Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cryonics and Uploading

A DISCLAIMER: I know next-to-nothing about technologies related to uploading; but I get the general idea.

"Mind uploading or whole brain emulation (sometimes called mind transfer) is the hypothetical process of scanning and mapping a biological brain in detail and copying its state into a computer system or another computational device. The computer would have to run a simulation model so faithful to the original that it would behave in essentially the same way as the original brain, or for all practical purposes, indistinguishably.[1] The simulated mind is assumed to be part of a virtual reality simulated world, supported by a simplified body simulation model. Alternatively, the simulated mind could be assumed to reside in a computer inside (or connected to) a humanoid robot or a biological body, replacing its brain."

The two cryonics forums I read, regularly, (Cold Filter and Cryonet), have been comprised mostly of discussions regarding mind uploading, in recent weeks, with little-to-nothing being written about the current state of cryonics activities, or the medical science related to cryonics. I always thought the goal of cryonics was to prolong one's life, but it seems many cryonicists would be happy just to know the world would continued to be "blessed" with a copy, (or multiple copies!), of themselves, once they are dead. It's the ultimate in narcissism.

Edgar Swank, of American Cryonics Society (ACS), thinks a copy of his mind/personality living in some sort of virtual reality would be "heaven." I guess he thinks he could run a program and a virtual Angelina Jolie would show up at his imaginary door, ready to fulfill his every desire. He doesn't seem to care that it would be make-believe, or that someone like Ms. Jolie wouldn't touch him with a 40-foot pole, in reality. He writes: "Arcturus also wants to be reconstituted in a body of some kind and compares living inside a computer to locked-in syndrome. But living in a sufficiently rich virtual reality would not be like that at all. One could have any kind of virtual body one wanted, including any super powers one might imagine. I don't see any problem moving from the virtual reality to an advanced android or cyborg body. But I expect most people would choose the virtual reality, at least most of the time." Does Mr. Swank consider the possibility that the future would not tolerate his narcissistic virtual world, and someone would come along and pull the plug? Who, in the future, would care about some computer on a desk, being of no benefit to anyone, or anything, other than itself? "Hey, Joe, look at this old schmuck, sitting around taking up space, running programs about sexual fantasies and superhuman powers, just to satisfy itself. Move that thing to the dumpster."

"Virtual" is the key word in Mr. Swank's fantasies about living in a world where he can fool himself into believing he has the body of Ryan Reynolds and can fly like superman. It's not much of a stretch of my imagination to think Mr. Swank would be satisfied with virtual reality, since I believe he already lives in a make-believe world. (More on that, in a future post.) The rest of us, however, really want to LIVE, and virtual pleasure and happiness would be quite hollow. (I'm assuming a machine, making itself "feel" happy, would be intelligent to "know" it was doing so. At any point, would the computer latch onto the "yin and yang," and realize life is not complete without the reality of disappointments? That victories are insignificant without the possibility of defeat? That there would be no genuine reward in running a virtual marathon in your own little universe, where you could assure you would always be the virtual winner?

Let's suppose, by some miraculous technology, I was able to transfer my memory and personality into a computer, or even a humanoid robot. Let's say, at the time, I am lying on my deathbed, knowing I will die within the next few days. Would it give me any comfort to know a copy of me would live on, after I am dead? Absolutely not. Once dead, I would no longer be able to hold my loved ones, to stand with arms outstretched in a glorious rain, or engage in any other joyful experiences of life. Leaving behind a copy would only console me if I was narcissistic enough to think the world would be blessed by having a copy of me, instead of someone new and unique, and I am not narcissistically delusional enough to believe that. The world will be fine without a copy of me, and though my copy may THINK it is me, the REAL me would still be dead.

From Aschwin and Chana de Wolf's Depressed Metabolism blog:
Cryonics is often associated with ideas like mind uploading and transhumanism. One negative consequence of this (un)intentional association is that some people who are considering cryonics feel that they have to embrace a much larger set of controversial ideas than what they are actually being asked to consider. As a result, there is a real risk that people reject cryonics for reasons that have little to do with the proposal of cryonics itself. Advocates of cryonics do not do themselves a favor by promoting the idea of human cryopreservation as part of a larger set of futurist ideas instead of just promoting cryonics as an experimental medical procedure to extend life. There is too much at stake to alienate people by piling more controversial ideas on top of what is already considered to be a radical idea. Such a low-key attitude will also produce a more consistent message because it extends the element of uncertainty that is inherent in cryonics to other areas of life as well.

As much as I admire Aschwin, I think he has yet to realize that the idea of training laymen to perform the "experimental medical procedure" of cryonics is just as much of a fantasy as Mr. Swank's virtual world. Cryonics procedures require performing the tasks of advanced paramedics, vascular surgeons and perfusionists. Laymen being trained, (by other laymen, for the most part), are never going to be able to perform these procedures properly, given the lack of expertise on the part of their instructors and the lack of opportunity to have the degree of clinical experience needed to gain proficiency in performing those tasks.

The fact that so many people interested in cryonics are also interested in other "radical ideas" shows that most of these people live their lives out engaging in fantasy. Few of them are scientists, or medical professionals; for the most part, they are laymen engaging in what I would call "mental masturbation."

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