Monday, February 26, 2007

The Question Of Immortality

What could it really mean to upload the conscious into a computer? This question was posed in class last Thursday when discussing the idea of a person's personality being "saved" in cyberspace, or "the Matrix." While the idea of immortality was presented as a possibility, where the old bodies would be thrown away as the mind lives on in the computer, there are many flaws to consider. It is an interesting thought--even the idea of entering a world where you can be anyone or anything is fascinating--but there are certain problems in this viewpoint. Most of these were addressed by either me or others, but I will repeat them here. All brings to question the practicality of a virtual world.

One of the questions I brought up in class was the probability of anyone actually exposing their entire self online, especially when they tend to keep their identities relatively private on the Internet. Most people hide behind a user name to shield themselves and be honest without repercussions. It is rare for someone to reveal too much of themselves online. The prospect of a person offering their entire self to the public is unlikely, for at least a large number of individuals. Would a person actually reveal every part of themselves to the public, or would they do the same that they do on blogs? Would they offer their entire selves, including the dark secrets that they try to hide, or only what others would like? In other words, would they only include the person they want others to see them as? Consider how the bold ones, even if they do express themselves, still maintain some secrets, while the ones who reveal their name might be more careful. Imagine, for a moment, a MySpace where the consciousness of the people is online. Sounds good if it is only your friends who see you, but imagine complete strangers learning your personalities. Not everyone would be fine with that.

So what if a person just removed the problems they didn't want people to know about? Well, this creates the question of identity. If we removed our flaws, would we be ourselves or, even more, would we still be human? Aren't these flaws apart of us? Worse, aren't there good qualities that we still might want to keep hidden, as even they could be considered weaknesses? The problem is, our "immortal" identity, which we upload unto the computer, probably wouldn't include everything that makes us who we are. I may not want to expose my weaknesses online, but I know that I wouldn't want to lose these flaws and secrets. Why would I want to destroy my body and all the flaws within it?

What about computer hackers? We might think that uploading our consciousness would prove to be relatively safe, because we would still be separate identities, but once we enter the computer world, wouldn't we be just as vulnerable as any file? Wouldn't we be made into 0s and 1s (if they don't become obsolete). There is definitely a threat of being exposed (firewall, anyone?). In fact, even "jacking in" features this threat, since the mind is open to the public. And what about computer viruses? I would not trust my life to a computer that could crash at any moment. Imagine putting your life in the hands of Microsoft. Scary, huh? Why do we still backup our work if we don't recognize the threat? It would probably be better to keep an original copy (i.e. our bodies!)

Finally, the question of immortality includes the question of humanity. Claiming that immortality is found in the preserving of our conscious suggests that the mind is our identity. Now this is great if you adhere to the idea that thinking makes us who we are, but it is useless if you believe in a soul. If it is a soul, and a spiritual world, that you feel defines you, than immortality is much easier than developing such a technology. And if those who believe that a soul defines our identity are right, then the computer has nothing to do with it. The conscious might not bring the desired immortality (and trust me, I would rather put my eternity in a perfect Being than man made, inconsistent technology).

So, while it would be cool to enter a world of virtual reality, it is fair to say that it is not the perfect existence for us to obtain. As far as I am concerned, it is merely science fiction.

Note: While this post does not specifically reference Neuromancer beyond just a short allusion, it is a response to the book as much as it is a response to the class. When I write responses, I tend to use the concept, and questions, within the book as the platform for my response. Though the references are few, it is in response to the idea of virtual reality as presented in this book. The same goes for "Virtual Reality Of The Mind." This was intended to be one of the original posts. Just thought I would clarify.

1 comment:

Mike Anzia said...

Really, there is not any way to transfer a human intelligence into a computer code, at least not in the foreseeable future. The human brain is simply too complex. The theory of virtual reality that we talked about in class would be the closest humanity would come to this, but that has flaws too.

Of course, there are going to be people that are not really what they would seem in a virtual world. That's the case now with the internet. No matter what anyone does, there is no way to force someone to be themselves.

Nor would there be any way for people to sustain themselves in a virtual world. There would be no capacity for learning if the human brain were completely in digital code. It would only be able to "learn" what it is programmed to, and once the person left the "net", they would have no idea of what they knew.

I do take my statement back on that this isn't possible, but it would require that whatever the net would be, it would have to be of a similar material to that of the human brain. If that were the case, then people would be able to pick up anything from the net.

Viruses, based this theory, could cause severe problems. On a human-computer virtual reality system, the viruses could only corrupt what was recorded on the "net". There would be no way for the virus to infect the brain. If people have memory/brain implants in the future, however, then viruses could be a threat no matter what the system was.

I guess the "true" virtual reality would be most dangerous. Although, so long as the human psyche is not transferred to the system, it should not be a problem.