Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Another Double Hit!

CylonAs a companion piece to Calvin’s excellent Caprica review, my article about mind uploading (and other proposed methods of individual immortality, feasible and otherwise) just appeared in H+ Magazine: Ghost in the Shell: Why Our Brains Will Never Live in the Matrix

There will be a third article, then we’ll see if they’re game for more!  My thanks to the wonderful editor-in-chief of H+ Magazine, R.U. Sirius of Mondo 2000 fame.

Time TravelersUpdate 1: They say good things come in threes.  When I got home tonight, I found a surprise package: Jack McDevitt’s just-released novel, Time Travelers Never Die.  It contains a dedication, an acknowledgment “for acting as a guide and translator at Alexandria” and there is an Andreadis fellowship in that universe — for linguists, I think.  Thanks to Jack for inviting me to share his exciting journey.  I’m eager to read the book… and wonder: what will the third good thing be?

Update 2: The H+ article was slashdotted.  The funniest comment there was “Shhh.  Nobody tell Kurzweil!”  And the Andreadis fellowship in Time Travelers is for classical studies.  Very fittingly, its first recipient is named Aspasia Kephalas.  The former name is a nod to the Miletian courtesan partner of Pericles, famed for her intelligence and learning; the latter is street-Greek for “Brainiac”.

19 Responses to “Another Double Hit!”

  1. ZarPaulus says:

    You have a point in the article, but I don’t understand if you were saying that transplanting someone’s brain into another body would kill the person whose brain it was. If we were able to keep a brain alive without its original body what would that mean?

  2. Athena says:

    It certainly would. Keeping a disembodied brain “alive” would probably be the most cruel, inhumane punishment. If the brain retained consciousness, it would be the equivalent of being buried alive.

  3. ZarPaulus says:

    I wasn’t talking about keeping a brain alive in a jar without any sensory stimulation (well, permanently). I was referring to transplanting a brain into a cloned body (if stem cells could be used to replace dying neurons why couldn’t they be used to connect two existing neurons) or placing a brain in a prosthetic body like in the anime you referenced in the title of your article.

  4. Caliban says:

    Congratulations on another excellent and engaging essay! Personally, I’ve always been deeply suspicious of “uploading.” I’ve tried to write SF stories involving uploading, and always failed because I couldn’t see how to make it work.

    In Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons can upload their minds into new bodies, but in the Caprica pilot, the (dead) girl doesn’t upload her mind but creates a convincing simulation of herself, based upon extensive electronic records. Even that stretches credulity, but borders on the plausible; more important, thematically, it asks a variant of the Turing question: If a simulation appears indistinguishable from the original, is it really “only” a simulation?

  5. Athena says:

    Theoretically, putting a kept-alive brain in a cloned body may the most feasible way to extend life. The question remains, however, whether a transplanted brain will make the right connections to gain full physical and mental functionality. Given our experience with spinal regeneration (a relatively “simple” process compared to re-attaching a whole brain), this will be a tall hedge to jump.

  6. Athena says:

    Happy you enjoyed it! I tend to think that the simulation will be real (i. e. conscious) if it’s complex enough. But it won’t be the original. It will be a clone, just made by a method that differs from the traditional cloning. In fact, this creates the opposite problem than the one most commonly trotted out. Someone like this, in my opinion, is a full person and cannot be “data-mined” to help/augment the original without creating slavery/autonomy moral issues.

  7. r0ck3tsci3ntist says:

    Fascinating essay, Athena. Approachable to the average layman (me) but with lots of hard science. The brain is a truly riveting topic.

    I was struck by this sentence “This is an excellent way to leave a detailed memorial or a clone-like descendant, but not to become immortal.” because it could be the seed of its own sci-fi story; the idea of leaving a clone as a personal memorial…

  8. r0ck3tsci3ntist says:

    Also the McDevitt book sounds intriguing. Ancient Alexandria would certainly be a destination of mine if I were a time traveler.

  9. Athena says:

    I agree! The Mediterranean world of Hellenistic times was one of the better moments of humanity.

    I’m happy you liked the essay. As for leaving clones as personal memorials — we sort of do! Half-clones… kiddos. *smile*

  10. Walden2 says:

    Athena, I fully expect to have my mind uploaded into a giant armored robot body by 2040, complete with laser cannons and missiles – so don’t go trying to confuse the issue with all that science and medical knowledge you throw about!

    And I am sure I am the only one who has ever thought of this, so when it happens I will be unique and invincible!

  11. Athena says:

    Absolutely, Larry! You’ll be the only boy with shiny toys and up to your metal eyebrows with mead and virgins… except how will you enjoy them without a flesh bod? As Newsweek said: “Ray Kurzweil can’t wait to be a cyborg. Is this the next great leap in evolution, or just one man’s midlife crisis writ large?”

  12. ZarPaulus says:

    We might as well compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of biological and mechanical bodies.

    *Can be made from harder materials
    *Without highly advanced nanotech requires conscious effort to maintain and repair

    *Can self-maintain and repair minor damage without conscious effort as long as raw materials are available

    Both types would require parts to occasionally be replaced in order to stay functional for extended periods of time. I suppose Walden2 could probably use simulations or have some “parts” that mimic the human body’s “parts”.

  13. Athena says:

    Larry was joking, of course. But on the more serious side, we already have developed both “squishy” (pig heart valves, bone and skin grafts, the beginning of stem cell therapy) and “non-squishy” replacement parts (cochlear implants, reflon pistons instead of middle ear bones, artificial lenses, ceramic or titanium hips and knees). So it does look like the future of our bodies will be a hybrid one.

  14. Walden2 says:

    Douglas Hofstadter: Musing rationally about the Singularity

    Sun, 10/25/2009 – 04:22 – NLN

    The idea that humanity is racing toward a technological “singularity” has gained near cult status, and very few educated and articulate people have voiced their skepticism about this possible fate of the human species. Douglas Hofstader is one who has.

  15. Athena says:

    Indeed. I like Hofstadter, he’s my kind of visionary scientist! He dislikes dualism in all its forms. He also stated sympathetically but emphatically that Kurzweil is going through these singularitarian conniptions because he’s terrified of death, which badly distorts his vision.

  16. Walden2 says:

    Personally I am interested in our creating a separate intelligence
    that is aware and conscious, one that might likely be far superior
    to us in every way. What are your thoughts on that, Athena?

    And here is an article I just came across:

    Time Travel Through the Brain

    Technology Review Nov-Dec 2009

    Over the last 100 years, the way we visualize and understand the complexity of the brain has evolved. Fibers radiating from the thalamus, imaged by MRI diffusion tensor imaging (Thomas Schultz/University of…

  17. Athena says:

    I think that the creation of an artificial intelligence is far likelier than uploading. However, I reserve judgment on whether it will be superior. For one, how do we define superior? For another, given that we will be its creators, it will take time and effort to fine-tune it.

    The photos of the Tech Review article are beautiful. Yes, those techniques are mighty arrows in our quiver. I’ve used most of them myself. #6, the rainbow picture, highlights the hippocampal dentate gyrus, one of the few regions that undergoes novel neurogenesis. At the same time, it’s interesting and sobering to note how detailed and accurate Cajal’s depictions still are.

  18. Walden2 says:

    What I consider to be a “superior” life form in the Artilect sense:

    – Much faster thought processes.

    – Much larger thought processes.

    – An awareness of more than just its immediate surroundings and immediate needs.

    – Not hampered by emotions. Now I know better than to say, thanks to Athena, that not having emotions is a good thing. I will presume that all thinking beings will have emotions. But it is what they do with them and how they control them that will count. My hope is that real Artilects will not be bogged down by politics or religion as humans are. They served their purpose at one time, but in a crowded technological world they are now a slow method of extinction.

    – Not limited to one world. This will ensure not only vast amounts of resources but a much better chance for survival. If the Artilect reproduces by making copies of itself and spreading them all over the place, so much the better.

    Now you can ask, what if there are other intelligences which have also done the same thing? What happens when human-derived Artilects encounter ETI-derived Artilects? Will they cooperate, ignore each other, or battle it out for the resources of a solar system? My hope is for cooperation, as they should be more than aware of what war accomplishes, which is one temporary winner until the next challenger comes along.

    – Thinking along very deep time lines. Artilects will know that left to its own mechanics, the Universe will eventually fade out (or explode into a new Big Bang if the Brane theory is true). Either way existence will not be around indefinitely. Will they do something about this, or will they make their own universes and hop into them?

    Are we in a universe made by an Artilect?

    My other pet theory is that galaxies are living beings, ones so vast and so different from our limited experiences that we fail to recognize them as fellow living creatures. Or am I making too much out of that?

    And what is life? And how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?

  19. Athena says:

    Politics will never go extinct as long as we’re the social animals that we are. We practice politics even within our family units. The rest of your points are interesting questions and reflections — although I assume that you’re aware that the distinction between god/s and artilects becomes blurry at some point.