Michael Battalio

Friday, May 25, 2012

Serious conversations (part 36):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-sixth through thirty-ninth entries deal with extending one’s life artificially.

        More and more research has come to light which might allow us to one day replace our entire bodies with artificial mechanisms that duplicate the functionality of our biological systems that we depend on. We already replace certain parts with mechanical options already, though generally it is because a biological part has failed. I don’t know of anyone who has opted to get a mechanical version of a part when their biological part still works.

        There is some speculation that one of the current generations alive will have the option to replace entire bodies with cybernetics. So if you could, would you?

        We probably have a few more decades of Moore’s law holding, and by the end of it we will have computers (perhaps quantum ones) that can process a lot faster than our brains can.  It will only be a matter of finding a way to put ourselves inside a computer.  I feel very uncomfortable with that.  I am not sure placing my consciousness inside a computer is really me anymore.  However, if I were to gradually replace one failing part at a time, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It could be that I’m so uncomfortable with it because the brain is still such an unknown device. How much of my brain is “me” and how much of my body is “me”. On the other hand, if parts of my brian were replaced gradually and my stream of consciousness was continuous, I won’t have a problem with it. I think it is our sense of continuity and uniqueness that draws such fine lines in this matter. (More on this in the next post.) My friend posited that it is “our natural aversion to change and our natural ability to adapt to small perturbations that makes us feel this way.  We have our normal concept of self, and it changes minutely all the time due to various influences and experiences in our lives.  But sometimes a significant change can completely upset your concept of what is normal for you and your own life, and you are forced to renormalize quickly and painfully.”

        So given that if I adapt slowly enough I would be all right become computerized, would I demand to have some sort of corporal form to manipulate or would I be okay existing as nothing but code in some sort of stationary mainframe?  I know I would want some sort of mobile form that I could manipulate with my mind, and I would prefer it to be very similar to the form of my present body (enhanced of course).   Another interesting idea is that we could control objects but not be a part of them - for example have some sort of machine that we can control mentally by remote through an interface, but that interface doesn't have to be some sort of clunky object, it can be implemented simply through code.  

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