Digital Immortality would perhaps be the single most revolutionary inventions in the history of the human race. As with all technological revolutions, it would also bring with it perhaps the single greatest legal challenge in human history, up there with the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, LGBT equality and the universal declaration of human rights. In all of these prior cases, the regulations and legal actions only came after suffering had been caused for a very long time. Ideally, all governments would agree on the necessary laws prior to any catastrophic events, as in this case the stakes are very much higher and so regulating digital immortality is much more important.
The legal catastrophe of living forever:
Unlimited-term positions of power:
The term ‘eternal dictator’ has repeatedly been thrown around. If digital immortality was created and then used by a select group of people to oppress civilians, unlike all dictators to date, death by natural cause would be very unlikely and someone could live seemingly forever. Obviously, this is an extreme and unlikely scenario, given the right precautions, but regulating it is a necessity. However, there are many positions of power that are for indefinite periods of time.
Royalty, public officials and other life-long positions would have to be reviewed and a maximum term potentially enforced. Clearly, there is a very blurry line between public protection and unfair dismissal of skilled people. The mere fact that someone has been at a job for a while is not fair grounds for a dismissal. Perhaps the best solution for public roles would be a set period of election from a group in turn elected by the general public.
Another potential legal disaster would be that of multiple copies of the same person. This would entirely destroy the current legal system, which is founded upon the rights and responsibilities of individuals, making regulating this a top priority. As soon as the concept of the individual is gone, much of the law loses its foundations. Property would become ambiguous with multiple people being from the same source person. Prison sentencing and bans would be ambiguous and unenforceable. Responsibility would be impossible to assign, and so much more.
Clearly, multiple copies must not be permitted under any circumstances except for inactive backup storage. This would need to be agreed upon by every country before the technology is licenced. As well as this, any accidental multiple copies would also need to both be destroyed and a single new one created.
The ability to make multiple copies of a person could be very dangerous in the wrong hands. Obviously, regulating the black markets is impossible, but regulating technologies that end up in black markets isn’t. The potential for corrupt governments to violate agreed-upon terms is very real. As such, it seems wise to have a very transparent elected international organisation to exclusively own the licenses. This organisation would then operate regional facilities that would need to be very secure yet very transparent.
The best way to avoid illegal copying would be to have every action verified through some secure manner such as a blockchain and ultimately to the public under code names. Furthermore, each person with access to the digital brains should undergo a psychological evaluation before being allowed access, though a non-corruptible robot force would be preferable. In order to ensure maximum security, those believed to be affected by illegal copying should all be terminated, except for inactive backups. Digital brains should also be created in a way that they only function if connected to a central database at least once in a given time period.
The new legal regulations:
Privacy vs Policing:
Privacy is a basic human desire that can often seem threatened by an ever-connected world. With the sort of technology possible with digital immortality, practically everything could be recorded, not unlike Black Mirror season one episode three, though on a much more revealing level. On one hand, privacy is something everyone should be entitled to but on the other hand, private events may help in matters of law enforcement. Perhaps unlike how the current system of warrants, where private details are only allowed to be searched through to avoid credible threat or to aid in law enforcement, memories would only be taken if a certain threshold of concern or evidence is met.
As the current system stands, many countries have a life sentencing as the maximum term imprisonment. Some regions also still use the death penalty in some cases. Clearly, when there is the potential for someone to live seemingly forever, this idea bears a lot more weight. It seems to me that the best way to avoid unjust punishment would be to define fixed term sentencing aimed at reconditioning those convicted to best enable them to return them to society as a contributor to it. This model, not unlike Norway’s highly rehabilitative model, would aim to change a person from being a liability to a societal asset, instead of the current model of institutional revenge through punishment.
Employment and pensions:
Another aspect of life so closely linked to the idea of gradual bodily deterioration is the pension scheme. With digital immortality and digital bodies this biological phenomenon does not take place and so people would be well enough to work indefinitely. Also, with the development of AI, job demand will likely decrease significantly and many people would no longer be needed. To best address this, one potential step would be to scrap the pensions and welfare schemes in favour of a Universal Basic Income. This would cover the normal expenses of living and would be comparable to an average salary and could remove the dependence upon employment entirely.
Inheritance and Insurance:
Another common practice based entirely upon mortality is inheritance. In a world where there is no permanent death, there is also no more inheritance. As such, schemes set aside for inheritance or other things such as life insurance would necessarily need to be shut down for those who opt for life as a digital being. To further this, damages which may have previously prevented people from being able to do basic activities or work could be repaired or simply replaced. This would make injury claims practically null and the guilty party would only need to be liable for the material cost of the body parts, legal fees and inconvenience caused.
Digital beings would likely also have the ability to have both hardware and software enhancements. These would also need their own sets of regulations, much as most consumer goods are subjected to. Regulating the customisation of a person is far less risky than the actual handling of said person’s cognition, as such regulating smaller things such as apps or hardware can be done on a regional level.
Other lifelong things such as criminal records, credit records and bans would also need to be reviewed, as it seems counter-intuitive to prevent a person from contributing to society or the economy based on actions from millennia ago. One such solution to this would be to have all prohibitive records to have maximum term expiry dates, extended only when a new offence is committed.