Wireheading as a Possible Contributor to Civilizational Decline

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Abstract: Advances in new technologies create new ways to stimulate the pleasure center of the human brain via new chemicals, direct application of electricity, electromagnetic fields, “reward hacking” in games and social networks, and in the future, possibly via genetic manipulation, nanorobots and AI systems. This may have two consequences: a) human life may become more interesting, b) humans may stop participating in any external activities, including work, maintenance, reproduction, and even caring for their own health, which could slowly contribute to a decline in human populations. As wireheading is not self-limiting, it may push the addict to his/her limits and ultimately result in life-threatening behavior. Mass unemployment and the provision of basic income would likely feed the industry of pleasures. DIY synthetic biology and computers may create the possibility of homemade very addictive drugs through various routes, like insertion of a morphine-producing gene in plants or stimulation of the brain via electromagnetic fields, which may not be possible to control via limiting the supply chain. If “wireheading knowledge” becomes freely available, it could create a reward-hacking epidemic larger than the current U.S. opioid crisis and possibly contribute to a global civilizational decline.
Keywords existential risks  wirheading  global risks  hedonism
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