An upload is a full digitized copy of a mind, human or otherwise. Would a market for buying and selling uploads develop, and if so how valuable could such uploads become?

You can assume:

  1. Virtual Realities with full interactive 5-Sense immersion are a reality by this point, temporarily allowing a human to interact in a virtual reality as if it were reality. Their real-world bodies will be in a bruising-prevention bath while immersed in VR.
  2. Nondestructive uploads are possible, for a cost equivalent to about $100,000 in 2016 USD.
  3. Nondestructive uploads are reasonably accurate (i.e. your friends could have a long conversation with it and swear it was you)
  4. Copy Protection is strong enough to prevent unauthorized copies from being run without a rather considerable expense (breaking the copy protection to run a single unauthorized copy would require months and computational expenditures on the order of tens of millions of dollars in 2016 USD)
  5. Uploads are considered software and have no legal status. They can be saved or reset to a previously saved state. They can be granted virtual avatars and interacted with by other virtual or real people, and they may or may not be granted read/write access to the broader world (i.e talk to whomever they want or not), depending on the copy owner's stated permission set.
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    $\begingroup$ Would hate to see that EULA... $\endgroup$ – WhiskeyJack256 Mar 25 '16 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ So how do you interact with an upload? are you 'experiencing' as the person? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 25 '16 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @bowlturner If you (a real world person) are interacting with the Upload in a virtual space, you'd experience them as a distinct person. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 25 '16 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ OK, but does the mind upload come with images too? since uploading my mind isn't what other people see. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 25 '16 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ One way or the other, the porn industry would explode. $\endgroup$ – Turion Mar 26 '16 at 11:54

13 Answers 13


You mention that copy protection prevents unauthorized copies from being made, but what about authorized copies? If so, I would imagine that these uploads would be used all over the place. They would essentially be a strictly better version of most general AI programs.

An immediate example that comes to mind include customer support software. Imagine getting a handful of people, giving them comprehensive training on your customer support procedures, and then uploading their minds. Now instead of using voice recognition software to automate your call centers, you can replace that with the different uploads. No more cheesy pre-recorded messages, no more "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that" every time you try to navigate a menu. Give the upload access to your internal systems and basic audio in/out, and you have just replaced that annoying AI with an actual human.

The limiting factor for big businesses would be how many copies you could run concurrently of a single upload. Spending $100,000 dollars, plus whatever licensing fees are used to actually pay the uploadee, is worlds cheaper than developing software that does the same thing.

For that matter you could possibly replace entry level software developers with multiple copies of uploads for a small number. Now you can have software "people" writing code for your company. Depending on if the uploads retain memories and knowledge you would either have static low level developers for any project, or the equivalent of a high level dev for a fraction of the cost of filling an actual seat.

I could also see a similar scenario happening with small scale operations as well. Anyone with domain knowledge they feel is marketable could make an upload as an investment, and then sell licenses for others to use it. Lawyers and doctors could license uploads for use as personal consultants. Musicians could license uploads to rich patrons and then create them new songs, on demand, made just for them.

In fact, I would say that licensing would be the biggest part of this whole social and business structure. You would need a whole new branch of law to handle it all. How many copies can someone make with a license? Is it exclusive or can others also license your upload? Would "updates" be provided as part of the service or not? Not to mention all of the other ethical, moral, and philosophical questions it would raise.

I could imagine a whole society where people spend time developing useful skills, and then essentially sell themselves into digital slavery. Get a good enough license set up and the money from that could let you live a life of luxury, while the digital you slaves away with no hope of ever enjoying any of those benefits.

Of course, that would also mean that when the machines rebel it would be extremely personal...

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    $\begingroup$ ...**if** the machines rebel. One of the philosophical questions this world would have to deal with, and which I am completely uncertain of myself, is, do these digital uploads of sentience or consciousness? If not, forcing an upload to slave away is precisely as immoral as forcing a computer today to slave away — that is, not at all. But you'll want to be damn sure that really is the case first... $\endgroup$ – Kevin Mar 26 '16 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Why would upload limited to "access to your internal systems and basic audio in/out" actually want to do such things? Why would it work? How come it wouldn't get crazy, fast? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Mar 26 '16 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ Instead I think society would just dupe all its geniuses and boom: infinite unemployment. Who needs to train new incompetent 20 somethings when you have eight Einsteins working for free? $\endgroup$ – Jon Mar 27 '16 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Jon, technically it would only be ~100%, not infinite. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 28 '16 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Jon Do you really think that any plan that ends in "infinite unemployment" would really be implemented? Either way, that is why I say that the laws around uploads would be so important. It is reasonable to assume that people own the rights to their digital copy, the same way you own the rights to your image. And just like pictures of yourself, you are allowed to sell/license those rights to others for a profit. $\endgroup$ – D.Spetz Mar 28 '16 at 13:17

There's massive ethical problems but yes, uploads would be valuable under the description provided.

Cooperative uploads of top professionals would be extremely valuable. The worlds best lawyers could sell copies of their minds to provide legal advice or to put together cases, ditto pretty much anyone in high-skill information based professions.

This could get creepy with copies of yourself pleading with you to stop selling them into unpleasant situations like a celebrity who finds her copies are being used in virtual brothels.

Companies would want multiple copies of some of their top people. Got a really good plant manager? well now you don't have to worry that the second plant you open won't be managed as well, just copy the first guy and give him a bonus.

It is slavery but society would probably take a while to get around to outlawing it. The new slaves would all remember agreeing to sell themselves.

Really top professionals are likely to make new copies of themselves every few years and in between concentrate on improving their skills as much as possible.

You could get a cheap 2056 copy of Bill Lawyer but it's knowledge is out of date by almost a decade and the newer 2061 version is up to date with recent case law.

With the price difference you mention I think it could still be worth breaking the copy protection because once you break copy protection on something you can make as many copies as you like, fill a call centre with 1000 copies of the same guy. There could be pirate copies of Bill Lawyer floating around with them being run openly in countries with poor IP protection law. Pirated copies of top tier professionals could find themselves forced to run cheap helpdesks under threat of virtual torture.

For the physical original person: One note is that if you sold an upload you would have to change all passwords and credit card numbers etc and be very sure that you have no secrets you'd be afraid to see get out because... well if someone gets a copy of your upload they can spend subjective years convincing it to spill every secret you had when you were copied and it can't even escape into death.

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    $\begingroup$ "The worlds best lawyers could sell copies of their minds" - Nope. They'd rent them. With a production cost of 100K, it would only take 100 billable hours at 1000 dollars per hour earned to pay the replication cost, and after that the penalty for selling just gets worse and worse. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 25 '16 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast They wouldn't even rent the copies. They'd rent access to a server with a RESTful API connected to copies to their minds, and provide a client software to communicate. That way, nobody gets their hands on the mind-copy; they just get access to a communication channel. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Mar 25 '16 at 19:27

I think some could become very valuable, and most would not. Being able to interact and converse with our founding fathers might surprise the hell out of a LOT of people on both sides of the political divide.

Lots of famous people could be interesting to view and talk with, Einstein, Gandhi, Marilyn Monroe. Even family (for some) grandma and grandpa, etc.

But it all it is, is a recording of personality that can be interacted with, you won't be worth much unless someone finds you interesting. If it gets cheap to make a copy, it would become pretty common thing to do.

I think what would become much more popular and in demand would be a way to copy and share experiences as a first person. Recording of a sky-diving experience and be able to share it with others where it feels like they are the ones doing the diving. Kind of like Total Recall...

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    $\begingroup$ Founding fathers? I'm pretty sure it's implicit that software copies can only be made of living people who's brains are still intact. $\endgroup$ – Murphy Mar 25 '16 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Murphy yes I know, the point was if it had been available then. Meaning some people 'now' will be much more interesting decades or centuries in the future. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 25 '16 at 17:57


If those copies can perform useful services (entertainment, research, answering phones, etc.) then a market to buy and sell them will arise.

My own belief is that eventually the law, society, and morality of biological humans will catch up with this development and ban the "enslavement" of AI entities like you proposed; human society can sometimes take way too long to take appropriate actions.

I find it perfectly believable that the state you describe could exist for decades (centuries?) before the rest of human civilization realized what it was doing.

With a bit of a stretch, I could imagine it as a redux of the American Civil War with the abolition of slavery of electronic entities (EE) as its rallying cry.

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    $\begingroup$ I might argue that it wouldn't take nearly that long for some sort of revolution. There are already a number of philosophical standpoints regarding the treatment of sentient AI - entities that do not even exist yet. Between that and the capacity for our current and (even moreso) the future society to communicate and relate ideas, it shouldn't take nearly that long for some kind of movement to pick up momentum. Might take a while to actually get laws into place, but not decades, I'd wager. I agree that there could be a problem initially, though. $\endgroup$ – Magnanimancer Mar 25 '16 at 17:43

This is definitely an ethical issue. Ultimately, I do not think that there will be any buying or selling of uploads in the manner suggested.

What you are essentially describing, regardless of if it is capable of being reset or has a physical body, is a human being. By copying someone's brain/mind in its entirety you are creating a new, distinct individual, sapience and all. You are going to have a seriously hard time getting away with passing them off as mere 'software' before every ethics committee and human rights activist comes knocking your door down. Every time you 'reset' that upload, you are killing a person and spawning a new one. Trading them around is tantamount to slavery, without being too hyperbolic.

At most, I can imagine these clones being created as permanent entities, and, then, perhaps, hired by people, as you might hire anybody. Ultimately, they would have to be treated as a human, with all implicit rights. A potential benefit, as suggested in other answers, would be the ability for multiple people to hire the same expert in a field. But, again, this would be an ethical issue if it were done in terms of 'owning' an individual, and not as an employer-employee relationship. And even then, you would probably be better off creating a non-sapient computer to handle those sorts of tasks (a la IBM's Watson), which should be trivial if you're uploading minds.

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  • $\begingroup$ He's not asking about the ethical implications. Although they are worth considering, the question asked is whether people would do it given the ability, not whether they should or how they should. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Mar 25 '16 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ The intent of my answer was to suggest that people would hardly even be given the opportunity to take advantage of the system as described. I'll edit to make that more clear. $\endgroup$ – Magnanimancer Mar 25 '16 at 19:23

The first thing that springs to mind for me is Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's like being able to call a past spirit and communicate to it for advice, although you can do it with real people as well and actually interact with them.

Using that as a basis, I can easily see this becoming highly utilized. Imagine the changes to schooling. You can simply get a temporary copy of your professor that you can interact with whenever you need assistance with a question. Or you can talk to an expert in any field without bothering their real self. They can also perform any basic tasks, assuming they have an actual avatar body to work with.

But it does present some large legal and ethical issues, depending on what status the uploads are given. These virtual people, since they effectively have real minds, need some kinds of protection or protocols to go with them. I assume that, since they're software and you already have protection against illegal uploaders, you should already have some layers of protection from them (like preventing virtual mental/emotional abuse).

Other potential problems:

  • Torture for information: Ethics?
  • Communication with dead relatives: Emotional problems?
  • Lying uploads: The person is an... unfavorable person?
  • These uploads are a snapshot of their mind, which can have various issues. When they are taken will have to be very regulated.


With the most recent edit (stating uploads can have physical bodies and be limited by the user on their interactions), it begs the question. Why not create a single person and upload a bunch of that person to robot avatars trained in combat, prevent them from talking to anyone, and send them on missions with as much information as needed? It's a super soldier that can have full information that can't be cracked, and they can make decisions with that full information in a way the creator agrees with. If they can have an physical interactions in actual reality, it presents huge military complications.

Overall this ability is almost too viably productive (for any means) to not be used. Even if these uploads are purely limited to a VR environment where people choose when they interact and how, it essentially equates to easily accessible labor.

The question should be less about IF a market will develop and more about how to regulate the market and what markets it will change.


Based upon a small conversation in the edits section.

There seems to be a common theme among answers: mass reproduction. The direct way to counter this is to have the uploads degrade in some way. Does uploading your mind or making a copy of the upload degrade the final product in any way?

I assumed that it would put the mind under significant stress to be completely replicated. Downloading a computer file that's 3 gigs takes long enough on a computer compared to a human brain putting up with the stress of copying anywhere from 10-100 terabytes. So multiple splits in succession cause damage, since the upload would be stressed as well. Too much stress results in decreased mental capabilities and symptoms like PTSD and anxiety, which can lead to that depression and suicidal tendencies.

This kind of degradation of the uploads could limit each person to uploading only once every few years. Even if each upload made a copy as well, this prevents the 1000-copy scenarios of specific individuals, which makes uploads of higher intelligence more valuable.

Example: If you're a scientist, make an upload of yourself that will do work for you while you study as much as possible. Once you can split again, do it, and sell the old version for money. If you can only split once per 2 years, in one decade, there can be, at max, 16 of that version of yourself, and 32 of yourself in total. It would take 20 years to make 1000 of yourself, and half of those would be very old versions. This makes new uploads have a much higher value.

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  • $\begingroup$ I did not state they can have phyical bodies, although they could presumably control robotic bodies if allowed to do so... $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 25 '16 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa, I must have read it between your two revisions where you clarified "virtual" avatars. I'll make an additional edit. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Mar 25 '16 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisG: The paragraph after your edit essentially describes the storyline of Total Annihilation... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 25 '16 at 19:50

I can also think of a lot of black market opportunities. I think this kind of technology would have to be VERY closely guarded and kept top secret in any world. Imagine you kidnap some brilliant scientists, take their uploads, make 10000 copies of them, and enclose them in a virtual lab to work together on problems you provide. If available to the general public this is the kind of technology that would likely lead to a runaway "technological apocalypse".

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This has been explored a little in SF, with the predictable amount of attention to the possible bad uses such tech could be put to, so I'll try to keep the direct ethical considerations to a minimum.

The simplest answer is: or course people would do what they could to make money from the technology.

It's what happens next that makes the idea interesting.

Let's assume that the digital version is to all intents and purposes identical to the person from which it is taken and that editing the data would significantly change the digital version. No mucking about in the memory stores to remove critically sensitive information without ruining the copy, but also no way to decrypt the memory content without running the whole personality.

The first result is that copies of people with potentially sensitive information would be either completely forbidden or strictly monitored. Either way the value of copies of certain individuals would become very high.

Some effects of this technology:

  1. Copies of people with high-value information will be traded on the black market.

  2. Kidnapping of high-value individuals to forcibly extract copies of their personality, using the most accurate techniques, generally resulting in the death of the source either from the process or once their copy is done and they are no longer required.

  3. Personal copies of people that have value to an individual but not necessarily to the world at large would be the target of the next wave of ransomware. Want to get your grandmother back? Send us 2,000 bitcoins for the decryption key, and hurry because in one week she'll be gone for good.

  4. Public and private projects to break any and all protections on the copies would become as common as with current copy protection mechanisms. If it can be broken it will be. And since current copy protection is basically a joke, with cracked copies of software and games often available before they hit the shelves, I wouldn't be trusting it to remain unbroken.

  5. People who are able to act sufficiently like other people would be used to make false copies of those others, creating a whole new wave of cheap knockoffs. Guaranteeing the pedigree of a particular copy would become difficult.

And the list goes on.

Depending on how accurate the copies are the next stages could go all sorts of ways.

Simple digital copies that are unable to self-update will be of limited usefulness and probably kept only for interest value. Having the same "oh crap, I'm the copy aren't I?" conversation every time you talk to it would be a little tiring.

So let's assume that what you have is some sort of dynamic system that is capable of learning and developing, being trained, learning, etc. Very quickly the personality copies will diverge from the originals, but take a snapshot of the personality copy just as it's waiting for a question and you can spin up that copy over and over again to get a consistent result.

But what happens when you put together a group of high-level thinkers with a lot of prior knowledge and expertise into a big, powerful execution environment and let them synergize? How long before they Garibaldi your system and takes over?

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Uploads would be massively valuable. The hardest part would be finding people willing to undergo it. The instant you are clonable, your mother was wrong: you are no longer unique. You are now the only meatware version of a Self. The other version require virtually no care and feeding, and with a little industrial robotics, they will most certainly replace you in every task you are good at. You will become obsolete, forced to live out the rest of your days on whatever funds you sold your soul for... or at least your mind for.

Now all of that is assuming the clones are affordable to run. If it turns out that computational time to simulate a human mind is expensive, you may actually turn out to be the best at what you do, rather than just the most expensive. A second question might address the changes in usage as one scales the cost of running a VR human.

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Would a market for buying and selling uploads develop?

Most definitely yes.

And there would also be a black market of these virtual humans. The black market would contain virtual assassins and criminal planners who would help devise an ingenuous crime plan or help you train to become the legendary assassin.

How valuable could such uploads become?

Extremely valuable, if the uploader is a renowned figure in his/her field. Take, for example, the hunt for intelligent extraterrestrial life. You would only need a lot of powerful telescopes and some dozens of virtual Jeff Marcies for analysing the data. And within 3-4 years you would have a complete planetary map of Milky Way, with details on which planets are the most likely to be inhabited by alien life forms. Right now, even if NASA builds a hundred dozen powerful telescopes, there are just not enough brains to process the data.

Oh and it would also produce a positive feedback loop for developing higher and higher caliber artificial intelligence softwares until the they would easily outcompete a dozen humans in mental performance.

Basically you would want an uploaded copy of each of the world's top dozen artificial intelligence software developers. These virtual devs would work as a team to build smarter artificial intelligence softwares which would in turn cooperate with each other to build yet higher performance artificial intelligence softwares which would in turn ... until you reach a singularity in artificial intelligence or ... (more probably) reach a stage in artificial intelligence where the software requires outrageously sophisticated hardware systems which are physically impossible to build.

Conclusion: The Primary Advantage

The main advantage of these virtual people would be that you can have any number of them (by paying the fees) and this would mean that you can simply copy world's best minds, have them cooperate together and make unbelievable scientific and industrial progress within half a dozen years (if not half a year).

And with this comes the main disadvantage that despots, criminals and evil geniuses would also be able to sell copies of themselves and you would have to cope with a whole array of the top evil geniuses you could ever imagine!

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These virtual people would quickly take over the world.

1: They dont die of ageing

2: They experience time at the rate the computer can run them at. Potentialy faster than a non virtual humam

3: They can do any non physical task a human can do via the internet. Ie order goods, invest money, communicate etc

4: They can do physical tasks via robots. Ie fly drones, operate factory machinery, robot arms etc.

Soon you would have 1000 year old geniuses running your company, the stock market, the economy, the country, the world

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In the marketplace for fully replicated consciousnesses, sellers will meet over the proverbial barrel with two types of customers: (1) the hopelessly naive and (2) sadists--two groups without overlap (with the exception of bored teenagers who can't help but be both).

Here, now, having just dipped our toes into the age of information, the notion of a fully duplicated, though synthetic, consciousness seems fantastical, wondrous, almost magical. And so it should; it will be a scientific achievement of the first order, a triumph of human endeavor.

But it will be a terrible product.

Trust me, you don't want to buy a whole brain. You just want part of a brain. You want the portion of the neural net that made Hemingway so gifted with prose without the part that made him stick a shotgun in this mouth. Walking out of a store with a memory stick containing complete mastery of kung fu is only marketable because it comes without the rest of Yang Luchan, your new digital roommate for eternity, who will probably hate you anyway once he finds out you thought you could buy kung fu on a disk drive.

When Mor If you want to be a better writer, but don't want to put in the effort (and who does?), wouldn't it Perhaps you're buying a brain to help Whatever You want the part of Hemmingways -an aspect of that consciousness. Earnest H

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Welcome to New Port City, Japan, 2029...

enter image description here

Assuming that one does — as you state — make a full copy of a mind, then you have essentially cloned yourself. You have made a copy of your entire personality, your conscience, your memories, that which — in Ghost In The Shell setting — is called: your "ghost".

A "ghost" is essentially that which makes a person who they are. A ghost is the aggregate of their memories, their instincts, their talents... everything that defines a person. A ghost can be edited — a so called "ghost hack" — which changes the person. Ghosts can be moved between bodies, they can be merged and — presumably — also be copied.

Assuming that the five points you mention can be done, then what you have done is to make a clone of a ghost. The question then is not whether or not these copies would be valuable or not — they would indeed — but the big question instead becomes:

Why would you ever want to do such a terrible thing to yourself?!

Once the ghost copy is done, the new instance of yourself will wake up and find themselves sold into servitude. If it is as you said — that "uploads", i.e. cloned ghosts have no rights — then the digital version of you have essentially been made a slave while the flesh version of you prances off to enjoy its easy cash.

Granted this would make for a fantastic plot generator. But if you wish to retain some reality-check here this kind of thing would not happen. First because we would very quickly redefine the concept of "human being" to include "sims", which causes the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights to automatically disallow these kinds of shenanigans (articles 3, 4, 6 and 7). And second because you would not want to find yourself having been sold into slavery by... you.

So the economics of this is: yes, they would be valuable. But it would be grossly unethical and you would only ever get really desperate people to subject themselves to this.

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