Humans Could Soon Become Immortal, But You Probably Won't Like The Cost

Plug in and play? Not quite. vasabii/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 27 Jan 2018, 16:55

"Any way you look at it, all the information that a person accumulates in a lifetime is just a drop in a bucket."

Taken from 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, this sentence perfectly sums up the complexity and ambiguity of the human mind and the brain. Despite enormous advances, our ignorance on what lies within our cranium remains vast and sometimes unyielding. Those drops, and their relation to the bucket, are profoundly enigmatic.

We understand how different parts of the brain communicate and often what they specialize in, but what exactly is a “thought” made of? Where, amongst the 86 billion neurons in our brain, do they come from, and where do they go? What, scientifically speaking, is consciousness – is it a single entity or the sum of trillions of permutations? Is it the addition or average of all those firing neurons?

The gulf of knowledge is clear, but science fiction gleefully disregards it. From the aforementioned classic to the Netflix shows Altered Carbon and Black Mirror, uploading our brains or minds to a machine or a computer interface of some kind is simply a piece of cake.

So will we ever be able to do this or is this just a pipe dream? Plenty has been written about the future and what we may be able to do one day, but not much attention gets paid to the hurdles we have yet to overcome. Forget all the techno-babble, philosophy, and transhumanism – how close is this brave new world to our present time?

Countless Ingredients

No matter what you call it – uploading the mind, mind transfer, or whole brain emulation (WBE) as it’s technically referred to on occasion – we absolutely don’t have the ability to do this now or anytime soon. The brain is too complex, and the nature of “mind” and “self” too uncertain, to even know what exactly we’re transferring.

Think about what we’d have to transfer. All our thoughts, recorded feelings, memories, intellect, cognitive abilities, fears, hopes, dreams, and so on. Additionally, those neural connections we currently have would have to remain intact in our new digital palace or we simply wouldn’t be the same person we once were, in a manner of speaking.

The human connectome, mapped out from 20 volunteers. Andreashorn/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Our limited knowledge of the workings of the brain is a titanic obstacle that we’re nowhere near close to overcoming. Not knowing what exactly it is we’re transferring in the first place means that we can’t engage in any WBE without a biomedical revolution taking place.

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