Would you beat death by uploading your brain to a computer?
In the 200,000 or so years humans have existed on this planet, it’s fair to say a lot has changed.How we eat, live, love, and worship has undergone just about every change you could imagine (and many you couldn’t!). But one thing has always been consistent regardless of modern innovation in healthcare. We all die.
How, when and where have all been greatly enhanced by modern technology, and now scientists are setting their sights on the final frontier; stopping dying happening at all. This hypothetical process is formally called Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) but people also refer to it as mind transfer or mind copying.
So what exactly is Whole Brain Emulation?
This is the process of using Artificial intelligence and cutting edge tech to map your whole brain’s neural network onto a computer, allowing you to continue to think after your physical body has died.
There are two ways this could take place, one is to lift the brain all at once and the other is to do a gradual upload. In the case of a one time lift this would mean scanning and mapping the features of the brain and copying, transferring and storing the data on some form of computer. This would likely mean the end of the physical brain.
Is it possible?
Well, according to start-up Nectome, it is. They’re looking to start mind-uploading imminently and they are looking for volunteers. The downside? You’ll have to die in the process. Because of the complexity of the brain, the upload needs to take place whilst it’s still firing and that means whilst we’re still alive and kicking.
Whilst Nectome may be a small start up, a company you can’t ignore is Neuralink which is the brainchild of tech-billionaire Elon Musk.
They’re working tirelessly to create ‘neural lace’ which, according to Neuralink, is an ultra-thin mesh that can be implanted in the skull forming a collection of electrodes capable of monitoring brain function. It creates an interface between the brain and machine, so when using games, apps and other programmes, you’ll be seamlessly in both worlds.
So, whilst they’re not focused specifically on continuing your conscious after death – their technology could pave the way for just that.
Does immortality sounds like something you’d be down for? Don’t get your cash out just yet – the science community have been quick to call out some of this science, with MIT cutting ties with Nectome last year.
In MIT’s statement they raise the point that right now we can’t actually directly measure or create consciousness. And, if we can’t do that we can’t accurately answer the question of whether a computer or simulation has true consciousness. They state that, to be able to answer this question, we would need a new science that would have to take a non-linear leap from where we are today.
Just because we can, does that mean we should?
The host of religious and ethical issues this brings with it is monumental – as you would expect. Just like the idea of cloning babies, the idea of cheating death in any way seems well… inhuman.
There’s a large transhumanist movement who treat mind uploading as not just an important step, but a necessary one for the continuation of our species. Futurists see it as a way to avoid mass extinction from a global disaster, a ‘back-up’ of humanity if you will.
And there is also a growing argument for the lack of equality that this technology brings with it. Whilst our world is completely loaded to the side of those with the most money, the one thing that makes us equal is death. Allowing those with the largest purse strings (this wouldn’t be a cheap buy) creates yet another chasm between those with money and those without.
We may be some way away from the technology being a reality, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking ourselves the difficult question of ‘should we’. Death is all we currently have to depend on. Take that away, and what do we become?
Find out more
Thinking about death can be hard, but we’ve created some tools to help you. By filling out our Farewell Wishes you can take that first step into thinking about what you may want to happen to you when you die.
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