What if it was possible to achieve immortality? And no, I’m not talking about creating seven Horcruxes to live forever kind of immortality. I mean achieving it by an actual, scientifically researched phenomenon, which would not require killing people (possibly) called mind uploading.
But the first question here is, what exactly do we mean by mind uploading? According to a website called Reason and Meaning “Mind uploading refers to a process of copying the contents of consciousness from a brain to a computational device.
This could be done by copying and transferring the entire contents into a computer, or by piecemeal replacement with parts of the brain gradually replaced by hardware. Either way, consciousness would no longer be running on a biological brain.”
To put it in simple terms, it means to transfer the consciousness of a human brain to a computer. This computer would then process this information and react as well as understand situations in the same way as a human mind would. It is possible that the biological brain would not survive this process.
Is it a Newly Discovered Concept?
We have seen references to this in movies as well (Mild spoiler alerts going forward!). In the Captain America movies, Doctor Arnim Zola’s mind after he passes away is transferred to a complex computer system where he remains from that point onward.
In the 2014, Scarlett Johansson’s movie Lucy this concept was again explored. The character transfers all her learnings into a computer directly through her brain for use by future generations.
Thus, this concept is neither something that we’ve come up with recently nor is it based on baseless theories. Comprehensive research has been conducted to understand if mind uploading can be a possible thing in the times to come.
Now, How Does this Relate to Virtual Immortality?
Firstly, what do you mean by virtual immortality? So the word virtual means: not physically existing and Immortality as we know means existing forever. Virtual Immortality thus means living till the end of time in a non-physical form. In this case, it means digitally through computers and machines. Let us understand this by thinking about a situation, where we actually manage to achieve this.
So imagine, you are living in a world where brain uploading is a possible, tangible thing. Now maybe you’re old and retired, living a peaceful life after having gained all the experience you possibly could or maybe you are young and energetic, still learning, still exploring, and having adventures. Whatever the case may be, you decide that you want to save these memories and experiences somewhere. This is when you decide to do mind uploading.
Research suggests that we could have a situation, wherein you could do this at any point in your life. After mind uploading the current you would not feel any different. Although, the machine on which your mind is uploaded, let’s call it the virtual you, would remember all the past things that happened till the mind uploading was done and now be open to gain new experiences for itself.
At the same time, the current you would continue to exist as you were. The biggest difference would be that the virtual you would be now immortal.
And thus when we talk of immortality here, it is not in the sense that you preserve your body. You won’t stop aging and live eons and eons till the end of time. Immortality here refers to saving your consciousness and personality and not your actual physical body.
With every question we answer here, another one pops up. What exactly is saving consciousness now? Understanding the human brain is a very complex process. Every thought and feeling that we have, all our actions are through signals sent by the brain through neurons.
To save consciousness means to save all these actions and thought processes. Mind uploading involves not just saving, but transferring these thoughts to a machine which would then replicate and emulate these emotions. So the immortality we speak of here is essentially saving the thoughts and actions of your brain for the times to come.
Now, the following could be some (pretty exciting) reasons to mind uploading
- A knowledge store: As mentioned earlier, the human brain stores all feelings, experiences, and memories that a person feels in his lifetime. Through mind uploading all this can be saved for use in the future. Every single human being has a unique set of experiences. Saving these experiences can help to understand human psychology and learn things in a much easier way.
- Understanding Past Generations: Another application of mind uploading could be that it can help make a person aware of the past. This means that she can get to know her family members and understand their way of thinking. We know that mind uploading helps emulate emotions. Through this, it would be possible to actually have a proper conversation with someone who’s not even alive anymore. We can get an idea of how that person would respond to situations.
- Exploration: Mind Uploading would remove all the limitations that a physical body has and thus allow you to be free to explore. As technology would advance we would have even more access to other virtual worlds. The conscious brain can gain a chance to understand and dive deeper into all of this.
Thus a world where mind uploading exists would be a world full of knowledge and a world full of opportunities. It would be a world full of possibilities, and a world that would believe in understanding the past for a better future. It would thus be a world, where one could immortalize oneself (just in a computer form!)
But we know that it cannot be all sunshine and rainbows. Everything has its disadvantages. So, when we talk of all the good things that mind uploading would entail to we also need to talk about the fact that it would also create a world where there is an information overload. This means that all this knowledge would also lead to confusion and delayed decision-making.
It would create a world full of uncertainties. We humans are very comfortable in the way we live. It sometimes becomes very difficult for us to adjust to new things. We are so used to our ideas of what is, that talking about what could be is, in all honesty, quite scary. Thus, considering the possibility that a world could exist where our consciousness would remain forever immortal is somewhat hard to digest.
So when it actually happens it would certainly cause chaos. The entire system of the existence of human beings would possibly be dismantled. ‘We are mortal and thus we are human’, this statement would no longer hold true. Thinking about what it would mean to be a human then, is frankly mind-baffling.
When we speak of uncertainties, it also means that the notion of what is true and what isn’t will be put to the test. Gaining so much knowledge and delving into worlds through technology would definitely lead to innovations. At the same time, it would raise questions about alternate dimensions, time travel, and all the things that are just considered to be science fiction today.
Even though this is an amazing thing for the world in general as it would lead to us finding answers to questions that have remained unanswered. It would still take a toll on the fragile human mind to accept that all these things could happen.
We also need to talk about a world that would be extremely technologically dependent. When we think of the world today, with advancing AI’s and new innovations almost every day we can guess as to where it is leading.
We know, that this human dependence on technology would only increase as time passes. Transferring human consciousness to computers is a whole other step in that direction.
Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind’ talks about how in the future, the human species might get entirely replaced by AI. The humans themselves doing this makes for a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the end of the day, this is an entirely separate discussion. Sticking to what we’re talking about here we can say that finally, it depends on what the human race chooses for itself. How much, in the name of innovation we let ourselves be swayed and taken over by technology?
A Small Case
So for a moment, think about a world where every one of a person’s past memories would be accessible. There would be no fear that someday the entire existence of a person would vanish when he dies.
You would live life with the certainty that one day when you leave your physical body, your consciousness, and your brain would continue to live on. Not just live, but thrive!
You would get the chance to learn about everything you dreamt of knowing, without the limitations of a physical body. The chance to explore all unanswered questions.
Live on to see the future generations, the world ahead and experience it all. You would also get to share your knowledge and experiences with those who need it. But most importantly and ultimately, you would get to exist.
At the same time, the world as we know now would probably not exist. We would be living in a world of AI and humans whose entire consciousness is stored in machines. The people we know would exist as machines.
A large amount of resources will be used up, the atmosphere would probably be different than what it is now. We, humans, would not remain humans in the true sense.
There would be inhibition of creativity, which we can see even now with applications such as Chat GPT coming up. So yes we’ll continue to exist but at the cost of this current life. A life where the fact that we are mortal, determines our actions.
Due to the limited time, we have to live, we aim higher and take risks. It will come at the cost of actual human faces and human touch and maybe at the cost of the human race as it is now.
There is no right answer for what should or shouldn’t happen. We just need to keep our eyes, minds, and brains open to innovation without forgetting what it is to be truly human.