Well, Ol’ Robin Hanson sure knows how to put out the Dr. Faustus bait, that’s for sure. In a recent post at Overcoming Bias he asks a question (developed in conversations with Robert Wiblin and Katja Grace) as to why there are no sex prizes for significant humanitarian accomplishments. Why are there no charities offering sex to people who do great things?

Good question, Professor Hanson. I mean, think of it. Two things seem obvious to any thinking person. First, sex is motivational. People really want sex. People will make fools of themselves for sex. People will take nigh-suicidal risks for sex. Second, there are some real problems with the world that might be solved with better technologies that someone might feasibly invent. A few examples:

  • Globally perhaps 1.5 million children die every year from illnesses that would be prevented through reliable access to clean drinking water, so anyone who came up with a cheap, readily available water-purification technology would save an immense number of lives.
  • Globally perhaps 2 million people die from AIDS/HIV infection every year, so again, any vaccine against HIV, if sufficiently cheap, would save an immense number of lives.
  • Globally perhaps a million people die every year in traffic accidents, and as Brad Templeton pointed out in his presentation at the most recent Singularity Summit, many of those deaths could be prevented with AIs that allow self-driving cars.

Imagine how much faster things might go if the engineers and scientists working on projects like cheap clean water or cheap HIV vaccines or cars that drive themselves were working toward the promise of sex at the end. Millions of lives might be saved. Millions!

The point of Professor Hanson’s post is to wonder why charities don’t offer sex prizes to people who do great things. Pure Dr. Faustus bait, here. Where Professor Hanson and his friends ask “Why?” and where probably most of the rest of humanity asks “What the fuck?” Dr. Faustus asks “Why not?”

Hanson points out that we probably find the idea of sex prizes repugnant because we want people always to have the alternative to refuse sex if they don’t want it. Fair enough, I’ll accept that compulsory sex is repugnant. But I don’t accept that offering positive incentives to people is repugnant, so imagine the following:

A philanthropic organization creates a corps of beautiful young people — say college age — who commit to providing sex prizes to people who do good for the world. They might be like the collection of young people in Search for Beauty only not so all white.

(Bacchus, do you think we might be able to dredge up one of those old Search for Beauty screenshots so the readers will know what I’m talking about?)

guys exercising

(Thanks, buddy!)

They could join up with the organization (call it “Sex for Humanity”), work out, get sex-training from professionals, and offer themselves to the scientists and engineers who would prevent future human suffering. They could even have a website with teasers to further incentivize innovation. There could be all sorts of prizes: from hot dates for graduate students who successfully defend good theses to month-long stays at “take you to heaven and back thrice a day” resorts for the scientists who actually make the HIV vaccine.

Of course, no one would be obliged to have sex as part of the program, but as I’ve noted, positive incentives are not coercion. We could even get distinguished institutions into the act.

As you’re probably aware, elite universities in the U.S. now expect “community service” from their applicants as a plus factor in admissions. Well, offering sex as an incentive to make the world better would be a pretty awesome form of community service. Thin of it: if you are young and beautiful and the prospect of holding yourself out for sex so incentivizes the scientists working on clean water that it becomes 0.01% likely that we get a solution in this area, your activity has an expected value of 150 childrens’ lives per year. That ain’t moral chicken feed, and it would surely deserve a big reward. Perhaps Princeton could announce that any young person who completed a successful tour of duty in Sex for Humanity would get a huge boost in their admissions prospects.

I mean, it all works, right? You have young people — human beings at the very height of their vigor and beauty — that is combined with being at the very height of their idealistic desire to make the world a better place — that is combined with institutions that really want to show how good they are for the world by having as a term of their admission “community service.” What’s not to like?

And for those of you who think it’s immoral to incentivize people with the prospect of sex, answer this: which do you care about more, “morality” or those poor little children dying of diarrhea around the world?

So get off your collective elitist ass, Princeton! Children are dying out there! Admit those idealistic young sex workers!