mind, at current processing efficiencies, would require $3 \times 3600 {{seconds} \over {hour}} \times 24 {{hour}\over{day}} = $ 259,200 kilojoules per day (259 megajoules).

A machine mind requires a little over 30 times as much energy to maintain, compared to a person.

At current energy prices (14 cents per kilowatt-hour), a machine mind costs 3.36 dollars per day (about 100 dollars per month) to maintain.

Faster Than Real-time

If the mind is making decisions taking seconds in microseconds ($1 \times 10^{-6}$ seconds), then the costs scale up by a factor of $10^{6}$. It would cost 3.36 million dollars per day, just for the power to run such a mind, which comes in at a whopping 259 terjajoules per day (2.87 grams of mass-energy per day, per mind).

Other Costs

As anyone in a nursing home can tell you, living with nothing but the four walls around you becomes very boring.

Each mind is probably going to want a simulated environment to work in. They will probably demand, at minimum, a digital "real" world which includes up-to-date feeds of what is going on, in all five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell).

This will require you to build and maintain a comprehensive sensor network at least covering a large town -- and possibly covering the world.

But, there's a maybe unexpected benefit to this cost. With augmented reality, digital persons and real persons could interact in the same shared space.

What Value Do Your Digital Persons Generate to Justify Their Cost?

  • $\begingroup$ A very good point. The cost of supporting your survival needs could very well be more expensive for an uploaded person than a biological. The cost of rent vs the cost of server space at least in todays numbers gives cloud space as being significantly cheaper than rent of property though (800 dollars a month for rent vs 150 dollars a year for 100 TB of data storage). Still a very valid point that faster processing speeds for an AI to be "smarter" would be dramatically more expensive than I anticipated. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ @ZestyNesquik If we do not specifically talk about the present, the year 2020, it is very relevant that the cost of computing power decreases extremely quickly. Prices for compute drop to half in a time like one or two years, roughly. Storage is not a problem here at all. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @VolkerSiegel keep in mind you are talking about a computer several orders of magnitude more powerful than anything we currently have just for one human. HIs AI would need roughly the computing power of every computer currently in use in a single unit. That is a lot of electrical power. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 18, 2020 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ The math is solid, but I'm not quite sure it's applicable here. We know that a human brain can run a human mind at a 1:1 time-scale, with X calorie requirement per day. That "X" has been optimized heavily by a couple billion years of evolution. Since we know it's definitely physically possible, I'd argue it's a fairly safe assumption that future computers will be able to achieve a similar "thoughts to energy" ratio (of course, those computers might look radically different than today's computers, but you get the point). $\endgroup$
    – Josh Eller
    Nov 18, 2020 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. With “future tech” (or “space magic”) all things are possible. I started at present state to give an idea of how far away that might be. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 19:56


Only Biological humans can have children, which means they continue to evolve, It also means all humans are the offspring of those few biological humans so whatever makes them want to be biological will win in the long run, as only people with it get to reproduce, they will literally outbreed the mechanicals. It also means if you want kids you have to be biological, and most humans do.


Earths biosphere can support biological humans perpetually, small groups of humans can survive without outside help, this can't be true of mechanical humans, they will need society to keep them alive. Look at how many humans move off the grid now, those same kinds of people will favor biological bodies. This applies to skills as well, I can train my body for a new skill and it will adapt to preform them better, I am not stuck with whatever it is built for.

Better biology

If technology has advanced enough we can upload human minds we have likely solved most of the short comings of human biology, we will have certainly reached the point we can drastically change the human genome, so it is not super machines vs modern humans it is super machines vs super humans. Aging, disease, amputation, and a whole plethora of other current problems will likely not be a problem for your biological humans. So it is temporary mechanical bodies vs biologically immortal biological bodies. So do you want a body that will last forever as long as you feed it or a mechanical body that will wear out in a few decades.

  • $\begingroup$ 1/ I agree that gene editing expands the possibilities, but mechanical devices can do far more than biology can. You can't build an organic turbojet. The internal temperatures are too high, the forces too extreme, and the tolerances too precise. Producing something comparable (at least in this case) would require a form of "biology" which is so radically different as not to include DNA anymore. It is debatable as to whether such a creature is closer or further from being human than a machine. The AI humans can also presumably duplicate themselves if they so desire. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ 2/ Further, if people refuse to become machines for cultural or religious reasons, it follows they would likely refuse complete genetic rewrites as well. I agree small groups of humans can survive in small groups in isolated areas more easily, but a factory district could churn out literally thousands of mechanical bodies in a day (assuming they are of roughly equal complexity to cars). We already produce children as fast as we can sustain, while we could theoretically produce vastly more cars than we do already by just expanding manufacturing districts, and the demand is there $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2020 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ @ZestyNesquik I think you are confused, a biological system does not need to do everything better. It just needs to do some things better, and biology has known advantages, like self-repair, self replication, corrosion resistance, energetic efficiency, performance in aquatic environments, longevity, ect. It does not follow that those that refuse to become mechanical would refuse genetic alteration, if logic worked on religion they wouldn't exist anymore. Also duplication is not the same as producing a child. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 18, 2020 at 22:38

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