A new meaning to New Year, New Me

As I was browsing Netflix in search of a new show – an extremely terrible idea with finals’ season approaching – a trailer for a new Netflix original series began to play. After being in this class for nearly a full semester, the first lines of the preview immediately caught my attention:

“Your body is not who you are. You shed it like snake sheds its skin.”

So, against my better judgement, I watched the first episode of Altered Carbon. (Don’t worry, I will not spoil anything). The show centers on the character Takeshi Kovacs who has just awoken in a new body after 250 years ‘on ice.’ While this is extraordinary to me, and I am assuming to you readers as well, for him and everyone else in his society this body replacement is perfectly normal. In this sci-fi universe, set about 300 years into the future, everyone gets a “stack” implanted at the base of their skull when they turn one. Each person’s stack stores and codes their consciousness. When they die their stack can be implanted into a new body, or “sleeve,” and they can continue living, but only if they can afford it. Sleeves are extremely limited. Thus far, it has not been made explicitly clear, but these sleeves seem to be the bodies of prisoners. Regardless, no one truly dies unless their stack is destroyed. It is technology that permits brain transplantation and with slightly less mess than previously imagined.

This kind of innovation would completely change the human perception of life and death. Humans would be able to outlive their own bodies. It would put immortality within reach. If someone had the means, they could go on living indefinitely. But brain transplantation would also create huge ethical dilemmas. We would have to determine if it is even morally sound to inhabit a new body. We would be forced to decide whose bodies would be for sale. Would we, like this show, use prisoners? Or, like Get Out, kidnap Black people? Or use losers in wars? Or would we, by then, have the technology to upload people into robots? We would also have to decide who could receive a new body, at what point in their lives, and how many times they could be transplanted. It would change everything.

Do you think our society will ever reach this point? Do you think brain transplantation is ethical? What are your ideas on whose bodies should/would be used? Would you ever want to be put into a new body?

3 responses to “A new meaning to New Year, New Me

  1. Laken Smothers

    This is an interesting blog post Nadia! As you were describing how the process works, I immediately thought of the movie Get Out. I think immortality in general seems like a wonderful idea, since it is what we have been working towards this whole time. We are constantly trying to figure out what will add time to our lives and want to know what is shortening them. However, I can already see a problem when economics, race, gender, and other identity-based categories are used as the determinant of whether someone is worthy to have their consciousness uploaded into another body. I’m not sure brain transplantation is ethical because the factors that make someone eligible would also need to be ethical. I think the question of where to get the bodies is a big deal. In some ways I see similarities between this and organ transplantation. Instead of cutting the person open instead you just upload someone else into them. If everyone is saving their consciousness, whose body would be used since everyone would want to extend their life? I’m not sure I would want to be uploaded into someone else’s body because reality is they aren’t me, not really. If our society ever reaches this point I think it could be really dangerous. Right now, I can only really imagine this as some type of black market procedure that only wealthy people can access. Will funerals still be held if the person’s conscious is not lost, just their body?

  2. Kike Afolabi-Brown

    Hi Nadia! This was a really interesting post! I’ll definitely have to watch it some time! And to answer the questions you have, I’m not sure if society would ever reach this point. I would like to say no with absolute confidence but it’s really unclear how far science will take us and if boundaries would be set. This just sounds like another effort to both perfect society and extend life in a revolutionary way. We’ve already done both, to some degree, with the technology that we currently have. Scientists are genetically modifying food and people. Also, the definition of life and when or when not to end it is definitely a popular ethical debate. I’m not sure if society would want to complicate things even further by allowing people to exchange skin or transplant themselves into other bodies. I think allowing this would create major rifts in society and could definitely become a race or class issue. At the same time, if people find some compelling reason to justify this idea, there would surely be numerous supporters. I would like to say that I wouldn’t be one of them though. It seems too unusual to me, but maybe the show will convince me?

  3. This seems like a really good show! I love dystopian, futuristic books/ shows and this is definitely one that I’ll have to add to my watchlist (since I have no self-control when it comes to binge watching tv shows). It really reminded me of the movie “In Time,” which is about how people in the future are genetically engineered to stop aging after their 25th birthday. After this, they have a year left to live, but the twist is that they have to use their remaining minutes as “money,” thus making time the universal currency. As a result, the rich are able to live forever because they have an indefinite number of minutes while the poor “time out” and die when their countdown reaches zero. Similar to the show on Netflix, this creates a disparity between economic classes and determines who gets to live and who dies.

    I honestly don’t think we’re too far off the time scale from achieving this. I remember hearing about how the first human head transplant was “successfully” done on a corpse. In 2017, Dr. Sergio Canavero announced that he had accomplished an 18-hour surgery on a body in which he transplanted the head of a donor corpse onto a donor body. He prefaced this with his success on earlier experiments where he removed the head of a rat and placed it onto another rat, resulting in a ‘Frankenstein rat’ with two heads on one body. The rat survived; however, it only lived for a couple of days. While this isn’t exactly on the level of the “stack” and “sleeve,” it is a small step towards that direction. I would never personally be in favor of doing this myself, but I recognize that we’ve come a long way in the past decade technologically and we continue to advance exponentially. Who knows what new technologies we’ll have in the next few decades?

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