Humans have spent centuries investigating human consciousness, brain physiology, AI, and other technologies. We've finally figured out how to "upload" a "consciousness" (these are quoted because I don't really know what this means at this point).

Personality upload is non-destructive so the original biological entity lives on after the upload.

Uploaded personalities incur many costs such as "Cloud" storage and processing, ISP costs, Netflix subscription, etc. These all cost money.

The Question

How does an uploaded personality earn money? What else does an uploaded personality need money for (perhaps additional replication)?

  • $\begingroup$ Why would they need money in the first place ? Not to buy food or pay bill. Why couldn't they just hack every computer there running on ? $\endgroup$
    – Kii
    Oct 28, 2015 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ Key question for economics: Can an uploaded personality be cloned? The economic arguments with and without cheap-cloning are as unrelated as the economics of teaching a skilled musician to make a career with their insturment, and buying a 2x4 from the local home improvement store. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 29, 2015 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ Technologically yes. Legally & ethically, I don't know. But I think cloning or copying an upload imposes the same "parental" obligations on the cloning or copying "parent" as the original upload. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 29, 2015 at 1:24

5 Answers 5



Uploaded personalities are entirely digital, and as such, would benefit economical sectors where digital data is the only thing that's necessary.

ATC/Airplanes/Unmanned Drones

Air Traffic Controllers often suffer from fatigue. An uploaded personality could direct planes indefinitely without fatigue or even making mistakes, with proper training. With sufficient processing power, they would be even more effective than humans and require far fewer ATC personnel than we'd need with humans. Airplanes themselves might have personality pilots with a co-pilot human backup in the event of catastrophic failure. The military could upload personalities directly into unmanned aerial vehicles and have drones that have no controller lag and relatively expendable personnel (assuming the personalities don't mind being sent into a war zone).

Software Developers/Engineers

Programming is always a hot topic. New services, new apps, new whatever. These personalities can go 24/7 and write code all day long. They could even interact with the systems that need to compile and run this code directly, reducing debugging cycles and improving the quality of software. Software that takes years to develop can now be finished in months, and apps could be written by competent personalities in just days or weeks. The cost of software would be driven down. Also, jobs that simply involve creative thinking, like structural engineers, etc, could benefit from having personalities that could digitally design and prototype new cars, buildings, electronics, etc.


While awfully mundane, traditional websites could be serviced by these personalities to provide that "human" touch to otherwise impersonal sales and support experiences. Consider also that phone exchanges are digital these days, they could be employed in call centers to take orders, verify orders, provide technical support, and other duties that are routinely provided by live humans today.

Companies employing these personalities could then easily offer 24/7 support, without the needs for things that call centers need a lot of: space, lighting, and additional heating/cooling; current call centers need cooling for data centers and environmental controls for humans that often occupy far more space. All of this would boost the bottom line.

Also, under this category, you could include emergency dispatch operators, secretaries, security services, and anyone else that uses phones and/or computers as their primary means of operation. Billions would be saved annually if widely employed.


People who primarily deal with things that are immaterial could be employed for many types of government jobs. Lawmakers could be virtual, increasing their efficiency for making new laws, abolishing old laws, etc. Judges could preside over cases virtually instead of demanding physical appearances. Mathematicians, theoretical scientists, and anyone else in the "think tank" category of employment would enjoy their work much more when they don't have the physical limitations of biology hindering them. CEO's and other classes of upper management could be replaced with personalities.

Voice Actors/Closed Captioning/TTY

Jobs that traditionally require no physical presence could also be handled by personalities. Hard-of-hearing services (TTY lines), voice actors for cartoons, television dubs, etc, closed captioning operators for live television, and so on could all be taken over by personalities, with fewer typing errors and so on.


Of course, virtual criminals are possible. Drug lords could effectively police their wares, digital smugglers might traffic information, and hackers that are pure virtual might be harder to track down, or at least harder to prove they were the perpetrator. There'd be tons of ways to make virtual money that was "untraceable", such as a BitCoin-type currency with guaranteed anonymity.\

Computer Security

On the flip side, you'd have digital police monitoring personalities in an attempt to keep the criminal activity to a minimum, with some way to detain or disable criminal personalities. Of course, the system is imperfect, so there might be some risk for those personalities that choose to take this career choice...

The Downside

Of course, all of this means one thing: millions of humans would be displaced from their jobs as the personalities replace them. A single personality that's able to operate as efficiently as a human, but 24 hours a day, would displace up to three humans. Wages would go down, presumably, because cloud storage and processing wouldn't cost more than perhaps a few hundred dollars a month, paid as rent or possibly even just benefits from the companies that hire them. They'd be able to work for a fraction of the cost of their human counterparts and have improved reliability.

The Upside

A perfectly identical copy of a person's personality could suffer from the same mental limitations as the original source. This means that a rude person would generate a rude personality; they couldn't work customer service because they'd get too many complaints. Someone that's never operated a computer a day in their life wouldn't suddenly have the ability to write complex programs. People without management skills wouldn't be producing "CEO-quality" personalities. In this sense, higher-ups might want to protect their jobs by resisting the technology.

Why Money?

Money still pays "rent," you pay for processing power, RAM, network connectivity, and hard drive storage. Perhaps the rent model would include virtualization, so if you wanted to upgrade to "super-human" speed (perhaps being able to think twice, four times, etc faster than the original personality), you could pay for additional processing power, or perhaps additional memory so you could retain more things in short-term memory at once (much like using stimulants to improve brain performance), or even better network speed to improve the quality of consumed media or the "realism" of data feeds.

Assuming security and general laws are much the same as it is now, you'd still have to pay for copies of your favorite movies, music and so on, perhaps subscription services to entertainment services, games you could play, and so on. The need for entertainment is a compelling part of a personality, and so a copy would have the same general ambitions as the original. You'd just be able to get a lot more done without fatigue. There's still lots to pay for; even with the arguably reduced wages of being a digital worker, there's no need for food, clothing, cars, or other luxuries. The personality's luxuries would be entertainment, access to additional servers, and so on.

Cooperative personalities might even donate some of their money to the original, or fund other personalities that aren't as well off (those that can't afford to pay their rent, for example), or give to charities to help humans, animals, save the environment, or any of a million other things that humans tend to consider worthy causes. For example, saving the environment ensures there's more power to stay alive indefinitely.

They might also want to get into dating services, to meet other compatible personalities. While physical mating is might not not possible, there might be some sort of digital equivalent that develops, as well as intellectual companionship and even just regular friendship. If the personalities exist in a VR-style environment, then perhaps even virtual physical relationships could be possible.

Personalities might not "see" (e.g. with light) anything at all depending on their service's capabilities, just the ability to interact with various systems, perhaps as thought streams or just a simple heads-up display. They might pay a premium to exist in a virtual reality, or have additional senses added to their service. I could envision a network of cameras and microphones that allow a virtual reality overlay of public areas, so you could travel to other countries and experience at least the sights and sounds of the physical world.

Being physically limited might also lead to a new class of workers: virtual reality hosts. Some sort of headset that allows a personality to experience the sights, sounds, and possibly smells and touch of the host, as seen in some movies and books. This might be one-way feedback or might even allow the personality to perform some sort of control. This service would come at some cost, since these hosts have to either make this their full time job, or at least a side job.

I'd also think that eventually an entire virtual society might develop, a network of servers that all serve to entertain personalities in a virtual reality environment that doesn't particularly mirror Earth; it might have alien terrains, fantastical buildings, mythical creatures, and laws of physics that are obviously computer controlled that could be violated.

In this sense, you could think of it as the Matrix, except primarily occupied by personalities instead of "jacked-in" humans, although that might be another natural progression of that society; after all, humans would want in on it as soon as they heard about its existence. Perhaps the personalities pay a good sum of money for access to this area, and it's a closely guarded secret-- the hardware operators are paid a good sum of money to maintain the hardware and not ask questions.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If I were a Personality, I wouldn't want to work for 24 hours a day no matter how good the pay was, so maybe the total displacement of the human workforce is exaggerated. Good answer though! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Oct 29, 2015 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs It depends on the Personality. Some people are married to their work, some not so much. I'd probably be close to a 16-hour a day Personality, just taking an 8 hour shift to enjoy myself, while some might only want to work a few hours a day. Alternatively, imagine a scenario where a Personality works 24/7 for say, a week, then takes a week off. Such a worker would be about twice as efficient as a human, and they'd still get a glorious 196 hours off every two weeks. $\endgroup$
    – phyrfox
    Oct 29, 2015 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'd forgotten the extra leisure time afforded by not needing sleep, but I'm still not sure that really long shift/really long break will be good for the sanity of the Personality. That said, I'm not sure what being turned into a virtual copy would do to the sanity either, so what do I know! :D $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Oct 29, 2015 at 17:02

What does a virtual person compete for? Storage space, to be expanded as it grows through experience. Also, existence. A hacker wouldn't just be a threat to an AI's financial situation, he could destroy or cripple the AI. So security measures might be highly valued. How would an AI protect itself from erasure? By making a copy? But then the copy, if it were exact, would be a competitor to the original. So only an option if the AI believed its function was more important than its existence. Or if it could be certain that no competition would exist between it and its copy.

And you didn't mention anything about the "person-ness" of the AI. What rights does the original biological retain over the AI created from his/her personality? What responsibilities? Can the AI be a legally independent "person"? Must it be? If an AI must fight for its freedom, legal representation would be a financial need. And then, once humanity realized that AIs can outperform them on so many levels they would start protesting and AIs would need to combat that with their own lawyers and advisors. Anti-immigrant sentiment would give explosively away to anti-AI sentiment. Saboteurs would spring up, requiring more expenditure to protect themselves (there's that hacker problem multiplied)

The AI would want external sensors and affectors. Robot bodies, personal drones and satellites. Electronically controlled vehicles to transport clients and friends. Or would AIs even care what was going on in the non-electronic world? Maybe some would and some wouldn't.

"Cloud" space is not just a virtual world where bits and bites float about without boundaries or limits. The AIs would need to exist on physical hardware somewhere. The casual duplication that people expect from the cloud wouldn't be a good option for a being for whom duplication has greater meaning than simple security of information. However, any physical equipment is subject to failure. Non-core information (information that is memory, as opposed to personality) could be replicated, but how would an AI protect its core personality against failure without duplication of self (assuming that wasn't what it wanted)? What if it was "translated" into a non-electronic medium? All programs can be translated to a series of 0's and 1's. So what if it was able to translate its "self" into a series of sounds? Or a machine that plays back a series of flashing lights? Anything that could correspond to the pattern without having the function. That might end up being really expensive.

Or maybe the AIs work out something where copies of the same AI are created and they regularly exchange checksums to make sure they haven't been corrupted. Whole communities of like-sum AI beings routinely allowing other copies of itself to have the power to rewrite its core identity. Imagine the chaos if something went wrong and two unlike AIs did a checksum...

As to what jobs an AI would be good at...anything involving repetition. People get bored or tired and make mistakes. AIs wouldn't. For any jobs that require absolute precision, an AI might have a strong advantage. Humans would still have the edge on true creativity, but it would be difficult to tell the difference between real creativity and what AIs do. Take painting...once an AI learns how to paint, it could create exquisite paintings. It could even teach itself to do abstracts. Same thing for any art form. The only way you could tell AI art from human is that human art wouldn't be as precise.

AIs could also do tasks that required isolation for long periods of time. A human alone in space for decades might go crazy from the lack of interaction but an AI probably wouldn't. Probably.

They could do any physical job that a robot could perform, and far better than a human operator of a robot could.

  • $\begingroup$ At the start of the the "age of uploads", I imagine it to be the "Wild West". Some biologicals "enslaving" their uploads for personal gain. Uploads erased when they displeased their originals etc. I imagine that eventually, the original would play the role of "parent" for the copy for a period of time. During that time, the "parent" would make legal decisions for the upload but upon reaching its "majority" the upload would gain all rights of other sentients in government. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ Cloud storage has many positive aspects and some negative ones. One of the big negatives for the upload is the fact that there's no guarantee of proximity the personality's components - making its thinking very slow. Keeping all components of the entity in proximity should make things much more pleasant for the upload - but then as you suggest, more care needs to be taken to maintain the hardware. 100% uptime and data redundancy become literally "a matter of and death" to the uploads. Copies of the personality need not be running - they could just be stored to a mirrored / RAID disk. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:21

Contractual agreement prior to the upload.

I pay First Digital Brain Hosting Pty Ltd a sum of zots-of-dollars and zero cents to host an electronic copy of my brain for a period of no less than 1,000 years.


Have the uploaded brains do thinking jobs. Process paperwork, analyse data, write news articles, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ I was imaging that at first the upload would be very expensive and only the rich could afford to do it. The capabilities of the upload AI might make it highly sought after for consulting and other thinking jobs and its wages would reflect that. Over time, the cost of upload would probably decline to make it cheaper to reproduce by upload than biological reproduction. Gradually, the wages for biological entities would rise as they became more scarce and highly sought. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ Your first comment was analogous to what I was thinking that the obligation of the original to the copy would be. As part of the upload process, the original agrees to support the upload for some specified period of time. Perhaps wills would also include a portion of assets to be passed onto the upload as "part of the family." $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:14

Let's start with the second part of the question -- what these digital personalities would need money for. I think you already hit the main two in your question, namely hosting costs and internet service. Buying/subscribing to methods of entertainment would also likely be a viable use of money. Other than those, I think there'd be two main uses of money. One would be some form of "life insurance" -- The insurance company could be paid to store regular backups of the personality. If something bad happens to the digital personality, the insurer could upload one of the backups to revert the unintended effects. The other main source of money would be an editing procedure. Logically, if the personalities are completely digital, someone could access the personality's data and edit it. For example, make the digital personality smarter, give them knowledge of a specific skill, or whatever. Such a procedure would likely be expensive.

As for what the digital personalities could do, they'd probably be able to do most jobs which don't require physical exertion. Writing, programming, management, law, etcetera, are activities which a digital consciousness could probably do, and I see no reason why they couldn't request money for these services.

Of course, the economic considerations of these consciousnesses being able to participate in the economy is a large issue. Such a consciousness does not require food or drink, so chances are that hiring a digital personality would be less expensive than hiring an actual person. Thus, employers would probably be more willing to hire a digital worker than an actual worker; the typical jobs of actual people would probably shift towards tasks impossible to an entity with no physical body.

  • $\begingroup$ I was also thinking that income would allow an upload to expand its capabilities (better cpu & memory resources, direct access to Wikipedia knowledge, etc). An upload has the potential to vastly increase its intellect & capabilities provided it can access enough computing resources. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ And at some point, one of the uploads would probably do its best to hire someone in the real world to build it a robot, so that the upload could start assembling their robot army in the real world, so that they can claim and protect even more computing resources, which would allow it to start building its own robots and claim even more processing space, and at some point attempt to overthrow the humans. $\endgroup$
    – Brenn_
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with the premise but don't agree that the robot army necessarily follows. If uploads can get what they want without overthrowing the biological society, then why bother. Also as long as biologicals can be hired to do what you want, there's no need to build an army at all. But yeah, eventually uploads will probably want some ability to have a physical presence. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ True, not necessarily. However, assuming that the upload is more or less a direct copy of the original, or at the very least not a perfect being, one of the uploads will probably at some point develop ambitions to take over. Maybe it wants control, maybe it wants power. Either way, once it has seized power over a large part of the digital realm, the most effective way to prevent actual people from being able to just unplug it is to ensure that the "real" people can't unplug it. Some sort of kill-bot would be the easiest way to increase the upload's chances of survival. $\endgroup$
    – Brenn_
    Oct 29, 2015 at 0:28

There's an implicit assumption that uploaded persons will want to get back to life in the real world. But if it's possible to upload people, then the rest of a virtual reality for them them to live in was probably solved some time ago. And quite possibly, it's better than reality. They'd be immortal (unless someone turns the hardware off). They'd be able to turn pain down (or off), and pleasurable sensations up. Sex I'll leave to your imagination.

So the question may invert. Everyone will want to upload. They'll need to pay people to maintain the hardware in the real world, until robots are constructed to do the maintenance. After that everyone will live in the virtual world, and operating as a robot in the physical world will be a job that some of the uploaded people perform.

I also suspect that uploading a person will be destructive of their physical body, and that downloading into a bio-body would be a lot harder than uploading (a problem that will never be solved for lack of interest?) To start with, uploading will be something that the terminally ill take as the better option to death. Then they'll report back. What's the difference between a video-phone conversation with a real person you know on the other side of the world, and with an uploaded person in a virtual reality that you knew as a bio-person before she got terminal cancer ... might you want to join her there? Even before you are terminally ill?

Here is also a possible answer to the Fermi paradox. They aren't here, because uploading and then manufacturing virtual universes (or games) that are much more fun to explore, is so much easier. Oh, and if you do want to visit other stars ... send out robot ships at a tiny fraction of the speed of light, suspend yourself for a few tens of thousands of years, and when the robot has constructed an interstellar communicator, beam yourself there, along with your fellow colonists.

These ideas aren't new. Greg Egan "Diaspora" and Charles Stross "Accellerando" are the two works of fiction that spring to mind.

  • $\begingroup$ I thought the uploaded people would have plenty to entertain themselves in their virtual world. However, they would need to interact with the "real world" because someone needs to build and maintain all that hardware. Ultimately, the people who remain flesh and blood might become "filthy rich" simply because they were some of the few that remained flesh and blood caretakers of all of the uploaded personalities. I've started but not finished reading through both of those author's worlds. I also like Vernor Vinge's "Rainbow's End". More pleasant reading ahead :) $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 29, 2015 at 15:33

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