- Annika Santhanam
Humanly Inhuman: Transferring Consciousness to a Synthetic Body
We’ve all probably heard the question before: If immortality were an option, would you take it? Most people would probably dismiss the question since immortality isn’t real. But what if having eternal life was a possibility in today’s world? The possibility of the transfer of human consciousness to a synthetic body can soon become a reality, and it could help the world for the better.
Technology is evolving, and so are we. The world has come to a point where artificial intelligence is breaking the boundaries of our perception of human consciousness and intelligence. Hanson Robotics, located in Hong Kong, has developed a robot named Sophia that looks, acts, talks, and thinks like a human. If put in public, she could almost pass for human, other than her transparent skull that showcases her extensive makeup of wires and control boards. But the question is – is she human? The quick answer would be ‘No’ – a human being is made up of flesh and bone. They’re a species, homo sapiens, that act uniquely compared to the world of animals around us. Sophia is a machine made of metal, wires, and a conscience of 1’s and 0’s.
But then we start to think about what really makes us human. Our structure is similar to that of apes. Our ancestors were apes that evolved into what we are today. So how are we any different from the primates? Our high level of intelligence? Is it our unique way of thinking? Now we’re getting close to something. What really sets us apart, what really defines what it means to be human, is our consciousness. Human consciousness is a mysterious part of science. We say that consciousness is just awareness of our surroundings and ourselves. But the truth is, we are very far away from defining consciousness or even discovering how it works. Scientists have no idea what makes up consciousness, what it is, or how it makes us human. Consciousness might seem like some mystery that can be left for future studies, but in reality, it is the key to the biggest innovation we have the ability to make: downloading human consciousness into a synthetic body.
Currently, there are no scientific methods to biologically prolong life. However, eternal life could be accomplished through – you guessed it – robots. By understanding human consciousness, we may be able to digitally recreate it. This, accompanied with the daunting task of mapping out the entire human brain and its neurons, could lead to being able to create a virtual habitat to host a person’s consciousness. By connecting this to a synthetic body, we may be able to allow a person to live without biological limitations. Mapping out the human brain and its neurons opens up a whole world of possibilities. We’ll be able to see how each part of the body interacts with your brain, what the other undiscovered parts of our brain can do, and how it correlates to our questions of conscience.
But the bigger question is, why would we do this? Is this even ethical? Why would someone want to live eternally in a robotic body? To answer these questions, we must think back to the greatest minds that graced the world. For example, Stephen Hawking. Hawking was a renowned physicist, diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), who not only beat the odds on his life span with his disease but also broke through barriers on our understanding of quantum theory and the universe around us. He passed away in 2018, but imagine if we were able to map his consciousness before then. We would be able to preserve his mind, his thoughts, his ideas, all in one body. Discoveries and theories could be crafted for years, and we might have been able to make breakthroughs we never would have thought to be possible. If we consider the medical side, those diagnosed with terminal or severe degenerative diseases could be able to live their life fully and be free of the confines of their disease. We would be able to help thousands of people around the world to live and grow without being worried about how long they have to live.
However, there are a couple of cons to the process. Mainly, who gets the opportunity to extend their lifespan? Decisions must be made whether to only save the terminally ill or give the opportunity to those who have enough money. But who would make those decisions and what gives them the authority to make that decision? Additionally, what if people try to take advantage of this? World leaders could create armies of soldiers that aren’t inhibited by human bodies. They could end up using the process for evil rather than for saving lives. On top of that, what happens to the human population? If the process was exploited so everyone got the chance to gain a synthetic form, then the process of dying out would end. Our population would continue to climb instead of plateauing. Finally, how long would a person be allowed to live if their conscience were transferred? Some may argue to cap it at 100 years, while others may think to prolong it.
The transferring of consciousness hasn’t been attempted yet, but there are people looking towards the process. A company called Humai wants to take the human brain and place it in an artificial body, having the brain be isolated but able to control an entire
synthetic body on its own. This could eventually lead to conscience transfer, as stated by a Russian billionaire, Dmitry Itskov, who is also trying to transfer human consciousness into a robotic body. He projects that his venture will be completed in another 20 years or so, but it seems for now that these ambitions still lie in science fiction.
So, what makes us human? Can we still be human in a synthetic body? Those questions might be reserved for later studies, but as technology advances, we can be sure that we’ll find answers in the near future.
Stay tuned for more articles!