Chapter Thirteen: Reinventing People – Robots, Cloning, Downloading

V. The Dark Side Of Change

The dark side of humanity (and nature) will remain, of course. Disease, in the sense of transmissible viruses, will presumably have been tamed by 2070, although that will nearly be an irrelevant statement since bodily contact between individuals will no longer be necessary, even if it sometimes takes place. Howard Hughes was right! But the difficulties caused by viruses on the Internet demonstrate the rule that any innovation is more vulnerable to competition or attack from other life forms than an established form which has already erected its defences.

The Internet is changing so fast that it is more vulnerable to fraud, deceit and pure destructiveness than an established technology such as telephone communication. In virtual reality, even with sensory contact, there are multiple ways to be deceived, robbed or killed. Given that direct connection with a Remote Cognitive Representation implies open-ness to any opportunistic virus which has already infiltrated the RCR, protecting oneself against damage is clearly going to be a major issue. A counterfeit thought can't perhaps do organic damage simply by masquerading as a piece of permitted sensory input – or can it? If it cloaks a biochemical recipe for neural poison, then one has subverted the blood/brain barrier, and organic brain death could be instant.

Such thoughts are scary; but in truth they are no more scary than blood transfusion, organ implantation, inoculation, and a host of other widely practiced invasive medical techniques which could have carried (and in many cases did carry) with them mortal dangers until they were fully understood.

The dangers will delay but not stop implementation of direct sensory communication and the use of RCRs or RCCs. Perhaps initially such possibly dangerous and ethically challenging technologies will be used therapeutically in life-threatening or other extreme situations, and only afterwards for more frivolous purposes. But there will always be an individual mad enough to want to try the next thing: once it has worked for Steve Foster or Sir Richard Branson, it is OK for you!

The prospect of a constrained mating process which makes only very limited use of the genetic engineering techniques that are available obviously raises the issue of cheating, both well-intentioned cheating (parents who acquire a forbidden gene for their child) and evil cheating (criminals who construct robot-human hybrids which masquerade as people).

Cheating is also going to take place through RCRs and RCCs, for instance through the inclusion in an RCR or an RCC of a stolen identity. Criminals could abuse the functioning of a bank's governing RCC (effectively, its senior management), using identity fraud or by bribing software engineers to include illicit code. There are a myriad possibilities.

No doubt it would be a goal of the authorities (whatever that word may come to mean in 2100) to remove criminal tendencies from the human genome. But that is probably impossible, and anyway would be resisted by the guardians of 'humanity' (a global organization affiliated to the United Nations). No doubt some of the causes of criminality can be smoothed away genetically, but as long as jealousy, the competitive instinct, the trading faculty and inequality remain parts of human life, there will be cheaters; and these are not qualities that will find themselves on the bio-engineering hit list. While human nature remains more or less intact, then, there will be criminals; therefore there will also be police, punishment and a judicial process. Naturally the court process will take place in an (uninfiltrated!) RCC.

Legitimate RCCs will have defences against infiltration, but in addition there will also be rogue RCCs, the equivalent of criminal gangs, formed for the purpose of terrorism or plain robbery and which disguise themselves as legitimate RCCs. However, the same techniques that human groups have developed through genetic and social evolution to maintain personal and group integrity will allow society to combat deception even in the very different circumstances of 2100.

The importance and effectiveness of reputation and its management were described in Chapter Seven: The Internet, and such mechanisms will be just as effective in a world populated by 'cleaned-up' humans, RCRs and RCCs. If anything, communication (electronic gossiping!) will become more thorough and more immediate. Every actor, whether human or robotic, will have access to complete, global information about miscreants. You can sin once, but you are then damaged goods in reputation terms. A criminal RCC would have to spend many years building up a good reputation, including a requirement that its individual human members themselves have spotless records, before it would be sufficiently trusted for the 'sting' to take place. That is an unlikely combination. More probably, there will be individual criminals, but they will be outsiders, surviving through not being known about. Life is going to be hard for them in a data-heavy world. Still, plenty of well-educated people in the early 21st century world get stung on the Internet through a mixture of greed, gullibility and laziness – more characteristics which we won't be engineering out of the genome!