Research is being carried out in attempts to harness and capture the entire essence of the soul to store it in digital form. What difference is it going to make in the world and how is it going to challenge and change the traditional wisdom. How is this technology going to affect the world and does this technology have the capability of touching lives of every individual on our globe in one or the other way?
Since the dawn of the era of humanity on this globe, man has been intrigued and equally scared of many different phenomenon like lightning, huge fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and more importantly death. The ancient man did not know the actual reasons behind such natural phenomena and ended up assuming that they were the result of some god’s wrath. Then, he would kneel down and pray to the gods to save him of their fury. But the times changed, the gained knowledge spread and with the advent of scientific age, we have found most of the answers and reasons behind the nature’s behaviour. We have studied and found so much about our earth, solar system and origins of life and universe itself but yet we have no conclusive evidence about why we age and die and what exactly happens to the soul after one dies. And, more importantly, the Science has not been able to define what “soul” exactly is. Soul is that one thing that separates life from death. So many famous and legendary people have come and gone leaving a mark behind but those marks are either in the form of wisdom they left behind, an invention they came up with, books they wrote, buildings and monoliths they constructed or laid the founding stones of religions, sects, games, music, machines, mathematics and so much more but that’s all that is left of them here back on this earth. Their souls departed and transcended to a place we not know where. But let’s think it to ourselves that what if it is made possible to retain the souls or the consciousness stored in some form in some kind of a digital emporium here on our planet forever and ever. That would be taking a step towards achieving immortality. This subject has been hogging the limelight from quite a while now and a considerable amount of research has already gone into the quest for living forever and the research and attempts are being funded by the likes of Sergey Brin and Dmitry Itskov.
Google started a new venture called Calico recently, with an aim to study ageing and death and, ultimately, to conquer both. Attempts have already been made to simulate the human brain by using the ultra-advanced and highly sophisticated computing. Using the fastest and the most powerful supercomputers, a total of only four rated as the best in the world, it was recently made possible to simulate the entire functioning of brain for over a second by creating 1.73 billion virtual nerve cells and 10.4 trillion synapses containing 24 bytes of memory each. Although the simulation was not all that simple as it sounds because it took 40 minutes of real “biological” time to produce one virtual second. The point here is that it is possible now to design super-intelligent machines with an ability to think, learn and reason by mimicking the cerebral cortex of the brain. And Google’s director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has suggested that it will take a mere 3 to 4 decades before we could transfer the entire human mind to a computer. Such a concept is not a gamble of thoughts and highly ambitious ideas but the wealthiest of the people in the world believe it to be a cause that needs to be addressed as in the longer run, human race has to evolve to be better, never mind the virtual way. People like Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corporation consider death to be another corporate opponent to be outfoxed. This concept of being immortal is not new at all. There are numerous stories and legends of ancient Chinese emperors who spent lifetimes in the search of elixirs of life and many considered mercury to be that elixir. Ancient Egyptians had a little different grasp of the “Afterlife” and immortality and they believed that the departed souls go to a place of eternal bliss and they live there further. They also believed in preserving the dead bodies of pharaohs and kings in a sheer hope and anticipation, or maybe it was confidence, that the departed souls would return sometime in the future and would use the preserved or mummified bodies. The underlying concept was not very different from the present attempts to transfer the soul to machines in digital form also known as Singularity.
Now that the attempts, research and the funding with a strong interest from the most powerful people on the globe are in place, the day is not far off when we would be uploading the digital versions of our souls to the machines so that we live forever. The idea seems pretty interesting and will definitely change the human race and our perspective of croaking. Although, there are deep ramifications associated with the entire grand concept, which will be discussed later in this article, but for the moment, our scientific community is quite headstrong to achieve the feat. Now when that happens that we have successfully transferred entire consciousness of a human brain to a computer, there is a lot that is going to change for the “good”. Further, it cannot be said with a complete certainty that this “Good” stands true for everyone alike. Such an “upload” will, apparently, transcend the need for a biological body but how appealing is this concept to the humanity is debatable. Apart from that, Singularity will be enabling us to increase and expand the scope of our limited intelligence a billion-fold. Science will be able to establish a step-by-step understanding of how the brain really functions. Human mind is a really complex machine that is intriguing and mysterious. We will be able to understand how the brain thinks and what thoughts are, how it processes the electrical signals to activate the various regions which, in turn, help the brain do a million operations with so much of ease in a jiffy. We will be able to understand the co-relation between the quantum reality and dreams, origins of emotions and feelings. It hurts when our bodies suffer physical harm and we feel a sense of pain. What this sense of pain exactly is formed of is something that has been evading science for decades. We will be able to understand, learn and study it better which in turn can help in designing effective medication that would act against pain and discomfort we feel. Psychology will assume new and amazing meanings and elaborated functions in order to diagnose and curb many mental illnesses which presently are astoundingly hard to tackle with. Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Dementia will be wiped off the face of the earth. The healing powers of brain can be fathomed in a better way by achieving Singularity. It’s always said that “Mind over Matter” holds the key to achieve the undoable. This phrase will be viewed in a better and brighter light of understanding of how matter behaves in response to an observation made by a person as this observation is a form of thought and energy that connects the matter with human consciousness.
Quantum physics postulates that an electron is an electron only when it is observed and otherwise it takes the form of a wave. The fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics will be taken more seriously as Singularity will lend more credibility to the already established laws and will open up a new universe of study for the humanity to get benefitted. The rewards of such an achievement will touch and affect each and every human being on the planet. People would grow up knowing that life cannot come to sudden halt just in a blink should an unlikely and non-anticipated event occurs. There would always be a possibility to live on. There will never be any chance of any physical pain as it would have been made possible to curb it using specially designed drugs which would have conquered pain in all aspects. Let us assume audaciously and outlandishly that such a “stored” consciousness can be sold for commercial and educational purposes. Then making the general masses aware of complex scientific ideas would not be all that big a deal. The likes of Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla were considered to have the most amazing and brilliantly complex minds of all times in the recorded human history and it is said that both of these scientists were involved in classified research projects, one of them being Time and inter-dimensional travel. But all the research they ever conducted and the secret formulae they developed, all vanished the moment they died. Such a loss would never occur in the Singularity era as the consciousness of such people would have been preserved safely for further studies. Life would be completely different in such a world.
But there is always a counter-positive aspect of almost everything and this concept of Singularity is no different. There are a few questions which jump out at us with ethical and moral implications. Singularity is just a bit different from the actual biological process of cloning, except for the end result which is going to be a machine or a memory chip in the case of Singularity. Will Singularity alter the course of nature without any consequences? Death is one event that has got so many rituals and traditions woven around it. People from all around the world go to great lengths to memorialize the departed loved ones. In a few cultures, the dead are symbolically fed and taken care of so that their souls do not find the journey to destination difficult. In our culture, special prayers are arranged to facilitate the easy and peaceful exit of the soul to the Promised Land (Near-death-experiences hypothesise that such a transition-event exists). The sentiments and emotions invested in such rituals are beyond comparison and they hold a great deal of significance to bring peace to the departed, as per the age old beliefs, and mental solace to the people praying for the lost dear ones.
Now when Singularity brings about the feat of having transferred the consciousness to machines, what happens to the traditional and cultural significance of the rituals performed when it is assumed that the soul has left us to transit to another dimension to be One with the Divine, because as per the laws of Singularity, this believed inter-dimensional transition will never occur and the soul or call it consciousness will still be present around, although in a different medium (Digital). So should we humans stop mourning and grieving over the loss of the loved ones in this case as their souls did not “depart”? And should we start loving the machines with the uploaded consciousness with same affection and love as we did with the flesh and blood person when they still had a living body? Usually all of us have the propensity to anthropomorphize the objects around us and form attachments with non-human entities (like cell phones, clothes, shoes, bags, bikes etc.) but in the case of Singularity-driven world, are these machines going to assume a much more important stature because they have the souls of our lost ones uploaded to them? How well are we going to replace a physical human being and the associated epitome and embodiment of the true character with something mechanical? Or the more imperative question is that will we ever be able to do so? What kind of cultural conditioning would be required for us to come to terms with the new idea of Singularity that the machines are the new humans to us or they are replacing our loved ones after their demise? How much of the meaning will be left in the emotions generated in our hearts after-all?
Further, what is the assurance here that this technology will be doing the justice while preserving the soul(s) or consciousness? That is, what is being uploaded to the computers and digitized, is it just the exteriority of the soul or the actual consciousness in its perfect quintessence? And will the concept of Singularity actually capture everything that makes a person a personality? Because the consciousness is an essence that gets developed based on a person’s experiences, thoughts and emotions, ideas, outlook, attitude and beliefs over a period of time called Life. Consciousness has an ever-evolving nature but when it is confined to digital bytes, will it grow further or cease to exist after sometime as it cannot grow and live? If technology cannot do that, then the idea of so-called immortality lacks the punch quite a bit. So let us leave it to the time and patiently wait for the day Singularity materializes, with a great hope that life will change a lot for the universally accepted “Good”.