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Thanks for this John. I agree that even if you use some form of classical utilitarianism, the future might still plausibly be net negative in value. As far as I can tell, Bostrom and co don't consider this possibility when they argue the value of existential risk research, which I think is a mistake. They mostly talk about the expected number of human lives in the future if we don't succumb to X-risk, assuming they are all (or mostly) positive.
People like Bostrom have thoroughly considered how valuable the future might be. The view in existential risk reduction circles is simply that the future has positive expected value on likely moral systems. There are a bunch of arguments for this. One can argue from improvements to welfare, decreases in war, emergency of more egalitarian movements over time, anticipated disappearance of scarcity, and reliance on factory farming, increasing societal wisdom over time, and dozens of other reasons. One way of thinking about this if you are a symmetric utilitarian is that we don't have much reason to think either of pain and pleasure is more energy efficient than the other (https://reflectivedisequilibrium.blogspot.com/2012/03/are-pain-and-pleasure-equally-energy.html)[Are pain and please equally energy efficient]. Since a singleton would be correlated with some relevant values, it should produce much more pleasure than pain, so the future should have very net positive values. I think that to the extent that we can research this question, we can sit very confidently saying that for usual value systems, the future has positive expectation.
The reason that I think people tend to try to shy away from public debates on this topic, such as when arguing for the value of existential risk research, is that doing so might risk creating a false equivalence between themselves and very destructive positions, which would be very harmful.
Thanks for your comment. I agree with the Michael Plant's response below. I am not saying that there will be a preponderance of suffering over pleasure in the future. I am saying that if you ignore all future pleasure and only take account of future suffering, then the future is astronomically bad.
I think the key point of John's argument is that he's departing from classical utilitarianism in a particular way. That way is to say future happy lives have no value, but future bad lives have negative value. The rest of the argument then follows.
Hence John's argument isn't a dissent about any of the empirical predictions about the future. The idea is that you the ANU can agree with Bostrom et al. about what actually happens, but disagree on how good it is.
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