Sunday, March 26, 2017

Becoming An Electronic Life Form


This morning I read a fascinating article about work being done with the aim of being able to transfer human consciousness into electronic systems (i.e. a computer).  It's suggested that this may be possible by the early 2030s, meaning that, theoretically, it could well be a possibility for a proportion of people alive today to undergo this process prior to death.  In effect "we" could never die.

Depending on the emulation of the brain, would we have emotions as we recognise them?  If in a computer, we could take any physical form we desire - if we desire one.  So would we all have robot bodies that visually look like extremely attractive humans, or at least an optimised image of our past selves (for myself I'll have mine probably look like how I did in my early twenties, with the excess fat trimmed off)?

Or maybe not.

Will we even have bodies - will wealthy individuals own a selection of bodies, like cars today?  Or perhaps you will be able to rent bodies as desired, spending most of your time in a solely electronic existence on a server within a datafarm somewhere, but when you had earned enough money for a holiday you could rent out a body which could be designed for your preferred activity.  Maybe if you wanted to go rock climbing you could hire a body optimised to climb difficult precipices, climb mountains and see sights that no basic human could ever manage.

One of the most interesting points is that potentially we could be ourselves (at least, we would believe that we are) but be able to think much faster, not get tired, and so forth.  In a shrinking labour market, as technology reduces the amount of humans needed to work, there would be massive demand for these artificial humans to work as being far more efficient than normal humans.  In a labour market already heading that way, this could be the final nail in the coffin of the idea that "everyone should work", ideally giving rise to an idea that "everyone should contribute", and that contribution could make many different forms - art, research, work (if it is an option open to them), or perhaps supporting their community?

If the transfer of people from biological bodies to artificial constructs became common - as prices came down, I could see the argument being that it would be cheaper to transfer people into an easily maintainable and upgradable body made out of plastic and metal, rather than try to keep functioning an ageing and increasingly prone to failure "traditional body" - eventually you could see a significant proportion of our population being electronic.  Perhaps at some point the majority.

Industries such as food production would become increasingly unnecessary, as food wouldn't be needed for energy, and I imagine any taste sensation desired by people in electronic forms could be downloaded and enjoyed.  Like listening to a MP3 music file, or streaming a TV show on Netflix, you could "play" the taste of enjoying a top quality steak, or smelling a flower bouquet).  Would we begin to let farms run into disrepair, or carry out projects to turn them into biodiverse environments?

So much of our current lives would be unnecessary.  If we existed electronically, would we have physical homes, as we recognise them?  We could have an electronic version of the home that our program enjoys, which would be far more massive than anything that we could afford in the real world anyway.  One only needs to look at the popularity of games such as Minecraft and World of Warcraft to understand the possibility of a non-physical reality to live within.

You too could live in a house like this.

Obviously there are significant religious, moral and ethical debates regarding this idea, and I can see many people saying that they wouldn't want to be transferred into an artificial body, and I certainly understand and respect that view.  However, I'll throw this comment out there - if one of the reasons that people create is so that when they're gone there will be a trace of them still "out there" (and it is one of the reasons that I blog and make YouTube videos), wouldn't the best thing to give to posterity be an actual copy of me, that can still interact with future generations and continue to create?

Happy Sunday!