Despite the annual breakthroughs in science, the human brain remains poorly understood. The idea of transferring consciousness from the brain to a new artificial body seems to be something, albeit distant, but feasible. What could life be like with consciousness inhabiting microchips?
If you once launched a video game from a game console long gone into oblivion, then the very concept of loading consciousness into a new body is clear to you: the mind is just software, and the brain is the "hardware" on which everything works. Imagine that one day neurons - the tissue that forms your mind - can be transferred to a machine, and their "originals" left in your skull can simply be disposed of once and for all.
Will you still be yourself? Let's imagine a future in which a complete brain simulation, mind loading and a comprehensive understanding of what a connectome is are common, everyday things. In such a world, neuroscientists were even able to find a way to resurrect the dead by loading the consciousness of the deceased into machines or new bodies - our ancestors, great scientists and philosophers. What would this world be like?
In an article published in December 2016 in the journal Plos One, scientists Nicolas Rolo, Nirosha J. Murugan, Lucas Tessaro, Justin Costa, and Michael Persinger described how they were able to obtain a pattern similar to living brain conditions by acting on a dead brain tissue with chemical and electrical probes. In their material, scientists write about it like this:
“This was done by reliably modulating frequency dependent microvolt oscillations. These weak microvolt fluctuations were amplified by receptor-specific agonists and their precursors. Together, these results suggest that parts of the human brain after death may retain latent responses with potentially vital and virtual properties.”
Is this a sign that there is not so long to wait before the best minds of mankind find a "cure" for death and people can live forever? But will a person still be himself after loading consciousness into a new synthetic or organic body?
Becoming Human or Loss of Humanity?
Imagine you have a microscopic chip that has a thousand times more cognitive power than your brain. Will you be yourself after you implant it in your central nervous system?
Let's say you put a small chip in your brain to improve memory, analytical thinking, creativity, and so on. Moreover, this very chip will be hundreds or even thousands of times more powerful than your biological brain. But this does not mean that you have replaced yourself: this is just a small chip - like a technically advanced prosthesis that allows a disabled person to run without feeling any imperfections.
Let's look at it from the other side. You are replacing one neuron in your brain with an artificial one. But the artificial neuron works thousands of times faster than the biological original. In theory, you will still be yourself with one replaced neuron, which is unlikely to notice your consciousness, despite the significant improvements in cognitive ability.
Now let's replace one more neuron. You still continue to feel like you are. Your experience remains the same and accumulates in the same way as before, typically defining personality.Most likely, you still do not notice anything, and neither does your consciousness: a couple of super-productive neurons will not change anything much - at least at first glance.
Then we will speed up the process a little. There are about 100 billion neurons in your brain. Over the course of several months, we will gradually replace just one million neurons with new, high-performance versions - microscopic perfect machines. It seems that this is no longer so little. However, you are mistaken: even by the most daring calculations, you have replaced no more than one hundred thousandth of all natural neurons.
You notice that you have begun to read books faster, you understand them better. Abstract mathematical concepts (for example, the Monty Hall paradox) that used to throw you into a stupor now seem to be quite understandable. Nevertheless, you are still quite human.
In the morning you hit your little finger on the nightstand because of lack of sleep. Maybe they felt lonely for a couple of seconds. And that cashier from the store next door seemed very attractive to you.
Still a man or a little bit of a machine?
So, why stop at a million - no special changes have happened to you, you feel healthy. But you're curious how it feels to improve your intelligence. And you decide to take a serious step: replace two billion neurons monthly for a year. By the end of this procedure, you will have 24 billion artificial neurons in your head - almost a quarter of your brain.
Your feelings and emotions miraculously remained intact: the new neurons did not erase them, but simply began to process them faster. But if you don't need it, they may very well process them at the same speed as before. Around the middle of this year - when there are already about 12 billion artificial neurons - you begin to notice tangible changes.
You have developed a partially eidetic memory. Your mind is full of curiosity and thirst for knowledge of the world, it takes a few moments to read articles from "Wikipedia". In a few weeks, you have acquired Ph.D.-level knowledge - in at least twenty disciplines - and it was not worth the effort. You've rediscovered music - not just classics, but all genres. All art becomes for you an experience connected with a transcendental network of associations with other, very distant concepts.
What you are experiencing is even partially impossible to describe with synesthesia. But here's the thing: it doesn't shock or surprise you - it's commonplace for your enhanced composite brain and enhanced mind. This is what people experience when taking psilocybin or dimethyltryptamine. Only in your case, everything happens softly and naturally - it's like sobering up after a long party.
You come to the conclusion (and you do it incredibly quickly) that since you have not lost your inner experience, you should go down the rabbit hole and replace everything else. After all, everyone else does it.
It becomes more difficult for a person with an unfinished upgrade to find a job. Over the next three years, you gradually add new digital neurons, leaving biological ones in the past.
So, is it still you? Upon completion of the procedure, you become a genius by all traditional standards. Only the most advanced concepts in mathematics and philosophy make you think for a second. You can instantly access everything you've ever experienced, every thought ever recorded in your brain (biologically or not).
You have mastered every musical instrument in existence, just for fun. Yes, at first you had to get comfortable - about ten minutes for each instrument. However, you are still a social being and you continue to experience sadness, love, nostalgia, and other human emotions. But just as a note played on a Stradivarius violin is different from a simple electronic function generator, your emotions are also unimaginably deep.Your former, unimproved personality would not be able to fully grasp them. Even close. You are a god, an evolved human with the curiosity of a child. You may have never been a religious person, but a sense of connection, spiritual unity fills your complex mind. It is at the same time the absence of a body, and an understanding of the Universe, and the re-acceptance of ideas that are always open to revision.
Consciousness on digital media: future or rock?
Years go by. Thanks to the same technology that made it easy to replace neurons and which has been improved over time by an entire planet of super-savants, much of the biological body can be replaced. You are practically immortal. But precisely in practice, because a comet the size of a small continent is rushing towards Earth with a frantic speed. There is annoyance in the air that the Earth is about to be destroyed (and this is right after we got smarter and finally put it in order), but there is no obvious existential horror in society.
Everything will be all right because people will leave the planet. But how can a civilization, even a very intelligent one, evacuate billions of people from the planet in just a few years? To do this, you will have to build huge machines orbiting the sun, and then literally load everyone into them.
Download? Of people? Of course, by this time the entire population (or almost) will already have one hundred percent electronic consciousness, simply software. In fact, consciousness has always been. Only now it is always available, but more importantly, it can be duplicated.
Billions of bits of human minds are being transmitted across the solar system, where computers and their gigantic solar panels hover in anticipation of their guests. Of course, this is a gradual process, somewhat similar to how you replaced neurons in your brain many years ago. When neurons are replaced, their "originals" are removed from the skull. The only thing you feel is a serious delay in your thoughts, sometimes longer than a few minutes, due to the distance of millions of kilometers between the two halves of consciousness. As a result, the transfer is complete, and when you wake up, you find yourself in a familiar place.
Virtual worlds imitating the Earth down to nanometer resolutions are prepared in advance for the world's population. In the real world, unimaginable hordes of megascopic and microscopic robots are ready to build new computers, spacecraft, and new robots, while humanity prepares to scatter intelligence across space. We have not yet developed technologies for traveling at superluminal speed (as well as at light speed), but our consciousnesses and boundless virtual realities create enough room for development and in no way depend on time. But have you remained yourself?