Part I: Backups
Being generally paranoid and a father, I was worried about Caspian while driving home the other day. Which led to a few thoughts in the “consciousness uploading” space.
First off, backups. Many novels explore this concept, from Varley’s “Eight Worlds” to Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – which probably represent my first, and then most recent fictional exposure to the subject. The concept is that either as a consequence of uploading technology, or just as a step along the way, or just as far as humans are willing/able to go, it’s possible to save a backup copy of a human brain. The copy includes whatever is necessary to restore one’s “self” in case of some catastrophic event – like total destruction of the body and brain.
Anyway, it got me pondering about backups of Caspian, and how it’s just… primitive… that we don’t have such things available. An accident could snuff him out instantly.
Sure, that was depressing. But now, the intriguing spin.
If you have backups + uploading – that is, the ability to easily allocate a new processing substrate for an upload – then there’s no reason you can’t reach back and enjoy what someone’s childhood was like, literally. Caspian could be safe and sound, but we could still spin up a simulation (or, with sufficient nanotech, a corporeal form) of him at any age.
But then the backup is “live”. So does that devalue the “original”? Well, yes. In fact, devaluing a particular instance of “life” is one of the philosophically challenging aspects of considering uploading.
Part II: Redaction
So another side of this is that if you have a backup and restore capability, you have some ability to edit yourself. Have a bad day? Restore to an older backup.
Wright’s trilogy The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence contain an extreme trans-human take on this, where redaction of memories is common both on a personal level, and societal level. The latter is a very interesting idea; in a nutshell, all “subscribers” to a consensual society agree, at times, to have certain distasteful events redacted from the group memory. I’m also reminded of Egan’s short story (name escaping me) where an entire society “freezes” itself when a member goes off-planet, so that the planet is waiting for them unchanged when they return.
Doctorow’s Down and Out… explores this further with crime being committed then redacted.
SF Story Seed
What if you had a fixed lifetime – say, 200 years subjective – but had the ability to redact any portion and the redacted parts didn’t count against you?
There are similar takes on this. For example, many novels that feature immortality face the consequence that a nigh-infinite memory leads to extreme slowness. Therefore, aggressive editing of memories is necessary.
It’s also similar to the notion of time traveling into the future by being cryogenically frozen or using something akin to one of Vinge’s bobbles.
However, the twist is that you don’t miss out on anything, you just need to decide what’s important, and that will be constantly shifting. But you’re up against a deadline, so you’ll be constantly jettisoning “dead wood.” What would a society of individuals with this ability look like?
After thinking about this for a few days, I was also reminded of Memento.