21 April 2008


I just finished reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow, editor of BoingBoing and also a well known scifi writer (pioneering giving his work away for free in every format imaginable). There's lots of fun things going on in this book's near future but two of the main ones are the obsolescence of death and the replacement of money as the most important currency.

People don't die anymore because they can, at any point, be restored from a mental backup and a physical clone. Some people die weekly, some people only die a few times; everybody lives forever. The only caveat is that if you forget to back up, you could lose the time between your last backup and your restoration. Sometimes, that's a great thing. For example, if you have had a terrible six month relationship you'd rather forget about, you can just revert to a backup copy from before that period.

The other thing is that since you can live forever, boredom is a huge issue. For those people, you can go into sleep mode, "deadhead," for a few decades or hundreds of years and then be resurrected when life might be more interesting.

The other innovation, Whuffie, replaces money by measuring how much respect you receive from people around you. The computer implant in your head -- you're always connected to the net -- automatically gives your stamp of approval to the people around you for good (or bad) actions. You think so-and-so is awesome? Their Whuffie goes up. With high esteem and a good rep, you get perks like better seats at a concert or a restaurant. It more or less functions like money but is centered around good deeds. It's a way to identify and tag assholes basically.

Looking around at most of the social networking sites, this constant measuring of personal reputation is exactly what is happening. Amazon, eBay, Xanga, MySpace, all of these things are promoting getting rep from your friends and fans and then using your rep as currency. Actually, that's pretty much how Google works. Your site gets ranked higher when people link to you and the more influential their site is, the more heavily weighted their vote toward your awesomeness counter is. Whuffie is probably right around the corner.

Doctorow is known for riding the technology curve out to a technological singularity, which is when, as explained in this review, "...sophisticated technologies like nanotech, biotech, life-extension, and human-level machine intelligence would transform life completely."

I, for one, can't wait. Given a chance, I'd deadhead right past this decade and into the next one.