The discussion
about immortality has always been an infinite philosophical dilemma. With the
progress of technologies related to AI, perhaps we should rethink if “philosophizing
is learning to die”1.

 

Hundreds of
people have already opted for “cryogenic preservation” rather than
simply dying and will expect science to advance far enough to give them a
second chance to live. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical
implications of the solutions being proposed with AI revolution? At the moment,
it has not yet been discovered how to attain human immortality – and it is not
even clear whether this will ever be possible. But two hypothetical options
that can be made possible by the AI revolution attract attention: rejuvenation technology
and mind upload.

 

AI REVOLUTION

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It seems that
quantum computers will be able to solve in seconds problems that would take
billions of years to the most powerful of today’s supercomputers. The new
processors will allow a technological and scientific revolution difficult to
conceive. But how close are we to this border?

 

The so-called
quantum chips are the brain of a new kind of computer that seems to be able to
solve in seconds problems that would take billions of years to the most
powerful of today’s supercomputers.

 

The Nobel
laureate and physicist Richard Feynman once stated that the laws of physics do
not prevent the size of computer bits from reaching atomic dimensions, a region
where quantum mechanics is in control.2 The observation in the
1985 paper referred to an empirical law discovered in 1965 by the engineer
Gordon Moore.3

 

Moore’s law,
as it is known, states that for the same manufacturing cost, the processing
power of computers roughly doubles every year and a half.

 

This is
because the transistors – electronic components that represent the bits in
computers – have their size halved every year and a half.

In practical
terms, Moore’s law explains why microprocessors over the last four decades have
increased both their ability to analyze information. A 1960s’ computer had
something like 10,000 transistors (or bits). Nowadays, that number hits
billions4.

 

The most striking
implication of Moore’s law is its accelerated evolution: by 2020 each bit will
have the size of a single atom. The exclamation point is almost irresistible:
in the mid-1960s, a bit was the size of 10 quintillion atoms.

 

This
technological law has another consequence of extreme importance. Physics that
we use routinely and that is used to study objects with sizes of soccer balls,
cars and airplanes must necessarily leave the scene. In the atomic dimension,
it is necessary to appeal to quantum mechanics – this is the case of the
transistor formed by a single atom. From this knowledge area comes terms as
quantum bit and quantum computer.

 

This change
will imply a tremendous leap for mankind. A bit of information that up to this
point was represented by an object containing billions of atoms chemically
linked to each other will pass into the nanoscopic domain, that is, the atomic
one. And nothing prevents a bit in the future having the subatomic order
representation.

 

At this point,
one wonders: what can quantum computers do differently? The answer is: everything.

 

Computers are
essential tools for scientific and technological progress, with virtually
unlimited applications. In fact, it is impossible to imagine society today
without these wonderful machines. The more computers evolve, the more they
become indispensable.

 

Still, there
is a kind of task that is extremely difficult – and nowadays impossible – for
current computers: to perfectly simulate nature itself.

 

Scientists are
interested to simulate the behavior of natural systems, such as a chemical
reaction of a molecule in a drug, possible changes in the sea movements and
atmospheric currents caused by global warming or the complex interaction among
neurons, axons and synapses of the human brain.

 

In this
context, to simulate means to reproduce in the computer exactly the natural
behavior of the phenomenon, with as many details as possible. This is important
because it allows scientists to make accurate predictions, develop new
medicines and deepen knowledge about ourselves.

 

The problem is
that if all the details are taken into account, the simulation becomes so
complex that it goes beyond the processing and storage capacity of existing
computers – even supercomputers.

 

The
alternative used by scientists and engineers is to simplify the problem or, as
they say in the science jargon, to make approximations. However, important
pieces of data are lost with approximations.

 

A quantum
computer, however, is capable of simulating natural systems without
approximations. Feynman considered that nature itself is a quantum computer
simulating the phenomena we observe – including us, human beings.5

 

REJUVENATION TECHNOLOGY

 

With mastery
over quantum technology, it would be possible to build a futuristic youth
fountain by reversing the damage of aging at the cellular level. The cell
biologist and Nobel laureate Yoshinori Ohsumi, with his work in the field of autophagy,
the processes by which the cell digests and recycles its own components, made
crucial discoveries that make possible the cell replacement or repair at
regular intervals, what can be a landmark for definitely overcome aging. 6

 

In practical
terms, we may frequently visit rejuvenation clinics, where quantum machines
would perform an impossible task for humans, not only removing infected or
damaged cells without any imprecision, but also inducing healthy cells to
regenerate more effectively and discarding accumulated waste in order to its
superhuman processing capacity. This deep recomposition would turn the body
clock back, becoming its patients physiologically younger their actual age.

 

People,
however, would remain as vulnerable as in the past to a death caused by acute
traumas, as injuries or poisoning. Rejuvenation seems to be a relatively low
risk solution because in practice it extends and improves the body’s inherent
ability to regenerate itself. However, if we are really in search of an eternal
life in a biological body, we should be on our guard. Any risk of physical harm
should be avoided.

 

MIND UPLOAD

Other option
would be the mind upload – that is, scan the contents of someone’s brain and
store it on a computer. This method assumes that consciousness resembles a
software that operates on a kind of organic hard drive; that what makes you
yourself is contained in the total amount of information stored in the brain,
and therefore it would be possible to transfer that content to a different
physical substrate or platform. With the possibility of making simulations
without approximations, this procedure could be done safely because no original
information would be lost.

 

However, this
remains a highly controversial hypothesis. Leaving aside the question of where
lies what makes someone who he is, let’s explore the idea of reproducing the
brain in digital form. Like rejuvenation, mind upload presents difficult
ethical questions.

 

It is possible
that an upload might seem functionally identical to the brain that originated
it, but without conscious experience of the world. Its result could be
something that would look more like a zombie than a person – and even less the
original person.

 

However, it
might not be a problem at all. Another possibility would be that this would not
be a problem. As a person would be reducible to the processes and content of his
or her brain, a functionally identical copy of it – no matter what substrate it
operates on – would not be able to generate a result other than a reproduction
of the original person.

 

There are
other issues. There is no way to predict what the upload itself would cause as
a sensation in the mind that is being transferred. Would this person go through
a dissociation of some sort or something even more difficult to predict?

 

And if the
whole process, which would include the existence of the person as a digital
being, is so qualitatively different from biological existence that the result
is a complete panic, or even a catatonia? In this case, what happens if the
transferred person can no longer communicate with others, or if he disconnects?

 

Immortality would
be more of a curse than a blessing in a situation like this. Death would not
seem so bad at all, but unfortunately it might not be possible.

 

Another
problem stems from the possibility of reproducing a brain and allowing the copy
to live in parallel with the original. If one’s uniqueness depends exactly on
the person remaining singular – which means that a fission in one’s identity
would mean death. That is, if a person was split into person X and person Y, he
would cease to be the original person and would be dead for all purposes.

However, although the original person may not survive a fission, as long as
each new version of the person maintains an uninterrupted connection with the
original, this could mean an ordinary survival.

 

ETHICAL DILEMMAS

 

Which of these
options would be more complicated ethically? Rejuvenation would probably be a
less problematic choice. Yes, overcoming death, if this applies to the whole
human species, would greatly exacerbate our existing problems of overpopulation
and inequality, but at least we would have reasonably familiar problems to
face. We can be somehow certain, for example, that rejuvenation, at least
initially, would not be accessible to a large part of the population,
reinforcing the disparity between rich and poor, and would eventually force us
to make decisive choices about resource use, not the rate of population growth
and so on.

 

On the other
hand, mind upload would create a plethora of unprecedented ethical dilemmas.

Minds carried on computers could constitute a radically different sphere of
moral agency.

 

For example,
we often consider as relevant the cognitive abilities to assign the moral
status of an agent, even though it would be difficult to grasp the cognitive
capacities of minds that can be increased by computers that are faster and will
communicate with each other at quantum speed7, considering that this
fact would make them incomparably smarter even than the most intelligent of
human beings.

 

We would need
to find fair ways to regulate the interactions between new and old domains, and
within the new domains – that is, both between humans and mental uploads as
well as among the uploads themselves.

 

As the
technology related to AI increases, debates to build a framework that ensures
that AI-enabled systems are governable; that they are open, transparent, and
understandable; that they can work effectively with people; and that their
operation will remain consistent with human values and aspirations must be
brought to spotlight. I believe this will one of the main roles of
international public policy specialists in the future: work on these key points
to keep the mankind economically relevant in front of the AI development.

 

Another point
to consider is that the amazingly fast development of digital systems means
that we may have very little time to decide how to implement these regulations,
albeit minimal.

 

What about the
personal and practical consequences of someone’s choice about immortality?

 

Assuming that
this person reaches a future in which rejuvenation and mind upload technologies
are possible, his or her decision will depend on the range and type of risk he is
willing to take.

 

Rejuvenation
seems to be the most conventional option, though it may cause on people more
concerns about protecting our fragile physical body.

 

Mind upload
would make human brains destruction much harder, at least in practical terms,
but it is unclear whether a person would survive (in any relevant sense of the
word) if he was copied multiple times. This is a completely unknown territory
with higher risks than rejuvenation ones.

 

Yet the
prospect of being liberated from the fetters of mortality is undeniably
attractive – and it can be a way to prevail in our choices.

1 Michel de Montaigne; Charles Henry Conrad Wright (1914). Selections from Montaigne, ed. with notes,
by C.H. Conrad Wright. D.C.

Heath & Co.

2 Richard P. Feynman. (1985) Quantum
Mechanical Computers. Available at: http://www.quantum-dynamic.eu/doc/feynman85_qmc_optics_letters.pdf
(Accessed January 29, 2018)

3 Gordon Moore. (1965). Cramming more components onto integrated
circuits. Electronics Magazine. Available at: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/~fussell/courses/cs352h/papers/moore.pdf
(Accessed January 29, 2018)

4  Ali Javey
Et Al. (2016). MoS2 transistors with 1-nanometer gate
lengths. Science. Available at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6308/99
(Accessed January 29,
2018)

5  Richard P. Feynman. (1982). Simulating Physics
with Computers. International Journal of Theoretical Physics. Available at:
https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~christos/classics/Feynman.pdf
(Accessed January 29, 2018)

6  Nils-Göran Larsson; Maria
G. Masucci. (2016). Scientific Background: Discoveries of Mechanisms for Autophagy.

Available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2016/advanced-medicineprize2016.pdf
(Accessed January 29, 2018)

7  Ming-Liang Hu Et Al. (2017). Quantum
coherence and quantum correlations. Quantum Physics. Available at: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1703.01852.pdf
(Accessed January 29, 2018)

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