Last week I ran across Martine Rothblatt’s new book, "Virtually Human: The Promise - and the Peril - of Digital Immortality." In this philosophically evocative tome, Rathblatt describes a not-so-distant future world where exact digital copies of humans which she calls, mindclones, co-exist with traditionally conceived (pun intended) organic beings.

Last week I ran across Martine Rothblatt’s new book, "Virtually Human: The Promise - and the Peril - of Digital Immortality." In this philosophically evocative tome, Rathblatt describes a not-so-distant future world where exact digital copies of humans which she calls, mindclones, co-exist with traditionally conceived (pun intended) organic beings.


She further hypothesizes the existence of a unique digital consciousness called "bemans," which are not based on any particular human individual. Whether mindclone or beman, both are able to think, reason and feel just like us.


This trek down well-trodden futurism gets philosophically deep almost instantly — think jumping into a well. This book is nothing if not an explosion of ethical, moral, legal and biting social questions.


Some may read this and dismiss it as impossible hogwash. Assuming the technology did exist, the world it begets would likely bear little resemblance to the one from which it came. Even so, there’s a part of me that can imagine it.


My ease stems from work I did as a doctoral student. I wanted to know how many police officers it would take to make a town wholly crime-free. This is a question we couldn’t test in the real world. So, I used a type of computer simulations called agent-based modeling.


In my models, I constructed virtual cities, seeded them with different kinds of people —- often with competing interests and varying proclivities to crime. Most were ordinary citizens. A few were police.


I devised thousands of simulations. Imagine a small office with as many computers and coffee cups as you could cram into it. I lived that way for a year as I watched my cities revolt and lie quiescent. The populations churned and the cops did the best they could.


Out of the ten thousand or so simulations that I ran, no two produced exactly identical results, but this was no simple mathematical parlor trick. Often the models did wildly unexpected things — things for which I had written absolutely no code.


To be sure I don’t think I Dr. Frankenstein-ed a bunch of blips on a screen into a new life-form, but they sure looked like they were thinking about stuff. To be precise, they were calculating, but not most assuredly not thinking.


I say all this to make the point that my models contained only a few hundred lines of code. If my models were a slingshot, Candy Crush is an Atlas rocket.


As such, scientists who are really good at this kind of thing might be able to create worlds few of us can imagine. Which brings us back to the real question: If you could live for centuries or millennia in some hybrid form, would you want to?


I’ve asked several friends what they might want. I’ve gotten a number of amazing answers, answers that really drill down to essence of what it is to be alive.


The answers I liked best had a strong element of context. People liked the idea of long lives, but only if they could be in the company of the folks they loved. To live otherwise was, in their opinion, tantamount to a vampiric solitude. One might be awake and sensate but hardly alive.


Others wondered if such technology would obviate organic humans. Rothblatt addresses this and many other difficult issues in her complex treatise.


I’m not sure I agree wholly with her conclusions. More importantly, I’m not sure how I feel about the whole near-immortality thing, either. In many ways, our lives are not our own. They are what they are because of those around us. I happen to like the deal I got in that regard.


To sum, I am conflicted; and I am reminded of a line from the Addams Family Broadway musical where Grandma tells Pugsley, "That’s life, kid. You lose the thing you love."


Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Albany and who has advised police agencies around the country. He writes from Pine Bluff. Contact him at pate.matthew@gmail.com.