Pros and Cons of Immortality

Consciousness

Friday, March 22, 2013, Visits: 301

Transhuman version of Sistine Chapel

Photo from cracked.com/funny-6181-cyborgs
Transhuman version of Michaelangelo's scene from Sistine Chapel

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.




Dmitry Itskov on "Project 'Immortality 2045' -- Russian Experience" at Singularity Summit 2011


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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.

humanoid robots

Photo from gizmodo.com.au
Robots that look like people

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?

The Dalai Lama and Dmitry Itskov

Photo from blogs-images.forbes.com/katiedrummond
The Dalai Lama and Dmitry Itskov discussing his 2045 Initiative, also called “Avatar”

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.

"Dying" by Alex Grey

Photo from thesoulchannel.net
Artist: Alex Grey, "Dying"

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?

Humanoid robots

Photo from theatlantic.com
Singing and dancing humanoid robot developed at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and 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.

Hologram with origami

Photo from livasaule.wordpress.com
Holographic future

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!

 

19 Comments

1. Wesley Thoricatha

March 25, 2013 at 4:39 PM

I'm really curious what the Dalai Lama had to say about this. It seems like a horrible idea to me. Why would you want to save the limited aspects of our being when our infinite nature is always present, and persists eternally? But of course, just my own beliefs and opinions. :-)

2. Anna

March 29, 2013 at 2:49 AM

I think it's a bit silly to say that we can download a mind on to a robot, it seems like we have yet to actually define what is the mind so how can we make it a virtual entity. Would it really be the same person if we put it in a body that is cut off from the ability to experience the complex stimulation that the human body can? I think this company is making promises that don't actually explain what they are doing. In the end why would you want to be immortal if you gave up your humanity for it.

3. MrsMason

March 29, 2013 at 2:51 AM

I think this article raises some insightful questions. I seem to remember watching a show on the science channel about this very idea- transferring consciousness into another being. Here is the thing- when you transfer the consciousness, you are only transferring the experiences that one has had. Therefore, you are not transferring all the emotions that one has felt during those experiences. The being that would be created could not be a direct replica of the person the consciousness came from, only a being that has gone through the same experience.

My biggest worry would be that we are creating a series of beings that do not understand feelings, only experience. They would be a product of nature, not nurture. They wouldn't know how to react, then, in new situation.

4. La'Shonya

March 29, 2013 at 6:36 PM

I have to say that this seems a bit far reaching. Even if our minds are persevered, that is still a far cry from immortality. Once our souls go, we are still dead in my opinion. I see this as nothing more than an organ transplant. Its like transplanting our minds into another person, albeit the person in this case isn't a human being. Maybe the concept is still too theoretical for me to grasp, but I just don't see the connection between this and true immortality.

5. Diana

March 29, 2013 at 7:27 PM

I think whether or not a person is afraid of dying depends on his/her beliefs. I do believe that the life we live on Earth is just a school house, formulated to allow us to practice making the correct choices, so that we, upon "death" give ourselves the chance to move ahead in our evolution.

Personally, I don't like the idea of transplanting a brain into a robot. It woud probably serve well, as a war machine, but it wouldn't be human. And, spending so much time and money, creating weapons for war, isn't, in my opinion, why we're here.

It seems to me that we are supposed to be evolving here on Earth. If that's true, then why are we still killing each other, and why are we creating better and more powerful ways to do that? What does that really say about us? We're still war like, we still destroy, we still conquer. I don't think those are the ingredients of a world, destined for improvement.

6. John Stueck

March 30, 2013 at 12:01 AM

I find it funny... we do live forever- our DNA is passed on through generations. It's a beautiful thing to have a small part in the future even after we are gone. Thanks, but I'm okay with eventually leaving this world. I could use the rest anyway.

7. Aaron

March 30, 2013 at 12:21 AM

People seem to overlook the obvious downside to mortality. Regardless of your belief, there is only one right answer, and that is an answer only the dead know. Becoming immortal would keep us from having to ever fear the unknown, but also fear the never-ending boredom. Although, playing with robots could cure that.

Seriously though, a perfect world is a place everyone lives to be 95, in good health, with a solitary child to replace them on Earth. Not living forever, watch everything change a million-fold, and have the entire planet as crowded as Japan.

8. Victoria McGrath

March 30, 2013 at 3:37 AM

What a frightening thought - not only the part about placing deceased individuals' minds into robot bodies - but the possibility that most of the transplanted minds and associated consciousness would belong to the wealthy. Many wealthy already act like robots with their cold indifference to other human beings and cultures. What happens if these individual minds do not start off with a good human conscience? Certainly a robot cannot learn over time - so each would be like inhumane, potentially immoral, beings for all of eternity?

I agree that it could create a greater divide between the wealthy and the poor. In this case, death might be preferable and eternal life in a robot shell might be more like purgatory or hell.

9. Natalie

March 31, 2013 at 10:11 PM

While the idea of becoming immortal might sound attractive at first, the consequences of making the choice to live forever should be carefully considered. One of the most exciting components of living is that you are forced to appreciate every moment for what it is. When there is a possibility that you could perish at any time, you can take in the world around you, digest the information and experiences that come to you, and enjoy the true excitement of living that only comes with some level of uncertainty regarding the future. Although the avatars described in this post would effectively be machines and not permit immortality in a traditional human body, they are still a threat to humanity because they could potentially cause humans to become more disinterested in their lives as a result of having the ability to "live" forever in avatar form. I would like to see more of a focus on living life to its fullest, rather than a focus on living life for eternity just for the sake of avoiding death.

10. Angel Santos

April 1, 2013 at 12:21 AM

Greetings. I am a Christian and have a deep belief in God, nevertheless, this has touched me deeply. Mainly, because my mother in law is bedridden. She has had a long life and at 103 years old, one would think she is ready to die, but she seems to be determined to live.
When we get her to the wheelchair, she cannot sit straight and I have to help her eat. If I were to be wealthy and the technology was available, I would invest in helping her straighten her body and even walk. Technology amazes me and It would be interesting how this would affect mankind. A life void of pain is nice, but feeling affection like touch or smell, that is a tough one.Either way, I appreciate reading this article and thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts.

11. Carmen

April 1, 2013 at 11:18 PM

I can't see that this could in any way create a better future. The questions that this article pose are valid ones. I don't see this type of technology advancing to the point at which anyone would feel comfortable mass producing it in the even distant future. The fear of dying should not overcome rationality, I can think of a dozen ways that having my conscience inside of a mechanical object would seem worse than my biological body.

12. Kimbriel Dean

April 2, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Today, I learned about the field of haptics, which might eventually provide the sense of touch to robot-humans: http://youtu.be/6wJ9Aakddng

13. Liz

April 5, 2013 at 5:04 AM

I read a quote somewhere once: "We love to avoid life, and we work to avoid death." I agree that Immortality would definitely change the way we live our lives: no pain, possibly no consciousness, and a wealth gap. Although as a previous comment said, is it really true immortality if certain "human" characteristics don't come with it? Sounds more like a cyborg-type entity that is created.

In any event, I'm more concerned about the consequences of such action. Without a real "check" on humanity, i.e. death, would any of us be motivated to live out the seasons of life? Or search for more meaning? Would we just be hedonists and consumers rather than contributors? If that is the case, we'll eventually have to find a new planet! Beyond this, by playing "God" and changing the cycle of life thinking we know better, we may eventually find ourselves in a robot war as a result of a real divide (machines v. those who don't have access to it). I feel that's better left to the movies. Still a scary thought for the next generations to come. Robots are here to stay, but will they be here to rule?

14. Kimbriel Dean

April 5, 2013 at 5:16 AM

I love reading all of your comments! Always making points I didn't think of! =)

15. Greggers

April 10, 2013 at 1:29 AM

I think the ability to live forever has a lot of pros and cons, especially if transferring our consciousness to a non organic body is involved.

Geniuses like Stephen Hawking could live for centuries and continue to progress their respective fields. However I think by the time we reach that point technology will already be integrated into our bodies to some degree. Potentially any human could have super computer level thinking capabilities making the need for schooling unnecessary. Our society would advance leaps and bounds over the course of a single generation, maybe even a decade.

The cons should be obvious. What if terrorists had access to this technology? Could you imagine how horrible it would be if a suicide bomber could blow up a city block without killing himself? Only to get another body and do it again? Or a dictator who is oppressive and malicious towards his people forever maintaining oppression under his reign?

I think the best course to achieve immortality would be to slow, stop or reverse aging. People could still die from disease (not likely by the time this is possible) or injuries. People could enjoy their lives as long as they chose and still be able to one day decide to finish their stay in this realm.

16. John

May 7, 2013 at 12:19 PM

I've often though about whether the idea of transferring human minds into mechanical bodies would be possible due to science fiction media. Now that someone is trying to turn it into reality, the question of whether a mind is transferable really stands out. If the mind truly can be transferred, it spells new things for medical science, although it does raise quite a few religious problems. I have a slight feeling that any mind transfers will only be a duplication, rather than a total transfer. The thought of a copy of my mind walking around while my physical body passes feels odd to me.

17. Auntie Cathie

May 21, 2013 at 12:27 AM

As I read Ilia Delio's book <i> The Emergent Christ </i> I found a whole new appreciation for the transformation we call death. Particle physics has spoken about how the questions that the scientist researches determine whether the results are waves or particles. For Einstein matter and energy are two expressions of one reality. So Delio says that in death what has been human in us as matter, moves to what is human in us as energy. Our hearts, our loves, our imaginings and our dreams are imprinted on our energy as they were once stored in our cellular structure.

18. Jacqueline Parks

May 23, 2013 at 12:26 AM

My 20 year old son is obsessed with the idea of immortality, but even he would not like this robot, hologram program. I do not think that a robot containing your mind would be you. My brain is me. If my thought processes and memories were transferred to another source, would it still be me?

OK, now I am confusing myself! Maybe it would be me.

There is another issue involved though. I think most people reach a point where they want to die. I have seen people on their deathbeds. They often seem ready. They have had enough of their life here. They want rest and eagerly seek whatever comes next. Maybe eagerly seek is a bit too enthusiastic, but I think many of the sick and elderly are ready to move on.

I really like your thoughts about the possibility of the rich increasing in their power through this program. I don't want to live in a world controlled by robots containing the mind-remnants of rich world citizens.

Thanks for giving me much food for thought!

19. Betty

February 17, 2014 at 5:34 PM

I read a fantastic book called "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary E. Pearson that explored the idea of a downloaded consciousness. It was actually a young adult novel but the themes it explored were very advanced. This article brings up some of the same feelings I got from reading that book. What exactly constitutes the self? If it's just mental, your memories and emotions, then what happens to someone with amnesia or dementia? When you loose your memories are you no longer yourself, is your self your mind? If that's the case then I think transferring your mind to a robot would mean the robot becomes a human being. We can't say that being human is dependent on one's ability to experience the world through their senses, because that would exclude people who are blind or deaf or autistic. Even with all that I can't help but feel that there is some essential spark that would be lost.

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