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October 11, 2013 1:09 pm
Imagine you going out on a date with yourself – not a sexy date, just coffee. You’d be meeting yourself somewhere neutral and non-stalkery like a Caffè Nero, and you’d do it about 11am which, science will some day prove, is the least sexual time of the day.
But let me be clearer here. You wouldn’t be going on a date with someone with identical DNA to yours – a twin or triplet, say. Rather, you’d be going on a date with the one person on earth whom some super-intelligent computer had picked to be your date – the one person on the planet who is, in as many modes as possible, identical to you. In theory, this preselected date could be much older or much younger or way richer than you, but that’s doubtful: chances are you’d be nearly identical in age, history, income, musical tastes and … it’s a long list. Your date might possibly even be the opposite gender – but probably not, because this computer’s only matchmaking criterion is to locate the person on Earth who most completely and totally resembles you in IQ, politics, religion, morality, sexual tastes, humour, childhood experience, adulthood experiences and pretty much everything else. So chances are your date is going to be the same sex as you.
So then, how would your date go? It’s not self-flattery to think that you’d probably like yourself greatly – this is someone to whom you don’t have to explain anything – they already know you! They are you! And just think of all the things you could recommend to each other and all the things you could warn each other away from: movies, businesses, churches, foods, countries, hotels, other people … Fun!
But on the other hand, what if you met yourself and it was merely … boring. There’s only so long you can look into a mirror before life moves on. So maybe you’d come away from your coffee shrugging and saying, well, that was relatively interesting.
Much more plausibly, though, you might come away from your encounter disgusted by yourself. It’s human nature to dislike in others the traits you dislike in yourself, and this would certainly be the test. But the silver lining there would be that you’d quickly learn all the things about yourself that need fixing. Your date would be a self-help blessing in disguise.
Let’s push this further. What if this crazy-smart supercomputer also introduced you to the next 10 people as similar to you as possible? Collectively, the dozen of you would actually be just one person more or less spread around equally among 12 bodies. And chances are you’d all probably get along quite well, too. Maybe you’d all move in together. You’d almost be like a cult house: “Ooh, it’s those scary people who all think and believe everything exactly alike. Stay away.”
Let’s take it further still. What if the computer selected the 1,000 people just like you. Or 10,000 people. At what number would you draw the line: “Nah – that person’s just too different from me”? Criminal proclivities? Dull conversationalist? Kinky stuff? Opposite gender? But then here’s an idea: what if, say, you were having a personal crisis and you genuinely needed solid advice? Who better to seek counsel from than your calm, detached doppelgängers? You could basically crowd source personal problems and ideas entirely by “yourself”.
Now, let’s go to the next level. What if the date-making computer selected the 51 per cent of the people in your country most like you? You could get together and form a political party and you’d have very little dissent among yourselves. The “You” party would instantly win. You’d rule! But at what point do you draw the line in identity? Leftwing versus rightwing? Beatles fans versus Stones fans? Atheists versus theists? Chocolate fans versus vanilla?
A discussion like this sounds like a parlour game in 2013 but in 20 years, trillions of petabytes of memory and speed at your fingertips will allow you to find your spiritual doppelgängers with an app that you’ll probably get bored of within a few days. If Google has taught us anything, it’s how cavalier people quickly become with even the most astonishing technologies.
Voting will morph into something new altogether. If people are still going to the ballot box, you’ll be able to tell how many of them took an elevator that day, whether or not they pushed the door-close button, what colour shirt they had on and how many other voters they interacted with that day, with a transcript of everything they said available on demand, with key search words allowing you instantly to determine whether any of them were planning on sex that night. Or buying laundry detergent. And then you can find the square root of every phone number used on Earth during the last 15 minutes and … You get the point: pretty much infinite amounts of data and infinite numbers of ways in which to toy with it.
So the largest question here regarding voting is who will decide the definition of the new 51 per cent. What criteria and algorithms will be used? Because this is the true future of voting: it’s you dating yourself. Be yourself.
Douglas Coupland is the author of ‘Generation X’. His latest novel, ‘Worst. Person. Ever.’, is published by Heinemann
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