If life is a video game or a simulated reality, what are the rules and how are we being evaluated?
One approach for developing and testing Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is to create and place autonomous intelligent agents inside realistic simulations—but with no obvious objective. This strategy is not so different from our lives. We do not have a clear objective for winning the game of life.
It is a problem often addressed by religions. Many spiritual systems provide a set of restrictions, then propose a judgment at the end of life. On a distant day of reckoning, a powerful or omnipotent deity will review the choices we made, and decide whether to punish or reward our character.
For Most Religions, Life is a Test
In various traditions, we’re given a set of rules (e.g., commandments). If we break them we’re grossly punished, and if we don’t break them, we're rewarded with a “better world.” I would like to point out that most worlds dangled as a reward (e.g., heaven) would never sell as video games. They do not offer an ability to play god, kill at will, or otherwise appeal to our primordial instincts.
Video games are increasingly adaptive. Many games adjust to fit a player’s need and offer alternative scenarios, quests and endings. Early decisions can result in dramatically different finales. For some, character properties can be ported into sequels. Game worlds are fundamentally expanding, and this is only the beginning.
How Do We Evaluate the Game Within the Game?
Let’s imagine we are playing a video game where our performance will be monitored at every step, but the rules and metrics are not known to us. As a reference, we might think of games like SimCity, Minecraft and Civilization, which allow for violence-free (or at least defensive) gameplay. Others, like Assassin’s Creed, require the player to kill in the service of a “greater good.” We will always need to make moral choices.
As technology advances, it’s possible to live in relative peace. Hence, we’re able to consider more altruistic ways to make our game more entertaining, expansive and inclusive. But how will we evaluate our performance?
There aren’t many factors available. In today’s economy, people often use money as a metric for success. Others value reputation, though it’s commonly tied to sums of money earned or donated. Surprisingly few people view the remaining years of their life as a major asset, and even fewer calculate the amount of good they have generated during their life.
A multi-parametric measurement system for human performance and achievements INSILICO MEDICINE
How to Focus on Generating Good?
A simple way to assess your performance in this life is to calculate the number of Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALY) you generated during your lifetime. Unless the objective of this game is to engage in violence, maximization of global QALY is one of the most promising strategies.
Let’s say we’re born with approximately 100 life years. Next, we suppose 70 years of life will be spent in good health with optimal performance—so, at birth, we have 70 QALY. As we progress in life, we convert QALY into money and reputation, and we earn experience points. Through valuable actions—such as supporting others, giving birth, advancing science, engaging in medical research and even paying taxes to support these activities—we generate QALY for others.
It’s a popular concept in health economics, with many derivatives. If the idea is new to you, I recommend William MacAskill’s book Doing Good Better and suggest you consider reading up on effective or quantified altruism. Though I disagree with certain priorities and lines of thought within the field, I do believe that estimating QALY is one of the most rational ways to quantify individual and group actions.
In the video game of life, we must grope our way toward the best metric for our performance. If this life is a simulation QALY may serve as a form of the universal points system. At least until the theoretical limit of human longevity is reached and we will need to develop a better reward function probably focused on exploring and improving the universe.
The most logical path is to maximize global QALY. This means not only more quality years of life, but also more of the tremendous benefit our quality years bestow on the culture at large—more innovation, advances and exploration. By growing QALY, we increase the net present value of life and support an abundance of characters in building a more interesting and altruistic world.
A Winning Strategy in the Video Game of Life
To truly maximize QALY, we should focus on extending human lifespan, while augmenting human abilities using advances in science and technology.
It’s impossible to extend human lifespan without also developing technologies to allow us to resist stressors, including radiation. Such augmentation would allow us to explore every aspect of our environment and eventually live outside the confines of this planet.
Starting the game of life: Money, Life, Reputation, and Karma (QALY) starting pointsINSILICO MEDICINE
Unfortunately, all of us die, or at least this is our current paradigm. We might end our lives with money to be passed to offspring; alternatively, we might donate our estate in such a way as to bolster our posthumous reputation or benefit humanity in a meaningful way. The birth and upbringing of a child will generate over 100 global QALY, as a child is also likely to reproduce and contribute to the longevity of others. Reproduction increases but does not maximize global QALY.
Caring for an individual or a group may also increase QALYs. For example, saving one child from pediatric cancer may generate up to 100 QALY. Approximately the same number of QALY would be generated by saving 20 grandmothers from a terminal brain tumor. A productive doctor with a few million dollars in resources may generate thousands or even tens of thousands of QALY.
But the problem with this approach is that the quality of life goes down with age, there is a gradual accumulation of the many forms of damage gradually manifesting into a plethora of diseases and everyone eventually dies.
Ending the game of life: Money, Life, Reputation, and Karma (QALY) final scoresINSILICO MEDICINE
Global QALY may be maximized by setting an objective to slow down, prevent or reverse the aging-associated damage. Extending the life of every human being on the planet by just one year would result in about 7.5 billion QALY, and much more in net present value. If you increase the healthy productive longevity of everyone on the planet by just a couple months, you are a QALY billionaire! Implementing QALY as the universal common denominator for individual and organizational performance benefits us all.
Setting the development of preventative and rejuvenating therapies as an individual and group objective for ourselves will have many benefits in this game of life.
Advances in artificial intelligence, electronic communication and interconnected mobile devices have made social credit systems newly viable—this is a major innovation. As China develops its own social credit system, it may be valuable to consider parameters that go beyond compliance with the law. We can include many other dimensions of individual performance.
As governments continue to develop social credit systems, there’s a window of opportunity to focus on QALY as an overall metric for generated common good. Public lobbying and sentiment change will be necessary to prioritize QALY over other commonly-accepted metrics of achievement, such as financial, military and athletic performance.
I’ve always been fascinated by Olympic athletes who spend their entire lives, their resources and the resources of others to marginally exceed a record and briefly outperform another person or group. These records are generally negligible, temporary and easily forgotten as new records are set. Human augmentation using the latest scientific advances is condemned, instead of encouraged. As the athlete and observing crowd age, any marginal achievements are easily forgotten, without having made much, if any, contribution to global QALY.
Simultaneously promoting activities that generate QALY, while switching to a QALY-oriented social credit system, would likely result in substantial longevity increases, a higher net present value of human life, economic growth and ambitious plans for extraterrestrial exploration.
A focus on maximizing global QALY will benefit individuals, organizations, and humanityINSILICO MEDICINE
Productive scientific research into the extension of human longevity results in more QALY than any other activity. One of the most popular approaches for achieving this goal is SENS proposed by the world's most famous biogerontologist, Dr. Aubrey de Grey. SENS recently got a major boost with the advent of Jim Mellon's Juvenescence empire and other notable ventures. Longevity biotechnology is turning into an industry—and rightly so—with credible VCs, pharmaceutical companies and academic groups joining the fight on aging.
Massive convergence of IT and biomedicine is underway, and many concepts unthinkable just a decade ago are now possible. The AI revolution in aging research (abundantly covered by Forbes contributors) is advancing rapidly. In many areas of the field, pretty much anyone can join and contribute toward increasing global QALY. In a recent perspective article, I outlined the several practical benefits of treating aging as a staged disease to get a better and more holistic understanding of the many biological processes using the recent advances in AI. In my next article for Cognitive World, I will cover the intersection of longevity and AI.
The best strategy for winning this game of life and experience its most exciting quests is to focus on extending human lifespan while augmenting human abilities with advances in science and technology.
Join the longevity quest and let's maximize global QALY together. And if we expire along the way, the world will be a better place when we respawn and play again.
Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, contributor, is the founder and CEO of Insilico Medicine, a Baltimore-based leader in the next-generation artificial intelligence technologies for drug discovery, biomarker development, and aging research. At Insilico he pioneered the applications of generative adversarial networks and reinforcement learning techniques for generating novel molecular structures with the desired properties and generation of synthetic biological and patient data. He was the first to develop deep-learning multi-modal predictors of age for drug and biomarker development. He set up R&D centers in 6 countries including the United Kingdom, Korea, Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan and launched multiple digital biomarker initiatives including Young.AI.