The current model:
Human bodies are fairly limited in their ability to be customised. Biological factors are the main dictator in this regard and things like the need for air, food, toxin removal and a constant healthy blood supply limit the extent to which customisation can take place. Even with efforts to modify our biology, we are stuck at smaller things like creating forked tongues and organ transplants, with gender reassignment surgery representing close to the limit. What we can’t yet do is attach functional limbs to places they don’t belong, or have any modular man-made changes directly in our bodies.
As it stands with today, people frequently undergo minor customisation of their appearance. This usually takes the form of hairstyles, make-up and clothes, with the fashion industry current being worth trillions of pounds. Other more permanent customisation ranges from hair dye to tattoos to plastic surgery. In the most extreme cases, parts of the body can look completely unlike before they had the surgery. Despite this, whole body transformations would be very difficult if not impossible. What we can do is still impressive, with prosthetic enhancements, costume design and cinematic make-up effects being able to completely transform a person’s skin-layer appearance.
One area we do seem to have down is digital appearance. Computer graphics and CGI have enabled us to make pretty much any character we want in digital media, such as Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise or Smaug from the Lord of the Rings franchise. The problem with these digital creations is that it takes a hell of a lot of time and money to go from an actor in a suit or recording studio to the final creation, a problem far reduced for digital beings.
The new model:
Minimum necessary components
With a digital existence, biological factors are completely removed. Organs and organ systems like the lungs, heart, intestines, bloodstream and digestive system would no longer be needed. This would allow an artificial body to have much more freedom in its design. The only components likely to be needed would be a computing unit, memory storage unit, data connection units and thermal management systems. Even things like plugs, sensors and other hardware to mimic humans could be arranged in multiple ways that aren’t that limited by physical properties.
New limiting factors
In this digital existence, the limiting factors are far more forgiving than those of nature. Whereas before bodies largely had to have a certain shape that could not be deviated from in any significant way, artificial bodies would have much looser restrictions. In this case, the limiting factors would be, at least theoretically, those of Physics itself. More than this though, customisation would be limited by the technology of the time. For example, one day it might be possible to have a 100% black material but the closest currently possible is Vantablack at 99.965% absorption.
Another potential limiting factor would be government regulation. Regulatory limitations, such as obvious safety factors like not having blades, guns or other weapons would also limit the customisation of an artificial body. If a government decided that every artificial body had to be humanoid in shape that would also be a limiting factor, but still not as much as human biology.
One potentially massive change would be the ability to escape a humanoid structure. Obviously, as humans, we have learned how to move around, communicate and express ourselves through this narrowly defined shape and leaving it could seem both challenging and undesirable. Despite this, some people would undoubtedly be interested.
The most likely workaround for the problem of non-humanoid mobility would be the integration of artificial intelligence. Already, AI has learned to move around effectively with humanoid and non-humanoid shapes. This could be downloaded or learned by an integrated AI layer of the brain with the conscious decision merely being to move around. Potentially there could also be a human/AI hybrid layer which governs movement to allow the person to still feel in control.
Possibility for complete customisation
Perhaps the largest possibility for this ability would be as everyday dressing. This could mean that whole body expression would displace the traditional fashion industry where people wear artificial bodies like clothes, though many might still choose the cheaper, more convenient option of regular clothing. This could potentially make customised artificial bodies into a sort of statement product like how some cars are treated.
People could also use body customisation for different environmental scenarios. For example, a climber might want a body optimised for climbing and grip, whilst a diver might want a body with turbines and a streamlined outer structure. Theoretically, there is nothing to prevent a digital being from being an entire vehicle if you so wanted.
Another possibility would be for costumes. Costume parties could have a theme where everyone would get a new artificial body to reflect that theme. This could also include pop-culture references. Assuming copyright has either expired or an agreement has been made, there is every possibility to have a lifelike Darth Vader having a chat with the Monopoly man.
One of the big potential hold-backs of the adoption of brain uploading is identity. Not only would you lose your physical body, but it isn’t guaranteed your new body will resemble you in any way. However, with customisation, this needn’t be the case. This idea is explored in Be Right Back from Black Mirror and though the way it’s explained in the episode may be impossible, the actual end goal isn’t. For example, the same fine attention to detail that goes into make-up design for cinematic and television productions could be applied to a humanoid shaped artificial body. This could be aided with comprehensive 3D scans of a person before they upload their brains, or at any time when they feel they look the best. With proper refinement and materials science, a realistic manufactured body could indeed be possible, even allowing for optional post-scan beautification.
The other area that we feel defines us in so many ways is our voices. Though artificial voices such as Google Assistant and Alexa are accurate substitutions, for most people they would still feel alien. Thankfully, we do not need to stick to these default voices, and can instead retain our voices from before the upload. This could be done in a number of ways, such as direct input programming, either from archived sound recordings or pre-upload vocal input at a recording studio. However, a better way to achieve accurate vocal semblance would be through Neural Net Deep Learning: a type of artificial intelligence. This possibility has recently been demonstrated with famous comedian and podcast host, Joe Rogan. Granted, there would still be some limitations, such as impressions or subtle vocal inflections that may be hard to capture, but on the other hand, you would sound almost exactly like yourself. In fact, assuming all the legal requirements were met, you could even take the voice of a celebrity or digital character.
Companies, like those involved in customer service, manufacturing, military and exploration. This could take the form of a simple uniform but could easily integrate in-built tools, sensors and specific materials to help the person achieve whatever their job required. In the case of the military, this could be the use of strong, durable materials, plenty of room for ammunition and a smaller target area.
Virtual Reality shopping and design studio
The most likely way in which this would be sold would be through a virtual reality shop and design studio. People would be able to see how they would look before making a purchase. On top of this, they could also have the ability to design their own ideas for an artificial body and then maybe have that reviewed and refined by an engineering team or software analysis. This could seemingly make the possibilities endless for how much customisation one could really manage.
Obviously, allowing full customisation of ones entire appearance poses its own challenges. For one, single-use untraceable bodies, though in some ways liberating, could easily be taken advantage of for criminal purposes. Regulators would have to come up with some sort of compromise on this account, such as a distinct signal output without which the body does not work, with exceptions where necessary.
Other than this, copyright law would also need extension or redefinition. Already there is ambiguity in the use of deceased actors’ likeness for modern roles, but with this technology you could practically become that actor or character to fine detail. For example, who holds the rights to Morgan Freeman’s voice? Is that considered as intellectual property? What about Harrison Ford or Sir Ian McKellen? Should a person’s likeness be allowed to be purchased? Should someone’s own likeness be copyright by default? Should someone’s likeness still fall into public domain after a period of time? All of these questions will have to be answered at some point in the future. For now, we can only speculate.