Minor spoilers for the first few episodes of Altered Carbon ahead.
In Altered Carbon, death is obsolete. Physical bodies are merely containers, or “sleeves,” used for hosting “cortical stacks,” futuristic storage devices that hold your memories and consciousness. If your body dies, your stack (assuming it hasn’t been destroyed) can easily be moved over to a different sleeve. They plug into slots at the back of your neck, in a nod to the Matrix.
While this new technology is certainly miraculous, it also introduces an entirely new set of social issues. Anyone technically can be immortal, but only the rich have access to high-quality bodies, while everyone else has to make do with what they can afford. If you’re poor, a hospital might just stick you into an old and decrepit sleeve. The richest of the rich, or Meths (a shortened reference to Methuselah, from the Bible), naturally end up living the longest. They’ve built a paradise in huge skyscrapers above the clouds, far above the rain- and smog-filled surface world.
Humans being humans, the introduction of practical immortality also means that the rich inevitably end up with more power and influence than before. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of Takeshi Kovacs, a former rebel who’s awakened, 250 years after his last sleeve died, in a new body (played by Joel Kinnaman). It turns out one of the very wealthy, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), needs help solving his own murder. Trippy, I know. At that point, we see yet another advantage of the super-rich. Bancroft can actually back up his consciousness to a secure satellite, which means it isn’t game over if his stack is destroyed. Going a step further, he can also download himself into clones of his original body. Voilà: true immortality.
In Blade Runner, we explored our humanity through cyborgs with limited lifespans. Blade Runner 2049 went even deeper, giving us a cyborg lead who might be more human than he thinks. I didn’t expect Altered Carbon to add much to the conversation, but its rendering of a world where humans no longer fear death seems just as meaningful. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil theorize that we’ll eventually be able to upload our consciousness to computers, which would grant us a sort of digital immortality. Of course, doing so requires us to fully understand how our minds work, which we’re nowhere near grasping yet.