What Is Em “Death”?

Yesterday I talked about one big change with ems (future whole  brain emulation robots) – they’d mostly be workaholics. Another other big change with ems, I think, is their concept of and attitude toward “death.” Ems would often agree to make copies of themselves, copies which they expected would only last for a limited time, such as one year. But they’d mostly be fine with this. Let me explain.

Imagine that you have lost all memories of some period of your life, say a period one year long. You still have pictures, letters, a diary, some video, memories in others you can talk to, etc. But while it all sounds like the sort of thing you might have done, you don’t additionally recall doing any of it. How much would this memory loss degrade the value of your overall life? I’d say it would be far worse to have not lived that year at all, say being put in suspended animation, than to merely have lost the memory of that year.

Now imagine that, because you had access to a time machine, this lost year happened at the same time as one of your other years. During 2006, for example, you were off experiencing 2005 all over again, but in another place, and then you forgot it all, expect for the pictures, etc. For me, this would not much degrade the overall value of my life. It would again be a bit sad not to remember that year, but its not a big deal when it happened.

Now imagine that you could use this time machine to both experience 2005 twice, forgetting one of the parts, and also to experience 2006 as usual. Here you’d be adding one more year onto your life, which I’d consider great. If the cost of having one more year of life were that you don’t fully remember that year, to me that would be a small price to pay.

For an em who shared my attitudes here, the option to spawn a new copy who only lasted a year would be much like the option to live another year longer, but without remembering it. Mostly a good deal, at least if you liked your life during that time. Yes the copy might be sad when his year came to an end, knowing his detailed memories of that year would not last. But he’d usually expect that “he” would continue to exist through other copies. He wouldn’t consider this harm to be remotely as large as what we call “death” — the end of anyone who remembers our life in some detail.

Ems would start as scans of humans, but not of random humans – the humans would be chose for their productivity and their acceptance of the em patterns of life, and “death.” As a result, ems would mostly be fantastically-capable workaholics who were not greatly bothered by “death” given the existence of other close copies. Since they seem to me quite “human” with lives well worth living, I consider the em revolution to be far more glorious than horrifying.

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