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Scenario: in the not-so-distant future, someone(s) crack the code to the human mind. Essentially, humanity now has the power to treat the human mind as computer files - copy, delete, modify - all in the hands of a skilled professional, of course.

I'm thinking less like Altered Carbon and more like Dollhouse (spoiler warning for the Wikipedia article if you didn't watch the series) but instead of the technology being secret, monopolized by a megacorp and stretched to all possible limits, discovery was publicly announced and it led to organization and regulation, possibly after a few... unfortunate incidents like all technological advances in history.

A few possibilities of the technology:

  • Medical applications: the technology can be used to cure mental health issues like PTSD, extreme grief, schizophrenia - or also give people mental issues
  • Logistic applications: instead of travelling physically, someone's mind can be sent to the desired location and use another body, or the same person can have their mind copied and be in multiple places at the same time - while useful for busy businessmen, can also be used to commit a series of other less savory acts like espionage, sabotage, even identity theft
  • Instant skill mastery: learn anything you want in seconds... for the right price - and this would affect regulated professions such as most health professions (medicine, pharmacy, nursing...), law, engineering
  • Memory alterations: want to forget that horrible day / period in your life? Sure. Get new memories of a holiday you didn't go? - that would surely have an impact into law enforcement: how to make sure that an eye-witness' account is legit and not implanted?
  • Personality manipulation: someone can be made to be more ambitious, or persistent, or polite, or aggressive, or even a psychopath
  • Body hopping / functional immportality: someone short on money can rent their body for someone else to take it for a spin - short (a few hours) or long term (surrogacy will be a whole new process...) or maybe even... indefinitely - which without consent would be essentially kidnapping or murder

How would this technology will be regulated? More specifically, what kind of safeguards would governing bodies put in place? For example, proof of identity - biometrics in this world (thumb, retina, even DNA) wouldn't mean much

Of course there will be people performing illegal activities but that's not the topic for this question

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    $\begingroup$ The first question to ask is why would this technology be regulated. What is the purpose of the regulation? Does it aim to discourage some bad things, and which bad things does it want to discourage? Does it aim to encourage some good things, and which good things does it want to encourage? Without first understanding the goals of the regulations surrounding body hopping over mind copying over mind manipulation, it is futile to speculate about the contents of said regulations. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @LiveInAmbeR: The question asks about regulating a technology. The law may well say "operating body hopping dash mind copying dash mind manipulation must be be performed only in accordance with all applicable regulations"; that's easy. But it's not the law which is of interest in the question, it is the regulations. Making laws and making regulations are very different activities which happen in different places, are performed by different people, and follow very different processes. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ Mechanically, do all human consciousnesses need to be hosted on human brains, or can they be run on an entirely digital substrate like in a computer alternatively? $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ Big implication - hack the system, and within days everyone coming out of a machine loves Big Brother/David Koresh/insert-bad-people-here, but secretly until the % is high enough and the converted herd the remaining recalcitrants into the machine for reeducation. Everyone ALWAYS loved Big Brother, right? All education is now in the system (why pay for schools?) so governments can remake citizens into anything they want, and they won't even know the difference. The kids these days... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ Might be worth reading "Murder Will In" by Frank Herbert if you haven't already, it deals specifically with the last application, body hopping, it doesn't deal with a technological intermediary though. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Sep 4, 2021 at 1:04

6 Answers 6

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What is the story you want to tell?

As an author, your first and foremost question must always be: "what is the story I want to tell?"

Altered Carbon is not about alien "stack" technology, it is a story about Social Class; what happens when eternal life can be bought by some, but not all; what happens when death becomes a commodity. The "stack" tech in Altered Carbon is not there for its own sake, it is there to enable the story.

So, my question back to you is: what is the story you want to tell?

Once you have figured out the story, you take this concept of yours, and then you create "problems" with it. In Altered Carbon, the "problem" is that it is prohibitively expensive to re-sleeve. This creates inequity and tension, and in that inequity and tension, the story is enabled.

So now we arrive at your question: what regulation will there be?

For that we need to examine the following question: What is regulation, why does regulation exist?

The answer: regulation is — always — a way to try to solve "problems". No-one wants to regulate just for funsies, because regulation means bureaucracy and cost. A cynic might say "well, there you go", but in reality, "no-one" wants to regulate anything unless they have to. And you only have to, if there is a "problem" that needs solving.

  • Nuclear power, produces enormous amounts of exergy. Problem: accidents and waste might cause environmental and economical disasters. Solution: regulate safety and waste handling.

  • Capitalism, allows persons to forge their own destiny and accumulate wealth. Problem: it can create inequity where the wealthy can use their fortune to exploit the weak. Solution: regulate what you may and may not do with your wealth.

  • Non-tangible creations, that can be easily replicated, such as data, music, images, innovations. Problem: as the original creator I cannot monopolize the creation for my own benefit and profit. Solution: immaterial rights regulation, i.e. copyright.

...and so on.

So, what regulation will there be? Well, that all depends on what "problems" you have with this technology. The regulation will only exist to solve the "problem". And the "problem" — as it stands right now — can only be known by you, since only you know what story you want to tell.

A tip: do not make the regulation too effective, because then the "problem" does indeed get solved, and then you have negated the impact of the "problem".

Also note that "problem" in is written quotes, because one person's problem can be another person's solution; you can have competing interrests. For example, copyright is a regulation to regulate an issue that is a problem to some — Intellectual Property piracy — but a boon — free access to culture and innovation — to others.

...and this then harkens back to what I said before: if the regulation is effective, it solves the "problem". For the sake of your story, you might have people that do not want this "problem" to be solved, but instead wants this "problem" to go into full and unregulated effect.


To summarize...

  1. Figure out the story you want to tell, the obstacles you want your protagonist to overcome

  2. Figure out how you need to make this concept of yours imperfect, problems with the technology, that enables the story

  3. Regulation will be the government trying (and preferably failing to some degree) to overcome the problem that you specified in 2.

Good luck. :)

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    $\begingroup$ That's a great answer! Great points to think about! Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Another possibility: The cure may be worse than the disease. It may be the case that your regulation really does solve the "problem," but creates new "problems" in its place. For example, even the staunchest anti-copyright advocates would (probably) concede that copyright does in fact make intellectual creations profitable, but might disagree that this profitability is "worth it" from a societal perspective (either because they are opposed to capitalism as a whole, or because they would prefer an alternative capitalist model, such as Patreon or Kickstarter). $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 20:56
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When I was in college I had a class on computer crime. The professor, a lawyer, explained that in theory we might never need some computer crime related laws. Stealing money is stealing money whether you do it at gunpoint or behind a keyboard. Defamation is defamation whether you do it online or offline. Violating someone's privacy is a crime no matter how you do it. But people created computer crime laws in many countries anyway, because new technologies give new forms to the way people break the law and the impact they can have.

Same thing here. The technology you describe can lead to new forms of torture, data theft, privacy violations and impersonation in the very least. So first things first, legislation would be drafted and passed regarding punishment for people using this technology with malicious intent.

After criminal laws, societies will discuss fair use. Is it fair for someone to use this technology to pass an exam? Can a company force its employees to undergo training by downloading stuff into their heads? If so, how much of that info belongs to the company, and does the company have the right to delete that info if the employee is fired or quits?

These kinds of questions get political really fast, so I am not going to discuss those. Just consider that different places will have different views about those, and within modern democracies instances (and therefore laws) on each topic may alternate fast and drastically.

Finally, once fair usage laws are in place, last thing to do is regulate access to the technology. If it takes a lot of skill to fiddle with a mind without killing or permanently harming the patient, a professional should need a license in most countries. Government backed associations may form around this, which will regulate what training is needed and how certifications are handled and maintained.

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If the tech is perfected nothing can escape the mind-scan. If someone is lying, pretending to be someone else it won’t work.

Recently played Subnautica below zero, the architect aliens also had similar technology, very cool. Anyway... how do you stop criminals from misusing mind tampering tech? Well as I said if the mind-scan even works on subconscious and repressed memories, there’s nothing you can hide if caught and interrogated. It may become common practice to scan people’s memories at airports or before and after important meetings. The platform may even be so developed that mind-archives might be created to keep track of the individuals and their memories, as insurance against memory loss or to compare their memories to check for inconsistencies.

The movie version of Ghost In The Shell (mediocre adaptation) had concepts like what you proposed in your OP. Hacking into someone’s memories to steal sensitive information can definitely become a problem. I doubt corporations would let their employees walk around with such information. Instead they would probably separate their memories from work from their personal life. That way the boss of a corporation can go to his family while his memories are stored in servers at the company.

There’s the obvious risk of someone breaking in through security and stealing the info, but at least those areas will be the most heavily guarded. There’s also the risk of a Trojan Horse where a person is unaware they’re carrying a device that monitors their memories while they go to work. In that case either a more thorough search is in order or a means to block communication with the outside of a building.

With that in mind regulations should be made with current morality in mind, the technology doesn’t change that it just needs to be taken into account. Medical mis practice will obviously be banned, this includes stealing bodies or memories or giving false treatments. For travelling by body swapping there will most likely be new border crossing fees and taxes depending on how many bodies you have (they love finding new ways to steal our money). Transferring skills that allow to kill will be banned, instead the only authorized non military fighting skills will be those of self defense. Memory alteration will be difficult to regulate because of moral dilemmas, but giving someone a completely fake life might be discouraged, while small details would be acceptable. Body hopping would be treated the same way as inheritance but in reverse.

And yes they will always be crime or exceptional situations that require intense debate and discussion. But as a general rule of though anything that goes against individual freedom and wellbeing will be discouraged.

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    $\begingroup$ I know crime wasn't supposed to get covered here, but it's the most fun. I read a story where criminals arrange for crimes to be committed, then erase the memories of the planning and crime. Gee, rich Uncle Hugo died mysteriously and left me his money. What a shame, but I never really liked him. And I swear I didn't buy that stock with insider knowledge - I had no idea it was going to go up... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 13:55
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You missed another option- multiplicity; where one of “you” can exist in multiple instances, each engaging in productive work at the same time (and maybe some going on vacation), synced back to a “root” mind.

Legality of Body Hopping

This technology can be implemented in four ways. One has much fewer ethical hurdles than the other.

  • You can body hop and at stay digital, doing whatever you need to do in fused-reality environments that are sourced from camera and sound feeds that are ubiquitously spaced in the real world. Real people with fused-reality equipment in your same physical location can see/hear/speak with you (and perhaps more if synaptic and olfactory senses are part of the experience). There no obvious ethical concerns to this approach, except right-of-way and trespassing.
  • You can body hop and stay digital in completely virtual environments, made from the imagination. Legal concerns might be : are virtual-only people “people”, “property”, or “data”. For examples of this: can I delete a whole “city” of these beings? Or power a “person” off without consent, or force a “city” or people through countless disaster simulations, which might be thought of as a human rights problem, if done to people.
  • You can body hop into a robotic chassis. The copy of you may be running in a computer physically located on the robot. With a good radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), you could transmit yourself from Earth "rent" a body on Mars, take it out to the wilderness for a weekend excursion. Legal concerns: you might want to make sure whoever owns the robotic unit deletes copies of you after your done, and doesn't do any snooping through your thoughts for passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal info; or misuse your identity in any other fashion.
  • You can body hop into a prepared biological body. This is the most fraught with ethical complications. The root of the problem is that any such body is capable of existing as a person. Nevertheless, it may be legal in some jurisdictions to body hop -- it will nevertheless be a very divisive political point. Some people will see the act as ethically equivalent to murder, and the only thing that will neutralize that sentiment is a body that is outside of the uncanny valley -- absolutely, unambiguously not a thinking thing (a robotic body).

Social Impact of Portable, Editable Human Minds

Let's say you can download skills. You'll be able to do it in one of three ways : (1) "write" the skill to your own unique synaptic wetware, (2) write the skill to a brain/machine bridge (think of it as phone local storage), or (3) pull the skill on demand from the local planetary network (like using an online service).

Schooling will change radically. They may become mere sellers of skill libraries or subscriptions to curated plates of skills.

Schools still might offer in-person services where a teacher shows you how to use your skills, and gives you some in-person opportunity to try it out. For example: you might download anthropology and a few dozen dead languages -- the school may still offer a semester of going out into the field under the supervision of a teacher to put these downloaded skills to work.

Post Literacy

Another interesting wrinkle is post-literacy. If we can download skills directly to the brain, or share experiences in video, audio, or direct-to-brain formats, there's a massive decrease in the value of writing and reading.

It's very interesting from a worldbuilding perspective to think of a high-tech society where everyone is, practically speaking, illiterate.

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Why would you think this needs to be regulated and if so, what makes you think it is possible to be regulated?

Some ministers or a president wants to regulate this technology? Just bodyswap them and make them commit suicide.

A lot of governments today have continuos "incidents" were political figures die or dissapear misteriously after saying or doing something they should have not.

Police wants to catch you? Just run away into someones body, what are they gonna do? Kill both of you, even if you are inside the mind of someone innocent? What if they can't even find you?

In my country using drugs is illicit and will get you fined when the law enforcement feels like it , smuggling drugs is illegal and will get you up to 30 years in prison.

Yet I see literal children aged 8 selling drugs.

All regulations can be exploited, all laws can be broken and it's hard already to enforce normal laws today...let alone enforce laws about body swapping and mind controlling superpowers.

For real, if the police can't do anything in my country about children smuggling drugs, what makes you think they can handle superpowers?

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  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate the time to write the answer, but it looks like you missed the brief, in particular, the last line. Even though there are several different levels of enforcement in different countries, laws are still there - I asked what kind of laws would be created, which they'll eventually be, not how they'll be enforced, exploited or violated $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JulianaKarasawaSouza: It looks like you have missed the essence of the answer. It is indeed crucial to understand the need for regulation, and the goals of the regulation. The question says "safeguards", making me think that you are interested in regulation aiming to discourage some bad stuff. What bad stuff does it intend to discourage? Is the bad stuff bad enough to justify the regulation? Every regulation comes at a cost; it must either aim to discourage bad stuff which outweighs the cost of the regulation, or to encourage good stuff which hopefully will exceed its cost. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'll add some of the potential "bad stuff" that can happen $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Rad140 You make one good point, laws are only as good as those who put them in practice. But saying things like “nothing will matter” is counterproductive to the OP. Could you edit your q to be constructive criticism? Maybe tell about ways you think could give order. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 12:19
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Legal complications reading and writing brains

One purpose of law in many modern countries is preserving the citizen's right to body integrity and privacy. No physician is allowed to perform invasive procedures on your body, or connect electrodes and tap your brain for any purpose, without urgent medical reason. Involuntarily being subject to brain reading should be prevented and protected against by law. Devices that do brain reading are to be registered and there should be continuous logging and monitoring.

On the other end of the spectrum, you'll suddenly have means to write brain information as well. Same counts for that: involuntarily being subject to brain writing should be prevented and protected against by law. Misuse must be severely punished. For active brain access, many current inhibitive laws would be applicable as as well: deception, fraude, indoctrination.. and doing psychological damage to the victim (assault). I don't expect brain writing would be legalized any time soon, except for strictly medical reasons.

Medical applications - Memory alterations - Personality manipulation the technology can be used to cure mental health issues like PTSD, extreme grief, schizophrenia - or also give people mental issues (..) want to forget that horrible day (..) someone can be made to be more polite (etc)

An important consideration is ethics. Doctors want to help real patients. But that does not mean they should help to remove e.g. gender change wishes, or sexual preference. I think the use of this technology should be allowed only for adult subjects, not for children. The subject whose brain is changed should be made 100% responsable - black on white legal document preferably - to allow for such treatment.

Body hopping - Logistic applications: instead of travelling physically, someone's mind can be sent to the desired location and use another body, or the same person can have their mind copied and be in multiple places at the same time - while useful for busy businessmen, can also be used to commit a series of other less savory acts like espionage, sabotage, even identity theft

See initial remark. Doctors need formal approval from both subjects, before the procedure is done. Also, both subjects must agree, in writing, on a fixed date, where the body swap will be undone. It can't be done quickly, for commercial reasons as you seem to suggest. There is no time for the neccesary legal paper work involved in this.

Instant skill mastery Learn anything you want in seconds... for the right price - and this would affect regulated professions such as most health professions (medicine, pharmacy, nursing...), law, engineering

Dream on. Nice to be able to do that, but again it involves a brain writer device, which has to be certified under law and is subject to restricted purposes. Any commercial application of brain writers, rather than a medical purpose, should be prohibited under law, to prevent misuse by employers !

Functional immortality someone short on money can rent their body for someone else to take it for a spin

You could end up with laboratories filled with spare brains of their customers. Once these brains are read and copied, they serve no purpose anymore. Eventually, these brains would pose a serious legal challenge. Where are the subjects gone ? When there has been a swap, the poor person's brain needs to be stored, else the donor would die. Do these donor brains have any legal responsabilities left ? Suppose the buyer is a weak old man, he buys the body of a strong man and kills someone.. would the donor be partially responsible ? his fingerprints are on the baseball bat.. and without his new body, the murder would not have happened. And on the other side, how would civil rights be applied to all these spare brains.. is a person only existing in a bottle in a fridge entitled to legal protection.. or could the laboratory simply decide to clear out their spare brains, on a regular basis ?

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