Technology 3 min read

Cyber Immortality: Will we Download our Consciousness or Just Make a Copy?

image courtesy of pixabay

image courtesy of pixabay

Instead of something that keeps our bodies alive forever, maybe the Fountain of Youth will be something that keeps our brains alive forever.

Edgy Labs explores the claim that by 2050, “brain downloads” will be possible, and what that might mean for our definition of “true self”.

To escape his dying body, Johnny Depp’s character in the 2014 film Transcendence successfully preserves his consciousness digitally, essentially living forever in the Cloud.

Instead of uploading our consciousness to the Cloud, we may be nearing the point where downloading our consciousness to a replacement body or cyborg is possible.

For you Battlestar Galactica fans out there, immortality may look more like Cylon resurrection (when one’s physical body is compromised, all of one’s thoughts, memories and experiences are backed up and downloaded on to a new cyborg body).

But, in both cases, even if downloading our consciousness becomes possible, would we actually be downloading our unique consciousness, or would we just be downloading a copy?

Brain Drain

Futurist and Chief Engineer at Google Ray Kurzweil formulated the Law of Accelerated Returns that echoes Moore’s Law, touches on the Singularity and points to a “near” future where artificial intelligence is staggeringly advance and omnipotent, and humans are immortal.

“Will our consciousness become akin to a transferable “soul”? Or we will expire inside our organic envelope anyway?”

According to Kurzweil, by 2045, humans will be able to transfer their mind entirely to computers and, thus, become digitally immortal. This human de-materialization via “mind-uploading” would make it possible to download a person’s mind onto a computer or hologram.

“Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that’s what we’re trying to design in a computer,” explains Futurologist and Mathematician Ian Pearson. In a 2005 interview with the Observer, Pearson stated that cyber immortality could be a reality by 2050 considering the current rate of advances in computing.

External Soft Drive

If we copy our consciousness and intellect to another device, would it be like moving into the machine or all we do is just creating a backup or copy of ourselves?

Will our consciousness become akin to a transferable “soul”? Or we will expire inside our organic envelope anyway?

Assuming that we can (1) someday transfer our brain and (2) we accept that idea that the downloaded brain is no longer ours, we still have the biggest piece of the puzzle to figure out: the mind itself. Thus, it is crucial for us to define what the “mind” means.

The brain, enclosing the mind, is primarily an organ designed to control a biological body whose main task is to survive. Our consciousness derives partially from our self-concept, and our self-concept is partially determined (and limited) by our biological bodies.

In other words, the brain is not a disembodied logical device. Can it, therefore, only exist and express itself through a body?

Regardless, if we’re ever to upload our brain, it is imperative to consider a compatible vessel to contain it.


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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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