If you weren’t here last time, I watched the entirety of Altered Carbon and now I’m talking about the three main variations of human-consciousness-placed-in-alternate-receptacles shown in Science Fiction. I know. It sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? You should probably read the original article to get an idea of where we’re going with this, because this week we’re talking about Variation One. And, once again, while there are no major plot spoilers in this article, I am welcoming any and all discussion points (spoilers included) in the comments. So you can discuss the insanity that I’m about to spew onto this page, or you can discuss the much cleaner, deeper story of Altered Carbon. Your choice.
If you didn’t remember, Variation One of Alternate Consciousness is the idea that a human consciousness or mind can be connected to an off-site or mobile receptacle—with the prerequisite that the consciousness is still somehow attached to the original human-flesh-and-blood body through some sort of link or code.
I like this variation because it’s only a few steps above the virtual reality that we already have. It’s more of an interactive videogame system than a true uploaded consciousness, because it’s a projection rather than a duplication. As such, there’s no real blurring between what’s human and what’s not. There’s no immortality here—a human is alive for as long as his or her body is alive, and the consciousness dies with the body. In religious or metaphorical terms, you’re never removing the soul from its original body, and you never have to stop taking care of that original body in order to exist. Your humanity is still tied to that living organism you originally found yourself in and you have to remember to feed and water it periodically.
For the sake of this article, let’s discuss a world where the majority of humans have access to these receptacles. Mechanical constructs that they can control from the safety of their own homes, much like the 2009 movies, Surrogates. In a practical sense, there aren’t really a lot of overall negatives to this technology (and yes, I realize that the entire movie is based around disproving that, but hear me out anyway). On a base level, there’s no real fear of bodily harm or accidental death anymore. Teleportation is possible within whatever range your consciousness coding can reach (assuming that you have an available receptacle at your destination). Everything happens in real time and thus your mind continues to age with your human body (which is not really possible in variations two and three, which we will discuss in the future). It’s actually not too different from living a normal life. A lot of benefits, less risk.
My favorite thing about this type of technology, though? Customization options. Anyone that’s played an MMO in the last decade can tell you how much we love to customize our characters before sending them out into the world. Surrogates didn’t have anything like this, but I can guarantee you that virtually no one would have a construct that looked like their natural bodies—I don’t care if you look like Bruce Willis or not. Elves, aliens, dragon people, real life Furries—in a world where every person has their own walking, talking avatar (ooh! Avatar is another version of this, too. It also came out in 2009. Weird.) that can be customized and switched out with relative ease, you’d better believe that I’m going to have fairy wings and silver skin. And I’m sure as hell going to search for other people who decided to dress their avatar up in a similar fashion. It’s like a real-world-but-still-not-THE-real-world Tinder.
Speaking of Tinder–something you’ll notice about all three variations of Alternative Consciousness is that, at one point or another, the technology is going to be used and designed or upgraded specifically for sex. Because that’s going to happen anytime you put more emphasis on upgrading and customizing a body than you do a mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you can design a mechanical construct with heightened sensitivity, flexibility, and a design that you and your partner both find appealing (maybe even with removable parts)—there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t use that to their full potential. Because why would I want to do it au-natural when I just bought the Honeymoon Sweetheart upgrade and expansion pack? In this world, I’m willing to bet that unplanned pregnancies each year would drop nearly to zero.
But, while unwanted pregnancy rates would drop significantly, this particular variation still requires the continuation of human reproduction, which is arguably unnecessary in the other two. If you can back up or download your consciousness, if you can survive without a human body and thus achieve some sort of immortality, as with the other variations in this series, then there’s arguably no reason to create future generations of flesh-and-blood humans. In fact, without death, overpopulation is basically inevitable and reproduction might be counter-intuitive. But in this version, the soul dies with the body. There’s no coming back or extending the life beyond normal means. There’s no creating a new mind with new ideas and implanting it into a smaller cyborg version of you. Life must continue. Humanity in its most basic form must continue. And that’s why this variation of alternative consciousness keeps us “human.” We might be able to project our minds into machines for days or weeks, but ultimately that natural body must be maintained and new ones have to be created. The certainty of death is still real and imminent. The need to create and teach the next generation is a driving force for survival. And thus, through continual generations, culture and ideas continue to evolve and grow—keeping us more stringently tied to the humanity that we begin to lose in other variations. And that’s beautiful.
Out of the three variations, I stand by the idea that we are closest to achieving Variation One. Hell, I’ve been told that anyone that plays Second Life has basically already achieved this. It’s attainable, believable, and not that far out of the realm of what we currently understand. Thus, it’s arguably the most boring of the three variations, and has the least amount of room for terrible, terrible side effects to humanity and society as a whole.
We’ll discuss Variation Two next time, but tell me what you think so far. Do you think this version of alternative consciousness is attainable? Any positives or negatives that I didn’t cover here? And, do you think that it has any advantages or disadvantages over the technology we see in Altered Carbon (which we are going to discuss in greater detail next time with Variation Two)? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to your input.
Tahani Nelson is a “Geek of All Trades.” She’s dabbled in pretty much everything, but holds a special place in her heart (and schedule) for video and tabletop games. Other interests include attending Renaissance Faires and Cons in full dress, practicing calligraphy, writing fantasy novels, discussing comparative philosophy and morality, and apparently listening with a blank smile on her face anytime someone tries to convince her that Magic: The Gathering is as much fun as D&D.