Pros and Cons of Immortality
Are you afraid of dying? Most of us are, to some extent. Through the work of the world’s first immortality research center, Russian Internet mogul Dmitry Itskov is planning to make death irrelevant. Called the 2045 Initiative, Itskov wants to give investors the option of allowing their minds to live forever in robot bodies. Eventually, when his team of researchers has developed the technology, people will also have the option to upload their consciousness into holograms.
As I read about his plan, I came up with a list of practical, ethical and spiritual questions that both participants and non-participants in his project should seek to answer as Itskov manifests his plan. Keep in mind, I don’t know enough details to completely understand Itskov’s idea. I’m simply asking questions.
Ten Questions Raised by the 2045 Initiative
1. Is the mind all that makes up the “self”? Consciousness allows us to know our selves, to be aware of our experiences, thoughts and feelings. But wouldn’t post-human life be so drastically different that we’d essentially create a new self?
The way we know our world and define our self in relation to it is through our five senses. Would our new selves still be able to access sensory information? I can see how it might be possible to simulate sight and sound by hooking up video and audio input to our minds, but what about our senses of smell, taste and touch? I’d miss taste and smell, but I’d suffer without the sense of touch. No more snuggling or hugging, no more feeling dew on your bare feet in the morning, no more hot or cold, no more sex.
If consciousness continued streaming after being uploaded to a robot or hologram, it might be sad to compare the new experience to memories of life in the old body. Might you feel trapped in a technology that doesn’t work the way you want it to you? Or, would you “feel” anything at all?
We know the senses of sight, smell and touch play a role in the development and maintenance of positive emotions including happiness and love. If we lose access to most of our sensory functions, do we damage or destroy our ability to love? Will our post-human minds match our robotic bodies?
2. Would robot-people take over the world? Are you ready for cyborgs? I imagine this technology could result in computer-enhanced human minds walking around on indestructible, weaponized bodies. Movies like Terminator and Transformers come to mind.Let’s face it, most people who can afford Itskov’s technology wield disproportionate power compared to the population-at-large. With riches, smarts accumulated over an extended lifetime and (possibly) machine-weapon bodies, peasants like me wouldn’t stand a chance.
Through its new Avatar project, the Pentagon is already preparing to send human-controlled robot weapons into battle. Would Itskov’s technology offer similar capabilities to civilians?
3. If there is a soul, would it transfer along with consciousness? Even if memories and personality can successfully be uploaded, what is the human experience without the ineffable, mysterious soul? I’m not sure. Are you?
4. Would we be robbing ourselves of the next great adventure, death? No matter how much we think we know, we don’t completely understand what happens to our consciousness after death. If there’s a possibility of an afterlife or reincarnation, do we want to miss out?5. Or, would Itskov’s technologies essentially replicate the memories and workings of the mind? If all of the brain’s information is simply copied and uploaded just prior to or after death, then it’s misleading to call it “immortality.” I’m confused on this point. Would our consciousness be removed and transplanted to the new technology, or would our consciousness be duplicated? Would we be awake and aware within two separate entities – the human body and the robot body?
If the answer is duplication, then we would have two distinct, separable seats of consciousness: one that dies along with the physical brain and body- the original consciousness, and one that goes on to animate the robot body. We would experience both death (and the possibility of afterlife or reincarnation) and continuation of life.Is that possible? I can’t imagine that it is, but I don’t understand how a mind can be transplanted to a robot or hologram, either.
6. Do we want to increase the divide between the rich and the poor? At first, and possibly always, this technology would only be available to the wealthiest among us, those of us who can afford to invest in Itskov’s idea.
How would lack of access to life extension technologies affect relations between the classes?
7. Would immortality be covered by insurance? As this technology is perfected and mass production becomes an option, would public health agencies and insurance begin to pay for immortality procedures? Right now, many public health systems are set up to extend life as long as possible. Would people begin to demand access to immortality?
It’s not a viable option for the masses to become immortal, not in the robot phase, anyway. At some point, there’d be too many robot-humans co-existing with mortal humans. How will we decide who gets access to this technology?8. If there is a life force as is described by a number of holistic health traditions, would it be extinguished in the absence of the channels through which it normally flows? The life force has a number of names: chi (Chinese medicine), qi (Japanese medicine) and prana (Indian philosophy). Acupuncture, yoga, martial arts and reiki are examples of systems that are based on the flow of life energy through the channels of the body. Would the mind suffer if it didn’t have access to its energetic system?
9. What would the self be without the hormones and pheromones produced by the body? Our moods and attraction to others are, to some degree, controlled by our endocrine system. Again, in the absence of the body’s biological systems, would we be missing what makes up the “self?”
10. What would happen to the world in the presence of robot-humans who are missing the pain-stimulus response? Imagine accidentally running into a tree. Pain pushes your body away. Now, imagine a super-tough, pain-absent metal body running into the tree. The tree may be no more.
I doubt trees are in any real danger from accidental encounters with robot-people, but the concept applies to all life forms. Would you want to shake hands with a person who was just learning how to control their new body? Would you want to get into a fight with someone who couldn’t feel pain?
Ultimately, Itskov’s technology promises to add human capabilities and memories to robots, but does it create immortal human life? So much of the human experience resides in the body; the body works with the mind to create the whole self. Without our sensory organs, reproductive organs and all other systems of the body, it seems Itskov’s plan for eternal consciousness will require us to sacrifice our human selves so that we might be replaced by something “other.”
On the other hand, when (and if) the conscious hologram technology is workable, we’d get to experience some mind-blowing extra-human phenomena like walking through walls and traveling at the speed of light.We’d experience life in an entirely new way.
Personally, my idea of life after death bears similarities to hologram consciousness. However, at death, when our spirits leave our bodies, I think we’re given access to new realms and dimensions that holograms might miss out on. Of course, my way is more of a gamble compared to technology we can actually see and know.
Given the chance to participate, would you take it? Please tell me in the comments section below!