Within the next few decades, humanity may be able to achieve a sort of immortality by merging our minds with machines, according to a prominent futurist.
This could mean we live on through androids even after our bodies die, allowing us to attend our own funerals, and get back to life with a ‘highly upgraded body.’
But, according to Dr Ian Pearson, it could also mean you no longer own your mind.
Ian Pearson, “Humans could achieve ‘electronic immortality’ by 2050” at The Daily Mail
He elaborates on his vision for digital immortality at his blog at Futurizon:
Most of my blogs about immortality have been about the technology mechanism – adding external IT capability to your brain, improving your intelligence or memory or senses by using external IT connected seamlessly to your brain so that it feels exactly the same, until maybe, by around 2050, 99% of your mind is running on external IT rather than in the meat-ware in your head. At no point would you ‘upload’ your mind, avoiding needless debate about whether the uploaded copy is ‘you’. It isn’t uploaded, it simply grows into the new platform seamlessly and as far as you are concerned, it is very much still you. One day, your body dies and with it your brain stops, but no big problem, because 99% of your mind is still fine, running happily on IT, in the cloud. Assuming you saved enough and prepared well, you connect to an android to use as your body from now on, attend your funeral, and then carry on as before, still you, just with a younger, highly upgraded body.
He thinks that some people will have to wait until the price of androids falls in about 2060. Presumably, they are stuck in the cloud in the meantime, which gives new meaning to those “heaven” cartoons featuring silly people got up like angels floating on clouds.
The main problem he sees is that you won’t own your mind; a company like Google will:
Suppose you are really creative, or really funny, or have a fantastic personality. Maybe the cloud company could replicate your mind and make variations to address a wide range of markets. Maybe they can use your mind as the UX on a new range of home-help robots. Each instance of you thinks they were once you, each thinks they are now enslaved to work for free for a tech company.
Pearson offers still more fantastic possibilities, including what amounts to a personal multiverse for the rich:
They own their own mind still, and better than that, are able to replicate instances of themselves as much as thy want, inhabiting many androids at the same time to have a ball of a time. Some of these other instances are connected, sort of part of a hive mind of you. Others, just for fun, have been cut loose and are now living totally independent existences of other yous. Not you any more once you set them free, but with the same personal history. More.
Presumably, in his future, the rich can attend their own funerals and alternate world funerals an indefinite number of times, each one numbering as many different people as he wants.
The really interesting thing about this type of science fiction is that it seems to run counter to the well-received idea that our minds are merely an evolved illusion that perpetuates our biological genes. Never mind the fact that, after decades of much ado about the Hard Science of mind, we still don’t have any idea what consciousness is. And if we don’t know what it is, we can’t assess whether even Pearson’s most basic claims are possible.
As cognitive scientist Susan Schneider put it earlier this year at Gizmodo, part of the problem is that quantum mechanics won’t co-operate:
At this point, we do not have a remotely complete picture of what features of the brain give rise to thinking, personality, sensations, etc. If the features involve microscopic, quantum phenomena, then a precise upload of you cannot be created, as there is a fundamental limit on what we can know about a quantum system. (See Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). This would mean we you can’t really upload your mind. Sorry.
And we haven’t even delved into the question: what is a mind? To know whether you survive uploading, it would be important to have a sense of what a mind is. If the mind is just the brain, then, you do not survive. Some say the mind is a program. But a program, like an equation, is an abstract entity. An equation doesn’t exist anywhere, although inscriptions of it do. Presumably, your mind is a concrete thing, having a location. Perhaps you are a program instantiation — some thing, running a program (akin to a computer, in some sense). But what is that thing? This just brings us back to my original question: what is a mind? More.
Or, if everything goes wrong, the technicians could be asking “What was that mind?”
Neurobiologist Miguel A. L. Nicolelis told Beth Elderkin at Gizmodo that “This is just an urban scifi myth that has no scientific merit or backing. It only diminishes the unique nature of our human condition—by comparing it to digital machines—and instills fear on people who do not know better.” doubtless correct, but we should not underestimate the power of the idea to shape attitudes anyway.
Hat tip: Ken Francis
See also: Can we cheat death by uploading ourselves as virtual AI entities? Transhumanism is a curious blip in a science and technology culture in which it is otherwise axiomatic that humans are merely evolved animals
Reconciling mind with materialism, twenty-five years on. Nothing has turned out like the Hard Science of mind people had hoped for.