Following a series of unfortunate and occasionally heroic events, you find yourself as the last human left breathing, walking, and making decisions. There is still hope for the species, however, for there is a perfectly habitable planet beneath your feet and the last colony ship in orbit above, with 5,000 souls in long-term cryonic suspension. Due to a mechanical malfunction, you cannot be sure of bringing all of them safely to the surface. These are your only two choices:
1. Save 4,000 lives, with certainty. (Lose 1,000 lives, with certainty.)
2. Save 5,000 lives, with 90% probability; save no lives, 10% probability.
Which of these two courses would you choose, and why? Please leave a comment below.
(Those familiar with Less Wrong will notice that I’ve ripped off this scenario—with only minor tweaks—from Yudkowsky’s essay entitled Circular Altruism. Please do not read that essay prior to at least carefully considering what answer you would give here.)
EDIT: If you’ve already answered the question for a single colony ship of 5,000 persons, how would you change your answer if there were twenty such ships in orbit?