The Demise of Death




Artificial Intelligence is a Pandora’s box of questions we don’t yet fully understand. ‘Eternal life’ sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi collection. But though the concept challenges many social constructs in today’s world, it is no longer mere fiction. Some computer geeks believe that we will be able to essentially ‘upload’ the brain into a super-intelligent machine in the not so distant future. (Does Chappie ring a bell?)

With leapfrogging advancements in neuroscience, we continue to get an increasing understanding of the human brain. It’s only fair to say, we are not far from creating the computational capacity to functionally simulate the human brain. This marks the beginning of an epoch for the neocortex of humans to expand into computer-land.

Computer scientist, inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil, regarded as the ‘Father of singularity’, is of the opinion that as technology accelerates at an exponential rate, progress would eventually become virtually instantaneous—a singularity. Further, he predicted that an advancement in computers would eventually lead to a merger of different technologies namely- genomics, nanotechnology and robotics. The fusion of humans and computers is inevitable. Trans-humanists imagine a world where humans, with the help of exponential progress in science and technology, have transcended their physical and cognitive abilities into a ’post-human’ stage, far superior to man. Though such an outlandish view seems unfeasible, there has been undeniable progress in Science and Tech. Quoting Jon Von Neuman— “The ever accelerating progress of technology gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

Advances in 3D printing will enable us to print custom organs, and limbs, among other bionic parts specifically engineered to enhance human output. In a world of such possibilities, there would be no wind of any disabilities or ailments. We have already mapped the entire human genome, the entire genetic makeup of humans. Scientists have already managed to create tools, empowering us to essentially edit genes. This enables us to render viruses inactive, regulate cell activity and design organisms to fit our requirements. (It’s not far when, with an almost divine perfection, we will be able to will ‘designer babies’ into existence) Such breakthroughs also improve health by leaps and bounds, possibly resulting in a disease-free society.

Dimitri Itskov, a Russian billionaire has a Herculean ambition of eliminating death entirely in the next 30 years. He contemplates—“For the next few centuries I envision having multiple bodies; my consciousness just moving from one to another”. Many other optimistic people hold that we can transcend the limitations of our physical bodies, and live forever. Picture your grandparents reminiscing about 1000 note with your great-grandkids! The very concept of death is unfathomable at this stage.

Prolonged and extensive space voyages impossible at the moment due to a mortal body will become common. Feeding knowledge to your brain will be as effortless as eating. You are no longer compelled to sleep during those valuable hours. The elimination of hunger and poverty. No more agonising doctor visits. All this paints a utopian picture of everlasting bliss.

But let’s not get carried away!

Before we bridge the gap between ourselves and computers, we need to create a more considerate and fair political and social system with less hegemony and less cruelty. Otherwise we will simply be turning every fibre of our existence over to the state and giving up our right to liberty (Imagine PRISM in such a ubiquitous computing world). It’s natural to assume that making copies of the brain would be feasible. In such a case, how can voting be regulated? Think of a sadist who might hack into your consciousness and torture you digitally (Covfeve!). An addicted gamer shooting a bunch of kids in the park thinking it’s a game. The fine line between reality and the virtual landscape might be very murky.

Having weighed the pros and cons, is this really feasible? How likely is the Singularity really? It’s certainly no stranger to criticism.

It’s been theorised that in such a society, work is carried out by disembodied emulations of human minds, running in simulations of virtual reality using cloud computing facilities. Think Matrix.

There are practical issues as well. To replicate the mind digitally we would have to map each of its 86 billion or so connections, something that eclipses our current capabilities. At the current pace, we might do this in a few decades, but only for a dead brain. We still don’t understand how the brain works at a molecular level and how the neurons interact. We don’t even know the ‘format’ of the brain. Unless we can extract the logical and digital operations from its molecular level, emulating a real brain is still speculative.

Also, at every stage, we have designed the circuits, transistors and different connections of a computer, and it’s various aspects. But no one ‘designed’ the brain. It has evolved over eons. We can’t simply map it’s operations to digital logic.

Even if such a scenario is impossible, there’s no harm to speculate such possibilities. The fear of death drives man/woman to accomplish desire. You never know when death is around the corner. Ray Kurzweil in his book argues that —our view of our role in this universe should be trying to reach a greater existence with technology playing a key role, encourages us to take noble risks. Such risks must be taken to ensure the future of humanity at the expense of the present.

To end, a quote from Stephen Hawking himself—“Artificial intelligence is likely to be the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity”.

Cover Designed by Adarsh Salagame

Edited by Nikita Mandapati

Article Written by Khalid Riyaz



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