Uploading a Synthetic Soul

In the last section of Seung’s Connectome, he discusses possibilities for “eternal life,” cryonics, and “uploading,” or personal computer simulations. While I understand the idea of preserving a brain, or a body, in the hope that future technologies will be able to breathe life back into the preserved individual, I find the idea of personal computer simulations a bit more disturbing.  As Seung points out, cryonics is almost like a scientific form of religion, relying on faith in future engineers and technologies instead of in God or heaven.  Cryonics and other means of neurological or physical preservation allow for hope that in the future an individual’s mind and conscious being can come back to life.  While there are undoubtedly many obstacles to be overcome, it seems logical that, if we can discover how to reverse the cell and neuronal damage, this “reawakening” could be possible.

Uploading is a harder concept for me to wrap my head around. Even if a computer simulation could be created so that a computer could sound or acts just like me, it would only be a copy of me, not me. Could it even be truly conscious? Even if a computer could store my memories, my tendencies, and my skills, it would never be me- just a synthetic representation or an electronic clone.  How is creating an artificial me helping the real me? This does not solve the frightening mystery of eternal life. Conversely, I suppose it could be argued that a simulation of myself could provide comfort to my friends and family who are still living. As I pondered this, I thought about what would happen if my mother passed away.  We are extremely close, and losing her would be impossibly difficult for me. But if I were offered to have a computer simulation of my mom, I would say, “No thank you!” The only thing harder than never seeing my mother again would be to interact with a fake version of her.  Even if the computer simulation acted EXACTLY the same and remembered everything she did, I would know that it is a clone, a computer, not my mother.  In some respects I think it would be an offense to life to “generate” a new version of a person when they passed away.  It’s as if we want to replace a real person with a machine because it’s the next best thing.  And even though death is scary, why is there such a push to defy it. Where do we draw the line between scientific progress and inappropriate intervention?

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