How long has the human race sought immortality? The fountain of youth is a famous legend for a reason, and we’ve all heard numerous stories involving potions of everlasting life. There is even an entire industry devoted to freezing your body in the hopes that future technology will be able to revive you. As humans, we’ve always sought to become immortal through the preservation of our physical forms. Aging, however, is a natural process – while we can certainly slow it down with modern medicine, we cannot stop it completely. But what if we’ve been looking at immortality from the wrong angle all along?
Scientists are now suggesting that the answer to achieving immortality lies not in preserving our bodies, but in preserving our minds. If you think about it, the human brain is akin to a high-powered computer. So, what if we could copy all those files stored in our brain and simply transfer them to another computer? Many important thinkers agree that it may be possible.
“I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer, so it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer and so provide a form of life after death” – Stephen Hawking
This idea is reinforced by the fact that computer power has grown exponentially over the past few decades, and continues to do so. Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has suggested that we may be able to transfer the entire human brain to a computer within forty years.
Scientists Hard at Work
The technology itself is also progressing quickly – scientists have already been able to replicate some functions of the brain. For example, a team led by neurology professor Henry Markram was able to successfully simulate part of a rat’s brain. Although replicating the entire human brain is still a long ways off, it’s likely to happen within some of our lifetimes. As with any revolutionary technology, it will undoubtedly come with a hefty price tag. However, think about the payoff. Can you really put a price on immortality?
The biggest remaining question surrounding this issue involves consciousness. It’s one thing to replicate the computer-processing elements of the human brain, but what about the more complex aspects, such as feelings and emotions? Is it even possible to ‘code’ consciousness? On this important aspect, the experts disagree.
Some scientists are convinced that if given enough time and research, this technology will eventually succeed in simulating consciousness. And in fact, this work is already underway. Leaders in the field of artificial intelligence are currently developing robots that can reason, think, and even learn by imitating the human brain. Recreating human emotions will be difficult, but the technology is progressing quickly.
However, other scientists remain highly doubtful about the possibility of ‘manufacturing’ consciousness. According to well-known neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, “there are a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a computer”. While this sounds good on paper, he says, “you could have all the computer chips in the world and you won’t create a consciousness.” Until more progress is made, the jury may be out on this question.
Are We ‘Playing God’?
Either way, this is groundbreaking technology we’re talking about. Once it becomes affordable, we will be faced with an existential question: do we consider our mortal lives sufficient, or should our brains be allowed to live on in cyber form? There also exists a moral quandary here – some may argue that this technology is equivalent to ‘playing God’. Do we have the right to interfere with the universe’s plan for us? If it becomes an option, would you sign up to download your brain to a computer? Let us know what you think.