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Can We Really Cheat Death by Downloading Our Brains?

Through the ages, we have thought of unique ways to avoid death. Could the internet and artificial intelligence help?

Last October, Jay Richards, author of The Human Advantage, caught up with Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks, a Baylor University computer engineering prof, at COSM 2019 to ask, what are our cheat-death chances?

They were responding to futurist Ray Kurzweil’s heady claims made at the conference that we will merge with computers by 2045 and live on as AI.

Richards and Marks reflected on Kurzweil’s claims and the thoughts of the panel responding to them. Here’s a partial transcript:

Jay Richards: He’s (Kurzweil, below right) very much a sort of, I’d say, a techno-optimist. And in fact, he sort of thinks we’re going to get brain scans and upload ourselves, whereas the panel… Though I know there was a diversity of opinion among the panelists, nevertheless, there was, I thought, a strong dose of realism. Optimism about what we can do but also realism as to the limits.

Robert J. Marks: Yeah. One of the things the panel kind of debunked from that philosophy was the idea that we are actually downloadable. There’s part of us in our brains, that can not be captured by computer code, that is not algorithmic. And so therefore, that non-algorithmic part can’t be uploaded. You can only upload the algorithmic part of your brain. I mean, there are algorithmic things we do like add numbers and things of that sort, but other aspects, such as creativity and qualia, experiencing things, those are not algorithmic and they cannot be replicated in a computer.

Note: The basic problem, as Marks discussed recently with Selmer Bringsjord, is that human minds aren’t “computable.” Peter and Jane are not bits and bytes. Much that is human is not computable because it is non-algorithmic and computers deal only in algorithms.

Jay Richards: Well, that’s the odd thing about this discussion now. And Elon Musk apparently believes this, that maybe we’re actually just part of a simulation, a computer simulation. But how do you simulate first person perspective? I mean, I don’t even know that that’s actually all that well-formulated or even coherent.

Robert J. Marks: Well, actually, that’s very interesting because I think there’s a presupposition on Musk’s part that we are indeed algorithmic. That we can actually be represented by an algorithm, by a computer code… There’s good foundations and algorithmic information theory and computer science, which suggest that there are indeed non-algorithmic phenomena and there’s a strong evidence that the qualities such as creativity and understanding and qualia, are above and beyond the capabilities of algorithms and computability.

Note: As philosopher Sean Torrance Kelly points out, creativity does not follow computational rules, which is why it cannot be reduced to an algorithm. As computer pioneer Ada Lovelace realized, well over a century ago, computers do only what they are told.

Robert J. Marks: I think that a lot of people would say that there’s an equality sign between the artificial and the natural intelligence and people like Dr. Kurzweil—whom I respect in terms of his many technical accomplishments—believes that there is a materialistic model that he must adhere to. And that materialistic model is that the brain is a computer.

And that goes along with Marvin Minsky, one of the founders of artificial intelligence and other people, whereas there’s evidence from neuroscience and neurosurgeons that indeed that isn’t the case. That the mind is… There’s something greater than the brain involved with the mind.

Note: Modern medicine is coming to terms with that fact. In recent decades, more and more researchers are shedding light on the reality of the mind, even though popular science media continue to cover the mind as if it were merely the burps of the brain.

Here’s the playlist from COSM to date.


More on our proposed merger with machines (before you buy your ticket):

Transhumanism—is it a dangerous idea? Some Silicon Valley greats hope to merge with machines to live forever. But what then? The late philosopher Jerry Fodor (1935—2017) said that the reason “we’re all materialists” is that the alternatives seem even worse. Transhumanism, had he lived to see its further development, might end up giving him pause for further reflection.

Will we become mere apps of our smart computers?

Is Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity now nearer—or impossible? In response to Kurzweil’s talk at the COSM Technology Summit, panelists noted that AI achievements are revolutionary in size but limited by their nature in scope

Tech pioneer Ray Kurzweil: We will merge with computers by 2045 For computers, “Even the very best human is just another notch to pass,” he told the COSM Technology Summit

What if technology caused some people to live forever? What would it mean for them and for the rest of us? The authors also warn, “We can be pretty certain, for instance, that rejuvenation would widen the gap between the rich and poor, and would eventually force us to make decisive calls about resource use, whether to limit the rate of growth of the population, and so forth.”

and

But could techno-immortality ever be the real thing? Oxford mathematician John Lennox looks at Ray Kurzweil’s techno-immortality from a Christian perspective


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Can We Really Cheat Death by Downloading Our Brains?