There are many things capable of causing the death of democracy, some more avoidable than others. However, without regulation or some establishment of control, any number of these worst-case scenarios would be practically guaranteed. Before all that, it is important to define what democracy actually is.
What is democracy?
One of the simplest definitions of democracy is just any government or leader elected by the people. This definition is close to the literal translation of the Greek origin, demos kratos, meaning ‘people power’. Like many things, democracy is actually far more complicated than this, with different regions having different forms of democracy, ranging from cases like the 2016 US Presidential election where the winner got fewer votes, to the direct democracy of Switzerland. Explaining all these different types would be a long and arduous task, so here is a video explaining the basics of democracy. Now onto the many ways in which digital immortality could completely destroy it.
Causing the death of democracy
Cognition copying as an immortal form is an interesting case in terms of democracy. Though it would be reasonable to think that every copy would be practically the same, this idea becomes progressively more incorrect as each copy gains more experience. This is due to even slight differences in experience often compounding in major differences in psyche, political disposition and general mental state. This compounding effect becomes an issue for democracy when you consider legitimacy of character and identity.
The question of what copy of a digital being is the ‘real’ version is practically impossible to answer. Identity would effectively become a meaningless internal construct with the public experience of ‘you’ being a poorly mismatched collection of ideas about multiple ‘you’s. For democracy, this also renders the idea of one vote per person as meaningless. One copy of you could support the Blue Party whilst another could support Red; the only deciding factor in your vote is whichever copy gets there first. Alternatively, you could get one vote per copy, but this is flawed as a Blue Party supporter could just print a large number of Blue leaning digital copies, creating a massive skew in favour of the Blues.
If multiple copies are produced, the current democratic systems would unavoidably collapse. Even solutions like banning copies from the democratic process would ironically be undemocratic and against fundamental human rights. The best way to avoid this would be to completely ban the activation of multiple copied digital brains and the immediate destruction of accidentally activated copies.
Brain hacking is a far more obvious democratic issue, but also a lot harder to detect. Assuming someone was skilled enough to be able to hack into a digital brain and bypass all safeguards and cross-copy checks, they would presumably also be skilled enough to make their actions go undetected. Normal modern hacking is usually limited to stealing and maybe leaking sensitive information such as private conversations or passwords. In the case of digital beings, this information is instead as sensitive as it comes, including every known memory and darkest secret, even those not acted on.
This could cause huge problems in various ways. In one instance, a political candidate with a perfect record, great policies and a very likeable demeanour could out of nowhere be exposed for privately having disturbing thoughts like paedophilia or prejudice, even though said person would never act on them and had learnt to ignore them. This huge privacy crisis would sabotage that candidate’s chances and would permanently prevent them from getting far in life. Beyond this, a hacker could instead insert such thoughts and then ‘find’ them later, or simply claim to have found them despite them not existing.
Brain-hacking of this style could also be used to cause the death of democracy by injecting political ideas into the brains of the electorate. In this case, a hacker or team of hackers sponsored by the Red Party could hack into the brains of Blue Party members and supporters. On the low end, they could simply alter existing political beliefs or ideals and create cognitive biases that weren’t prevalent beforehand. On the high end, the team could seize control of the digital person and remotely operate them, causing them to do something disgusting like beating a stranger’s dog or robbing a charity store. Theoretically, they could even use them as an untraceable vessel of murder, ruining that person’s entire social image and freedom.
Brain configuration is an idea that few have yet to conceptualise. The process basically boils down to removing and adding digital brain regions to create hybrid brains. This can be done by copying and pasting original human regions (CHBs), regions averaged from a sample of human donors (AAHBs) or from AI constructions (AIHBs). For democracy, this means that a supporter of the Blue Party could get a region from someone who supports the Red Party. This wouldn’t necessarily be a region that effects political disposition, but many regions such as creativity, intelligence and sexuality may have knock-on effects that change political disposition.
Other than this, a scam could make someone think they were exchanging one region, but instead exchanged regions that made them more susceptible to certain political arguments or beliefs. With hacking, someone could also just replace someone’s political understanding with someone else’s. A new region could be implanted years before a meaningful vote without being noticed and suddenly activated on the day of the vote. Even if this was noticed, a large number of Blue or Red supporters would likely miss the election and cause huge differences in turn out. There is also no reason why this wouldn’t be extended to every person and the whole population literally controlled by a select few, something which goes far beyond the death of democracy.
More likely to happen in the earlier years of digital immortality, physical warfare could also very easily destroy many democratic processes and sovereign states. Digital beings would have an unmatched advantage in conflict due to them being both immortal and far less physically vulnerable. Even the best human army would fall flat on its face against a constant stream of technologically, physically and mentally superior digital beings. If the technology were to be developed in secret by any organisation with sufficient size and a will to destroy nations, there would be very little from stopping them from doing so and creating immortal soldiers with robotic bodies. The only limit to this organisation’s power would be the availability of resources, which would be a small issue if they were backed by a corrupt or immoral nation. The only opponent with any chance of matching such digital beings, superintelligent AI machines, could easily get out of human control or become comprised in other ways.
Preventing the death of democracy
There are a few ways to prevent these disaster scenarios. The best way would obviously be through preemptive, universal regulation which could set guidelines on dealing with multiple copies and configurable brains. Sadly, this isn’t the final answer as we don’t live in a fantasy land where all law is followed by everyone at all times. There would be a huge incentive for and risk of black market brain uploads or brain configuration that regulation would not touch, even assuming every government was on board.
The next high priority action would be to create super secure facilities and software. The physical locations could be secured by governments without too many problems, but the software would be harder to implement. There would need to be constant validation of the active and inactive digital brain copies, ultra-secure internal brain storage and sensory input/output. Beyond this, it would make sense to have the internet of things connected to secure servers that only verified digital copies could interact with. This wouldn’t stop black-market copies but would force black markets to create their own versions of software without ever being detected by specially designed verification and identification systems.
Even with these efforts in place, it is still terrifyingly likely that a hole in the security was found and completely ripped open. The democratic process simply will not be fast-paced enough to adapt to this vastly different world and its days are almost certainly numbered.
Entering a post-democratic era
Let’s face it, the death of democracy is inevitable. Democracy relies on the principle of individual identity, and digital immortality very quickly begins to dilute this individuality. This can begin with simple things like human/AI integration for superintelligence but leads even further into ideas such as configurable brains and practically unlimited customisation. If you remove the sense of the individual, you inevitably cause the death of democracy.
Thankfully for us, there are still plenty of ways in which government could be organised other than democracy. One controversial idea which would be effective is that of a benevolent dictator. Such an individual could be elected democratically and reelected continually until such process became compromised, and after assume a permanent position of power. This would indeed be an imperfect system due to risks of hacking, but it would ensure that the system would be very hard to topple from the outside. This also needn’t be like traditional life-long dictatorships and leaders could decide to ask known legitimate civilians to choose between a shortlist of selected successors, thus removing the eternal aspect of the dictatorship.
More complicated, but possibly more desirable would be a system similar to democracy that ranks every digital being by legitimacy and covertly extracts the would-be results of any election or referendum. Instead of looking at identity, this system would essentially look at a mathematical view of the ‘will of the people’ whilst avoiding much of the rigging that traditional politics would bring. This system’s biggest flaw is the sheer difficulty of analysing an entire population and extracting the most likely choices. Also, it arguably would make many mistakes which could materially impact the result. As with most referendums, it’d make sense for each result to be non-binding in case of a tight split. What is important to note is that though it may seem impossible to achieve, that doesn’t mean it is.