december 08 2013 my copies by jamie_001

As some of you may know, I once proposed something I called ‘Poor Man’s Uploading’ that could possibly work for digital people like myself. This form of ‘uploading’ starts with the premise that a digital person is a fictional being created and developed in online worlds/ social networks, with a human primary who acts in the role of author/actor/ puppeteer so as to imbue the avatar with humanlike qualities. Whereas one may insist on communicating with a particular human being if the avatar used as a means of communication is augmentationist (ie an avatar that represents a particular RL individual, making that avvie one more means of keeping in touch with that person like their RL phone number, email adress etc) there should be no need to worry or care about who, exactly, is behind the scenes when you interact with a digital person. All that matters is that the avatar behaves in ways that seem consistent with that character, according to your prior experiences and your expectations. Just as film characters can live on through a succession of performers, digital people can live on through a succession of primaries.

So, anyway, a couple of interesting developments happened over the last couple of days. One came about while I was reading Robert M Geraci’s book ‘Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in WOW and SL’. I am one of the people the author talks about and there are quite a few quotes from things I have written or said in conversation with the author. There was one particular quote which ran thus:

“The avatar is sort of you and, at the same time, sort of somebody else. It could be that increasingly sophisticated avatars will act as a kind of bridge easing humans into a future in which brains can be scanned, mapped, and reconstructed digitally: Uploads, in other words”.

The author of this quote was referred to simply as ‘one transhumanist’ but I was certain I must be that person, because it sounded like exactly the sort of thing I would have said. In fact, I was sure I did say those exact words in one of my essays. But a check of the notes at the back of the book revealed this to be a quote from somebody else.

My thoughts have turned to memes, and are infecting at least one other brain. There is another person out there, somewhere, whose mind is at least partially ‘Extropialike’.

The other thing that happened was: I tried to register an account with ‘Inworldz’ which is an online world like Second Life. Of course, I wanted to register my own name but this name was already registered. There was already a resident called ‘Extropia DaSilva’. I had to settle for naming my Inworldz avatar after the shorthand version of my name my friends tend to use: ‘Extie DaSilva’.

Now, Inworldz’s Extropia DaSilva would not seem authentic to me because my mental model of ‘Extropia DaSilva’ is so strong. And if my partner or sister were to come to Inworldz and meet ‘me’ I dare say they would find this Extropia strangely ignorant of key memories; their mental model of me, while not quite as high-resolution as the one installed in my primary’s mind, is still very strong and I doubt ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could stand up to too much questioning. Extie DaSilva, on the other hand, would certainly pass any test they could dream up in order to prove she is most like the version of myself Jamie or Seren have come to know in SL.

People not so well acquainted with me, though, may meet an avatar called’ Extropia DaSilva’ and naturally assume it is the same one as the Second Life Extropia, the Facebook Extropia, and the KurzweilAI forum Extropia. And while whoever is the primary of this avatar could never ever fool me and would hardly be likely to fool my wife or sister or best friends from SL for very long, they might be able to pretend to be me well enough to seem convincing to people who do not know me quite so well. And if somebody is convinced they are talking to me, then as far as they are concerned that avatar is Extropia DaSilva. What if the author of the quote from Geraci’s book and whoever registered the name Extropia DaSilva in Inworldz was one and the same person? Hardly likely, I know, but if that were the case I think many a casual acquaintance would accept that avatar as being truly me.

This is both vaguely disturbing and exciting. On one hand it feels like identity theft. But on the other hand I could view this as evidence that my identity is being imperfectly copied to other brains, making a crude ‘upload’ of myself. Not one convincing enough to stand up under ‘are you REALLY Extropia?’ scrutiny those closest to me could subject the avatar to, but perhaps good enough for folks with whom I have only loose ties.

Now, suppose it is The Future and I have an extensive lifelog of past events. Suppose furthermore that search engines have become extremely efficient at retrieving specific memories from a person’s lifelogged personal history. Backed up by an AI ‘prompter’ that swiftly searches through my digital memories and pithily summarises events (‘what was Jamie worried about last time we spoke?’ ‘Jamie was concerned about blah blah’) the person running the InWorldZ ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could seem authentic even to those who know me best, like Serendipity my SL partner. Imagine if my primary wore sensors that detected when death occurred, and when that happened an online search is conducted intended to find another human who could take her place, the person running Inworldz Extropia being the closest match. This person then gets access to my accounts in SL, Facebook, Kurzweilai and can come to those places along with my digital memories and the AI prompter augmenting their performance.

Thus, my patterns would persist for as long as there is somebody willing and able to maintain them, enabling me to ‘exist’ across a succession of primaries until such time as real mind uploading enables me to progress from a digital person to a mind child.

UPDATE: After posting this essay I went back into InworldZ and sent a message to ‘Extropia DaSilva’. The message got forwarded to my own email account, proving this is NOT an imposter pretending to be me, but an avatar I had completely forgotten I had!

There is still a lesson about identity to learn from all this, which is that we sometimes forget things so completely it is as if they never happened. Perhaps if we live long enough it will be our fate as the people we are today to become totally forgotten by the people of the future we will have become?

This shows existence  is still short and precious, even if a life goes on forever.

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  1. Identity is important whether one is digital or biological. If I am meeting with my beloved I expect her to be the identity that I fell in love with not someone else doing there best to impersonate here. If I make a contract with individual X then it is not a contract with some other random individual that may presume the identity/appearance/mannerisms of X but with X itself. Selfness is deeper than perception of others. It certainly is as a matter of law. And is as a manner of expectation in human affairs. Consider all those movies about something being wrong with some person one knows where something other than that person is really running that body/presentation.

    Frankly darling I think you should trademark or otherwise legally bind the Extropia DaSilva brand so that others may not just assume it. You have put a lot of work into yourself that should not just be purloined by others.

    • What, really, is the difference between my primary pretending to be me and some other person pretending to be me? In either case, you have a fictional being created and developed in online worlds, ‘puppeteered’ by somebody my identity was never meant to represent.

      You have a mental model of who I am and what I am like, and any avatar with my name must match your expectations of how ‘Extropia DaSilva’ behaves, based on that mental model. I think you would not care WHO is driving the avatar, so long as the performance seems authentic enough.

  2. dave says:

    I have been thinking about similar things and from the perspective of how online and offline identities interact. Issues of privacy arise. Perhaps we should have one heavily encrypted identity which is the same on and off line: all Avs are traceable back to the one identity and one location. Transparency. Would be good for voting and anti-fraud. Maybe we cannot afford privacy anymore.

    • Hi Dave. Your argument makes sense when it comes to online identities that are intended to be representative of RL individuals. So, if your avatar is supposed to be one more means of getting in contact with RL you, I would no more want to be fooled into thinking a ‘Dave’ avatar is not you than I would want somebody to pretend to be you if I accidentally dial a wrong number when wanting to contact you over the telephone.

      My identity is not supposed to be tied to, or representative of, any RL person. That is not to say I do not care who accesses my accounts and uses my name; I care a great deal. I just do not want to be tied down to one RL individual with no way of handing over responsibility of taking care of me to others.

      I say much more about this at https://extropiadasilva.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/botgirl-unreal-addendum/

      • I envisage a range of identities,a spectrum from meat space only with no digital footprint, simultaneous online and offline (augmented), cyborgs, robots that have become sentient, beings that are purely online and have no off line footprint. This would include Avs that have become independent of their primary. In this multiple aspected spectrum, what is a sentient identity and what is not? What gets to vote and have control over scare resources and what does not? An AV would, presumably, need to do some kind of upgraded Turing test, thus securing its heavily encrypted identity – that way, it can protect itself online and others can know who they are talking to. I can envisage a lager number of beings/Avs that do not bother with such ‘identification’ and do so because they are not concerned with its absence. The down side of that will be the risk of low or no control over their environment. Thanks for the link, I will explore 🙂

  3. Brent Reitze says:

    This subject has been on my mind for a while as I pondered future digital existence in line with my current use of digital personas. First established to keep professional and personal lives separate I began to picture that a future where identity might not me tied to base biological that formed them. They form by assigning a name and moving in certain circles. The importance factor was consistency across the identity in its interactions. For example Chrome allows you to create separate instances tied to a single gmail account. If you use those separate accounts for different search functions, and to run in different circles, the digital file that builds to define that account (in least in terms of marketing, currently) will be at somewhat different from each other, even if used by a single person. How long until they are recognized as a separate entities, especially when the time comes that you can no longer tell who might be behind the persona. So I think the time will come when we must take those personas at face value based on their reputation with us. Perhaps we might a house name, to indicate that a set of personas are linked but not the same. Much like you might not recognize a friend in their work persona, but they might not act the same as they are performing a different function in a different environment. While we might prefer people remain the same and a singular entity I don’t think that will be the eventual outcome. Defined and consistent personas will.

  4. Green Daemon says:

    I suppose I’ve thought along these lines somewhat.
    Like, take a small tribe of people, back in the old hunter gatherer days.. They’d exist as a tribe, with routines for survival, possibly living in the same region for generations. use the same lakes and streams, walk along the same paths, fields, etc.. Their individual experiences would seem to be so limited.. Their imaginations would be working with the same experiences, surroundings, and events..
    Their life experience would be pretty much the same, they’d be genetically related, probably similar in most ways..They’d be dependent on each other. Use teamwork for everything. Learn new things through trial and error, and continually pass that knowledge on, particularly if they developed a writing system. They’d likely share the same ideals and standards, and any deviation from those might drive that individual from the tribe..
    And in this tribe’s case, what is the individual? He’s more of a member of a whole entity. A short term store of memory, that probably contributed to the long term knowledge. Like a bee in a hive, or an ant in a colony. The hive or colony still exists after they individually pass, and the colony is more analogous to a creature. Like an octopus who loses an arm, that later regrows.
    And whatnot..

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