UPDATE: My following article below was just re-published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) and India Future Society.
UPDATE #2: This article was re-published last month by 2045.com.
During our current technological age of the 21st century, topics like robotics, AI, mind uploading, and indefinite life extension are no longer topics of science-fiction, but rather of science-facts and possibilities. The most common one being heavily debated at the current moment is mind uploading. Once we’re able to artificially replicate the human brain, and then begin uploading ourselves into said artificial brain, will we lose consciousness? Will we still be ourselves or will we simply create a copy? Is it a risk we’re willing to take?
I love life. And so the prospect of indefinite life extension is very attractive, IMO. Then again, seeing as how I wish to live much longer than my biologically-fixed clock dictates, to simply make a copy of myself to live forever, but not actually myself, just doesn’t cut it. I would never destroy my brain and let someone else be me for me. If I’m to achieve indefinite life extension, then I want to do so with both my physical and functional continuity still in complete operation. Without one, the other is completely irrelevant.
What is physical and functional continuity? Functional continuity is basically the stream of consciousness which makes you…well…you. “Destroying” functional continuity wouldn’t necessarily do anything to you, nor would it remain destroyed, per se. When we’re going through REM sleep every night, our functional continuity fluctuates on and off, only to be completely restored the next morning. Yes, your consciousness before sleep was different from the consciousness you now acquire after sleep, but you remain yourself – you’re still self-aware. The same applies when getting surgery, thus knocked out due to anesthesia. Only this time, your functional continuity is turned completely off. There is no streaming of consciousness. And yet, after the surgery, your functional continuity turns back on, unaffected insofar as you remain self-aware.
So what about physical continuity? Physical continuity is very important – much more important than functional continuity. Physical continuity – using as simple an understanding as possible – is essentially the brain and all of its synaptic operations. To destroy physical continuity would be to destroy the brain. Thus destroying everything, including the functional continuity which comes along with it. Reason being why physical continuity should be highly looked after much more so than functional continuity. You can destroy your functional continuity and still have the chance to regain it so long physical continuity remains intact. The contrary, however, would be the end of yourself in its entirety.
Thus bringing us to our current dilemma of mind uploading. How are we to achieve mind uploading without destroying physical continuity in the process? To simply “download” everything within your brain and upload it into an artificial brain, while functional continuity is being streamed, physical continuity is being replicated, not maintained. Essentially you’d be partaking in a really cool process of cloning. That’s it. Think of Lt Cmdr Data and his brother Lore from the Star Trek universe (ignoring, of course, your cloned self being a maniacal psychopath).
Which brings me to our current understanding of what is known as “Brain Lateralization” – the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain, separated by a longitudinal fissure. In other words, the left and right brain. Both are almost complete replicas to one another. Which we’ve since discovered that, if you’re to destroy one side of the brain, the other side should remain functional, thus maintaining relative normalcy. A great example of this would be now-twenty-six-year-old Christina Santhouse, who suffered from Rasmussen’s encephalitis – a neurological disease which causes seizures and the loss of motor skills. (http://abcn.ws/12nyCtp) Once she began having over 100 seizures a day at such a young age, her and her family decided to take on a radical approach to address this very serious problem – take out the side of the brain causing this disease. The result? She’s now a normal young woman, earning a scholarship to Misericordia University under a speech-language pathology major! (http://bit.ly/171ay4a)
Why is this important? Because, IMO, it paves the way in understanding how to maintain physical continuity while subsequently uploading your mind into an artificial brain. Imagine going through a process of downloading your entire brain and its various synaptic operations – including consciousness, functional continuity. Then you upload it into an artificially designed right hemisphere of the brain. Now let’s say that you have an operation which replaces your right hemisphere of your biological brain for the artificial replica, all while keeping your left hemisphere completely intact. Over time, the right artificial hemisphere would become the dominant hemisphere, especially once your left biological hemisphere dies. So not only would you have then maintained functional continuity, but also physical continuity as well. You would achieve indefinite life extension via “digital immortality”, per se.
This is the only way I can think of which will allow us to achieve both without losing one or the other in the process.