The Class Divide Problem is a huge problem. This little quote is just to highlight that.
Oppression of almost any group is not only possible but easy if digital immortality remains in the hands of a select few…
The Class Divide Problem
(Extremely) Brief overview of the situation
(Please read external information for a better understanding, this is just a bit of context for the article). The Class Divide Problem, a highly topical and debated area of public affairs, is said to keep those who are poor as poor whilst those who are rich get richer. Certainly on a macro-economic level, the class divide problem appears to be real, but on the other hand, there are plenty of examples of people taking control of their finances and moving between the classes. What tends to be the case, however, is poor education and understanding, coupled with flawed human psychology, means that ‘poor’ people make bad decisions that make it very hard to get out of their position, with most never managing to.
The issue when you involve immortality
Assuming the digital transfer process isn’t dirt cheap or completely free, there is likely to be a wealth threshold that cannot be met by a large proportion of the biological population. Much as in the 2011 movie ‘In Time’, the rich would live forever whilst the poor would die (relatively) young. With those who cannot reach the payment threshold only living mortal lives and being beholden to the burdens of biology, the amount of wealth they can accumulate is much more finite than those who live forever as super-intelligent digital beings. This would only act to widen the wealth gap over time, with the poor only reaching about the same wealth whilst those who invest smartly gain larger and larger capital.
This becomes a problem when society is made up largely of super-intelligent individuals whose wealth is roughly proportional to an index of their age, plus a large proportion of relatively unintelligent individuals who have this wealth growth capped at a relatively young age. The problem grows even larger when the percentage of Digital Beings rises to 1-5% (a common point where a technological disruption begins to be felt by the industries it disrupts).
At this point, tribalist ‘us vs them’ thoughts kick in and the poor start to blame and hate the immortal rich. This movement would very likely gain a lot of traction, especially in democratic countries, and Digital Beings would be seen as the enemy. Without internal access to near-instantaneous information and understanding of psychology and manipulation, the biological humans would be susceptible to propaganda and political games. This could even lead to mass-scale physical conflicts, but that is a fight the mortal humans are highly unlikely to win.
On the other side, if conflicts were to arise and the immortal rich didn’t want to spread their amazing technology to the poor, they could easily put in barriers to upload that filtered out all but the ‘best’ members of biological society. Due to the huge inherent advantage of being immortal, robotic and able to back up your cognition, these barriers would be very hard to topple from the outside and would take very long to topple from the inside. In fact, paranoid members of the immortal elite could create a police state where all members of the immortal society had their brains directly monitored, making conspiracy practically impossible.
One potentially disastrous outcome of this would be for the biological group to create their own super-intelligent AI with the goal of destroying the Digital Beings. This would be a much more even fight and would consequently have much more dire consequences. This could only happen, however, if the Digital Elite hadn’t already put mind-reading chips in every biological person out there and covered the entire world in cameras, microphones and other sensors. Oppression of almost any group is not only possible but easy if digital immortality remains in the hands of a select few and the old regulatory systems can’t handle it.
Are there solutions?
Unlike most geopolitical or socioeconomic circumstances, the events described in this article wouldn’t be at all comparable to history. In many ways, the events that could be lead to happen might be describable as a maximum police state. As soon as you can read the minds of your subjects, there is almost nothing you can’t do to keep the status quo you built. The only real solution, as far as I can see it, is preventative action by governments to ensure the power that is digital immortality cannot be monopolised by any company, private or public. Regulations can solve the power aspect of the problem, but a different solution is needed to solve the class divide problem.
Universal Basic Income
Universal Basic Income (UBI) is principally the idea that every citizen would receive a free sum of untaxed money from the government, equal across the wealth, race, intelligence, employment age (and so on) spectrum. A replacement to the traditional Welfare systems, UBI is considered a minimum income a person needs to live a decent enough life from. UBI is seen as a necessity by many people as AI and automation will inevitably take the vast majority of current jobs away, leaving only high-skill jobs, creative jobs and far fewer other jobs. As people do not work, but still need an income, a Universal Basic Income may be required.
As far as it is relevant to the class divide problem for expensive digital uploading, it would mean that poor people would stand much better chances of being able to afford the procedure at some point in their lives. To ensure this is the case, governments may also wish to subsidise the process partially or entirely, essentially making the whole process paid for by the taxes put into the system by big businesses. As I have hopefully shown, it would certainly be in the best interest of any government to make it as fair and easy to upload as possible, even if only for its own survival.