Altered Carbon

by Richard K Morgan


While a Sci-Fi novel may not be a business reference book, the ideas contained in this amazing novel help us shift our perspectives on ideas of humanity using a simple idea that human minds can be digitised and stored. This idea leads to a number of possible changes in how humans can live:

    • The ultra rich can live forever - in the book they are called Meths (short for Methuselah) because they can afford to have remote back ups of their minds and can clone new bodies (or buy other bodies to live in). What sort of people want to live forever, what does it do to your mind if you live for 400 years and move from body to body, what does it mean for love and emotional relationships? Can you imagine being married to someone for 350 years? (Chris - you should be so lucky)
    • How lives change if you can be revived using a digital storage of your mind. People can take risks they would not normally take.
    • If we can live forever, will this change our attitude to having children and how will this impact on population levels?
    • In a world where people mostly do not die, then what do you do to criminals who totally kill someone, the ultimate crime, by killing their body and destroying or erasing their cortical stack?
    • If you suspend belief and assume that such a digitisation can occur then what is the relationship between the mind and the body? If someone you love has their body destroyed but their mind survives and is inserted into a different body can you still love that person? How much of our feelings are affected by the chemicals and pheromone reactions between our bodies?
    • Is such a digitisation possible - is it possible to upload human consciousness. Some people today, such as Ray Kurzweil, believe that this will be possible in the not too distant future and that consciousness is an emergent property of our complex brains. Therefore they believe that it is possible make a 'thinking machine' that will have its own consciousness once we gain the ability to make machines that are complex enough - the great leap forward, Terminator, or just fantasy - take your pick.
    • What does such a change have on our views about spirituality and religion? In the book the Catholics have caveats on being revived or inserted into another body.
    • If this happened to us, how would it affect how we lived our lives?
    • If we spent all our time and energy earning enough money so we could afford a 'new' body to move into what would it mean to our relationships? Would we ignore what is good about life in order to get more of it?

As futurists a major part of our role is to help people see different perspectives on how they see themselves, the world and their organisation. The ability to tell a story where these issues are raised in an easy and entertaining manner is much better than deep and dense philosophical books on the same subject. I loved this book and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the genre and/or these issues. It is the first of a series of three novels with the same character.