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.