Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Myth of Cyber Life Extension

The concept of cyber life extension is best expressed in simple words. At the end of some being’s life, his brain is uploaded into a computer and he/she/it lives permanently as a cyber being. This concept has serious problems which are revealed by inquiring into the details.

The most glaring problem is the definition of the he/she/it that is being uploaded. As long as the organic, biological being is a living organism, one can draw a line around it and say that the definition of the organism is the material inside this boundary. Of course, the organism does not exist inside an impermeable envelope, but constant exchanges solids, liquids, and gases, which together include energy sources, with the exterior of the hypothetical envelope. The envelope exerts forces externally and internally. This is how organisms survive and perform functions.

The cyber life extension concepts says that somewhere inside this envelope is a smaller envelope, or rather some information and procedures, that can be packaged and labeled as the organism, or some abstraction of it. For someone who thinks only in words, not abstract concepts, and lives in a world of feelings, this might be fine. Instead of dying, you go and live forever in a plastic box. If such a person is told this, they might lose the fear of dying and live happier. This is about all the concept is good for, false feelings of security. The organism will still go through the process of dying, suddenly or gradually, painfully or unconscious, from one of the many causes that exist.

The program in the box could be designed to imitate some external signatures of that person. There could be a screen or a hologram of the person that the box could project, and it could be animated. Alternatively, there could be a molded part of the box that matched the shape of some distinctive part of the organism, which for humans would be the head. This molded part could be colored to match, or made of material which felt the same or which had the same flexibility. It could be the whole body was the template, and something with robotic motion capability could be created. We are talking about an alien world here in which robotics is already past the asymptotic process.

Voice could be modeled, and if there was a robotic body, the person’s gestures, taken from when they were younger and fully mobile, could be integrated in. Other organisms of the same species could look at the facsimile and say it reminded them of the original, now deceased, organism.

The problem lies in the software. It might be possible with advanced robotics, to made something that simulates an alien organism, but the brain is another problem. The alien species evolved on their home planet, which means they would have brains suitable for that process, in other words, associative neural structures of some kind. It is not possible to upload the information in that structure, as it is not accessible. It is possible to create a processor which can imitate some behaviors, and can memorize the answers to questions that the original organism answered while alive, so there would be some form of simulacrum that imitated some aspects of the organism, but it would be far short of what the organism held in its equivalent of a brain.

If an alternative concept of growing some neural structure and building the support equipment inside the robot or inside the plastic box, or inside whatever the imitation organism was, there is still no way to transfer the processing capability. One could say that much of the neural structure is used to process external and internal signals, such as for body monitoring, using external sensors including chemical, optical and audial, internal ones for balance or proprioception, or producing audible signals of some sort for communication, and these would not have to be structured the same way to produce a good imitation of what the original organism did. The remainder of the brain is a problem.

If asymptotic computing was able to produce associative processors, and the size could be accommodated, the same number of switches or data points could be made, hypothetically, as in the organism’s synapses. But an associative processor is trained bit by bit, by building up the data in layer after layer of the network. There is simply no way for the associative processor to be filled with the same quantity of information as the organism’s brain equivalent.

This means that some sufficing would have to be done. If there was universally present monitoring of the organism for a long enough time, communication patterns, including audio, gesture, expression or whatever the organism uses for communication, even color patterns like chameleons, might be approximated so that the organism’s external signatures could be recreated, perhaps in the holographic equivalent of animation. Here on Earth, some initial attempts have been made in this area, using computer graphic animation. With enough processing, this might be done in real time.

So, an organism might be imitated in so that some or all external signatures would approximate those of the organism. The responses would not be identical, but what is the point of this exercise. The organism itself deceased, and other organisms of the alien species can interact with it until they are bored with its limited capabilities, and then it can be run when anyone wants to use it. If it is a mobile robot, it can be allowed to run around in the environment there.

What has actually been accomplished by this exercise of technology? The organism is still dead, but before it died, it might have felt less fearful of death, if aliens still had a fear of death at that time. There have been many means by which this fear of death has been alleviated, some of which involve imagining some simulation or approximation of the organism coming into existence somewhere else, wholly imaginary. The grief of other organisms which had interacted with the dead organism might be somewhat mitigated by their use of the simulated being for some time. Again, this cyber life extension is simply something to mitigate bad feelings, and undoubtedly on the alien planet there were other attempts at grief mitigation, some involving imagining the same non-cyber life extension as was used for the dying organism.

If there was, on the alien planet, still a lack of means to alleviate both the fear of dying and the immediate grief of those who interacted with a deceased organism, this imitation in one way or another might be useful. It is likely that the alien society would learn much earlier on, how to deal with these two emotions in a much more efficient and effective way. If it was used for some reason, the design of the methods for imitation could be optimized so that just enough was done to alleviate the feelings, but not any more expense than that.

To return to the original point, one can bend the definition of an alien so that some simulation of it is called the same label as the alien carried. But aliens are fungible. There is no reason why the civilization would want to have an imitation of a deceased one performing any important functions instead of having a living organism do this. Most likely, the alien civilization, after the transition to advanced intelligence universally, will not use this method of imitation, and will instead keep clear what an organism is and what a robotic imitation is not.

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