Immortality and Personal Finance

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Tue, 23 Apr 2002 16:47:29 +0200 (CEST)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 21:27:15 -0400 (EDT)
From: Dan Fabulich <daniel.fabulich@yale.edu>
Reply-To: extropians@extropy.org
To: extropians@extropy.org
Subject: Immortality and Personal Finance


So, I'm finally reaching a stage in my life where I can start thinking
about saving and investing a significant chunk of my income...  I'm
gradually trying to read up on matters of personal finance and
investment for the future.

It seems to me (based on my reading) that a key element in selecting
an investment strategy is to set investing goals.  Obvious personal
investment goals might include buying a home, going back to college,
or retirement.  [I have no family to support, but they would certainly
be on my list if I did.]

I'm finding myself in a quandary as to how to set my investing goals
in a way that I find satisfying, given what I think I know (and what I
think I don't know) about the odds that I'll have a significant impact
on the research of immortality (and related fields such as AI and
nanotech).

Consider, for example, the idea of planning for retirement.

People with plenty of retirement capital need to decide on a
post-retirement demand-for-income curve; this graph should have income
on one axis, and risk on the other axis.  Young people looking far
ahead to retirement will need to decide on a demand surface in a three
dimensional graph whose axes are: income, risk, and time spent
working.

(This is simplified, but not over-simplified for the purposes of this
example.  Obvious complications would include investments whose
income/risk values are themselves quite variable, and investments
which are undesirable in their own right, such as those that one takes
to be immoral.  Just a little thought can turn this puny
three-dimensional graph into an almost totally intractable problem.)

[As an aside, I'm extremely critical of those who say that not enough
young people spend time thinking about their retirement; for most
people, this is rational behavior, IMO, because at a young age the
problem is considerably more complicated... so complicated that only
short-term solutions are feasibly computable.]

To put this in more familiar terms, most books on retirement will tell
you to begin by figuring out some kind of minimum income level and
maximum risk that you're willing to accept, assuming you know how hard
you're prepared to work in order to get it.

But suppose now that there's a good chance that every dollar that I
invest in the problem of immortality will have a significant positive
effect; the more money with which I attack the problem, the more
likely it is to be solved within my lifetime.  (I'm 22.)  Especially
since I hate doing lab work, I'd always imagined that most of my
personal contribution to the problem of immortality would come in the
form of researching/scouting out good ideas and in providing enough
money to implement them.

Now, if I could be SURE that I'd get immortality if I worked for it as
much as possible, and that I'd miss out on immortality if I didn't,
I'd select what economists call a "corner solution," by picking a
point on my demand curve which lies on one of the axes.  In
particular, I'd increase my time/work as high as is practical and my
"minimum income" as high as possible, working as hard as I possibly
could on bringing about immortality ASAP.  More precisely, I'd take
only the barest minimum of leisure now, and save all my rest and
potential retirement until after immortality.  [Incidentally,
retirement in a posthuman world has been discussed extensively in this
list's archives; I'm not particularly interested in considering that
question again now.]

In the opposite case, in which I could be sure that I'd never get
immortality no matter what I did, I'd want to invest and retire in the
ordinary way, discussed at length in various books on personal
finance.

Yet another complication: I have reason to think that my
demand-for-income curve would be pretty low, which would normally
imply that I shouldn't work myself too hard.  Thus, if I THOUGHT that
I could get immortality by working as hard as possible, and I turned
out to be wrong, I'd lead a considerably less happy life, not to
mention the fact that my life's purpose would never be accomplished.

On the other hand, if I wasted my one shot at immortality, I'd wind up
dead.

(As an aside, I am well aware that I won't be particularly productive
if I'm completely miserable, but, within some large domain, more work
and less happiness definitely leads to more productivity.)

The very question of "How likely is immortality within my lifetime?"
has been debated on-list countless times; right now, I think the most
sober answer is: "I have no idea."  My question is even more subtle,
and even less tractable: "How likely is it that I can significantly
influence the likelihood of my achieving immortality?"

Basically, the more likely I can help, the harder/longer I'll want to
work.  The less likely it is, the more likely I am to take leisure in
my actions.

This quantitative analysis overlooks crucial decisions of scale as
well; if I need to set a goal to be a billionare, I'd better switch
jobs to something considerably higher pay (if less fun) than my
current job.  If it doesn't matter, so long as I make sure I survive
until 2067, then maybe I could go design computer games or do
metaphysics for a living: useless, but fun, and I can even retire
later if I want.

So the question is: does my personal financial contribution to
immortality research probably matter quite a lot?  Or does it probably
matter fairly little?

-Dan

      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings




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