“’That’s the heart of the problem. I haven’t lived enough. My character is just the combination of my intellect and my faults. I haven’t had time to become more complex, more interesting. […] I’m not sure if you realize this but without my flaws I’d be pretty dull. You should know that.’”
In “A Calculated Life” by Anne Charnock
For the sake of argument let me be devil’s advocate.
The scientific materialist assumption is that the body is the primary organ and consciousness is secondary. This is not so; consciousness is the primary experience and the body and all other experiences are secondary. The body is a construct of consciousness. Forward thinking scientists are just beginning to realise this. Man might be able to prolong life but a 'machine' existence will never happen because the 'reality' of phenomenal existence is simultaneously 'real' and 'not real'. People, including scientists tend to see everything in terms of being a binary system. Yes/no, off/on, is/isn't, 0/1, true /untrue. Reality is not that simplistic. Mm, that's some good pseudo bullshit. Preventing aging is almost certainly more achievable soon than consciousness transfer, but ultimately the latter offers greater security and opportunity. Immortal DNA is all very well, until you suffer catastrophic injury or brain damage. With transferable consciousness, you get the immortality, along with the option to backup and restore in the event of a fatal accident, as well as the ability to travel at light-speed as a digital signal to be reawakened on arrival. And that's before we even get into the idea of truly inhabiting the virtual world as digital consciousness. With an infinitesimal fraction of the earth's current energy use, you could have untold trillions living in a virtual utopia, with a near infinite diversity of cultures, worlds and lifestyles. Nevertheless, is it misleading to talk about 'transferable' consciousness? What would be uploaded would be a facsimile of your consciousness. As far as the exterior world, interacting with the facsimile, would be concerned it would be you. However, it would actually be a totally new instance of you, with no continuity of your original consciousness. It's what's always troubled me about the idea of Star Trek-type teleportation - the thought that disintegrating someone in one place and then reassembling them in another, would effectively mean the death of the original, internally-experienced consciousness (although nobody else would notice or care!). Of course, it all depends on the manner of the transfer, and your outlook on identity and consciousness. Personally, I would consider an accurate facsimile to be me. A second version, sure, but I don't see that as an obstacle to identity. Once they start experiencing separate things though, they will diverge, and the concept of which is the "true" me becomes less meaningful. The continuity of consciousness is interesting; a new instance would be me, but would leave the original me intact, so from the original's POV, the copy is a clone. However, if you could first augment the brain with computers, allowing consciousness to run on both subtracts at the same time (imagine your normal consciousness, but with access to extra digital memory, for example) then you could theoretically effect the transfer smoothly, "moving" your consciousness purely into the inorganic memory. Basically, this kind of stuff will force us to challenge our ideas of self, and of identity, because we've never had cause to think of ourselves as anything other than singular beings, though observations after the severing of the corpus callosum in epilepsy sufferers has already put strain on that idea, suggesting that we are already less easily defined than we like to think (I recommend Greg Egan's SF books as a great place to explore these ideas, beginning with Permutation City).
The joy of intelligent thinking. We have it. Computers don't. Computers will be able to make decisions (and sometimes those decisions are going to be wrong), but there are so many ways in which computers cannot compete with the human. "I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do". (HAL 2001). Just look at the European Language top level C2 - "Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations." Being able to say things with "shades of meaning", heck native speakers cannot even do that sometimes. And when it comes to listening or reading humans can read between the lines and they can understand subtleties and nuances. Computers and robots will enhance the world - hey, they can even go to visit Mars rather than risking the life of a person - but it will take much more time before they can out think us.
Chess - Go - Tic-Tac-Toe these are games! And they have finite boundaries. Real life? Enjoy it.
Charnock plays with these concepts in a manner that felt non-gimmicky. Lots of SF nowadays feels all too gimmicky and swamped in crap. Charnock’s basic presumption is that the mind is ultimately not just software, running on the hardware of the brain. Thus, we can transfer it, duplicate it, upload it and the rest. Throughout the novel we’re kept in doubt as to the nature of the human mind. Real science has made very little headway in that direction. Some scientists and philosophers deny there is such a thing as the mind at all. They say the mind is just what the brain does. Jayna’s rebooting makes me thing: "It won't be her surely", but this doesn't even quite catch it, it's worse than that. It won't even be a copy of her. No Jayna 2. Whatever Charnock created on another piece of hardware and software - even if the constructors used another biological neural network! - will approximate aspects that we as the readers will be able to identify, but a) Jayna will never be the same, and b) point (a) does not even matter, because it won't be identical. Even if some godly creature made an atom-for-atom copy of Jayna, that's going to be another “person”. Doesn't matter that it's a copy, meaning same memories etc. From the point of creation of the copy there are two different and separate physical beings without any connection. Will there be a sequel to this wonderful novel? For the first time in many years I wouldn’t mind reading it now.
NB: At the end of the novel Charnock mentions Kurzweil’s “The Age of Spiritual Machines” which I read a long time ago. One word: crap! Kurzweil never gives indication of understanding that a finite but infinitely varied and magnificent environment exists in the real world, beyond humans, nor what its relationship would be to this kind of bizarre transformation. The perpetrators of this nightmare seem to be unaware that we are in the Sixth Great Extinction now and that it will include humans. One must believe these people have been in their cells with computers and chips for too long. Perhaps their whole lives. What will happen when the EMP attack takes it all down? I live in Lisbon that is so far away from this kind of isolated industrial society conceit that I can hardly believe Kurzweil understands the real world. But I tell you, in my real world, my swallows were back 2 months early…That much I know.
SF = Speculative Fiction.