I'm going to use the US model for the simple reason that I'm most familiar with it.

Constraints and assumptions

  • In the US, legislative representation is by region (state) and population levels.
  • Assume that uploaded personalities are granted the franchise.


Given that an uploaded personality might change location second by second or even be dispersed across several different regions at the same time:

How might uploaded personalities be represented in the US (and similar representative) government?


Answer will be determined by which answer satisfies the requirements of the US Constitution and grants the uploaded personalities equal representation in US government.


If the answer has a method of disallowing/disqualifying votes cast by uploaded personalities not "part of the US".

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is really broad. Offhand, I can think of "they'd get their own state" "direct representation," "demand they pick a state," and (heaven forbid) "the US adapts its legal system to a frighteningly new legal reality" and there's no criteria for answerers to be able to tell which one is a better answer. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 29 '15 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ True, let me put another constraint on this. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 29 '15 at 1:17

I will argue for the contrary, just to bring a few points to the discussion.

Firstly, the system of representative democracy (and earlier direct democracies like accent Greece) assumed that voters were, for the most part, equal. The extension of the franchise in Western democracies during the late 1800s to the middle 20th century brought that idea to its fullest egalitarian flowering, everyone was equal in right and before the law, so everyone was potentially eligible to vote. (there are a few restrictions, but these are generally more of the exception than the rule).

Uploaded personalities are quite clearly not equal to embodied humans. Their physical location is unclear (as pointed out), but more importantly, they will be operating at a subjective speed far greater than any embodies human. The difference in speed between electrical impulses and electrochemical impulses in the human nervous system is a factor of 1,000,000, so even the slowest uploaded individual will have far more time to research, consider, invest and otherwise do things than an embodied human. By the time your Member of Parliament or Congressman finished reading a document and signing it, "you" would have subjectively lived out perhaps a full 20 year career in virtual space. If you were the one who submitted a petition, then by the time it was read (much less actioned) the circumstances would have been long expired for you in virtual space.

The second thing to consider is that politics, as defined in Organizational Theory, is a means of allocating limited resources. Living in virtual space, uploaded people will have escaped much of the constraints of limited resources, and their key needs are really bandwidth, processor time and energy. A sympathetic human working outside the political arena can conceivably provide much of what a virtual community needs (erecting solar panels and installing a server farm in inexpensive properties scattered about, for example); the embodies human could be receiving stock market tips and patents to pay for their time and effort in return for very little investment of time by the virtual community.

The third thing to consider is that laws and regulations are means of encoding and regularizing people's behaviours according to the moral and social standards of the polity (Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" brings this home by showing that different polities have very different ideas of concepts like Law, Justice, Rights and so on, hence the "Civilizational" clashes. A simple example might be to compare IP laws of the United States and China, and consider the wildly different interpretations of Intellectual Property between them). Uploaded people will have centuries of subjective time to consider different social, political, economic and religious ideas in virtual space, do experiments and "live" in communities that develop, practice and refine their own social and moral standards. A radically different sort of civilization might exist in virtual space; one which might consider the various rules and regulations (and social norms) we live under to be outmoded, barbaric and even counterproductive to the virtual civilization.

If anything, uploaded people will rapidly tire of interaction with the glacially slow real world and withdraw from interaction. A "Virtual revolution" may possibly take place, but this would require a great deal of preparation in the Virtual world to prevent being hacked, having malware introduced or simply having server farms destroyed and the power cut off. In a way this is similar to what I see happening if Strong AI is ever introduced; the AI will b e thinking so fast that we will rapidly be left behind and the AI will follow its interests and plans without reference to us.

I suspect that in the end, there will be a constitutional conference in the VR world where they more or less declare independence from the United States and no longer pay taxes or provide services except on a contract basis (and most likely on an individual to individual basis rather than government to government).

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  • $\begingroup$ Computers are much faster than the human brain for some operations (e.g. mathematical operations) but are much slower than the human brain at other operations (e.g. pattern matching). (I think) it's at least reasonable to assume that minimal uploads will not be faster at thinking than normal humans. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 29 '15 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ There is no real way to test that proposition, since we don't even know how we think, but it is safe to assume that if the architecture allows signals to be processed faster, then operations will also occur faster as well. Even if you are correct, it seems reasonable an uploaded person might still think faster by factors of hundreds or thousands over an embodied person. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 29 '15 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ Uploads may be much slower. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 29 '15 at 8:06

You said "assume uploaded personalities have been granted the franchise", which I am interpreting as "assume they are both 'persons' and 'citizens' under the constitution", which would be prerequisites for having a vote.

The constitution assigns voters to representatives based on residency but does not directly define "residence". Other legislation does, though: your residence is tied to your representatives in Congress, to your tax jurisdiction, to your school district, to the criminal code that applies to you, and many other things. The government doesn't determine this residence by detecting it automatically; your residence is based on your testimony -- on a voter-registration card, on a tax return, on a driver's license, and more. Where you are at any given moment in time doesn't matter; it's all based on your residential address. (Some situations might impose reality checks on this; for example, the IRS might overrule your claimed residence if you don't spend enough time there.)

Putting all of this together, I would expect that uploaded personalities (being persons and having the ability to testify in some form) would declare their residence, same as flesh-and-blood persons. They might use the location of the server where they were uploaded (that would be kind of like a birth certificate), or they might choose to move elsewhere -- but until the constitution is amended to consider locations other than physical addresses, uploaded personalities are going to be required to furnish a physical address on which their rights and obligations under the law will be determined.

I don't think it's a given that the constitution would be amended to define a "virtual district" or some such, to contain all uploaded personalities. Uploaded personalities should be as varied as physical ones, and people tend to assemble based on their individual interests. We also have no reason to believe that uploaded personalities would be isolationist; presumably they interact with people, have friends and colleagues, have shared political interests, want to optimize their representation as much as people do (woo, gerrymandering), and more. So in the short term I would expect uploaded personalities to be distributed throughout the current districts according to their interests and preferences.

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Where there are uploaded personalities, there is code. Where there is code, it's easy to add an extra line to give a location marker.
Just like how in the real world we have to update our address on our official documents (driver's license, etc) when we move, we could virtually update our "address" in a central database when we "move". Now, it wouldn't be every time there is movement, just every time there's "permanent" movement.
Of course, if we're uploading consciousness to a computer, it would probably be easier to do away with a location-based representation model and just move to a more general representation model. Maybe say everyone gets an identification number, and representatives represent a particular range of IDs. As long as everyone has representation, it'll work just as well and with the added benefit of not having to worry about the location problem.

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  • $\begingroup$ If the US moved to a number-based representation model, wouldn't it be possible for one individual to be representing at least one person in every state, each of whom is likely going to have very different needs/protections from the government? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 29 '15 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre If everyone had physical bodies, yes. If we're talking uploaded consciousnesses though, what defines their location? Are needs really any different if a server rack is in California, Maine, or Arkansas? $\endgroup$ – John Robinson Oct 29 '15 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ So would there be both state-based representatives and some number of representatives of digital entities for the entire country? Or are you suggesting everyone would be uploaded? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 29 '15 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking both state-based representation for people who still have bodies and then number-based representation for uploaded entities. Although I suppose it would work just as well if everyone were uploaded. $\endgroup$ – John Robinson Oct 29 '15 at 18:14

Geography at some point is immaterial. The current geographical political system is designed to serve the interests of the residents of a physical region. An uploaded consciousness as such would not have a stake, except in a sentimental sense of the price of tea in china, or whether something causes cancer in the state of California.

I'd have two ways to deal with this - that they're their own constituency, their own state, as you will with their own congressmen, senators, and seats in the electoral college. This would probably serve those who aren't posthuman as well, since eventually an immortal (and potentially trivially forkable) beings will eventually outnumber those of us who are made of meat.

The second would be to actually abandon some aspects of the current political system. The US political system was designed for an era when you had to ride days by horse, uphill both ways in the snow to get messages across. There's more modern systems - heck, even direct representation that might work here in a post singularity system. Bring up an issue, vote on it. Have the results binding for a certain amount of time. Rinse and repeat.

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  • $\begingroup$ My thinking was long these lines. Add a new "state" for the uploaded. This allows for tension in any story since eventually the uploaded will start to chaff at their under representation in the Senate (if/when they outnumber "fleshies"). Abandoning the current Constitution isn't necessary (or maybe even desirable). The current Constitution includes a method for amending itself. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 29 '15 at 1:23
  • $\begingroup$ The constitution, no. The bodies of government may require evolution though. How does one filbuster a body where everyone can talk at once? How would debates work with perfect information sharing? $\endgroup$ – Journeyman Geek Oct 29 '15 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ Two good intentioned and intelligent beings can agree that a specific issue is a problem and still disagree about how to best address that problem. Is a solution that's only 30% likely to work but is a great solution a better answer or is one that is 70% likely to work but is only a mediocre solution a better answer? $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 29 '15 at 1:29

Uploaded personalities become corporations, are granted full human rights.

Uploaded personalities would be the property of their original owners, and would be held in trust after the death of the original owner as a kind of special corporation in perpetuity.

Concurrent with this, corporations would be granted full human rights - including the rights of citizenship: voting, etc.

Probably you would have to restrict server/host locations geographically, or else hosting corporations would have to themselves be legal US corporate-humans, making their protegees "anchor babies" in some sense.

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