Immortality and Man’s Seven Ages

When we tire of working on the basics of enhancing intelligence to practical ends, we always have little thought experiments to play with: riffs of wonderment on, say, a recipe for happiness that contains an ounce of eternal pure consciousness. An example of this phenomenon can be found in the current issue of The Atlantic. Its title gives the game away in its conclusion on the value of living forever. “Immortal but Damned to Hell on Earth” carries the chilling strapline: “The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch”.

Left unexamined is the impossibility of a “pure” consciousness, given that any claim to purity is sacrificed as soon as a consciousness actually becomes conscious of something. Not to mention that, as we discover repeatedly in literature, the vessel of that consciousness is itself constantly changing, taking on at any given moment a character as perceived by another consciousness that is conscious of it. In Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, we see in each of those stages that the subject of the poem is seen in a particular light by some other person: the infant by his nurse, the lover by mistress, the soldier by his adversary, and so on.

What does this matter in the context of The Atlantic piece? In its musings on the effects for justice in uploading emergent evil entities to The Cloud, it extrapolates amusingly on humanity’s insatiable appetite for retribution. It wonders how creatively we might punish an uploaded consciousness for which multiple copies might be made, to facilitate multiple retributions. And how might this affect uploaded people who are pursued vindictively unto Doomsday, justly or not? Left unaddressed is this question: if some Bad Guy were uploaded only to be pursued eternally by his victims, in which of his Ages would his victims find him?

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