Jul 162017
 

In cobbling together my “Zaneverse” world, I’ve pondered a number of technologies that I figure should be available five centuries from now. A lot of them are pretty standard sci-fi tropes, as one would expect. Several forms of artificial gravity, AI, warp drive, hyperdrive… the usual stuff.

In a world with all this stuff, you have to wonder why everyone hasn’t just uploaded into the Matrix, abandoning the physical world. I’ve come up with an explanation for why that hasn’t happened, thus allowing for space opera. Still, I’ve utilized portions of this technology for limited applications:

1: Extreme long-range colonization. Even with hyperdrive, the galaxy is a big place and there are a limited number of ships. If a colony world is a year away and you have 10,000 people who want to go, and your ship can comfortably support fifteen people for a two-year round trip, and throw in some sizable possibility that the ship could be lost of destroyed en route, what to do? In this world, one of the solutions that is often used is to copy the colonists. They get into something akin to a futuristic CAT scanner. It does a complete scan of their bodies, genetically, epigenetically and structurally, and saves the scan as digital data. The brain is scanned with means only describable as techno-magic; the personality, memories and basic operating system is copied and stored digitally. The colonist is then put into suspended animation somewhere secure… a cavern deep under the lunar surface, say. The stored data for that colonist and his 10,000 fellows is put on a portable hard drive, transported to the distant location, a new body for the colonist is printed off and the “brain” uploaded into it. If the colonist is successfully recreated at the far end, an FTL message is sent back to the storage facility, and the original is instantly evaporated. The colonist then goes on with life.

2: Long-range limited term contract jobs. Let’s say that the person isn’t a colonist, but instead someone whose career is setting up colonies, then coming home. Perhaps they are responsible for the construction of terraformation atmosphere processing plants for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. OK, so the same process of copying, transport and recreation of the person is followed. However, the original is kept under suspended animation. At the end of the contract term, the copies mind is scanned and stored and shipped home. As soon as the hip departs for home, the copy is evaporated. When the ship returns home, the copy is uploaded into the original, basically just adding memories. The original wakes up; from his point of view, he went to sleep on Luna, woke up on the distant colony world, worked for six months, then woke up back on Luna.

There would be a few advantages to a system like this. First is the ease of transport; just an inert computer storage system, rather than a whole lot of people who either need tending or suspended animation systems jam-packing the ship. Second: if the ship explodes or gets lost, the original can be awoken. Third, security: if someone tries to tamper with or kidnap the computer system, it can simply self destruct, destroying the data. The original is safe at home.

Note that in this system, there is only one copy of the person walking around at a time. If the copy at the far end is to be made permanent, the original is destroyed. This is due to social and legal strictures against having multiple copies of an individual… it’s easy to see how that could quickly become seriously problematic. There is an authority in the Zaneverse that’s very zealous about this, and very good at keeping control over this.

So.

I was discussing this system with a friend, and she expressed… well, dismay. There is an obvious philosophical issue with this system, the same problem that has plagued the “transporter” from Star Trek: is the copy *you?* The argument was… who would volunteer for a colonization mission like this if, from one point of view, you are simply committing suicide so that someone a whole lot like you, but not really you, gets to colonize a distant world? The counter-argument: in Star Trek, the vast majority of folks don’t seem to have an issue with transporters. For every McCoy or Barclay, there are several starships full of folks who merrily beam up and down. So long as the “colonist-copy” technology is decades or even centuries old, reliable and the tales of the copies being noticeably different from the originals, I would expect that people would generally accept it.

So my question: assume the colonist-copy system exists, and to all appearances works as advertised. There is, however, zero scientific evidence regarding whether or not your “soul,” if such a thing exists, is copied or transmitted. If you, dear blog reader, wanted to colonize some distant world and was offered the opportunity, but the *only* way was this way… would you do it?

 Posted by at 2:30 pm
  • Nick Gaston

    Stealing an argument someone on a message board haunt of mine…to reduce it to absurdity, it might be more cost-effective to just SAY you’re vaporizing the clone/original, but in fact just drop them through a trapdoor and work them to death as a slave. They’re ending up dead in the end either way, so what’s the difference? 😀

    Personally—no, for my part. I wouldn’t see the existence of my very own brainwashed clone as, from my point of view, making me any less dead.

    • Scottlowther

      > They’re ending up dead in the end either way, so what’s the difference?

      “The Prestige” had a similar premise… Tesla invented a teleporter, but it actually sent a *copy* over yonder. The original falls through a trap door into a tank of water to drown.

      This sort of thing would drive the courts bonkers (as well as the scientists… you know, always droning on and on about “conservation of mass-energy”). You’re clearly murdering someone, but they are just as clearly, still alive. The legal case had better be made right quick that the act of duplication instantly leads to legally distinguished individuals.

      > no, for my part

      Thanks. A straight answer! Woo!

      > I wouldn’t see the existence of my very own brainwashed clone as, from my point of view, making me any less dead.

      This line of reasoning has always bugged me about “uploading to the Matrix” in general. If the process of doing so *doesn’t* necessarily destroy the original, of what value is it to the original? You sit in a chair, wear a funny headset for an hour while they scan your brain… then you go home and live the rest of your miserable life in real-world squalor. There may be a digital copy of you living the electronic high life, but what’s it to *you*?

      • Paul451

        The legal case had better be made right quick that the act of duplication instantly leads to legally distinguished individuals.

        However, in the case of The Prestige, the person stepping onto the trap-door created the mechanism, had full knowledge of the consequences. Suicide, not murder. …Except, they had a 50/50 chance of being the survivor, so they merely risked death. Hence even if attempted suicide is illegal (as it was back then, I think), it still doesn’t quite count.

      • publiusr

        The best part is all these different “yous” never see each other–never get in each others way–and can learn different disciplines

  • Michael

    No.

    The concept is a plot device in “Rogue Moon,” by Algis Budrys. Budrys has everyone staying alive after being copied to the Moon.

    • Herp McDerp

      Yes, and it’s been used by others since then. For instance, in Genesis (one of Poul Anderson’s last novels) exploration ships are sent out with the data descriptions of a few very talented astronauts. The originals stay home and get on with their lives. When the probe ships arrive at their destinations, the astronauts are recreated. If the destination isn’t colonizable, they die; in some cases, they die even if they don’t need to.

      And then there’s the movie Moon

      I’ve already mentioned the ten-minute cartoon “To Be” on a couple of occasions in comments on Scott’s blog, so I won’t link to it here. (It’s available on YouTube. Highly recommended.)

      I would love to have myself copied and sent out, but I would not allow the original me to be killed. If it’s a slow interstellar mission, it’s very unlikely that Original-Me and Duplicate-Me would ever meet, anyway.

  • FelixA9

    Would not make a copy. If they could come up with a way that each brain cell were replaced, one-by-one, by some kind of nanotechnology equivalent, over a period of several years, maybe. No different from the body replacing cells. You’d end up still “you” but in a mechanical form which could be moved from clone to clone.

  • Paul451

    The longer you keep the original around after making the copy, the more you drive home the “copiness” of the copy. It’s not you. I’d be too wigged out to use it if the original is killed. Which is weird, because I can think of a bunch of edge cases where I’d be fine with it.

    (Eg, if I recorded a copy when I was young, then every decade or so (whenever I can afford it), undergo a procedure where my body is modified to restore the original pattern, just retaining my current memories in the rejuvenated brain, I’d totally go for that. But how is that different? I don’t know, but somehow it is. Something about continuity of consciousness. But, obviously, I’d be unconscious during the rejuv procedure. So…)

    If the colonist is successfully recreated at the far end, an FTL message is sent back to the storage facility, and the original is instantly evaporated. The colonist then goes on with life. […] Note that in this system, there is only one copy of the person walking around at a time. If the copy at the far end is to be made permanent, the original is destroyed. This is due to social and legal strictures against having multiple copies of an individual… it’s easy to see how that could quickly become seriously problematic.

    It’s hard to see how the law would come into existence. If we invented a matter duplicator, then a remote-transmitting duplicator, then a RT duplicator capable of safely duplicating a living human, it’s hard to imagine there being a point where someone passes a law requiring you to kill the original. I can see TPTB making it illegal to make multiple copies of humans, but killing the original (or the copy once the law is broken)? No. Could never ever happen.

    If the transporter worked a-la Star Trek, breaking down the original as the copy is built, and initially was thought to be a teleporter (some quantum voodoo field discovered rather than understood), and only later was the ability to retain the original discovered (realising that you if you inject suitable matter at the destination, the quantum-magic doesn’t consume the original.) Then that second part might be banned. (Or the entire technology might be banned for human use, once people realise how it really works.) But that ban would prevent the system ever being used to maintain the original, there would never be a system where either the copy or the original was legally killed after the transmission.

    It’s a great gimmick for SF, presented as an existing system, but I can’t see how you can get there from here.

    [Aside: Brin’s Kiln People has a similar idea to your “contract jobs” system, where the memories of the copy are returned to the original. In his version, however, the clone is made of quickly degrading clone-dough. So the implications of killing the clone after the mission are not looked at.]

    • Scottlowther

      > It’s hard to see how the law would come into existence.

      It’s described briefly in the novel I just wrote (and hope to have published, but I ain’t holding my breath on that). Without getting into spoilery details, it’s not a system that society so much as decided upon, as one they found they were limited to.

      It’s also not so much a law that says you have to kill the original, so much as “if you don’t, and try to have two of him walking around, Bad Things Will Happen.”

  • se jones

    would you do it?

    Yes, absolutely.

    For one thing, even in a place as big as the Galaxy, it’s unlikely we will find a planet with precisely the same diurnal cycle and atmosphere mix (the CO2 level for pH is the main issue). So the colonists or pre-colony techs would need their copy bodies to be tweaked to function in the new environment. So yeah, the copy you isn’t exactly *you* physically, but as long as memories are preserved…good enough for me.

    It’s likely that this copy issue will be explored in the next season of “Westworld”. The tech for whole brain emulation and upload to a host, is probably what Delos© was trying to smuggle out of the park. Who knows, we may see Dr. Ford back . . . in the person of a different actor.

    • publiusr

      Or you can go the Man-Plus route and exist on a more hostile world and still get work done.

  • gormanao gormanao

    This method was used in “Way Station”, but the inert corporeal husk was left behind when the traveler moved on to the next stop. Then it got dissolved in a vat of acid.

  • Dean Fox

    The idea of transferring consciousness (menories, and the vertical pronoun, “I”) was written about in great detail by John Varley in the 1980’s…his “Opiuchi Hotline” novel and “The Barbie Murders” short story collection tackle some of your above questions very directly, with interesting results.

    His short story “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” (about a typical schmoe who has had his essence “downloaded” into a lion’s brain for a vacation — and should then have had himself “uploaded” into his body at the end of a week’s sojourn in a African-esque biome, but — surprise, surprise! They’ve misplaced his sleeping body!) was actually made into a short film by a Canadian firm.

    “Life insurance” in Varley’s universe consists of getting your brain “read”, and leaving a sample of your DNA on file so, if you are killed, they can grow a “clone” of you and playback your brain backup into it. Problem is, one such “backed up” person awakens to learn that he is the fifth “backup” to be awakened into a clone body…as someone keeps killing the backups almost as soon as the backup wakes up…

    Because I read these long ago, I’ve been pondering a version of your statements for a loooong time…and can honestly say I’m no closer to a decision than I was back in the 80’s. My gut tells me “no”, but if I lived in a time where such a thing was possible, and everyone did it as a matter of course…hmmmm.

  • Rick

    thing is, if you can make one, you can make *many*. Peter F. Hamilton touches on some of this with his Commonwealth universe and a lot of transhumanism themes sneak in