The following extract from Permutation City by Greg Egan covers several topics of interest to Samizdatistas and the commentariat. The “Copies” are fully conscious computer simulations of people who have had their brains scanned. The first speaker, Durham, is a biological human trying to persuade the Copy, Thomas, that in the long term he is in danger of being switched off, even though the computer he runs on is private property, by governments claiming the moral high ground.
‘…The privileged class of Copies will grow larger, more powerful — and more threatening to the vast majority of people, who still won’t be able to join them. The costs will come down, but not drastically – just enough to meet some of the explosion in demand from the executive class, once they throw off their qualms, en masse. Even in secular Europe, there’s a deeply ingrained prejudice that says dying is the responsible, the moral thing to do. There’s a Death Ethic – and the first substantial segment of the population abandoning it will trigger a huge backlash. A small enough elite of giga-rich Copies is accepted as a freak show; tycoons can get away with anything, they’re not expected to act like ordinary people. But just wait until the numbers go up by a factor of ten.’
Thomas had heard it all before. ‘We may be unpopular for a while. I can live with that. But you know, even now we’re vilified far less than people who strive for organic hyper-longevity — transplants, cellular rejuvenation, whatever — because at least we’re no longer pushing up the cost of health care, competing for the use of overburdened medical facilities. Nor are we consuming natural resources at anything like the rate we did when we were alive. If the technology improves sufficiently, the environmental impact of the wealthiest Copy could end up being less than that of the most ascetic living human. Who’ll have the high moral ground then? We’ll be the most ecologically sound people on the planet.’
Durham smiled. The puppet. ‘Sure — and it could lead to some nice ironies if it ever came true. But even low environmental impact might not seem so saintly, when the same computing power could be used to save tens of thousands of lives through weather control.’
‘Operation Butterfly has inconvenienced some of my fellow Copies very slightly. And myself not at all.’
‘Operation Butterfly is only the beginning. Crisis management, for a tiny part of the planet. Imagine how much computing power it would take to render sub-Saharan Africa free from drought.’
‘Why should I imagine that, when the most modest schemes are still unproven? And even if weather control turns out to be viable, more supercomputers can always be built. It doesn’t have to be a matter of Copies versus flood victims.’
‘There’s a limited supply of computing power right now, isn’t there? Of course it will grow – but the demand, from Copies, and for weather control, is almost certain to grow faster. Long before we get to your deathless utopia, we’ll hit a bottleneck — and I believe that will bring on a time when Copies are declared illegal. Worldwide. If they’ve been granted human rights, those rights will be taken away. Trusts and foundations will have their assets confiscated. Supercomputers will be heavily policed. Scanners – and scan files – will be destroyed. It may be forty years before any of this happens – or it may be sooner. Either way, you need to be prepared.’