Full Body Transplant

A Full Body Transplant Could, From Another Point Of View, Be Viewed as a Brain Transplant. Long The Realm of Science Fiction, We Fear (or Perhaps Hope) It Will Remain So.full-body-transplant

At a dinner party, the host announced that he planned to be immortal. This certainly got our attention. He further proclaimed that we are going to be the last generation to die. But he had concocted a scheme to get in on the immortality thing and avoid this fate.

This seems a stretch, but I didn’t want to burst any balloons, so I kept my usually overactive mouth shut.

How is this going to work? The idea put forth is that for the time being, we would upload the contents of our brain to the “cloud.”

This smacks of Kurzweil. For those of you unfamiliar with Ray Kurzweil, he is now billed as a futurist, and is part of the Google brain trust. He is also the founder of Kurzweil Music Systems, a long time top-of-class electronic keyboard, and additionally invented a reading aid for the blind. He has written many books, and is a genuine one-of-a-kind, usually having an opinion on most topics.

Kurzweil’s prediction is that we will be integrated with the “cloud” starting around 2030. In his own words: “Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking, We’re going to gradually merge and enhance ourselves. In my view, that’s the nature of being human—we transcend our limitations.”

We will attain this electronic nirvana by injecting molecular sized nanobots which will arrange themselves in our brain and enable a direct connection to supercomputers. This has been a favorite topic of several dystopian hits, such as “The Matrix.” Kurzweil, of course, imagines a more sanguine future.

There Are A Few Obstacles

We aren’t quite there yet.  We probably need to know these things first:

  • How does our brain work? We really know very little. We don’t even know what we don’t know. We know it’s adaptive, self-organizing, capable of inductive and deductive reasoning, learning, and a whole lot more. In several of Kurzweil’s books, he notes that whenever they had a pattern recognition problem, the more they could make their machine behave like a human, the better things worked. From this we learn little, really, about the detailed functioning of a neuron. Certainly the machine that emulates its behavior has no internal bits that resemble it.full-body-transplant-if-i-only-had-a-brain
  • We don’t actually understand all that much about the brains found in even very simple animals. We know that much behavior is “pre-programmed,” but don’t know much about how that comes about.
  • About the closest people have come to an artificial neuron would be the “neural network.” These sprang to life in the 60’s with the work of MIT’s Marvin Minsky and Stanford’s Bernie Widrow. These were threshold-logic devices. A threshold-logic device is quite simple in concept. It has many inputs, and a single output. The output is on if enough of the inputs are on (the threshold), and is otherwise off. This is arguably a plausible model of a neuron. But how to use it? Much work was done setting these up to do pattern recognition, and two things emerged. First, the threshold logic device—usually an array of them—had to be trained. Second it was quite limited in what it could be trained to do. The brain trains itself and hasn’t such limitations. A lot less came out of it than was hoped.
  • Those nanobots are going to have to be very “nano.” The brain is protected by a blood-brain barrier. Anything bigger than a dozen or so atoms isn’t allowed across. The brain is very well protected.

But let’s suppose the by 2030, we have figured all this out and are fully wired, so to speak. What then? Well certain advantages are quite clear. We won’t be as forgetful, and we will have access to a lot of information. Do we know what to do with this? We won’t go there.

Let’s further suppose that our circulating cerebral nanobots can report on the status of each neuron, what its thresholds are and so on. Now this is, arguably, a very large amount of information. At least in the quadrillion byte zone, and it’s changing all the time. But we could at least store a quadrillion bytes today. So the real issues are transmission and interpretation—how do we move all this information and what do we do with it?

But is that all we are? Apparently Kurzweil and the dinner host seem to think so. But perhaps we are simply scratching the surface. Our conscious self—the one we experience most of the time—may be just a small fraction. The “life-force” that these people are trying to capture and bottle may be the dynamics and interactions of thoughts themselves. The idea is that what makes us conscious and alive isn’t really about the wiring, and isn’t really about the information. It is, instead, the dynamic interplay of live thought, both conscious and subconscious. The soul, some might say. And once this mental ballroom of twirling thoughts is stopped, that’s the end. The candle has flickered out. In this case, the reconstructed  cyber-person is no more than that, just a computer, or to quote Chomsky: “a better steamroller.”full-body-transplant-poster

Of course, to be fair, we don’t know. But, neither do they.

The dinner host took it all a step further. He seems likely to be around in 2030, but isn’t going to take any chances on the brain-cloud interface. So he plans to have himself frozen until all the kinks are worked out of the system. He acknowledges it could take a while. We covered this in a prior post here.

But the somewhat chilling final step: Once they can upload everything cerebral, including your soul or agnostic equivalent, they can download it too. All you need is a donor body. Do we have any screenwriters in the house? The plot for a new dystopic blockbuster is right here.  There are all sorts of interesting possibilities. You could spend a few decades as the opposite sex. Maybe you could be an animal.

But why darken this bright new world with the gloom of cultivating fresh recipient bodies. Why not just stay in the cloud. All the human interaction could just be simulated—faked. We couldn’t tell the difference. In the cloud, the possibilities are limitless, though all virtual.  But then, what would be the point?

Which is a good point on which to end this meandering post.

So in the meantime, and perhaps for all time, take care of the body and brain you’ve got. Maybe the Schlitz Beer Marketing Department had it right: “You only go around once in life so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.”

Or maybe not.

PS Intentionally ignored here are some of the computational limitations; read as both quantum and strict propositional logic limits on knowability. As well as plain old ‘head transplants.’

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