If we one day perfect the process of digitizing human brain and uploading it into some sort of globe spanning datasphere network, no one will ever have to die again. Yes, there will still be unfortunate accidents and suicides, but no one will die out of old age. By that time our lifespans will probably be much longer thanks to advances in medicine and nutrition so it is hard to tell how long will people live. However, I assume that once you reach a certain age (the “over the hill” age – whatever that may be for you) you will make a decision to migrate your consciousness online. So you will buy a share in some data center (or couple of them for redundancy) and upload yourself into the globe spanning network.
A lot of people who do this will probably wish to retain their biological bodies for a little while – or perhaps swap them for younger and healthier copies. This way they could keep in touch with their family and watch their grandchildren grow up. Those who will not be able to afford a biological body might rent out an android, or just visit their family via holographic projection. Other will just call a lot.
I assume that the phrase “grandpa has passed away” is going to have a whole new meaning in the future. It won’t mean that grandpa died. It will merely mean that when he visits he will look different or be a hologram from now on.
It will be an interesting world to live in. Imagine a place where you could get in touch with your grand-grand-grand father if you wanted to. You could go back many generations and talk to your ancestors who have left this world long time ago, and moved on. That is, if they will actually want to talk to you, and that you know how to contact them.
I imagine that there will usually come a time when a virtual personality will get bored with checking in with the mortal world. After their children and grand children all “pass away” and join them as digital ghosts in the datasphere they will have less and less reason to dabble in the affairs of mortals. In fact, I suspect that they will eventually consider mortals to be slow and boring. Let’s face it – they sleep half of their life, they can’t process information as fast as an electronic persona and they have very little practical knowledge or life experience compared to someone who has lived few hundred years. Of course they are valuable assets – someone has to reproduce and maintain the vast infrastructure of the datasphere. But a digitized persons “real life” will be happening online. It’s there where it will be interacting with other virtual people, conversing with god-like AI intellects and engaging in their scholarly pursuits.
One thing which always bothered me about depictions of this virtual ecosystem that will one day be home to millions disembodied human souls was that a lot of people imagine it like a matrix style simulation. I’m sure that there will exist super-realistic simulations that many people will partake in. But they will be more like tourist attractions. People will go there for entertainment – whenever they will want to have a good time they will dust off their “body from a fashion magazine with my face on it” avatar go to a luxurious beachfront resort sim to pretend that they are getting drunk and have sex with other beautiful people. Or have a medieval adventure. Or fly a spaceship – whatever strikes their fancy. But I imagine their daily lives will not be spent in a simulation.
In fact, I think that actually assuming an avatar inside of a sim would actually interfere with efficient communication and actually doing their work. It is fun to imagine that bunch of digitized directors would all meet in a virtual boardroom and sit around a big table while discussing their business plans and what not. This is how TV shows and movies usually depict such virtual meetings. But imagine how inefficient and limiting this would feel for bodiless online personalities. They would actually have to take turns, put their thoughts into words and vocalize them.
I always imagined that digital personalities would leverage their condition to communicate much more efficiently than we do. Instead of actually speaking they would exchange data squirts which would contain their message with embedded supporting data such images, videos, book references and etc. It would work more like telepathy – where the message would actually carry the meaning of your message across – it would be what you intended to say, rather than what you ended up saying. The rate of this data exchange would only be limited by bandwidth and ability to process this information. So a high level board meting could for example take 5-10 minutes during which the online persona’s engage with rapid fire data exchange rather than drawn out 2 hour simulation where they take turns, and show power point slides to each other.
Electronic ghosts won’t need virtual simulations. They won’t need to build virtual cities because there will be no need for them. They won’t have to sleep or eat so they will have no reason to actually own a bedroom or a kitchen – other than to occasionally have some fun cooking pretend food, or spending a romantic evening having simulated sex with another ghost. They won’t even need to have a permanent avatar or a face – these things will be basically like interchangeable, and only used when entering a simulation of some sort. In it’s normal state, a digitized person will simply be a shapeless formless electronic awareness.
Why would they need bodies anyway? It’s not like they will have to go places, right? When you are online do you actually need to go somewhere to get your data? No, you can sit at your computer in your underwear and do research, participate in serious ground breaking discussions or correspond with your business clients. If you had no body, it would work the same way – only you would be permanently online and you would be able to process more data, remember things better and think faster than any mortal human could. There will be no reason for you to actually assume an appearance of any sort unless you actually want to go and experience something in a virtual simulation.
Of course I’m sure that new arrivals will probably still be attached to their body image, and they may initially try to live in some online simulations. There will probably be whole communities for newly digitized people. They will probably try to live their life the way they initially lived it in the real world, and will have their own house or apartment where their family will be able to visit them.
But after many years they will likely get bored of such existence and will move on. As they will grow more detached from the real world they will become more interested in the affairs of the web entities and AI’s. They will discover a whole new sphere of interests that lies beyond the simulated life. Most of them will figure out that it is probably easier to just exist as a digital consciousness outside these sims where you can actually concentrate on important things without being distracted by the simulated environment. Really old and smart ghosts will probably try to increase their processing power and try to go up on the trophosopic scale and become more like the post singularity AI archilects.
Of course I might be completely wrong about this. Or perhaps digitizing human brain will be impossible. Still, it is fun to speculate about these things.