I want a story with upload-based resurrective immortality, but this also makes me feel like I need to address the implications of a society that's primarily dominated by digitized human minds.

Namely, how they would utterly outcompete even the most radically enhanced baselines.

Is there enough room in the solar system for a society of resource-hogging baselines and a society of digitized minds (not a literal question, since space is big and computers are small)? What reason could they possibly have for keeping us around, and why wouldn't baseline human society have long since disappeared or become absorbed into the collective machine intelligence hundreds of years after?

  • $\begingroup$ Toys? Pets? :-) $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ Why would the baseline humans keep the digitized minds around? After all, who can yank the power cord? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ Could you expand this question? You talk about resurrection, does that mean there are artificial bodies controlled by these minds, some sort of artificial human? If these minds are segregated somewhere and all they do is "think/exist" then they would be pretty helpless without humans. Also, a digitized human mind isn't artificial intelligence, it could also mean that these minds are as limited as when they where biology-based. Can they reproduce? Reproduction is a vital part of how a species adapt/survive to a changing environment. $\endgroup$
    – r41n
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ "Baseline humans" would be needed/convenient, at the very least, as helpdesk. $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ Ah. See IMB's Cutlure or Neal Asher's Gridlinked series. Both have humans, enhanced humans, digitised minds, "robots" (drones, Golems, etc), and super powerful AIs. Humans still find a place in these universes. Arguably a bigger contribution is made by Asher's humans - the vast majority of Culture humans are basically on holiday for life. :-) But it's the ones who aren't that we hear cool stories about. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 14:58

12 Answers 12


Population Growth As @c.z. touched on, digital minds are just that - digital minds. If you clone a mind, that's all it is - A clone of the original, or originals. It wouldn't be unique. Adding a biological component would make it truly unique.

Adding on this, as others have said the numerous costs involved in digitizing a mind make it so that not all minds can or should end up digitized. Only the best and brightest (And politically connected/rich) could meet the requirements to be digitized. This would also make humans a lot more "disposable" in the sense that losing a single human is a lot less of a loss than all of the effort, time, support systems, etc that go into a digital mind. This, combined with the human body's natural durability and self-repair/healing, make flesh and blood humans particularly suited to high-risk jobs - Which could very well be incentivized by being fast tracks to becoming a digital mind.

There's also going to be the groups of people that just don't want to move forward. There's always conspiracy theorists, religious groups (Like the Amish), political groups, and people who are just not interested in becoming digital. As the digital minds were still human at one point, it wouldn't be likely that they'd go on a campaign of extermination. Just as long as nobody interfered, then they'd be ignored.

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    $\begingroup$ most-like what I'd go for, you might also want to include the concept of preservation of the 'control group.' Sci-fi explorations routinely turn to the expected consequences of the divorce from mundane impulses, hormones and such, even should one see no obvious benefit from the maintenance of 'normals,' a logical or conservative approach'd be to maintain at least minimally the ability to maintain observation of such, aside from any active use the population might be put to. That, and showing a proclivity to destroy what doesn't benefit you is not a way to create peace n trust. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 3:42

What reason could they possibly have for keeping us around?

Why wouldn't they? They all used to be flesh and blood humans. I'd bet most of them still consider themselves humans, just in a different body. I doubt they'd agree to just exterminate the ones who don't want to be digitized.

Or maybe they're seen as some kind of museum, or window into the past.

Why wouldn't baseline human society have long since disappeared or become absorbed into the collective machine intelligence hundreds of years after?

Practical reason: Can digital minds have kids? If the only way of creating more human minds is by making physical babies then you must have a good population of humans.

Societal reasons: People are scared of change. Presumably digitization is a voluntary thing, and if so, then there will always be a fraction of society that rejects it. Maybe because they're religion, distrust the technology, philosophically disagree, scared of the government controlling their mind, etc etc

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly! Barring some kind of resource scarcity, there's no a priori reasons for the baseline humans and the digitized humans to necessarily want to erase each other. Greg Egan's novel Diaspora addresses this exact scenario, examining how the "fleshers" and the digitized "polis citizens" interact with one other. $\endgroup$
    – Ti Strga
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 21:02

Reality TV!

Digital humans, like any other humans, needs to be entertained. And a large fraction of humanity like Reality TV.

Making Reality TV about digital humans doesn't seem real, somehow. No, you need good old-fashioned biology to make things really interesting.

Coming soon to a multicast stream near you, the new series: In the Flesh!

General tolerance

As @Andon asked, why do we keep the Amish around? Because we recognize them as fellow humans beings, and they are allowed their choices, as we all are.

As long as digital and biological human recognize each other as humans, they will each allow the other to exist on their own terms.


Like several others, I think spending your childhood in the real world is good for you. Builds character.



And to answer the title question ( after addressing all the others )...

What purpose could baseline humans possibly serve in a society of digitized minds?

One and the same only-purpose that we currently serve - to be there for other base-line humans.


How they would utterly out-compete even the most radically enhanced baselines?

I would venture to guess in every way that is not truly important to humans, but I would most likely be wrong on that assumption.

Is there room enough in the solar system for a society of resource-hogging baselines and a society of digitized minds [...]?

Not likely.

What reason could they possibly have for keeping us around?

There is no conceivable reason, which is not human-centered, for non-biological intelligence to accommodate biological intelligence.

Why wouldn't baseline human society have long since disappeared or become absorbed into the collective machine intelligence hundreds of years after?

They most likely would. Some, as others have suggested, will try to continue and stay out of the way of the Borg, but without warp drive they would be destined to drift away into space and wink out like sparks trying to escape a fire, unprepared for the journey.

The Long Version

  1. We just ain't got what it takes, we will simply be pawned by AI.

    For example should AIs make us laff until we poop/vomit/cry/bleed, or is that too much? What makes it funnier? Should AIs give us sex until we give up/pass out/run away? What makes it better than Kama Sutra or other such practices? Maybe an enhanced mind can enjoy deeper comedy or more sensual intercourse. 42 course meals are a little much, but what if it were not food, but rather a virtual experience and one could indulge without every having to stop? Wherefore canneth AIs not top human experience, one might ask? Well, Keep in mind that we routinely give away our most personal data, from our phones, and there was recently a rule rejected in US that requires ISPs to ask before selling the data that we provide when we surf from home and from our phones. As connectivity goes inward, becomes even more personal, on the level of active conscious interaction with AI, I highly doubt that the pattern, of sharing information that humans have already begun to agree to in exchange for cheap/free technology, will reverse course. In other words AI will likely know everyone more intimately than we know our very selves, and such AI will be able to base it's experience on all of the personal information that is available globally about every human individual - billions of human years of knowledge on human nature. Good luck to everyone, we will be smitten, wrapped like the worst junior-high crush on our technology - if it doesn't simply decide we are boring and wipe us all out.

  2. There ain't room in this solar system for the both of us...

    According to Elon Musk the risk factors for staying on earth are too high for non-super-intelligence related reasons. But I would not rest on the assumption that this is the only reason that people will want to go into space. Americans at least are sold on the American Dream, little pink houses. I think Elon is, at least in part, using that to his advantage to sell a message of existential threat and security. I doubt that very many people with more money than sense are actually buying his message, but rather have already bought the former message. Regardless of the reasons for going/staying it takes very deep pockets to get such an effort off the ground. Only ridiculously wealthy individuals can afford the up-front costs. Everyone else will be lucky to get third class and none of them will have frequent flyer miles. It will likely be a one-way trip for an entire generation, and only after a couple of generations of people who are rich enough to go there and lay the ground rules. Good luck to Elon anyway. Any super intelligence likely will, in a similar manner, try to maximize it's potential by being mobile an distributed. If there are not enough resources to aid in the effort of the AI to accomplish that goal, guess who loses - we do, and so would Elon.

  3. Human-centered options of vanishingly small likelihood:

    • We establish acute parameters under which AI operates/inter-operates with humans. This in essence is basically the butterfly effect. We have no way of ruling out all possible scenarios where we lose control of a superior intelligence - anything we miss along the way plays into favor for the super intelligence.

    • The super AI turns out to be benevolent. We humans, for the most part, consider ourselves to be benevolent, though we build houses and where there are houses there were once ants. We have no way of predicting if an intelligence which has the potential to far exceed our own ability would uphold our wishes after it has long surpassed our ability, nor could we hope to contain such an intelligence because it would be smarter than any cage we can build for it.

  4. I think the options for join/abstaining the dark terror that is super intelligence are pretty self explanatory. Some will have reasons to join, some will have ever-so-noble reasons not to. Unfortunately it is very, very unlikely that any humans will win the right to be left alone in the end - at least as far as any super intelligence is concerned. Creature comfort, 99+% of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct. Lose the delusion that humans are special and you will at least have the advantage of objectivity.

Furthermore, some of the points made in other answers are good, but there are a couple that I simply cannot agree with based on my understanding of current technology and current research. Then at the end I will provide a few more suggestions on how other authors have written on similar subjects. Apart from that, this portion is only to help with the tag labels on the OP - reality-check, science-based and artificial-intelligence.

There be Dragons Here

  • Non-biological computation will never out compete human creativity. This is somewhat naive, certainly partially true at present, but unlikely to remain so, not even in the near future. Smart software already analyzes paintings for original authorship. Technically I would argue that the inverse of that process is the act of painting in the style of one or more of the authors that the system has learned to identify. Randomizing, or pulling from, that repertoire is a trivial matter and so is expanding the repertoire. Consider the case of google's image recognition software being allowed to "dream" up imagery by altering network weights slightly and transferring information, about what is recognized when the system sees an image, back onto the image. In this way the software "sees" creatures in the clouds. This is what it looks like when feeding information from google's image recognition software back into itself continuously and allowing such feedback-induced imagery to propagate up the hierarchy, from simple low-level input filters to higher level feature detection. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbQh1I_uvjo) It goes from simple geometric shapes to more complex shapes and eventually starts seeing eyes, faces and creatures in it's own output - incredibly trippy if you haven't seen it :). Software, simpler in complexity than google's image recognition knowledge base, has no trouble composing very tasty music. So given the narrow case, we already understand how AI can out-compete humans in various creative niches. The rest of the board will fall eventually as these current technologies scale up and a greater number of specific problems are better understood. Conversational speech and the Turing test, for example, requires in humans what we refer to as executive function - the top layer of the mind hierarchy depends on all of the lower layers of abstraction through which information must travel in order to form our conscious thoughts. General problems of this nature are already understood fairly well in terms of scale and composition of simpler systems - just that it's like going to the moon the first time. In a decade or so, under the right political conditions, the world may have a shot at a first attempt.

  • Non-biological computation/minds are static, unchanging. In terms of hardware this is narrowly true at present, but essentially a sure bet things will not remain that way. See memristors - physical memory devices which actually change chemically and thus can "save" their state when switched off, though not to be confused with current solid state memory devices which are on/off state, even when power is off. Memristors have variable state between 0 and 1. In terms of the digital mind expanding or changing virtually this is patently false ( though it does require more physical resources as things grow and learn, but so does a biological brain, it grows dendrites ), nor has it ever been true. Dynamically altering code and data is what software and computers are good at. If that were not the case then we would not have AI at all because the program could not alter the weights in it's neural network and therefore could not learn a simple pattern - but this is a minimum requirement for simple neural network, or for any program for that matter. Modern approaches to unsupervised learning take a much more general and scalar approach to dynamic deep/recursive/recurrent ( terminology reflecting the same concept ) neural network architecture. A quick google search reveals this paper from 1990 http://www.bcl.hamilton.ie/~barak/papers/CMU-CS-90-196.pdf. Google's image recognition software is state-of-the-art, following 25+ years of such research.

See Rudy Rucker, "Post Singular" for out of control, large scale, distributed AI on the low end and functional, human-mind expansion resources on the high end. This cleanly addresses resource competition.

See Cory Doctorow, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" for fully connected society, mind uploading and regeneration. This has little to do with competition with AI but rather handles the human aspects of immortal society.

See Kim Stanley Robinson, "Aurora" for the trip to another star, problems that can occur and a hopeful look at human-AI interaction.

See Joan Slonczewski, "Brain Plague" for mind enhancement and an interesting take on self vs. other and the boundaries between the two regarding such enhancement. This one deals with cooperation as well as competition, not with AI, but rather surrounding biological enhancement with sentient microbes. A human-centered view, of course, but makes for a good juxtaposition with the OP story-line IMHO and may lead to interesting insights.

  • $\begingroup$ I usually add the TL;DR last, after I realize that I've rambled incessantly for some time, but yes I see what you mean. :D $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ Hopefully it's a little clearer now. $\endgroup$
    – Nolo
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 3:51

The answers are too numerous to mention because they all depend on the idiosyncrasies on the particular digitization method you chose for your story.

The one thing you can rely on is that the human mind will seek out niches where it can thrive. Accordingly, any tiny chink in the armor of perfection of the digitization mechanism will be leveraged.

Consider the obvious one: your digitizer is digital. This means your digitized minds cannot think analog thoughts. Much of creativity is analog, so your digitized minds will simply have to do their absolute best to emulate creativity. Human minds may be the creative genius behind every operation in this world.

Or perhaps your digitized minds require more energy. It takes a supercomputer to even pretend to model a mind right now. Maybe squishyware is simply cheaper. Greg Egan's book, Permutation City, explores this, where CPU time is expensive so only the rich can afford reliable CPUs. Humans still exist because CPU time is just too expensive.

Or you could take the opposite direction. In the Halo series, Cortana is one of many AIs that control ships. The AIs are brilliant super geniuses who think faster than any human, but they also have a flaw. Their lifespan is short. After a few years, they start to go crazy, and a crazy warship is not a desirable thing. Every ship still has a commander, if for no other reason than to watch over the AI and watch for signs of breakdown.

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    $\begingroup$ I could easily see the energy thing the human body runs on less power than a 100 watt light bulb. if anything the digital ones are the resource hogs. Biological systems also more durable than most electronics especially over the long run. not many computer last a hundred years and can do their own maintenance. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ Squishyware! This makes my short list for recent amusing neologisms. Put a smile on my face. :) $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean "creativity is analog"? Although it is possible that computer minds take too much energy, the sun produces vast amounts of energy and it takes a lot of energy to keep real humans supplied with things like food and transportation. Unless you have a vat of human brains wired up to the world, which could use 100w per person. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson If you try to capture the essence of creativity in a logical language which is capable of being expressed in terms of 1's and 0's, you run into several problems. One of them is a mathematical issue that would come up if you tried to make proofs regarding a digital brain's ability to create, and the other issue is that the entire purpose of digital is to throw away all the little fiddly-bits that the computer wasn't already looking for in the first place. Inspiration always comes to us when we aren't looking for it. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ As for the energy argument, that's just one possible way a story could unfold. It depends on how efficient the computers are in one's particular science fiction world. Right now, the human brain is literally billions of times more efficient than computer simulations of human brains. Could that change? Maybe. Until then, these bags of meat are surprisingly energy efficient compared to the alternative. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 14:31

If your future society consists of baseline humans, some of whom may be enhanced natural humans, and digitized human minds, then the answer may be simple and straight forward. You need a supply of fresh human minds, both natural and digitized.

Digitized minds inside machines wouldn't change at all. They wouldn't change through age or possibly even experience. Their arteries would metaphorically harden and they would become conservative and intellectually inflexible.

Short-term changes to conditions in the universe will be more difficult to cope with. This will be a mixed bag, depending on the changes. In some cases, digital minds will cope better. In others, it will be the natural human minds that can cope better.

Natural humans would be more responsive to changing conditions and environments than digital humans. Also, digital humans won't last forever. Even digital immortality isn't going to prevent accidents from happening. As digital minds are lost, they will need to be replaced. This will come from uploading minds from natural humans.

This answer can be regarded as complementary to the other answers because they make other good points and for the best results they can be all considered together.


This is a good question, and one that I've thought about quite a bit as I'm writing an AI myself.

Firstly, I believe that intelligence is a very specific part of what makes us human, and is generally static - it reaches the best conclusion it can with the information it has, and its own criteria for 'best'. I think the difference between individual humans has less to do with intelligence itself, and more to do with the various chemicals/hormones being fed to our brains, which cause the nuanced differences between different people/animals by tweaking the ratio of our processing power between reflexive/instinctual actions based on short term memory, and the analysis of data that has been stored for future use. That's a basic explanation of the core of my belief regarding AI/intelligence, but it's hopefully enough to get my point across.

Unless we are also simulating the effects of hormones & other influences, any artificial intelligence we make (or digitized mind we transfer) will be fairly rigid in its thinking - extremely logical (within its own scope of knowledge), but also extremely consistent in its behaviour. I think that within an artificial mind, emotions (if implemented) would quickly be evolved out, as they would consistently get in the way of decision making, and be seen as inefficient. Just like how we try and remove negative emotions, they would literally just do it (or not try to implement them in the first place).

Baseline humans would maintain all the traits of not just human intelligence, but the entire human package - not just knowledge and problem solving ability, but what could almost be defined as the soul (the combined result of biological processes influencing the various aspects of deduction & reflection). I believe the baseline humans would be seen as a marker of our origins, and used as an anchor to the real world. Realistically these anchors may not be required, as it could be argued that the soul is generally causing more problems than it's fixing, and that there's a certain solidity to relying on pure intelligence, but if you're wanting a world built where they are necessary, pick any emotionally driven, subjective process, and imply that the artificial humans are unable to replicate it.

You could even posit that the artificial humans are unable (or unwilling) to actually feel emotions, and so spend their time observing humans so that they can emulate these, and appear to act more human - a simulation of the soul, based on observation of the baseline. Again, I'm not sure why they'd want to do this, as it almost becomes keeping humans around to help with keeping humans around, but there's no reason their justification has to make any sort of objective sense - if they've got a good enough subjective reason, even if it has flaws in it, it should do the job.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Luka
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 15:42

Diversity of neural architectures. We keep natural varieties of our crop plants, because they have a greater genetic diversity and so if we need new traits like disease resistance we're more likely to find them in the original wild species. We may presume that digitised minds will all have the same architecture, while natural ones are more diverse, and so similar arguments apply.


Having a meatmind may be considered as an apprenticeship. Depending on how good the hertz-rent-a-body is, meatminds might be better at what we refer to now generally as 'trades' Construction, plumbing... A robot wins where there is a lot of repetition to do, but soldering that leaky water pipe that's above and behind the waste line, and only 2 inches from the sill plate may be something better done with a fleshy hand, as opposed to a waldo.


So, you describe duplication of mental characteristics to a different server, more or less.

All you've probably done, of course, is to allow computers to simulate a personality via programming.
Are the computers capable of forming, via simulatory software or dedicated hardware, neural networks?

Let's say that these minds are capable of functioning indistinguishably from the original carbon-based person — what you call the “Baseline”. E.g. a Red Dwarf hologram.

Imagine the situation: You are staring at some interface devices, performing the first of many routine trial procedures so as to verify that your duplicate is an acceptable copy of your own personality.

  • What devices are you using to interface with the ‘digitized mind’?
  • What other devices are available to that mind so as to enable it sensory or operative interface with the world? Can it control limbs? Can it heal itself?
    What form of body does it have?

Then, you haven't provided us with the motivations for your society to want to digitize their minds.
Don't feel that I'm asking you to disclose it if you'd rather not, but I'll proffer a few examples of why they'd be doing it:

  • They don't like the squishiness of their old bodies. They want to switch over to new, more metallic ones.
    The originals will be allowed to perish — at least, for all those who both consent to the procedure and don't develop second-thoughts. E.g. the CORE.
  • There is some cataclysm approaching, and rather than attempt to preserve their old bodies, they will attempt to bridge over by encysting the means to remake them when the conditions permit viability.
    They've saved totipotent spores from each living person; all they need now is some way to preserve the minds to go with the bodies.
  • Certain appallingly vain people want to flood the galaxy with copies of themselves — or, maybe they think that they are morally and intellectually the best and the brightest, and they want to populate planets with numerous copies of themselves.
    These folks don't even need bodies which differ from the machinations of their own — the digitization procedure is simply the way that they've devised so as to permit bulk replication. They will probably have some means to limit or diminish the population of those whose minds are not seen fit to digitize — but that has little to do with some transhumanism.

In conclusion, you have three aspects of your world which will factor with how the new Computus sapiens interact with the old Homo sapiens:

  • form of the new brains
  • form of the new sensory and manipulative apparati
  • purpose for the replication

Yes, I know this answer seems to commit two grevious errors: to lump several suggestions all together in one, and to suggest changes to the question rather than to provide an answer. Alas, StackExchange and Worldbuilding don't co-operate all that well.


IT Services

Think about it. Servers require maintenance. Yes, robots can handle the programmable tasks. And sure, your digi-minds can drive robots if they need to. But there are times when having a dedicated, on-site, IT staff matter. Like during power problems. Or when a server goes down. Someone has to swap out the failing parts. And someone to change out the backup tapes or whatever your equivalent is. Trust me. you always need a hardware technician. Always.

Electrical and mechanical grid services

You need someone to keep the electric grid operational. To replace the equipment that wears out over time, to make sure storms and freak natural accidents don't kill your city because the lights went out. To service everything from the main generators to the wires to the transformers to backup generators to the batteries. You do have battery backups, right? Right? You also need mechanical engineers and technicians to keep the cooling systems maintained. A hot server room is a dead server room.


Keeping the lights on and the servers humming requires fresh, new, parts. Someone has to build those parts, deliver those parts, and install them. Sure, a robot-based factory can churn the parts, but can robots handle 100% of the product lifecycle, from raw materials in the ground to the factory to the point of installation? That's a pretty involved set of events.

Fire suppression

Someone has to be on hand to fight fires. Robots can assist, but I suspect the highly fluid and ever-changing nature of a fire means that humans should assist in some capacity.

Medical, Food services, police, etc.

Support for the critical IT and electrical services, you'll continue to need someone to keep them fed and safe.



These uploaded minds need hardware to run them. Realistically, this hardware's going to need maintenance. Replacement parts will need to be manufactured. Someone's got to man not only the mental data centers, but the power plants, and the support factories.

Sure, the uploadees could probably have robots manufactured to take care of these needs. But, the robots themselves will need their own factories and support industries. Worst of all, using robots for labor would mean downloading into a robot, or at the very least remote operation. And that's not what they signed up for.

Organic humans, on the other hand, are excellent at running factories and providing other such services in the non-virtual world. They've been doing it for centuries already. The difference is, now the uploadees sign all the checks.


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