The Road to Immortality

Here’s what happens. You are lying on an operating table, fully conscious, but rendered otherwise insensible, otherwise incapable of movement. A humanoid machine appears at your side, bowing to its task with ceremonial formality. With a brisk sequence of motions, the machine removes a large panel of bone from the rear of your cranium, before carefully laying its fingers, fine and delicate as a spider’s legs, on the viscid surface of your brain. You may be experiencing some misgivings about the procedure at this point. Put them aside, if you can.

There’s no backing out now. With their high-resolution microscopic receptors, the machine fingers scan the chemical structure of your brain, transferring the data to a powerful computer on the other side of the operating table. 

They are sinking further into your cerebral matter now, these fingers, scanning deeper and deeper layers of neurons, building a three-dimensional map of their endlessly complex interrelations, all the while creating code to model this activity in the computer’s hardware. As the work proceeds, another mechanical appendage – less delicate, less careful – removes the scanned material to a biological waste container for later disposal. This is material you will no longer be needing.

“At some point, you become aware. . .you are no longer present in your body” 

At some point, you become aware that you are no longer present in your body. You observe – with sadness, or horror, or detached curiosity – the diminishing spasms of that body on the operating table, the last useless convulsions of a discontinued meat.

The animal life is over now. Your machine life has begun.

This, more or less, is the scenario outlined by Hans Moravec, a professor of cognitive robotics at Carnegie Mellon, in his 1988 book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence. It is Moravec’s conviction that the future of the human species will involve a mass-scale desertion of our biological bodies, effected by procedures of this kind. It’s a belief shared by many transhumanists, a movement whose aim is to improve our bodies and minds to the point where we become something other and better than the animals we are. Ray Kurzweil, for one, is a prominent advocate of the idea of mind-uploading. “An emulation of the human brain running on an electronic system,” he writes in The Singularity Is Near, “would run much faster than our biological brains.

In Arthur C Clarke’s The City and the Stars, a novel set a billion years from now, a superintelligent Central Computer, creates bodies for the city’s posthuman citizens and stores their minds in its memory banks at the end of their lives, for purposes of reincarnation. The relevant science for whole brain emulation is, as you’d expect, hideously complicated, and its interpretation deeply ambiguous, but if you scan the pertinent information in a person’s brain – the neurons, the endlessly ramifying connections between them, the information-processing activity of which consciousness is seen as a byproduct – through whatever technology, or combination of technologies, becomes feasible first (nanobots, electron microscopy, etc), that scan then becomes a blueprint for the reconstruction of the subject brain’s neural networks, which is then converted into a computational model. Finally, you emulate all of this on a third-party non-flesh-based substrate: some kind of supercomputer or a humanoid machine designed to reproduce and extend the experience of embodiment – something, perhaps, like Natasha Vita-More’s Primo Posthuman.

The whole point of substrate independence, is that it would be like no one thing, because there would be no one substrate, no one medium of being. This was the concept transhumanists refer to as “morphological freedom” – the liberty to take any bodily form technology permits.

You Can Be Anything You Like – Is This For You?

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by the Guardian. The original item was written by Mark O’Connell. Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Image: Emuwalton