Altered Carbon

Altered carbon is a science fiction book that takes place years in the future. It is well written, exciting and realistic. It may soon be made into a feature film according to Wikipedia. The science fiction parts of the book blend well into an intricate detective story. The most noteworthy technology the book explores is one in which a person’s entire mind is able to be downloaded into a new body.  This same technology also allows for immortality because if a person is killed their mind can then simply be downloaded to a new body. This is only possible if the “stack” – the device that records a person’s memories and personality- is recovered so you can also be “really dead.” A very similar technology was employed in the series “dollhouse.” However, Altered Carbon focuses more on the consequences of very long lifespans than did dollhouse.

The possibility that technology might allow people to live indefinitely is a major theme in books about the singularity. Kurzweil and others argue that we will reach a point within a few decades where technology is able to cure virtually any aliment including aging itself. Altered Carbon deals extensively with the potential psychological implications of living a life that spans centuries.

Altered Carbon also explores in fiction another idea that was discussed in books about the singularity by dealing with the implications of being able to change your physical body. Kurzweil has written that today our physical form is a major part of how we define ourselves. Even today people can explore different embodiments through primitive technology like second life. In the future of Altered Carbon one could experience this much more authentically.

One area in which some futurists might disagree with the future vision displayed in Altered Carbon is its focus on scarcity. In this future where technology has reached a near magical level poverty somehow remains a major problem. This may be a plot device or a function of the author’s dystopian views on the future.  But, in a genre which frequently forces the reader to overlook things this is a small detail. Overall it is an excellent book.

I don’t know that the author of this book is familiar with the concept of the singularity. Maybe he just imagines the same technology a futurist would but on a longer time horizon, the book does take place 500 years in the future. Either way, I would recommend Altered Carbon as an enjoyable and interesting read.

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