From the outside the difference between the biology of our brain and the technology in a computer couldn’t be more dramatic. One has living cells and neurotransmitters, neurons and blood vessels, the other has wires and circuit boards. Despite this, the principles that govern how they work are close enough that many believe they can crossover—that our mind can be uploaded into a computer, and the internet can be connected to our brain.
This is a subject Steven Kotler writes of in Tomorrowland. To begin with, he touches on the notion that our digital selves would be able to live forever given information’s unique resistance to decay.
“They say that wisdom accumulates, that perhaps it is not subject to the same tick-tock corrosion that renders bones frail and hair thin. They say it is our one real treasure, this thing to be passed on, generation to generation, to grant us a stay against a dark, dim future.”
“But what we don’t have is the people themselves; we don’t have their consciousness, and that, many feel, is the real loss.”
Yet how far away are we from uploading a mind? We are already leaving a great deal of information regarding who we are on the internet, something currently used to model our behavior, and this looks more like it will increase going forward. Meanwhile the Blue Brain Project and the Human Connectome Project are two examples of large-scale attempts to model the human brain in a digital format.
It seems inevitable that one day the technology will exist that allows for us to continue on living despite biological degradation. While this poses many ethical and existential issues, Kotler sees little slowing us down thanks to our struggle with mortality, a mental obstacle that some think has driven much of human invention.
“Consider how many of our wisdom traditions use the threat of the hereafter to shape behavior in the here and now. Judgment day and all that. But what happens when judgment is suspended indefinitely? What happens to our morality when we achieve immortality?”
For many religions the answer was an afterlife, but this answer does not satisfy those outside the realm of faith.
“…for everyone beyond the truest of true believers, the promise of immortality needs to rest on something stronger than faith. Something tangible and tactile and testable. Something like silicon.”
Our grapple with death may come to an end. Check out more in Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact, by Steven Kotler.