If you had the opportunity to live forever, would you take it?
The obstacles to keeping your body alive indefinitely still seem insurmountable, but some scientists think there is another possibility opened up by digital technology; creating a digital copy of “yourself” and keeping it “alive” online long after your physical body has ceased to function.
In effect, the proposal is to clone a person electronically. Unlike the familiar physical clones – offspring that have identical features as their parents, but that are completely separate organisms with a separate conscious life – your electronic clone would believe itself to be you. How might this be possible? The first step would be to map the brain.
How can that be done? One plan relies on the development of nanotechnology. Ray Kurzweil – one of the prophets of artificial intelligence – predicts that within two or three decades we will have Nano-transmitters that can be injected into the bloodstream. In the capillaries of the brain they would line up alongside the neurons and detect the details of the cerebral electronic activity. They would be able to transmit that information to a receiver inside a special helmet or cap, so there would be no need for any wires protruding from the scalp.
As a further step, Ray Kurzweil also envisages the Nano-transmitters being able to connect you to a world of virtual reality on the internet, similar to what was depicted in the film ‘Matrix’. With the Nano-transmitters in place, by thought alone, you could log on to the internet and instead of the pictures coming up on your screen they would play inside your mind. Rather than send your friends e-mails you would agree to meet up on some virtual tropical beach.
For Ray this would be, quite literally, heaven. Once you upload the brain onto the internet and log on to that virtual world the body can be left to rot while your virtual self carries on playing Counter Strike for ever.
Generations of Christians believed in Christ partly because his resurrection held out the promise that we too might be able to enjoy life after death. But why wait for the Second Coming when you can have a shot of Nano-bots and upload your brain onto the internet and live on as an immortal virtual surfer?
Who needs faith when you’ve got broadband?
(One snag: to exist on the net you will have to have your neural network parked on the computer of a web-hosting company. These companies want real money in real bank accounts every year or they will wipe your bit of the hard disc and sell the space to someone else. With your body six feet underground how will you pay? Here the analogy with heaven really breaks down. God keeps heaven going for free, but the web is something you have to pay for.)