Listeners of Hemispheric Views may recall that I am a fan of the reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica (2004); by extension, I also enjoyed its prequel, Caprica (2009), which portrays a hedonistic capital (of the Twelve Colonies) before its destruction by the Cylons. At the beginning of Caprica, which I don’t intend to spoil entirely, we witness the death of Zoe Graystone in a train explosion. Zoe is the daughter of brilliant inventor and businessman Daniel Graystone and she inherited much of his skill: prior to her death, she devised a way of essentially cloning herself digitally, using all of the information about her that existed in various systems, whether uploaded through their equivalent Caprican social media, online games or in her varied purchase history and accounts. After death, Zoe (or a version of Zoe) continued to exist in virtual reality as a kind of avatar.
The thought of being able to digitally clone one’s consciousness is fascinating but I find it equally intriguing to consider the wholeness (or fragmentation) of what we upload and share every day. What I mean is that every day in various social circumstances, we act as different people with discrete personas. When we go to work, we speak and approach situations differently from when we gather for a family dinner, ask a stranger for directions or purchase something over the counter. Depending on who’s with us and how much we trust them, we share more or less of ourselves, omit facts, strive to save face and even lie to protect ourselves and others. We use the Web in virtually the same way, communicating and displaying diverse (perhaps contradictory) elements of ourselves according to the networks and spaces in which we’re operating.
While Caprica portrays a perfect copy of a person (at first), assembled by myriad bits of information uploaded over a lifetime, what if the actual result of this hypothetical practice led to the total opposite?
Think about all the online accounts that you have. These could include your bank account, a governmental health login, eBay and Amazon accounts, that reward program that your signed up for to shut up a salesperson… but perhaps the best example is your social media profiles. I suggest this because they carry the greatest intentionality; while other accounts gather data purely from your mundane clicking through processes or filling out forms, social media profiles create a picture of you that is based on your deliberate publication of thoughts, feelings and milestones.
As an example, consider how some of my following accounts show disparate personas or elements of my personality, which when viewed by others in isolation or without cross-referencing, could give a totally different impression of who ‘Martin’ is:
- Personal Micro.blog and connected Hemispheric Views accounts — Martin is an amateur, independent, tech-focused podcaster and blogger who willingly makes himself known and shares personal moments and photos of his life, including family updates;
- WordPress — Martin is a pretentious writer who shares somewhat Seinfeldian rants in what he repackages as ‘ruminations’, with very few images of himself or others;
- Twitter — Martin is an academic podcaster who also talks about iPods too much and comments on threads connected to tertiary class-code hashtags;
- LinkedIn and Workplace — Martin is a ‘professional’ corporate podcaster, videographer and social media guy who shares stories about employment, branding and industry;
- Facebook — Martin is a virtually blank and faceless person who maintains an account only to manage the page for an academic journal—never to connect or communicate with others—after deleting his original personal account; and
- Discord, Slack and Patreon — depending on the group or subscription, Martin is a podcast producer or listener, a Matrix fan, a film guy, a PhD student or whatever.
Independent, academic, corporate, professional, amateur, known, faceless…
These words, when presented together, seem contradictory. Do they all represent the same person? The answer is obviously ‘yes’, as I’ve shared this with you, but it does show how we adapt our own image and switch personas, depending on the audience. I am a different person at work from what I am at home or when you hear me on Hemispheric Views. Do you really know Martin?
When I factor in all the other data that exists about me as well and circle back to the question of making a perfect digital clone, assuming that the technology could exist, would such a clone even be able to function and understand itself? As human beings, we exist in a constant state of self-contradiction and adaptation. When we reach the singularity, computers will have matched and then surpassed our cognitive abilities, but will they be able contradict themselves intentionally and unintentionally, reflexively or unreflexively, to their own advantage and detriment? Bugs aside, computers are governed by predictable systems and although we are biological machines, we have evolved to be many versions of ourselves in a way that computers can’t and may never be able to do. A digital clone may have all of one’s characteristics but would it know what to do with them? Could a perfect digital clone be imperfectly human?
Now, thinking about all the accounts that you own and social circumstances in which you find yourself every day, how many versions of you are there? Who are you?
This post was originally written in May 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.