Friday, July 27, 2012

Our Immortality in a Computer Program

The singularity is a subject that gets bandied about in the scientific (and science fiction) community quite frequently. The singularity refers to a point in time when artificial intelligence becomes better than natural human intelligence. It is the point when computer programs will be better able to design other programs than we humans will. It is also a time in which human brains will be able to interface with artificial intelligence agents so as to, perhaps, attain a kind of immortality.

At this moment, a Russian mogul has hired a group of developers to work on attaining human immortality by 2045. He has his people designing artificial holographic bodies to house our brains. At the end of life one can opt to transfer their brain into one of these bodies to continue on indefinitely.

I'm a big proponent of immortality. It's unlikely we will be able to perfect anything like it as long as we are stuck in our organic bodies. We may, indeed, increase life expectancy to 200 years or more within the next century or so, but immortality is probably not going to be possible.

Sci-Fi aficionados imagine a time when we will either be able to transplant our brains into an artificial body, such as an android, or to simply download all our thoughts, memories, and personality into such a body. This seems to be similar to what the Russian mogul is trying to do for real. But I think, to achieve true immortality, we need to take a different tack.

In my view, we need to work on a way to transfer all human thought, memory, and personality into a computer-like memory. But instead of then transplanting those memories into an artificial entity, such as an android or hologram, we just need to incorporate it into a sophisticated computer program. The solution to immortality seems to me to be strictly a software problem. We don't need any hardware other than the computer that runs the program. We won't need any artificial sensory organs, limbs, or methods of movement. Nothing ever has to move outside the mainframe of the computer that houses our essence within its memory.

There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which a holographic image, a character in a Sherlock Holmes novel named Moriarty, gained sentience and then wanted to be let out of the holodeck. Of course, that would be impossible because once out, there would be no projection systems to keep the holographic image intact, so it would be lost. But Moriarty took control of the ship and held it hostage until the Enterprise crew could figure out how to keep him alive outside the holodeck. The solution was so bizarre the crew decided to trick Moriarty into accepting it by making him think he was being launched off the ship in a shuttlecraft when, in fact, he had been captured in a miniature holodeck with no projection system. There was no physicality to his existence any longer; he was merely a program running forever in this miniature computer, but to him, he was unaware of his predicament. He thought he was free and could travel the universe at will in his little space ship.

That's what we need to be working on. Once we are able to transfer our sentience into a computer's memory, and have a computer that is sophisticated enough to interact with our essence, we will at that point be able to live forever, as though we were actually living. In fact, we would be merely a computer program running in a mainframe somewhere along with hundreds or thousands of other such programs. Ideally, the computer should be launched into orbit so that power failures and terrorism would no longer be issues.

We don't need any physical body. The essence of who we are will have been captured in computer memory and be integrated into a the computer's software. To us, it will appear as though we have bodies, but we can pay our programmers to create whatever kind of body we desire. We can create our own futures at the end of our lives. And they can be futures far better (or at least different) than the real lives we have already lived. It may seem bizarre, but to me, it is a far better scenario than winking out of existence forever, which is most likely the plight we all face today, except for those lucky enough to make it to the singularity.

No comments: