I’m in the middle of the first draft of GHOST SPIN, and it’s got me thinking about the practical problems of uploaded personalities. The biggest problem as I see it is one that people barely ever talk about: data storage. I mean, any way you slice it an uploaded human being is one bigass pile of bits.
There’s a lot of interesting physics research going on right now that could have implications for how we might this kind of massive data storage problem. For instance, by using Bose-Einstein Condensates to slow down the speed of light. Or, more cheaply, by simply broadcasting large streams of bit into deep space for subsequent retrieval. I stumbled on this piece about deep space data storage recently and it got me thinking….
Broadcasting is cheap, especially if you’re not worried about encryption (more on that below). I mean, basically, we’re already storing large amounts of data in deep space, including every single radio and television program ever broadcast. If you ask me, American Idol and Rush Limbaugh aren’t the way I’d advertise human civilization to any aliens who happen to be listening in. But as cheap, reliable data storage, broadcasting can’t be beat.
So. Now you can store your uploaded self for free. Even better, you can pick up the broadcast anywhere within Earth’s future lightcone, so your upload would always be on tap in case your current incarnation suffers an unforseen mishap. New body, new lease on life, but all the old sweet memories. It’s virtual immortality. The only catch is that you wouldn’t be able to access the data that was still in transit when you were downloaded back into your new body.
We’ve all read about characters who wake up in cloned bodies knowing nothing about their last life except that someone hated them enough to murder them. (Walter Jon Williams and Sean Williams have both written excellent novels based on this premise, which makes me wonder if their shared last name is just coincidence or something more sinister….) But murder is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unencrypted personality uploads.
‘Cause here’s the thing. There are solutions to the missing memories problem. But none of them are free. And if there’s one thing we know with absolute certainty, it’s that when there’s a rock bottom cheap way to wriggle out of providing adequate health care benefits, some employer somewhere will inflict it on their employees.
Yep. I’m seeing pathetic hordes of uploaded personalities wandering the galaxy in search of their missing memories; coughing up exorbitant “download” fees to get their loved ones out of transmission limbo; playing legal shell games with the lawsuit-proof companies that hold their reincarnation service contracts. And spending multi-year “transmission lags” wondering what they don’t know about their last life because their employer decided not to optimize their upload.
Naturally, the skinflint principle would also apply to encryption. Encrypting your upload costs. But the cost of not encrypting? Knowing that anyone in your future lightcone can pirate an illicit copy of you and do whatever they damn well please with it. I can just see the advertising copy: “Some things are priceless. For everything else there’s EncryptoCard….”
There’s gotta be a story in this. I’ll get back to you once I’ve rounded up the usual suspects and managed to find some likely victims . . . er, characters . . . to inflict it on.