Written by Kevin Hower Tuesday, 05 January 2010 19:49
“The queen is dead. Long live the queen.” That was a phrase spoken in a movie—“Elizabeth,” with Cate Blanchett—that I watched over the weekend, and it got me thinking.
It seems to me that for added clarity, it would have been better if someone back then had decided to say instead, “The former queen is dead. Long live the new queen,” or something to that effect. Maybe I’m just over-thinking it. Nah…surely not me.
I had a thought over the Christmas season. What if you were naughty but, for whatever strange reason, you actually wanted coal for Christmas? What would you get in your stocking? I mean, would you actually get coal, or would Santa figure out something you didn’t want and give you that instead?
Burning questions, I know.
I noticed a theme in movies this past year. I can think of three movies—“Surrogates,” “Gamer” and most recently “Avatar”—that all dealt with the idea of people controlling other people or robots or aliens by remote.
In the future world of “Surrogates,” for example, people live their public lives through remote control robots. They can see, hear and feel everything from their surrogate’s point of view by sitting in a special chair. Crime has dropped to almost nothing and people can do things through their surrogates that would be dangerous or even deadly to do with their own bodies.
There is a backlash against the surrogates though, or there wouldn’t be a movie.
What’s with all the remote-control people movies? I think a lot of it is the idea of a world without permanent consequences. That same idea is also part of the appeal of online games and computers in general. The idea of a safety net—an undo key. You can get your body back in many computer games, hit undo to correct an incorrect copy and paste or undelete files.
It’s quite impossible though, to un-burn a much-needed piece of paper, or un-kill someone who happened to be in the path of a stray bullet.
That safety net is a double-edged sword, though, and I think in some cases when it’s taken too far, it can cripple people’s reasoning abilities and coping skills.
What I mean is that when people get too comfortable with the idea of safety nets, they tend to be careless. It’s why bicyclers who wear helmets statistically have more accidents. They’re often less careful because they think that they’re going to be safe because of the helmet.
I’m fascinated by the idea of consciousness, and it’s something I’ve been trying to put into the stories I’m writing, which are primarily science fiction and fantasy. I happen to believe that everything we are—our consciousness, if you will—is stored in our brain, and that there is nothing that lasts after death.
I’m interested in the idea of backing up the mind and then restoring it to a new body.
Unlike folks like Ray Kurzweil, who think that an event called the Singularity is just around the corner, I don’t think we’re going to have such a capability any time soon. Almost certainly not in my lifetime, but maybe in a few centuries. There is still too much about the brain’s workings that we don’t know.
The problem inherent in this process—even if we could do it successfully—boils down to belief, I think. If we could do such a thing today, there would still be millions who would refuse to do it. They might see it as cheating death. Perhaps they might see it as being left out.
In other words, their clone, with their memories, would get to continue and have experiences that they wouldn’t and they would feel cheated.
What would you do? As Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work.... I want to achieve it through not dying.” I think I would be happy to have at least my ideas and knowledge preserved in a new body, but preferably everything I am.
It’s not an easy question, but it’s also one I don’t expect I’ll ever have to worry about for real.