What do you think of a "Matrix" scenario where instead of bothering to capture the entire universe, humans achieve just enough to create a sustainable virtual simulation for a billion people, and then disconnect from the real world forever as AGI robots manage the server farms? Would be especially easy with digital humans, but seems doable with physical humans too.
But I'd guess the ability to do this sort of tweak would follow pretty quickly.
After reading your latest post on temporary copies, I'm thinking that this would quickly become the #1 priority for brain simulation research. In a real life analogy, humans very quickly abandoned horses in favor of cars, as having a tool that works 24/7 without complaint is much better than a temperamental living being. So the phase of copies being treated with dignity would be relatively short-lived up until the underlying circuitry could be tweaked to make it morally okay to force simulations to work 24/7 without them "suffering" in any way, as they would be incapable of negative emotion.
Now, allowing for unlimited tweaking of brain circuitry does make for bad science fiction (i.e. the mmacevedo short story breaks down in a world where its possible) but I suspect it would be the ultimate endpoint for virtual workers.
The reason I think digital people could come in the next few decades is different: I think we could invent something else (mainly, advanced artificial intelligence) that dramatically speeds up scientific research.
I'm a little confused on this part. If we have advanced AI that is capable of constructing a digital human simulation, wouldn't it also by proxy be advanced enough to be conscious on its own, without the need for anything approximating human beings? I can imagine humans wanting to create copies of themselves for various purposes but isn't it much more likely for completely artificial silicon-first entities to take over the galaxy? Those entities wouldn't have the need for any human pleasures and could thus conquer the universe much more efficiently than any "digital humans" ever could.
Then people might make digital copies of themselves that they ran experiments on, forced to do work, and even open-sourced, so that anyone running a server could make and abuse copies.
If we get to a point where "digital people" are possible, can we expect to be able to tweak the underlying circuitry to eliminate the concept of pain and suffering altogether, creating "humans" incapable of experiencing anything but joy, no matter what happens to them? Its really hard to imagine from a biological human perspective but anything is possible in a digital world and this wouldn't necessarily make these "humans" any less productive.
As a corollary, do we have a reason to believe that "digital humans" will want to experience anything other than 24/7 heroin-like euphoria in their "down time", rather than complex experiences like zero-g? Real-life humans cannot do that as our bodies quickly break down from heroin exposure, but digital ones won't have such arbitrary limitations.