Friday, October 23, 2009

8. WHAT IS TECHNO-IMMORTALITY?


"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, Samuel Langhorn Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, in a May, 1897 note to the New York Journal, which had reported news of the fatal illness of Twain’s cousin, James Ross Clemens, as that of Twain. New York Observer, June 2, 1897. (In fact, Twain died the day after the 1910 perihelion of Halley’s Comet, having been born two weeks after its 1835 perihelion, leading him to immortally observe “now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”)


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Cyberconsciousness implies techno-immortality. Immortality means living forever. This has never happened in the real world, so we think of immortality as a spiritual existence (as in heaven) or as a non-personal existence (as in ‘Bach’s music will live forever’). With cyberconsciousness it will be possible, for the first time, for a person to live forever in the real world. This unique, technologically empowered form of living forever is called techno-immortality.

Mindclones are the key to techno-immortality. Imagine that before a person’s body dies he or she creates a mindclone. After bodily death is declared the person will insist that he or she is still alive, albeit as a mindclone in cyberspace. The surviving mindclone will think, feel and act just as did the deceased original. While the mindclone will be stuck in cyberspace, he or she will still be able to read online books, watch streaming movies, and participate in virtual social networks. It will seem no more right to declare the mindclone dead than it would be to declare someone dead upon becoming a paraplegic. Practically speaking the mindclone’s original achieved techno-immortality.

A semantic purest may argue that “immortal” means “forever”, and since we have no way to know how long the mindclones will last they cannot be deemed immortal. This is a fair point, but it should be recognized that mindclones last far longer than the hardware they run on at any particular time. Mindclones, just as people, are really sets of information patterns. In the same way that the information patterns of great books and works of art are copied through the ages in new media after new media, so will be the case with mindclones. We are continuing to copy and interact with human texts that are thousands of years old, originally written in stone, and now stored digitally. Mindclones, being conscious beings with a desire to survive, can be expected to last even longer.

Therefore, by techno-immortal, we do not literally mean living until the sun explodes and the stars disappear. Such eschatological timeframes are beyond our consideration. Techno-immortality means living so long that death (other than by suicide) is not thought of as a factor in one’s life. This uber-revolutionary development in human affairs is the inevitable consequence of mindfiles, mindware and mindclones. Our souls will now be able to outlast our bodies -- not only in religion, but also on earth.

Techno-immortality need not imply an eternity of life in a box. Broadband connectivity to audio and video, and to tactile, taste and scent enabled future websites, will make life much more enjoyable than the ‘in a box’ phrase suggests. The outputs of our fingertips, taste buds and olfactory nerves are electronic signals that can be interpreted by software in the same manner as are sound waves and light signals. Nevertheless, it is hard to beat a real flesh body for mind-blowing experiences. Within a few score years for an optimist, and not more than a few centuries for a pessimist, current rates of technology development will result in replacement bodies grown outside of a womb. Such spare bodies, or “sleeves” as novelist Richard Morgan calls them , will be compatibly matched with mindclones. To make the sleeve be the same person as the mindclone either:

(a) the sleeve’s neural patterns will need to be grown ectogenetically to reflect those of the mindclone’s software patterns; or
(b) the sleeve’s naturally grown neural patterns will need to be interfaced and subordinated to a very small computer implanted in the cranium that contains a copy of the mindclone’s software.

Once these feats of neuro-technology are accomplished, techno-immortality will then also extend into the walkabout world of swimming in real water and skiing on real snow. In addition, mechanical bodies, including ones with flesh-like skin, are rapidly being developed to enable robotic help with elder care in countries like Japan (where the ratio of young to old people is getting too small). Such robot bodies will also be outfitted with mindclone minds to provide for escapes from virtual reality.

Techno-immortality triggers a philosophical quandary about identity. The gist of it is that people say ‘you cannot be dead and alive at the same time.’ This is related to another objection to mindclones – that they can’t really be ‘me’ or ‘you’ because we can’t be two different things, or in two different places, at the same time. All of these objections flow from the inability of the philosopher to accept that identity is not necessarily body-specific. In other words, a person’s identity is more like a fuzzy cloud that encompasses, to a greater or lesser extent, whatever loci contain their mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values.

It is hard for us to feel comfortable with this view of identity because we have had no experience with it. Throughout history the only locus for our mind was the brain atop our head and shoulders. Hence, it is natural for us to believe that identity is singular to one bodily form. In a similar way, before Einstein, it was natural to believe that the speed of light depends upon how fast the source of light is traveling. All of our experience was that a rock thrown from a moving train must have the combined speed of the train’s motion and the rock’s pitch. When Einstein showed us how to think about something outside of our experience, we were able to logically deduce that the speed of light must be invariant. Similarly, when you think about a computer that runs mindware on a mindfile that is equivalent to your mind, then you must logically deduce that identity is not limited to one locus. Identity follows its constituents – mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values – wherever those components may reside.

We are all familiar with the associative law of mathematics: if a = b, and b = c, then a = c. In our case a = our identity as defined by b, the key memories and characteristic thought patterns stored in our brain’s neural connections. With the advent of mindfiles and mindware it is possible to recreate those key memories and characteristic thought patterns in c, a mindclone. Since our original identity, a, derives from our cognitive status, b, and since the cognitive status from a brain, ba, is no different than the cognitive status from a mindclone, bc, it follows logically that our mindclone identity, c, is the same as our brain identity, a. Furthermore, this proof demonstrates that identity is not limited to a single body or “instantiation” such as a or c. Ergo, with the rise of mindclones has come the demise of inevitable death. While unmodified bodies do inevitably die, software-based patterns of identity information do not.

There is a great inclination to argue that unless every aspect of the a-based identity is also present in the c-based identity, then ba is not the same thing as bc and hence a is not really equal to and c. This argument is based on a false premise that our identity is invariant. In fact, nobody maintains “every aspect” of identity from day to day, and certainly not from year to year. We remember but a small fraction of yesterday’s interactions today, and will remember still less tomorrow. Yet we all treat each other, and our selves, as people of a constant identity.

Even in the extreme cases of amnesia or dementia, we do not doubt that the patient has a constant identity. Only in the final stages of Alzheimer’s does our confidence in the sufferer’s identity begin to waver. Therefore, a perfect one-to-one correspondence between ba and bc is not necessary in order for them to be equivalent. Instead, if suitably trained psychologists attest to a continuity of identity between ab and cb, which would tend to track with the perceptions of laypeople as well as of the original and their mindclone, then it must be accepted that the psychological fuzz of identity has cloned itself onto a new substrate. The individual’s cloud identity is now instantiated in both a brain and a mindclone.

Techo-immortality is possible because it will be soon possible to replicate the constituents of your identity – and hence your identity – in multiple, highly survivable loci, namely in software on different servers. It is irrelevant that these copies are not identical to the original. Perfect copies of anything are a physical impossibility, both in space as well as in time. Mindclones that are cognitively and emotionally equivalent to their originals, and practically accepted as their original identities, must be techno-immortal continuations of the original beings.

This question reminds me of the amazing story about how a young student, Aaron Lansky, saved Yiddish literature from disappearing. By the late 20th century, virtually all of the native speakers of Yiddish were elderly. After they died, their Yiddish books were being thrown away – almost no one understood a need to preserve this literature. Perhaps 5%-10% of the entire literature was literally disappearing each year. Lansky took it upon himself, with the help of a small group of friends, to collect all of the Yiddish books in the world before they ended up in dumpsters. After a decade his team had collected over a million volumes, had reignited interest in the language and had created a global Yiddish book exchange system. However, because the books were so frail (Yiddish was mostly read by poor Jews, and thus printed on cheap early 20th century paper to keep prices down) they were disintegrating before they could be shared. Consequently, Lansky then raised the money and signed contracts to digitize the entire collection. Indeed, the first literature completely digitized was Yiddish. Thereafter, those who wished any particular book simply selected the title from an online catalog and a print-to-order new copy was sent to them, on nice acid-free paper.

Did digitizing Yiddish literature save it from death by oblivion via dumpsters? Absolutely. Were the digitized texts the exact same as the handworn books? No. Did it matter? Absolutely not. The culture, what might be called the Yiddish soul, was exactly the same in the reprinted books of hundreds of authors, poets and playwrights.

Lingering objections to mindclones based upon inexactitude simply misunderstand the nature of identity. Identity is a property of continuity. This means that a person’s identity can exist to a greater or lesser extent depending upon the presence or absence of its constituents. We believe that we have the same identity as we grow from teenagers to adults because to a great extent our mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values have been continually present over those years. Of course we have changed, but the changes are on top of bedrock constancy. For the same reason it is not necessary for our mindclone to share every memory with its biological original to have the same identity as that original. Similarly, Yiddish literature is alive even if only 98% rather than 100% of Yiddish literature has been digitized. To love your mother you need not remember all that she has done for you. A continuity of strong positive and emotive orientations toward her, as well as the remembered highlights of your life with her, are plenty adequate.

In summary, techno-immortality is the ability to live practically forever through the downloading of your identity to a mindclone. Identity exists wherever its cognitive and emotional patterns exist, which can be in more than one place, in flesh as well as in software, and in varying degrees of completeness. While humans have never before experienced out-of-body identity, that is about to change with mindcloning. Along with this change will come something else new to humanity – techno-immortality.

36 comments:

  1. Thanks, Martine for an engaging post. I think this will help shift our thinking from a static view of ourselves to a more transient, fluid concept of our personalities. I believe your analogy of the changing physical body applies to the mind as well, being on a continuum, as it seems everything is turning out to be. As we gain more knowledge about ourselves and the Universe, there will be an increasing shift in our understanding from the narrow to the broad view, from fixed definitions to one of variables on a spectrum, whether it is sound, electromagnetic waves, sexuality, politics, or energy fields yet to be discovered. Our minds are no different. This seems to be a natural progression of evolution, since at first our minds can more easily make sense of simple explanations with defined borders rather than seeing something as part of a larger whole. An analogy in mathematics is when a 3-D sphere intersects a 2-D plane. To the residents who live on 2-D world, they don’t see the sphere, but rather a circle becoming larger, then smaller, then disappearing, having really no idea what is happening. With wisdom will come perspective. Without this vision, one cannot appreciate the complexities, richness and wonder of life.

    -John DeCicco

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  2. Yes, you definitely understand the vector of our evolution, John!

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  3. Hello, a very well written presentation of a complex topic. Your use of the word "immortality" does pose a problem however, though I believe I understand your intent well enough.

    To be immortal means one is unkillable - that one cannot die (thus, vampires of legend aren't actually immortals, they are instead ageless - or possibly only unageing). Since I do not read you as making that specific argument (transitioning to a condition of being unkillable), I wish you would select a different word in future. Since your essays seem to be deliberate arguments explaining many of the topics often included in the general catagory of "singularity" or "futurism" it seems contrary to your intent to further obscure the issues involved with such a misleading word choice.

    Perhaps this issue of misleading expectations might make for a future essay?

    Separate to all of foregoing, I think your logical progression (in the associative law of mathematics bit) is flawed. If a=b and b=c, then indeed a=c; however, that does not mean that a is c, which is what you seem to assert in the latter portion of that same paragraph. A clone (mind or otherwise) is an exact copy of the original at the time the copying action occured, to as exact a standard as technology permits, all else being in agreement. Not only should it not go without saying, but one of the pressing ethical questions yet to be adequately answered in any discussion of this topic to date involves the dichotomy created by the existence of a clone; to wit, which copy is the "real" you? Subsequent to that, which copy has what rights to "your" property (real and intellectual - who's memories are they really?) and identity (which is/will be related to whom) into the future? While I'm sure none of these are new concepts for you, your essay doesn't even acknowledge them even to the extent of defering them to a later time. So I put you directly to the question; at what point following the creation of a "mindclone" do you envision killing the original (and now fully independent entity from the newly differentiated clone) person? Your essay seems to assume serial existences for each version of one long-lived individual person, so some mechanism must be applied to "delete" the previous version. My own viewpoint is that some variation of digitization of a personality must intercede between the physical existence of a biologic clone (however upgraded each rendition might be compared to it's predeceasor) to avoid much of the ethical quandry, but I recognise how limiting that potential option is on it's own merits. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the matter.

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  4. Shame on me; in my haste I hit the post comment button without noting that a pattern of information (you for instance) must be fixed in some fashion in order for other patterns of information (myself as example) to interact together. Winni the Pooh, The Wizard of Oz and the planet Gor are each discrete patterns of information, but I sincerely doubt you would advocate them to be candidates for active mindcloning. Without a physical pattern with which other physical entities can interact with, your argument for a mindclone is as substantial as Dejah Thoris (and not nearly as convincing, I'm afraid).

    The purity of my objections and protestations notwithstanding, they each have serious practical consequences attached which will have to be considered and resolved in order for the future to unfold as other than tragedy, I think.

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  5. An excellent post - but I have a couple of alternate opinions to express:

    First, I don't think that the characterization of future virtual reality as life in a box is correct. I fully expect that virtual reality will be a far more varied and interesting existence than could ever be achieved living in a "sleeve" or robotic incarnation. If you lived primarily on potatoes and then graduated to a much more diverse diet, would you want to return to eating only potatoes? The rich and nearly infinite detail available to you in future realities will far exceed anything you could experience in bodily form and, if you really wanted to re-experience life with such limitations, you would certainly be able to simulate it without actually requiring a physical incarnation. And then you could repeat it on a world without potatoes or 1/2 the gravity, etc.

    Second, while I do agree with your analogy to the associative law of mathematics, I must draw a distinction. If a=b and b=c, then a=c may only be true at one point in time. After that point, changes (experiences) may occur to a that do not occur to c and vice versa. They are only identical at the instant of the comparison (or duplication), but are not likely to remain so. In a related question, it would be interesting to see how split identities are treated legally: Will creating a mind clone require splitting your assets (and liabilities) with it? Such would certainly serve as a deterrent to excessive proliferation.

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  6. Interesting article. In fact, it made me think again my theory on mind-uploading. Personally, I don't care about techno-immortality if my consciousness is not preserved. A simple mind copy-and-paste could create a new instance of me but if I die, consciousness would be essentially lost. From the outside, people would not be able to differentiate but I'd still be consciously dead.

    However, if you enhance yourself with technology (brain extension and replacement), would your consciousness be preserved if your body eventually died and you waked up in an artificial reality or in a new body?

    Mind uploading is interesting because it prevent the loss of knowledge we suffer from every day. Personally, right now, I'd still favour better health-care (future medicine) and life-extension technology (such as nanotechnology and such). Gradually switching the body from biological to robotics.

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  7. A great deal of the earlier commentary seems to deal with the persistence of one's identity as a consequence of the persistence of one's "consciousness", but are the two really that interdependent?

    We "lose consciousness" every time we sleep, as far as the world is concerned. If asked to report our experience while asleep, we cannot do so in any way equivalent to our report of how a day of normal consciousness has passed.

    Even if we dream, and vaguely remember that, it seems to be related to a short period of activity just before awakening. If we were to claim that loss of consciousness were to disconnect us from our former identity, then each morning, the "me" that awakens would have to regard the "yesterday" me as a dead former self, and it (the new "me") as a separate emergent consciousness, irrespective of its ability to remember its social security number, name, etc.

    I am convinced that when a day comes that a "me" emerges in cyberspace as a result of diligent CyBeRev work, and I'm able to speak to it, I'll say, "What's it feel like?" and it will reply, "It's fantastic!"

    The only response that will then remain for me to articulate is, "Glad it seems so good! My old biobody is withered away and just about to die, but most of the brainwiring seems to still be not just intact, but operational. Be sure you get whatever's left of it frozen well enough so that scanning can eventually enable the additional coloration of consciousness that the added association paths might contribute."

    (To that I'd add) - "And, if that doesn't work out too well, configure yourself a blank biobrain network and populate it with all the association paths that can be derived from those tens of gigabytes of audio, video and text I've been uploading these past years!"

    Then, all I'd hope is that my "cybertwin", on the other side of the screen, might reply...

    "OK! You knew all of what you just said, in fact you posted it on Martine's blog, before you even got your CyBeRev work off to a good start. Remember? Don't worry. As the gal in the Film trailer for "2B" ("The End of Flesh") says, "Everything will be OK! You'll see!"

    More on all of this appears on a companion blog (hyperbeings.blogspot.com). It follows from a talk on "Cybertwins" as discussed above, given in Second Life on December 10th, 2009.

    Fred Chamberlain

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