"Welcome back, Mr Anderson...We've been waiting for you."
— Agent Smith, The Matrix
Beyond the practical limitations in current science relating to downloading consciousness, many ethical issues also arise. While many moral criticisms often take the form of philosophical ponderings discussed earlier, with what being human and being alive truly means, a world in which downloading consciousness is a reality poses many legal, political, and economic issues.
The changes in this world that would result if mind uploading existed are astronomical. However, the line between beneficial and problematic consequences becomes somewhat fuzzy. For example, the existence of simulated minds could greatly increase economic growth. Not only could already-mature minds be uploaded, but these minds could even be accelerated by computing power. Although the possibilities of mind uploading quickly begin to intersect with the concept of eugenics, it is possible to see how societal “intellectual horsepower” could be increased by propagating “brilliant” minds that could usher in new discoveries in any number of areas. The details of human cognition could be more clearly understood, making the brain not only run faster, but become more intelligent. The economical gains from this could be enormous.
However, this could also present many socioeconomic issues. In a world in which the divisions between rich and poor are already drastic, mind uploading could severely increase this issue. More wealthy or privileged individuals in this supposed society would have more access to these “enhancing” technologies. Essentially, they would be able to “run” more copies of themselves, or even others, promoting their own advancement. A society in which downloading consciousness is a reality could also become one in which there is a genetic divide or a multi-tiered society, increasing power for the already powerful. Genetic modifications could begin to represent one’s social class.
In addition, understanding how to achieve many of these goals would require intensive experimentation on the simulated brains, which would unearth a vast amount of legal issues. Copies of the same minds could be exposed to different test conditions, and the determination of rights granted to simulated minds would be crucial. When considering the continuity of consciousness, would the newly uploaded being have the same rights as the previous human? What would they be responsible for? Would they become a new legal entity? These are all issues that must be considered.
With the power to download consciousness comes the ability to achieve amazing things. We could increase humans’ overall well-being, reprograming the brain with neural features that correspond to high happiness. We could change the way we interact with people, forming deeper connections through informational and emotional exchange. However, which of these brain modifications should be allowed before our definition of human changes completely? We could enhance the brain to increase memory capacity or mental calculations, but should we also allow deletions? What would it mean to humanity if we were able to remove memories, or even emotions? We must analyze whether these modifications would help or hurt us. Obvioulsly these considerations go beyond simply duplicating the brain, but these moral questions should be considered as the technological advancements that would come with mind uploading could open up new discoveries in brain modification.
Because of these issues, those that support mind uploading, or those that support technological progressivism in general, must implement public policies that cover human enhancement in the form of mind uploading in order to preempt these imagined problems. For example, prohibiting multiple active copies of the same person (that share the same history) would definitely address many problems. In general, the issues with downloading consciousness are indistinguishable from those raised by any technology that is an extension of the human body. We must establish a set of bioethics principles and apply that to any future technology that may occur before it is out of our hands. This points back to the importance of science fiction in exploring these problems. Despite presenting imagined worlds, this fiction touches on some of the very important issues, like competitive advantage, new markets based on memory, or human rights for copies, that downloading consciousness could turn into a reality.