Sunday, February 24, 2008

Upload world science fiction

It is strange that there has not been more in-depth exploration in science fiction about what mind upload societies would be like. A few aspects are examined in books like Accelerando, the Golden Age, Permutation City, Diaspora and the Cassini Division. Many issues could play out in fun ways in science fiction.

Trust in an upload world
In a world where everyone has uploaded their minds into computer banks and experience is simulated in virtual reality, what is real? How will checks and balances be established for trust and security? How do you know you are not being hacked? How do you know you are getting the bandwidth and processing power promised by your service provider? If you instantiated into an embodied form to go off-bank to check, how would you know that this has really occurred and is not a simulation of an embodied download by the service provider?

A science fiction story could revolve around escaping the upload service provider, finding its deviance (it has shockingly slaved entire banks of human minds to its own nefarious purposes) and overthrowing it to restore order only to find an even more evil system, like a spam-protection unit gone awry with emerging AI, now has the upload society in its clutches. The discrimination practices of the future could be delivering slower run-time environments to certain groups. The thematic issues to examine are the integrity, influence and control of an upload society.

Motivation and activity
What is the nature of being in an upload world? Is the construct of the individual still relevant? What are the driving motivations? What are the activities? What do minds do with 24 hours of run-time each day? If individuals can make copies of themselves, what are the legal and practical issues? How can constructive behavior be incentivized instead of regulated? An interesting story could ensue as an extension to the Kiln People concept, where a copy of a person mutates and wants to kill the original to assume its legal status. An interesting branch of future law may deal with copies interaction.

Societal dynamics
It could be interesting to look at how society redesigns and reorganizes itself in an upload world. Different subgroups may edit their utility functions in different ways. What are the reproduction norms? Do types of gender proliferate? Which memeplexes would arise and predominate? In the Post-Scarcity Economy, what will be organizing factors for society?

Information evolution
How do the Internet and the individual and the group evolve? In one interpretation, they are all just collections of information. Does distinction become meaningless at some point? Are there other distinctions that would be more relevant in an upload world? What establishes who owns, controls and has permission to view and create different information, whether people bits or data bits?


Lang Gang said...

Another science fiction book you might want to read, if you haven't already, is Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.

Deepak said...

I am getting somewhat cynical about our readiness as a society. Just the thought of uploading our personal health records makes people scream bloody murder. The differences in quality of internet access also makes me worry about our readiness.

You start of with Trust, which is probably the most important part. Are we capable of designing the appropriate checks and balances. Scifi is more likely to discuss the negative impact of such a system. I'd love to see someone talk about the power and benefits of an upload world. A world where we could really harness collective intelligence.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Lang, thank you for the comment. Yes, I enjoyed "Altered Carbon" quite a bit but it doesn't truly portray an upload society.

Brains are saved and stored "on-stack" but they are dead until they are re-sleeved in a body. The virtual reality environment portrayed is enhanced compared to the one we know now but is not an upload society, people jack in for special purposes and are not legally allowed to be in virtual reality and physical reality simultaneously.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Deepak, thanks for the comments, I hope you are doing well.

I think many of people's healthcare reservations would essentially evaporate with a good quality socialized healthcare system.

The issue of monitoring, validating and trusting will keep increasing in importance.

I agree, the benefits of collective intelligence should be manyfold in an upload society, which is one reason why I think the "individual" as a package of information, experience and capability may become obsolete.

moodz said...

Trust is a concept that defines the knowledge by the receptor that the actor will not take any action to the detriment of the receptor. An interesting scenario for testing synthetic intelligence constructs but subject to preconceived rules by the observer. here the actor and receptor are two entities in an interaction that must establish a relationship ... in this case 'Trust'
.... that is the formal definition.
Of course what is being glossed over here is the exact nature of intelligence and how is it defined ... but what can you say in such a brief discourse.


Leona said...

Of the books mentioned, my fave was accelerando. It's very tongue-in-cheek too. And yes I don't see altered carbon as a true transhumanist story but there are echoes of that.

I don't think enough attention is paid though to the entities that would live in the machine - their rights, for example. What would prevent anyone from using their uploaded alter as a test run for a wide gamut of scenarios, some of them downright horrible, just so they can pick the best path for the corporeal self? The only way to prevent that would be to have some kind of physical shackle to your virtual self that *forces* you to look out for them.

LaBlogga said...

Hi moodz, thank you for the comment.

There is no reason why trust could not be established between entities of varying intelligence levels and a detailed definition of intelligence is not necessary. It is just tricky because trust is based on intent and perception and verification is likely to be more difficult.

As long as there are independent agents, trust is likely to be a governing dynamic and therefore means of establishing and monitoring trust will be important.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Leona,

Thank you for the comments. This is exactly the issue, how intelligences will be able to exercise and verify their rights in a digital upload society. Would anyone know or care if the XYZ Digital Homestead was flushed in the last backup? How many residual backups are enough?

Yes, I can see Alt Rights groups emerging in the future, in fact David Brin's Kiln People has an idea related to this, activist rights groups for the clay copies of one's original that die after 24 hours.

The other side of the argument is that isn't it anti-libertarian to censor what people do with their own computer resources? How would measurement and enforcement occur? How do you know the exact moment an entity becomes sentient in a sim or in RL?

There is an interesting moral question about whether digital consciousness would be equivalent to physical consciousness.

The Guy said...

I'm less interested in the culture of upload societies vis-a-vis "Eon" than I am the possibility of distributing my consciousness into robotic host bodies a-la "Kiln People" for simultaneous experience-activity expansion. A society of my selves linked by my biological nexus and executing the designs of my purpose. Now that would be fun.

LaBlogga said...

Hi 'the guy'

Thank you for your comment. I think it would be fun to try the Eon and the Kiln People models, not to mention the Permutation City model.