Will There Be A Digital Afterlife?
I found an interesting article in The Atlantic - Why You Should Believe in the Digital Afterlife.
Imagine scanning your Grandma’s brain in sufficient detail to build a mental duplicate. When she passes away, the duplicate is turned on and lives in a simulated video-game universe, a digital Elysium complete with Bingo, TV soaps, and knitting needles to keep the simulacrum happy. You could talk to her by phone just like always...
If you want a copy of your brain, you will need to copy its quirks and complexities, which define the specific way you think. A tiny maladjustment in any of these details can result in epilepsy, hallucinations, delusions, depression, anxiety, or just plain unconsciousness. The connectome by itself is not enough. If your scan could determine only which neurons are connected to which others, and you re-created that pattern in a computer, there’s no telling what Frankensteinian, ruined, crippled mind you would create.
To copy a person’s mind, you wouldn’t need to scan anywhere near the level of individual atoms. But you would need a scanning device that can capture what kind of neuron, what kind of synapse, how large or active of a synapse, what kind of neurotransmitter, how rapidly the neurotransmitter is being synthesized and how rapidly it can be reabsorbed. Is that impossible? No. But it starts to sound like the tech is centuries in the future rather than just around the corner.
Of course, science fiction writers have been presenting us with this same dream, like the discorporate sector from Samuel R. Delany's 1966 novel Babel-17:
"Is this . . . ?" the Customs Officer began. Then he was quiet. Walking out, they slowed their steps. Against the darkness red light shot between towers. "What . . . ?"
"Just a transfer. They go all night," Calli explained. Green lightning crackled to their left. "Transfer?"
"It's a quick exchange of energies resulting from the relocation of discorporate states," the Navigator-Two volunteered glibly.
"But I still don't . . ."
They had moved between the pylons now when a flickering coalesced. Silver latticed with red fires glimmered through industrial smog. Three figures formed: women, sequined skeletons glittered toward them, casting hollow eyes.
Kittens clawed the Customs Officer's back, for strut work pylons gleamed behind the apparitional bellies.
"The faces," he whispered. "As soon as you look away, you can't remember what they look like. When you look at them, they look like people, but when you look away—" He caught his breath as another passed.
Science fiction fans may also recall the construct from Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson and recorded personalities, from Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive.
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