Monday, October 25, 2004

Immortality, Part I

When Ben Casnocha stopped by today, he reminded me that he was still waiting for my thoughts on immortality. What can I say? It's harder to be a blogger when you have two children in diapers, and are busy launching a new product.

I have a lot of thoughts swirling around, so I'll start with the easiest one.

Mankind will achieve physical immortality in my probable lifetime.

It's pretty clear that Moore's law or some facsimile thereof will enable us to build computers that are more complex than the human brain. Ray Kurzweil has famously predicted that by 2019, or just 15 years, a $1,000 computer will exceed the power of the human brain. We've already demonstrated brain/machine interfaces that give people the power to control devices with their minds. It's only a matter of time before we have the ability to upload ourselves into silicon form.

The question is, what will we do with this gift? Will we turn outward, using robotic immortality to conduct space exploration? Will we turn inward, using the ability to create our own existences to generate ever more elaborate MMOGs (or even more solipsistically, our own private fantasy universes)? What will happen to biological humans when electronic humans have orders of magnitude more processing capacity, and operate at the speed of light?

The answer, as always, is yes. Some will choose to explore--witness the number of people who have already signed up for Virgin Galactic. Some will choose to spend their time building their own virtual worlds to replace the physical one. And some will no doubt reject going electronic, and continue to live and die the old fashioned way.

Personally, what will you choose to do? Will you use "Save As" to retain copies of yourself at different ages--The perfect portrait of an artist as a young man? Who will have legal ownership of your property? Your biological self, or your electronic self? What if you use Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V to replicate yourself? And how long will it take for the adult entertainment industry to find a way to exploit this?

What will happen to economics when the majority of mankind deals solely in digital products? Can you copyright yourself? And how long before some enterprising hackers decide to hack themselves?

There are no answers of course, but the impact on human society will be measureless.

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