Digital Immortality: an Overview

Digital Immortality: an Overview

It is my belief that one day humans will decide to dispense entirely of their biological bodies in favour of digital robotics. Though some may regard such a being as not human at all, we do not think that would have a lasting impact on human progression or the ultimate outcome of the technology being developed and spread. We intend to discuss what we mean by digital immortality and how we would achieve such a feat.

What do we mean by Digital Immortality?

In as simple terms as we can put them, digital immortality is the result of uploading a human brain into digital form and living immortally as a robot. What this means is that the thought processes, memories and function our brains previously had would still work exactly as before through a system of electronic connections instead of neurons. Much like copying and pasting from one place to another, the only thing to change is the medium and not the content. Once our brain is digitised we would then connect it to artificial limbs not unlike those we see today, though artificial limbs would be much more advanced than they are now. With this integration of digital brain and artificial bodies, we will have achieved digital immortality. After this could come a whole host of software enhancements such as integrated general AI and fully simulated reality.

How will we achieve Digital Immortality?

As far as can be seen, it seems clear that digital immortality would be achieved in one way: a comprehensive scan of all connections in the brain, translated into code and computer memory on a hard drive. This code and memory would need to be able to change dynamically to allow for human memories to form and thoughts to flow. The largest problem we would need to overcome is the scan itself: the scan would need to be perfect to keep the integrity of the individual’s cognitive function and previous memory. Any scan would likely need to be destructive, at least for the first few decades, which means the process would be irreversible and any mistake made could be permanent. One company, Nectome, is even offering to preserve your brain until such a method does become available.

Is it possible?

Already we see the beginnings of this technology coming to fruition. Scientists have been able to give animals false memories and inputs; the behaviour of worms in the dirt has been simulated exactly as the real worms behave; companies such as Neuralink have promised an implantable neural lace capable of directly integrating digital software and our brains. Clearly, the notion of fully dispensing of one’s biological self is not so far into the realm of impossibility.

Aside from the complexity of a comprehensive scan of all connections in the brain much of the technology required already exists in some form today and would only need a relatively short period of time to adapt to an artificial body capable of housing a human cognition. As with many things in early technological days, if it can be done on the easiest level it likely can be scaled up to more complex levels.  The chips that store and interact with the digital brain, for example, would probably be similar to those used in semi-autonomous vehicles as they are already dense and very fast, a technology easily adaptable for supporting a brain-sized database and system of connections. Other aspects such as artificial limbs, internal temperature modulation, vision and hearing to name a few mostly exist today at high levels of sophistication. One key thing in all of this is that much of the technology can simply be taken from existing, unrelated applications such as mobile phone technology, satellite technology and even automobile technology. Optimistically, all this could be achieved as early as the 2040s, and it is extremely probable that this will be seen within the current century.

What would a final product look like?

So far, we have only discussed the transferring of human cognition, though it is immediately obvious that even machines can ‘die’. In order to truly achieve digital immortality, we would need some form of backup. Ideally, this backup would be a constantly updating copy of the activated version and would be unable to think for itself until ‘activated’ as the brain in use. Assuming backups can be downloaded from one central database, we would effectively have the ability to ‘re-spawn’ as in countless video games.

This would need to have the highest levels of security, both internal and external. It would also at the same time need to be transparent, which would require comprehensive government regulation. As for normal use, it would be probable that an artificial body and brain could be enhanced with software such as AI and hardware, for example, an infrared camera upgrade or multi-tool limb attachment. In fact, there would be no need to stick with a humanoid shape at all. All in all, it is likely that this form of digital immortality would be very similar to having an upgrade-able custom avatar in a video game.

This would have many effects on the world and cause an almost complete restructuring of society, government and the law. It would also come with many risks and challenges, but these would be well worth it for the many benefits digital immortality would bring.

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Loui Coleman

Author of Generation Byte

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