'If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it's not a major career problem,' [Ian] Pearson told The Observer. 'If you're rich enough then by 2050 it's feasible. If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it's routine. We are very serious about it. That's how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT.' - Pearson is said to be head of the futurology unit of BT, a UK firm.
. . . an intelligent being--or more generally, any living creature--is fundamentally a type of computer . . . we may even say that a human being is a program designed to run on a particular hardware called a human body . . . In principle, the program corresponding to a human being could be stored in many different forms--in books, on computer disks, in RAM--and not just in the brain of a particular human body.
J. H. Barrow and F. W. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 659.) Emphasis in original.
I believe the human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness. Only in science fiction will a person be charged with murder if they unplug a PC. I believe this because I hold, but cannot yet prove, that in order for an entity to be consciousness and possess a mind, it has to be a living being.
. . . it appears that a living thing must be a being, must possess a self, to possess a mind. But silicon chips are not alive, and computers are not beings. I argue that this is so because the particular material substance and arrangement of the brain is essential to the creation of consciousness and "beinghood." Computers will never achieve consciousness because in order for a computer to be "conscious like us" it will need to be made of living stuff like us, to grow like us, and unfortunately, to be able to die like us. Todd Feinberg, psychiatrist, neurologist, author, responding to Edge question, "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Jan 4, 2005.
The atoms in my brain and body today are not the same ones I had when I was born. Nevertheless, the patterns of information coded in my DNA and in my neural memories are still those of Michael Shermer. The human essence, the soul, is more than a pile of parts—it is a pattern of information. Michael Shermer, "The Soul of Science," American Scientist, Mar-Apr 2005. (Shermer is still publishing similar ideas, as of 2017. See here for a refutation of them, by a Christian philosopher. She considers Shermer’s ideas on the resurrection of the soul.)
… the ability to copy one's mind into a synthetic brain will cause some severe problems. One can easily imagine a sort of arms race between different identities competing for influence. Some will try to acquire wealth in order to get the computing capacity needed to create many copies of their brains. Competition for resources will probably become much greater when copies of sentient entities can quickly be made. Randall Parker, "Should We Fear Transhumanism And Identity Copying?" FuturePundit (blog), March 11, 2005
For our present purpose, what matters is not so much the wild initial assumption that consciousness could be transferred to such machines. It is the further assumption about values, the assumption that the life which they would then live -- a life without sense-perception or emotion or the power to act, a life consisting solely in the arrangement of abstract 'information' -- would be a human life, or indeed anything that could intelligibly be called life at all. Mary Midgley, The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom and Morality. London: Routledge, 1994, p. 10.
Ian Barbour, in When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2000--see parts of Chapter 5) has come to the same conclusions, apparently independently. As to the doctrine of the soul, a belief in an entity separate from the body seems to have been a part of pre-Christian Greek philosophy, hence is not necessarily a belief that Christians must embrace. Pythagoras, some 500 years before Christ, apparently believed that the soul could be separated from the body, and in the transmigration of souls from one body to another, not necessarily human body. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The second sees the soul not as an immaterial substance separate from the body but as something that reflects the deepest core of living entities as living beings. ("On Brain, Soul, Self, and Freedom: an Essay in Bridging Neuroscience and Faith," 38:377-392. Quote is from p. 380.)
One of the few books I have found on the important subject of what a soul is is Keith Ward's In Defence of the Soul. (Oxford, UK: OneWorld, 1998.) Ward argues strongly that there is such a thing as a soul, that the development of a soul depends on something physical, but that a soul is transcendent -- it can survive without the material necessary to produce one in the first place:
Interestingly, fictional dreams of "virtual reality"—starting, perhaps, with Vernor Vinge's 1981 story "True Names" and proceeding through William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992)—imagine realms of purely mental experience: one lives in a digitally generated world, possessing an equally digital "body." One's real, material corpus lies motionless at some insignificant point in "meatspace" while one's mind explores the Metaverse (Stephenson) or the Other Plane (Vinge).
"Computer Control, part 3: The Virtues of Resistance," Books and Culture, September/October 2002.
- •Developing computer systems to accept an upload of a dying individual's intelligence and personality.
- •Creating a worldwide-linked computer system that would operate as a global mind.
- •Reproducing computer-generated virtual realities that would operate with the same legitimacy as everyday reality.
To the non-materialist, minds and the ideas they contain can be real without being entirely reducible to matter or to the behavior of matter. To the materialist, however, there can be nothing to our minds besides the operations of our central nervous systems. In the memorable words of Sir Francis Crick, "you are nothing but a pack of neurons." . . . Now, if we say that abstract concepts, such as the number π, exist only in minds, and if we also say, with the materialist, that minds are only the functioning of neurons, then we are left in the strange position of saying that abstract concepts are nothing but patterns of neurons firing in brains. Not, mind you, merely that our neurons fire when we think about or understand these concepts, or that the firing of neurons plays an essential role in our thought processes, but that the abstract concepts about which we are thinking are in themselves certain patterns of neurons firing in the brain, and nothing but that. [Barr goes on to quote from a book on the neurobiology of mathematics to show that some thinkers do, indeed, believe as he suggests they must.] (pp. 194-5, emphasis in original)
There are two aspects to this problem. In the first place, a creature's "evolutionary success" (that is, its success in surviving to reproduce and in ensuring the survival of its offspring) does not require that it know things with absolute certainty or that it recognize truths as necessary ones. It is quite enough for it to have knowledge which is reliable for practical purposes and which is known to be generally true in the circumstances that it has to face. . . .
The second aspect of the problem is that even if it were helpful to their survival for human beings to have absolute certainty in some matters, or to realize that some things are true of necessity, there seems to be no way that natural selection could possibly have programmed us to have that kind of knowledge. Natural selection is based ultimately on trial and error. . . . However, trial and error cannot produce certainty. Nor, obviously, can it lead to conclusions about what is necessarily true. (pp. 200-201)
. . . I believe that the most central fact about my existence is I perceive that there is an "I" that observes the world from someplace inside my head. It makes no difference how many details you tell me about the working of the brain and the firing of my neurons. Until you have explained how I come to that central conclusion about my own existence, you have not solved the problem of consciousness. - James Trefil, Are We Unique? A Scientist Explores the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind, p. 184. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997)
So can a machine like a computer be conscious? . . . it may turn out that it is possible to build a machine that is conscious in the sense that a human being is conscious. It may be possible to build a machine that has sets of attributes that many people would define as "conscious" but which is not like the human brain-that is conscious, perhaps, in a different way. It may, on the other hand, turn out to be impossible to build a machine that can approximate consciousness and the human brain at all. I simply want to insist on one thing: This is an open question. - James Trefil, Are We Unique? A Scientist Explores the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind, p. 204. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997, emphasis in original.)
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