I first read Plausible Futures when I was reading up about Scenario Planning some time back. The articles seem pretty good, but today I came across this article by Marshall Brain, about his concept of a Vertebrane which will allow people to achieve immortality free of their bodies.
Reading it, I am totally, totally disgusted. He starts off with this spiel about the "great" sci-fi shows and names a few (Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001) and says that these shows and all the favourite sci-fi stories have one thing in common: people remain tied to their bodies despite the incredible advance of technology.
He then goes on to argue that people, and you, the reader, should abandon your body, because it will grow old, it will have disease, you don't have to pee anymore, and by simply installing a "Vertebrane" in your spine, you can discard your body and inhabit the virtual world, where you can have perfect vision, the perfect body, and virtual slaves for your every desire. (Yes, he talks about porn too... ) Oh yes, you can download your brain and store it too.
I mean like, WTF! It's not that I'm against the idea of immortality. It's just that he's so obviously a layman who's so taken with a single idea and wants to promote it.. ( Or worse, he's not a layman yet he can quote such bad examples.)
So let's first look at Sci-fi that suggests this kind of scenario. The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Isaac Asimov's Last Question, all kinds of cyberpunk including William Gibson ( this Marshall mentions Neuromancer but fails to note, for instance, that in one of the sequels to Neuromancer, the character Finn gets himself downloaded..), Sixth Day ( well, kind of..). This guys quotes sci-fi to start, but obviously he's not any kind of a sci-fi reader. It's an insult to sci-fi, that he tries to use sci-fi to convince his readers that his idea of a vertebrane is so revolutionary that wow, it's not in the "popular" sci-fi at all..
And then let's look at his extremely one-sided portrayal of the benefits of living in a virtual world. Sounds enticing? Well, remember the theme in the Matrix itself, when the traitor ( forgot his name) was comparing life in a dull real world and the polished enjoyment of the Matrix. Yes, he's saying we should all hurry up and get into the Matrix and stay there. Why should you exercise your imperfect body when you can hide in your virtual world? In fact, he goes one better than the Matrix! You can download yourself into a hard-disk and dump your body in the incinerator. Then you can live forever!
Hmm. what happens if there's a blackout? EMP from a nuclear bomb? Never mind, let's assume you can assure an umlimited uninterrupted power supply. Have you ever watched the Thirteenth Floor? There, people have created a virtual world, and the characters inside, once they realise they're living in a limited virtual world, want out. And you want in? Or have you ever read James Kelly's Think Like a Dinosaur? Like, okay, you downloaded your brain and now you're gonna incinerate the body? So, is the body brain going to willingly die now? Oh, I forgot, the body's on anaesthetic. Just kill the body, it's not murder, is it? Then again, there's this joke sci-fi story I once read, about someone who contracted for a download of his brain and then discovered that X years down the road, he had no power to affect anything when the Service Provider decided to change the Terms and Conditions.
Pardon, my instinctive revulsion at the ridiculous one-sidedness of his arguments is affecting my ability to give a coherent, well-organised response. There's just too many things wrong with the presentation of his ideas to answer! If I had to put it in two simple paragraphs with a single illustration each:
1) Perfect Virtual Body and Life is better than Real Life? Well, if you're content with a hedonistic life with Virtual Impact rather than Real Impact. How do you change the world and make it a better place? Watch Minority Report, there's a scene in the virtual bar where there's a guy who's buying a virtual experience of everyone praising him. That's the kind of wanker who might find it good.
2) A Downloaded Brain giving immortality and convenience? Well: Immortality's good, maybe. But does the soul transport? I'm not talking about a religious kind of thing. Look at Ghost in the Shell, the movie or tv series. You can tape memories, record the neurons, maybe. But does that give life? Kurosawa says it doesn't. If it does, then downloading your brain is more like reproduction: like an amoeba, except that the new half is immortal (maybe), but you yourself, you're going to die anyway. Mr Brain, when you decide to download yourself, I want to see if you yourself, in your meat body, are really willing to commit suicide.