Immortality. Something that the human race has dreamt of since we understood the concept of death. The ability to live beyond our extremely mortal bodies…
From the famous myths of a fountain of youth to the endless potions of legend that would stop you from aging and keep you alive forever, nothing truly seems to be more than a dream.
But could we have been thinking about this incorrectly for a while now?
Rather than dreaming and attempting to keep our physical bodies alive forever, maybe we need to look somewhere else. What’s something that you use every day. What’s something that has incredible power similar to that of our minds. What are you looking at right now? A thought provoking article surely, but what’s displaying it? A computer; running a program. What else is our mind but a type of computer running a program?
I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer, so it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer and so provide a form of life after death – Stephen Hawking
Many scientists and thinkers are suggesting that the answer to eternal life has literally been right in front of us for a while now. The head of British Telecom’s futurology unit stated that rapid advances in computing power would make cyber-immortality a reality within 50 years. Using the incredible jump in the computing power of the Playstation game systems as an example.
The new PlayStation is one percent as powerful as the human brain,” Pearson told the Observer. “It is into supercomputer status compared to 10 years ago. PlayStation 5 will probably be as powerful as the human brain. – Ian Pearson
Granted that was stated back in 2005, it’s still a valid point. The jump in computing power of all machines is dramatic year after year. In fact Moore’s law states that “over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years”.
More recently Ray Kurzweil suggested that the ability to transfer the entire human mind to a computer will be achievable within four decades.
Based on conservative estimates of the amount of computation you need to functionally simulate a human brain, we’ll be able to expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold. –
We’ve even begun to replicate the functions of a brain. In a study done by The Blue Brain project, Henry Markram and a team successfully simulated the neocortical column of a rat. A complex layer of brain tissue common to all mammals. Although we are still a ways off from replicating the human brain, it is extremely foreseeable that it will exist within many of our lifetimes. Whether it will be affordable to the masses that soon is another question. It could take time for it to become a common and affordable means to an end.
The ability to replicate our brains on a computer is rooted in science. Our mind is essentially a type of computer sending electronic signals similar to a program. If we can decipher this code and construct a powerful enough computer (would need to make 100 trillion connections to match our brain) that can read the code and simulate consciousness, we will be able to put our mind on it.
Currently, the closest we have come to building a functional model of the human brain, a crucial step on the pathway toward downloading consciousness, is a series of cortical simulations. These simulations, which have utilized the very best in computer technology, such as IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer, have successfully emulated the processing power of a brain possessing 1.6 billion neurons—about the equivalent of a cat brain in terms of neuron numbers alone. But even these extremely complex models, run on some of the best computer hardware in existence, lag behind the actual processing power of their biological counterparts. – Stanford.edu
There are continuous advances in computational genetics supporting the claim that mind transfer is the key to human immortality. Massive supercomputers are beginning to simulate the mind. Leaders in A.I. (artificial intelligence) are developing robots/machines that can think, reason and learn by mimicking the brain. Computer interfaces that can read the signals in your mind are quickly advancing as well. Here’s a definition of a way mind uploading could work from scientist Randal Koene:
‘The functions of mind that we experience are originally implemented through neurobiological mechanisms, the neural circuitry of our brains. If the same functions are implemented in a different operating substrate, populated with parameters and operating such that they produce the same results as they would in the brain, then that mind has become substrate-independent. It is a substrate-independent mind (SIM) by being able to function in different operating substrates. The popular term ‘mind uploading’ can refer to the process of transfer, moving a specific substrate-independent mind from one operating substrate (e.g., the biological brain) to another.
While it may seem evidently possible, some still highly doubt the possibility. Saying that recreating the consciousness of a human is far fetched. For example, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis in an interview with MIT Technology Review, stated that the theory of technological singularity is just a bunch of hot air. Saying that humans will never be able to download/program their thoughts and/or memories into computers.
There are a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a computer. You could have all the computer chips ever in the world and you won’t create a consciousness. –
I think the biggest point that goes against this as a possibility is post-upload skepticism. We will never really know if it works, even if it has appeared to. If you successfully transfer someones brain and they come to life in a computer stating that they remember everything and are themselves, how do you know it’s actually that person’s true self and not just a successful copy. This uncertainty that instead of moving our minds, we simply copied ourselves would never really go away. How do you know that you’re actually not just killing yourself and uploading a copied mind onto a computer…It’s a creepy thought.
It’s not possible, as we currently understand it, to measure if something has consciousness. Uploading will require a sort of leap of faith. And you won’t be able to rely on what uploaded beings say as they could just as likely be a perfectly copied human that functions completely like the original person, but isn’t actually them.
Think of it like a game of chess. If I tell you the moves, you can faithfully replicate the gameplay. But you know nothing whatsoever of the textures of the pieces, or indeed, whether they have any textures at all (perhaps I played online). Likewise, I think, the same can be said with the textures of consciousness. The possibility of substrate-independent minds needs to be distinguished from the possibility of substrate-independent qualia. –
Regardless of all the noise about the possibility and lack thereof of mind uploading, it is without a doubt a great shot at allowing humans to exist beyond our current bodily limits. So why not investigate and test it as much as possible. When you’re on your death bead, why not give it a shot and transfer to a computer. Either you’ll come to life on a computer or you’ll die and a perfectly functioning copy of you will appear. Is that not life in and of itself? If it functions like you and reacts like you, is it not you? Just because you had a split second of unconsciousness during transfer doesn’t mean you’re not you…or does it?