Amy Webb and Greg Daniels Discuss the Amazon Prime TV Series Upload at SXSW

A constant buzzword at this year’s South by Southwest festival is metaverse, which is the 3-D version of the Internet.

It’s also the place where the popular Prime Video series Upload takes place in the year 2034.

And on Friday as the second season of the sci-fi comedy was released on Amazon Prime, Greg Daniels, the show’s creator, writer, and executive producer, did a fireside chat with futurist Amy Webb.

“If you could digitize your memories and you could be hosted as a person somehow in a digital environment it’s an opportunity for people to create their own heaven,” Daniels said. “It would have all the same greed and foolishness that any society created by man has.”

In Upload, Nathan Brown, played by Robbie Amell, gets to choose his own afterlife in a place called Lakeview, by having his consciousness uploaded into a virtual world. In Upload Season two, Nathan is beginning to figure out that he was murdered, and his ex-girlfriend Ingrid, played by Actress Allegra Edwards, shows up in Lakeview but Nathan has grown attached to his customer service angel Nora, played by Actress Andy Allo.

The show, released in 2020, has struck a chord with real-life after Facebook renamed itself Meta and began calling its portal Horizon, which is the name of the portal in Upload, Daniels said.

“The show Upload is not a dystopian look or a Uptonian look, it’s a comedy show,” Daniels said.

For example, in the second season of Upload, KFC and Twitter have merged and Oscar-Meyer has merged with Intel to create the future of meat, Daniels said.

In Upload, tech companies have built out all these beautiful digital experiences based on luxury hotels. And people only exist in them as avatars. The tech companies in this world make money off them in every possible way that they can, Daniels said.

Daniels, who also worked on The Office, Parks and Recreation, King of the Hill, and The Simpsons, has always liked science fiction. At one point, his dream job was to work as a reporter covering science for the New York Times, he said.

Upload allows him to explore all kinds of science fiction ideas like hologram phones, 3D food printers, and prototype babies.

He got the idea for the show when he was working on 30 Rock in New York. He worked next to a bunch of electronics stores and they were advertising CD players as the new thing. That’s when Daniels came up with the notion of digitizing memories, which is a science fiction staple, he said, but it’s also a great satiric premise.

“You bring to heaven the ideas of fairness that would not be there if it was created by a tech company for money,” he said.

At around the same time, Daniels also watched his daughter playing Club Penguin, an online world aimed at children. His daughter asked him for 99 cents to put a television set in her igloo.

And that’s when he realized what it would all be like in the virtual world, Daniels said.

Today, people are spending millions of dollars getting real estate rights in the metaverse and buying virtual goods as Non Fungible Tokens, or NFTs.

Recently someone paid $650,000 for the Metaflower Super Mega Yacht in the virtual game Sandbox, Webb said.

Upload deals with real-life issues in the afterlife of income inequality and environmental degradation, Daniels said.

“I’m looking at the funny side of it,” Daniels said. “The intention of the show is to be entertaining. Some aspects of the content are intense. There is a love story between a living person and someone she can only relate to digitally.”

In Upload, Nora is trying to find a way to upload her dad to the afterlife, Daniels said. Her dad is dying of vape lung. Nathan, who was living an entitled life in Los Angeles, gets this second chance from being uploaded to develop a more compassionate and grounded personality with Nora, Daniels said.

Also in the second season of Upload, viewers find out that Nathan was trying to create an open-source version of the upload metaverse so someone murdered him.

“In the real world, we think about data and ownership and concentrations of power,” Webb said. “It’s so compelling that we are applying these same concepts to death.”

In the show, the interesting thing is digital life extension changes society, Daniels said. People are encouraged to save money for their digital afterlife, he said.

Upload also grapples with what it means to be a person, Daniels said.

“One of the laws we put into the show is that Uploads can’t work,” he said. “They would unfairly compete with living people. Should they be allowed to work, vote, or testify in a lawsuit? “

One of the things Daniels learned at SXSW 2022 is something called pseudonymity which is the near-anonymous state in which a user has a consistent identifier like an avatar, Daniels said. He believes privacy is not dead. He is not on social media at all.

“I just have a writing staff and I force them to go on it,” he said.

He said he believes surveillance capitalism does exist and he joked that he wears tin-foil underwear, and he feels naked without his tin-foil hat.