Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Who wants to live forever?

Immortalization has multiple meanings depending on your interpretation. For some, an imprint of your hands in the Hollywood walk of fame is enough. On a more practical end, Henrietta Lacks has been immortalized via a cell culture (HeLa) taken from her and made to infinitely reproduce in cell cultures around the world. In both these highly contrasting examples there is an obvious deficit. The mind is left behind.

The functionalist adage of uploading your mind on to a computer and living forever as a machine, is an incredibly over-simplified proposal.  How would it work? One thought at a time perhaps.  Would I simply become replicated (nothing simple about it) whereby there could be two versions of me in existence, one digital, one biological? Or would I be uploaded, resulting in a genuine shift in perspective? I've always believed that a replication of my mind resulting in a digital thinking entity which can live separately from me is not living forever as a machine but is creating an impostor which appears to emulate my thoughts. When I die, the lights will go out for me and my view of the world while leaving behind no more than an echo of what I was like. And in the grand scheme of things, who cares?

What if the human race was wiped out, but beforehand we were all copied onto computers which remained after our obliteration.  All that is there is a cloned mind of one person conversing with a cloned mind of another. There is no feeling,only function. Therefore, what is the point? When I speak with a computer program designed to appear human and replicate human speech and idiomatic vernacular, I am provided with the sense of communication with a sentient being even if it is a false one. When you remove the human and let two computers converse there is no appreciation. This is why I feel that simply emulating thought patterns and logical reasoning is not enough to re-create someone.

I would implore people to watch this video which follows on from “the world’s most useless machine”. Upon pushing the button, two things happen; firstly the machine carries out its function and secondly I think about it and give it some meaning. When there are two of these machines opposite ended like in the video, there is no thought.  There is communication without cognition. If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it does it make a sound? Without a person to hear, to appreciate and think , nothing really means anything. Therefore a functioning digital “mind” is just like a load of trees falling. It can be as loud and devastating as imaginable but without a real person there it doesn't matter.
A new app has declared that it can maintain your Facebook and Twitter accounts and status updates after you die. The LivesOn app can spookily make posts, communicate with friends and love ones based on your online persona. I think we can safely say this is not the way we intended living on in the ether.

The futurist Ray Kurzweil, occasionally referred to as a techno-evangelist, has predicted  technological “singularity”. This theory, encouraged by Moores law, predicts that in about 30 years, machines will reach the ability to enormously surpass human cognitive abilities and become super intelligent. In fact, life after the singularity should be beyond our imagination because it is in designed in part by super intelligent entities. Kurzweil postulates a super intelligent machine which is then capable of designing an even more intelligent machine. This continues on exponentially beyond current human comprehension. This is supposedly when we can become advanced enough to merge with technology. 

For those of you in favour of an embodied view of everlasting life, see telomerase. This is an enzyme which has for long been investigated as a biological cure for ageing of all cell types in the body. This keeps an even playing field between mind and body degeneration, more so than mind uploading at least. Additionally, if the mind can’t exist without the body then what about existing in a new cybernetic body to compliment it?

Could an artificial mind feel pain or simply exhibit it? Work has been done into artificial hormones for adaptive robots but are these anything more than just signals and messages to the CPU? What about qualia and emotional content? Can they upload the human spirit? 
It will take more than processing power in my opinion.


  1. If we consider the fact that companies such as DARPA and IBM are working on projects which have for purpose to build a brain with the same contraints as the human brain, it is clear that their final goal is not only to build a brain but to recreate and copy an existing brain.

    Also, the article about cybernetic bodies reminds me of a brilliant short film :

  2. You should watch this episode of Black Mirror. It seems like the gap between satire and truth is getting very slim, especially as regards that LivesOn app you mentioned:


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  4. I guess most people want to live a longer life, but I do think it should be better without the influence of varying diseases, such as cancer, tumor, etc. New drug design might be valued for this special reason.