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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mind Upload Shortfall: A Science Fiction Story

Edgar Stanton had heard about mind uploading, but he didn't really start paying much attention to the idea until he started to see the slick television commercials introduced in the year 2054.

“Why be satisfied with a measly eighty years, when you can live ten times longer?” said the television pitchman. “With the Foundation for Forever system, you can upload your consciousness to a robot body with a 1000-year warranty. You can live to see the grandchildren of your grandchildren of your grandchildren!”

“Wow, Foundation for Forever,” said Edgar. “I like the sound of that.”

Edgar and his wife Paula scheduled a visit to the offices of the company that put on the ad. It was a company named Immortalgorithmics, Inc. Edgar and Paula were met by a cheerful salesman named Dan.

Dan delivered a slick sales pitch, and explained some of the technical aspects of the system.

“Our Foundation for Forever system requires a destructive brain scan,” said Dan. “Your brain will be processed by a big machine which captures the state of every atom and neuron in your brain, destroying your brain cells as it scans. But we capture every element of your memory and personality. Then we transfer that to the silicon brain of our humanoid robot, the one with the 1000-year lifetime. When that robot opens its eyes and starts walking and talking, it won't just be a robot. It will be you. It will be you with a body of metal, plastic, and silicon, a body that will last 1000 years."

Then Dan asked a key question: “So how are your financials?”

“I make a good income,” said Edgar. “I'm starting to contribute yearly to my IRA.”

“Hmmm,” said Dan, frowning. “You may not fit our typical customer profile. You see, the Foundation for Forever system of mind uploading has a minimum price tag of two million dollars.”

Two million dollars?” gasped Edgar. “I heard it was expensive, but I didn't know it was that expensive.”

“I suggest that you just keep your nose to the grindstone,” said Dan, “and call us in another ten or twenty years. But only if you've saved up that two million dollars.”

Edgar went home disappointed. His wife tried to console him.

“Who knows whether that mind uploading even works right?” said Paula. “When someone's mind gets uploaded to one of those robots, the robot always says he's the same person who died. But who knows – the robot may be just a copy of the person who died, not really the same person.”

“Don't try to discourage me with objections like that,” said Edgar. “I'm more certain than ever that I want to have my mind uploaded into a robot. I've just got to earn the money, that's all.”

Edgar had been wonderfully happy as the manager of a small pet store, but he knew this wouldn't give him the money he needed for the mind upload. So he closed the store, and got a job working for a Wall Street financial firm in New York City. He had to work his way up, but after several years he found himself a position on the trading floor. For year after year he worked as a derivatives salesman. He hated every minute of this work. But whenever he wanted to quit, he told himself: I've got to earn this kind of money, so I can one day have my mind uploaded into a robot, and live 1000 years.

After fifteen years, Edgar had accumulated 1,300,000 dollars. But then Edgar suffered a terrible misfortune. He was diagnosed with cancer. It was one of the few types that medical science still had no cure for.

Edgar discussed his diagnosis with his wife, who started crying when she heard the news.

“Don't worry, honey,” Edgar said. “I have a plan. All I need is another 700,000 dollars for that mind upload, and then I'm looking at a 1000-year lifespan in an electronic body. I'll take all our savings, and invest it in stock options. Those kind of things can pay off big very fast.”

Edgar invested in the stock options, but the stocks did poorly. He lost half of his savings. Now he knew he could not possibly afford the mind uploading. Edgar's hopes were crushed.

Two months later Edgar lay dying in a bed at a hospice for terminal cancer patients. His wife sat near him, hoping to make his last hours comfortable. Finally his condition worsened, and it became apparent his end was very near.

But suddenly Edgar's face looked cheerful and peaceful. “I see something,” he said. “There... there...it's wonderful. And my mother is there.”

A few minutes later Edgar died. Paula tearfully recounted his last words to the nurse, a sixty-year-old nursing ace.

“Shades of Osis and Haraldsson,” said the nurse cryptically. “You know, I've seen that many times. It's damn strange how they often brighten up just before they go.”

Paula went home that night, and lay alone in bed, thinking about her husband's death. The next day she woke up and went to get herself some food. But then she saw something amazing. There in the living room of her house was a ghostly transparent figure. She recognized the face immediately – it was the face of her husband.

“Funny thing about that mind upload,” said Edgar, smiling beatifically. “Turns out I didn't need it.”