back me up


Rapid evolution of technology have many of us wondering what’s next. In the past 20 years, we have seen enormous changes to the way we socialize, work, learn, and relax. In witnessing this acceleration of technology, there is no reason to believe that it will slow, barring cataclysm.

Some of the most interesting advances involve those that affect our day to day lives, and fundamentally change our experience. The web, cell phones, and social networks were three changes which introduced enormous disruption. At the forefront of today’s change, we can see wearable devices, commercial space travel, and lab-grown steaks. The media is preparing us for a robot revolution. Soon we will have robot cars, robot security, robot assistants, and robot medicine. The changes we have seen these past 20 years are just the beginning.

In addition to artificial sirloin, we are told that technologies will allow us to enhance and modify our own bodies. At the extreme end of these predictions is the claim that we humans will one day be able to back up our own brains similar to backing up a device to the cloud. This is not a new theory. Futurists have for many years suggested that human beings will one day create the means to copy their minds, their personalities, and their selves. To get there, our understanding of brain physiology and mental processes will have advanced to the point where all structures are understood and can be recorded and replicated.

People have been freezing their own heads for decades in the hopes of extending their life beyond death (1). It’s likely that if we could make a quick hourly backup of ourselves, many of us would choose to do that. Day to day behavior would change as a result (2). A typical day might involve plugging yourself in for backup as you holographically work in a room with others, each of you physically situated in different locations across the globe and beyond (3).

A successful backup strategy would require writing as well as reading. That is, in the event of death the new candidate for resuscitation would require a body (how dreadful to live without a body! (4)). This suggests the technology to actually grow bodies, and leads to some interesting mixological questions. Could any mind be attached to any body? If you could transport yourself to a stronger, more flexible, faster, and more attractive body, is that something you would do? As Americans I think we can safely admit amongst ourselves that yes, many of us would.

So we encounter our future selves: extremely attractive fearless immortals.

It almost sounds boring, until you stop to realize that humans are rarely content for long. Without the technology to excise our restlessness; our desire for power and entertainment and social and self aggrandizement; as long as we are human there will always be a push towards progress!

In the current reigning economic model (Capitalism), we are rewarded for our abilities, our experience, our contributions, and (sometimes) our propensity to cheat and take advantage of others. Perhaps R/W people would be driven to create colonies of themselves under capitalistic conditions. In the same way that computers take advantage of multiple cores and parallel processing, people could become more effective, the greater the number of their copies. If there were 5 or 10, or 50 of me operating in parallel, I could be doing a lot more than just writing this blog. Imagine thousands of copies of yourself hard at work while you smoke cuban cigars on the beach (cigars suddenly seem less filthy when you can grab another body tomorrow). We could be programming, learning, shopping, socializing, meditating, romancing, and base jumping. Perhaps (taking things a step further) these experiences could be merged at the end of the day and downloaded across the self colony.

This leads us to a problem of coordination. In computers, parallelism is accomplished via a master/slave model, whereby one master process controls the slaves (also called driver/worker model for the PC minded). Coordination amongst multiple copies of our own selves could be more challenging, and it’s likely that continually slaving for oneself would lead to resentment and revolt. Without cooperation and fairness, the selves would be less successful at solving problems and creating outcomes. Creative and intelligent colonies of selves will be rewarded, but perhaps more important to this future (in capitalistic terms) are colonies with a personality that enjoy cooperation and the company of others. Here we are talking about the company of Selves not Others. The most successful, productive colonies will be the ones that can coordinate (and tolerate (5)) hundreds or even thousands of instances of themselves. Strategies and assistance for self-coordination are likely to be the psychology of this age.

Many futurists feel that we will never achieve the point of self-copy. Some expect a technological singularity to be realized first. In this scenario, machines become more intelligent than their human creators. In a singularity, computational intelligence overreach human intelligence. Machines begin to design smarter and smarter machines, possibly by patching and upgrading themselves. The pattern results in a rapid acceleration of intelligence, with machines continually self-improving and leaving their biological inventors behind. Ultimately human beings become mental insects by comparison, at which point they are squashed. So perhaps we have nothing to worry about…

(1) but perhaps not Walt Disney!
(2) base jumping might then be considered a mundane activity
(3) office holodecks would provide enormous cost savings – with everyone working from home and office simultaneously
(4) as this disturbing presoviet experiment demonstrates
(5) as JB put it


  1. Garret R on said:

    It seems to me that cloning a brain would be strictly biological and not the same as with computers where you clone the data and restore it into a blank machine. The reason being that creating a sufficiently matching empty/blank brain would be far more complex than recording a brain backup (I think). So you might as well clone it completely at a biological level and skip the step of saving and restoring the info in the brain.

  2. David Bach on said:

    Wow, sounds like science fiction come to life!
    Nice writing but a little over the top for me.
    Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    David Bach

    • Mark McQuillen on said:

      Pretty far out stuff. But then the paper below takes it a step further and suggests we may already be living in a computer simulation…

      Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation

      Abstract: Observable consequences of the hypothesis that the observed universe is a numerical simulation
      performed on a cubic space-time lattice or grid are explored.

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