The instinct of self-preservation and unwillingness to die are inherent in us. Well, at least most people don’t want to die intentionally. Since the time of primitive tribes, various religions and cults have been accompanying us, preaching the immortality of the human non-material soul (since the material body has ceased to show signs of life). But with high probability it’s just self-deception, beautiful tales designed to lull fear. No more. And modern science only confirms this. At the very least, there are no facts in favor of the soul, much less the truth of religions. Therefore, now scientists are thinking about ways to gain real immortality. Two main directions can be distinguished here: biological immortality (unlimited extension of life) and digital immortality (transfer of consciousness to a computer). The author of the post is inclined to the second option and considers it a more promising direction. Although he does not completely abandon the first, at least until the second is realized.
Digital immortality is usually understood as the replacement of the natural brain with an artificial non-biological one (it should be noted that an artificial brain does not have to be digital). And there are two ways to do this: copying consciousness and gradual transfer.
Why is copying consciousness not immortality?
Most often, when speaking of digital immortality, people mention copying consciousness onto a digital medium, calling it “mind uploading”. And undeservedly they forget about the second method. But if you reflect on the loading of consciousness, it will become clear that this is not immortality at all. And that’s why…
1. The information is the same, but the objects are different.
Let’s say we have two books. The content in them is the same. From the point of view of the text, we can say that this is the same book. But physical objects are characterized not only by information, but also at least by their position in space. That is, our two books are two different objects. They contain the same information, but they cannot occupy the same space coordinates at the same time. In addition, when storing books in different conditions, their states over time will differ more and more.
Now let’s take two identical neural networks in the form of a program that have the same memory and control the same robots. These two neural networks are two different entities. Of course, at the beginning they contain the same information, but they cannot occupy the same amount of space at the same time (information in a computer takes up a certain amount; more precisely, something that carries a unit of information). In addition, when training neural networks in different conditions, their conditions, over time, will differ more and more.
As you already know, a person, or rather his brain, is a complex neural network. Accordingly, everything stated above applies to it. Copying consciousness is not immortality, because a new similar but still different object appears. Copying is a method of reproduction, no more.
2. Death is the end of the existence of the system.
What is death? Death is an irreversible termination of the functioning of the system.
For a person, death is the cessation of brain functioning. Have you ever wondered why the brain never temporarily shuts down throughout life, huh?
Accordingly, immortality is the continuous functioning of the system, and for the human brain.
If the brain turns off, the person is dead. But if we still have a copy of it, then we should recall the first paragraph. Maybe for relatives and friends this will be immortality, but for a deceased person it will not be. Since his consciousness has ceased to function. Finally and irrevocably.
1. The copy is not the original, but a new independent object.
2. Immortality is continuous functioning.
So what is digital immortality?
Given all this, digital immortality can only be called the transfer of a continuously functioning consciousness from a biological neural network to an artificial non-biological one. There are at least two ways to do this. It should be noted that they are suitable not only for transferring consciousness from an organic medium to an artificial one, but also from an old artificial to a new one.
1. Gradual replacement of natural neurons with artificial ones.
This is the most reliable way to replace an organic carrier of consciousness with an artificial one. At least here it is clear in which direction to move.
As you know, the death (or birth) of several neurons does not affect the functioning of the brain as a whole. Therefore, if you develop a nanorobot (or microbot) that processes signals in the same way as a neuron does, then you can slowly and consistently replace natural neurons with artificial ones. And in the end, consciousness will completely move to an artificial carrier.
2. Connecting to the brain artificial systems that work with similar signals in a similar way.
This method is closer to embodiment “in metal” than the first. And the fact is that conventional electronics has learned to some extent to work with the same signals as the brain. But there are no suitable nanorobots yet.
By giving people the opportunity to connect to additional computing power and devices, we can provide a solution to the problem of transference to the human mind itself. If a person can connect to an external observation camera of some mechanism, “seeing” the image as if with his own eyes, then, doing this regularly, due to neuroplasticity, his consciousness will perceive this camera as another sensory organ. If at the same time give him the opportunity to connect to an external device that provides additional memory and computing power, the mind will be able to adapt and begin to perceive this device as part of itself. Continuing this gradual integration, you can force the consciousness to completely and independently move to a new medium.
Why is transfer not copying?
As mentioned above, copying is the process of creating a new object similar to the original. In the case of a transfer of consciousness, copying does not occur. For the brain as a system remains in a single instance, that is, an equivalent system with similar information does not appear in another area of space. Well, in fact, does the distributed computing network cease to be itself when replacing some computers with new ones and becomes its copy instead? Of course not.
In addition, the functioning of the brain as a system does not stop during the transfer of consciousness.
What are the advantages of digital immortality over biological?
There are definitely advantages. And given their presence, we can say that biological immortality with high probability is an intermediate step to digital immortality.
These are the advantages:
1. The computer is limited by the laws of physics. But the nervous system is still limited by the laws of biology. And the laws of chemistry have a significant effect on it.
2. The speed of the computer is many times higher than the speed of the brain.
3. Computer memory is better than brain memory.
4. Communication between computers is more perfect than biological communication.
5. The computer is more reliable than the nervous system.
6. Unlike the brain, a computer can operate in large intervals of environmental parameters. For instance in difficult conditions, including the fatal ones for humans.
7. The computer does not require such a fragile and not reliable body.
8. The computing machine manages a more reliable energy supply system and is not whimsical to the energy source.
9. You can connect to the computer much more diverse and reliable sensors and “effectors” than it has an organic body. That is, the consciousness, being in a computer, can have a body with limited functionality only by the laws of physics, arbitrarily different from the functionality of an organic body.
Instead of a conclusion
However, a huge amount of research is still required in the fields of neurobiology, nanotechnology, electronics and physics. Before transferring consciousness to a computer. It may even turn out (although this is extremely unlikely in the opinion of the author of the post) that the “Hameroff-Penrose Theory” is correct, and for the complete transfer of consciousness we will have to develop a special quantum computer.
One way or another, all these studies bring the transformation of a human into a transhuman with greater capabilities and life expectancy than now. However, the validity of one or another point of view will be shown only by time.