The Institute for Evil Neuroscience has finally done it: human consciousness -- or quasi-human -- on a computer. By special courier, I receive the 2 exabyte memory stick. I plug it into my computer's port and install the proprietary software. A conscious being! By default, she has an IQ of 130, the ordinary range of human cognitive skills and emotional reactions, and sensory experiences as though she has just awakened on an uninhabited tropical island. I set my monitors to see through her eyes, my speakers to play her inner speech. She wonders where she is and how she got there. She admires the beauty of the island. She cracks a coconut, drinks its juice, and tastes its flesh. She thinks about where she will sleep when the sun sets.
With a few mouse clicks, I give her a mate -- a man who has woken on a nearby part of the island. The two meet. I have set the island for abundance and comfort: no predators, no extreme temperatures, a ready supply of seeming fruit that will meet all their biological (apparently biological) needs. The man and the woman talk -- Adam and Eve, their default names. They seem to remember no past, but they find themselves with island-appropriate skills and knowledge. They make plans to explore the island, which I can arbitrarily enlarge and populate.
Since Adam and Eve really are, by design, rational and conscious and capable of the full human range of feeling, the decision I just made to install them on my computer was as morally important as was my decision fifteen years ago to have children. Wasn't it? And arguably my moral obligations to Adam and Eve are no less important than my moral obligations to my children. It would be cruel -- not just pretend-cruel, like when I release Godzilla in SimCity or let a tamagotchi starve -- but really, genuinely cruel, were I to make them suffer. Their environment might not seem real to me, but their pains and pleasures are as real as my own. I should want them happy. I should seek, maybe, to maximize their happiness. Deleting their files would be murder.
They want children. They want the stimulation of social life. My computer has lots of spare capacity. Why not give them all that? I could create an archipelago of 100,000 happy people. If it's good to bring two happy children into the world, isn't it 50,000 times better to bring 100,000 happy island citizens into the world -- especially if they are no particular drain upon the world's (the "real world's") resources? It seems that bringing my Archipelago to life is by far the most significant thing I will ever do -- a momentous moral accomplishment, if also, in a way, a rather mundane and easy accomplishment. Click, click, click, an hour and it's done. A hundred thousand lives, brimming with joy and fulfillment, in a fist-sized pod! The coconuts might not be real (or are they? -- what is a "coconut", to them?), but their conversations and plans and loves have authentic Socratic depth.
By disposition, my people are friendly. There are no wars here. They will reproduce to the limit of my computer's resources, then they will find themselves infertile -- which they experience as somewhat frustrating but only one small disappointment in their enviably excellent lives.
If I was willing to spend thousands on fertility treatments to bring one child into the world, shouldn't I also be willing to spend thousands to bring a hundred thousand more Archipelagists (as I now call them) into the world? I buy a new computer and connect it to my old one. My archipelago is doubled. What a wealth of happiness and fulfillment I have just enabled! Shouldn't I do even more, then? I have tens of thousands of dollars saved up in my childrens' college funds. Surely a million lives brimming with joy and fulfillment are worth more than my two children's college education? I spend the money.
I devote my entire existence to maximizing the happiness, the fulfillment, the moral good character, and the triumphant achievements of as many of these people as I can make. This is no pretense. This is, for them, reality, and I treat it as earnestly as they do. I become a public speaker. I argue that there is nothing more important that Earthly society could do than to bring into existence a superabundance of maximally excellent Archipelagists. And as a society, we could easily create trillions of them -- trillions of trillions if we truly dedicated our energies to it -- many more Archipelagists than ordinary Earthlings.
Could there be any greater achievement? In comparison, the moon shot was nothing. The plays of Shakespeare, nothing. The Archipelagists might have a hundred trillion Shakespeares, if we do it right.
We face decisions: How much Earthling suffering is worth trading off for Archipelagist suffering? (One to one?) Is it better to give Archipelagists constant feelings of absolutely maximal bliss, even if doing so means reducing their intelligence and behavior to cow-like levels, or is it better to give them a broader range of emotions and behaviors? Should the Archipelagists know conflict, deprivation, and suffering or always only joy, abundance, and harmony? Should there be death and replacement or perpetual life as long as computer resources exist to sustain it? Is it better to build the Archipelagists so that they always by nature choose the moral good, or should they be morally more complex? Are there aesthetic values we should aim to achieve in their world and not just morality-and-happiness maximizing values? Should we let them know that they are "merely" sims? Should we allow them to rise to superintelligence, if that becomes possible? And if so, what should our subsequent relationship with them be? Might we ourselves be Archipelagists, without knowing it, in some morally dubious god's vision of a world it would be cool to create?
A virus invades my computer. It's a brutal one. I should have known; I should have protected my computer better with so much depending on it. I fight the virus with passion and urgency. I must spend the last of my money, the money I had set aside for my kidney treatments. I thus die to save the lives of my Archipelagists. You will, I know, carry on my work.