Black Mirror (Recap) “Uploading Consciousness?”

Black Mirror S4 E1 USS Callister Part Three (Netflix)

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The major plot of USS Callister involves Robert Daley, the antagonist, taking DNA samples from his human employees in order to use those samples to create digital copies of them in cyberspace (more specifically in a game he created).

The digital uploading of human consciousness is an oft-revisited theme in the Black Mirror universe.

There are lots of people who believe that we will soon be able to upload our consciousness in cyberspace, many people who think it is theoretically possible but a long time away, and some people who don’t believe that it is possible at all.

One of those people, Dr. Seth, believes that since we experience the world through predictions made first by our bodies that absent our bodies, our brains could not function independently in digital spaces:

Many of the supporters have some pretty amazing reasons, aside from just extending their own lives in perpetuity, for wanting to upload consciousness. Dr. Randal Koene, for example, wants to upload to make the impossible possible in exploration:

“What would it be like, for instance, to travel really close to the sun?…I got into this because I was interested in exploring not just the world, but eventually the universe. Our current substrates, our biological bodies, have been selected to live in a particular slot in space and time. But if we could get beyond that, we could tackle things we can’t currently even contemplate.”

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But, even if there are amazing possible futures, incredible dangers are present too, as Conor Friedersdorf explains it would scramble many of our notions of justice which are based on a normal life cycle (see the Greta Cookie argument above):

“Radical life extension would so scramble and confound our normal notions of justice that there’s no telling how future Americans would react to the new reality. Historic monsters might be punished for 6 million years … or just three or four times longer than a 150-year sentence a U.S. court imposed on this obscure money-launderer. It’s hard to speculate even when confining ourselves to descendants of ours, in this country, with moral codes closely resembling our own.”

In addition, there are many other ethical dangers that become possible in a world with consciousness uploading (as Friedersdorf continues):

“Future Americans will face countless actual controversies just like those if whole generations start uploading themselves. And it isn’t outlandish to imagine futures where the masses look at us with the disdain that we have for Bull Connor and his analogs. Perhaps the Americans of 2215, with their laboratory-grown synthetic meat, will look in horror at those of us who had animals killed throughout our lives in order to eat them. Maybe they’ll regard a year’s punishment per animal killed to be fair, with a 10-year enhancement for animals kept in cruel conditions before death.”

Some of the more extreme possibilities have been examined in the Black Mirror episodes “White Bear,” “Be Right Back,” “The Entire History of You,” and “White Christmas.”

Lots to think about, although I very much doubt that we are on an immediate brink of uploading. It is always a good idea to start thinking about the possible consequences of new technologies before they become real.

My first encounter with the idea of uploading was probably in an early Star Trek episode but I started researching the idea when I was looking into nanotechnology in the 1990’s (I was reading the works of a group of scientists and thinkers who were engaged in what is called “Transhumanism” or “Extropianism”).

As I mentioned in Part One, most people still seem to think nanometer-scale robots are the most likely means of mapping the brain for digital copy.

I have certainly never read anyone discussing DNA as a method of uploading, I would be interested to hear where or how Brooker and his team found that idea (and if there is science suggesting that it is a probable and possible method for uploading consciousness).

If you want to learn more about the possibilities, there is an annual uploading conference which you can attend (or read about) called the 2045 Initiative.

Okay, that is all I have on USS Callister (Next Up S4 E2 ArkAngel).

Josh is a blogger and freelance writer. Please consider following him on Twitter, throwing a tip into his hat on Patreon, show your appreciation using Paypal.me, or adding OnPirateSatellite to your feeds.

Portions Originally published at onpiratesatellite.com.

Author, Criminal Justice Reform Advocate, Co-Host of the "Decarceration Nation" Podcast, Television critic and Movie Reviewer, OnPirateSatellite.com