Written by Freelancing Writer and Editor : Olayinka Sodiq
Imagine the availability of a machine that gives you the privilege to download your brain onto a computer and save it as a file. All of your aspirations, hopes, dreams, dirty secrets, memories, and fantasies are right in that file and can be uploaded into a program that would turn the computer into a perfect replication of you. That same computer could then complete the basic tasks you find boring with the exact same preferences and taste as you. It could do research for a work project, do your taxes, find and order a new rug for your living room, all while you sit on the couch or sleep and get fat.
This same program allows you to tweak your self-esteem a bit, alter and delete some traumatic memories, discard a bad habit and install a couple new good ones. And then you can plug the computer back into your head and download the new “you” in a few seconds. Let’s say you get weird and decides to erase all of your memories and replace with synthetic and fake memories. What if you eradicate and replace your personality as well? Do you think you would remain the same?
IF YOU THINK IT’S HARD TO “FIND YOURSELF” NOW, JUST WAIT A FEW DECADES
These questions may sound unrealistic and crazy, but technology is advancing at an exceptional advancing rate. Many of which will likely be introduced during the course of our lifetimes. The world is already facing some of these identity issues, although at a much more subtle and smaller scale. You upload a large percentage of your life to emails and social media, Is that uploaded data part of your identity or an accurate representation of yourself? If it were all replaced or deleted with other information, would that change you? These external reference points are determined by our material circumstances. If there’s no judicial system or written legal code, you cannot be a good lawyer.
The major point remains our identities, our perception of ourselves, what we’re good at, our beliefs, what we look like and our values are largely determined by the economic and technological circumstances we find ourselves. If you find yourself on an island with a particular tribe of people who do not know how to swim, you will cement your identity as the swimmer very quickly. Moreover, if you join the swim team at an event or school and lose every meet, your identity immediately becomes “the loser.” But when the swim team becomes outsourced to android-like robots in a few years, your identity will simply be “the human” (who sucks at swimming). The Same activity, but a different identity that is a different way of seeing you based on the technology involved and external circumstances.
The fact that you’re reading this right now on a device that has more information available with a few taps than was seen by entire civilizations over thousands of years means that you had seen technology change more in your life than it did a 100 years before you were born. This means you’re exposed to new images and ideas in 24 hours than your ancestors were in a lifetime. Due to the massive flow of information in recent decades, our identities are more extended and fluid because our circumstances change rapidly. With modern technology people are able to modify, edit representations on the fly while presenting themselves.
In the offline world, body modification and plastic surgery are becoming cheaper and easier than ever. Pharmaceutical drugs are plentiful, altering the chemistry of our minds slightly to adapt to who we think we should be. Our possessions are being dematerialized, videos, messages, music, photos, written words, data, information, and our money is being digitized. Constant access to the Internet and Smartphones are eradicating the boundary between being online and offline quickly. Our memories are stored as digital photos; status updates, and “likes” which can all be accessed in seconds.
THE FUTURE OF IDENTITY
During ancient times, you see the division of labour and the growth of small states and cities. But it was until Enlightenment people had their own mind and individual souls take root. The idea of equality and rights flourished and the human belief of the “pursuit of happiness” took its place. Much of this is attributed to the great technological advancement in recent decades. People were not defined by their social ranking or occupation anymore, but they were defined by their ideas, aspirations and emotions as well. Taking research across human history, there are two parallel trends:
- The more technology advances, every individual is given greater opportunity and flexibility to improve their lives and express themselves.
- With access to greater opportunity and flexibility, how we choose to see and define ourselves become more abstract.
As technology advances rapidly, shit is going to get really weird. Here are three major areas of technological development that could totally scramble who we see ourselves to be and who we are.
- Nanotechnology and Genetic engineering.The two technologies could render our body an arbitrary vessel potentially, something you change like parts in a car. Gene therapy allows us to choose and potentially select our own genes and that of our children. Genetic conditions and diseases can be rooted out of the family tree, and physical characteristics that are less desirable can be replaced with desirable ones. Nanotechnology simply means implanting microscopic computers into parts of our body and in some cases replace our cells with more efficient versions of cells. Do you want to hold your breath for fifteen minutes underwater? Nanobots that aid or replace red blood cells could allow us to do that potentially. We would be able to become impervious to disease, basic sickness and sprint miles at a time without rest. To sum it all up, modifications like plastic surgery and others to physical appearance will become more affordable and mainstream. According to research, more than 15 million procedures are performed in the United States each year, and that number is on the increase (especially for men).
- Robotics and AI.According to their book Race Against the Machine, MIT professors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson note that the exponential growth in computer processing power, together with with the exponential decrease in the cost of processing power, means that it is possible that eventually the most intensive and creative service jobs will be successfully outsourced to AI-based machines. Accountants, doctors, bankers, even government bureaucracycould be automated through the form of smart-learning machine or algorithm one day. Majority of the population will be unemployed because their skills are easily outmatched by computers which will lead to political and socioeconomic crises and identify theft crisis.
- Virtual Reality.The most popular video games of the last decade have been playing a massive role, games where you take on the identity of an anonymous hero and occupy his/her body, make decisions and utilize their skills across hundreds (or thousands) of hours of gameplay. With the popularity of virtual reality, there’s every reason to think that this will become more mainstream and continue to grow. Virtual reality could give us an unlimited ability to test the limits of how we conceptualize ourselves in a safe and alter our personalities in a virtual world, consequence-free environment.
On scales of 1 to 10, how much do you think that would make that fuck with your sense of self? would you even be able to talk to another real human being after that?
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