We live in an age where technology that was once considered “futuristic” is now a reality. Computers have become extensions of our independent intelligence, allowing us to access the research of others, have questions answered, become educated, and perform a range of tasks within seconds. The division between mind and machine is also progressively shrinking. With the increasing usage of portable devices such as laptops, GPS systems, and particularly smartphones, we have access to outside sources of intelligence at nearly any place and any time. Dr. Ray Kurzweil, a director of engineering at Google, claims that we could be uploading our minds to computers in as little as thirty years. By doing so, we would be creating, as he calls it, “digital immortality”. We would essentially be extracting our minds, thus conserving all our knowledge and life experiences, allowing our “self” to live on past our biological life span. But would it really “live” on? Or is there more to “living” than just the information stored in our brains? Dr. Kurzweil also discusses creating “mindfiles” that would preserve our personalities as well, posing the question of whether it is possible to create an artificial human. And if so, where is the line between man and machine drawn?
In 1984, William Gibson contemplated the idea of splitting the mind and body through computers in his novel “Neuromancer”. He creates several characters that display human characteristics—such as having a sense of humor, laughing, problem solving, interacting with others, and even having desires—yet whose being is artificial, their intelligence contained within a ROM or computer algorithm. Dixie, for example, would be considered a friend of Cases, a being who he interacts with repeatedly, who relays sarcastic remarks–giving him a sense of personality–and who even has a dying wish. Yet, Dixie is not “human”. Though “he” had once lived, the information from his brain is separate from a body and exists in a ROM. This raises the question—what makes us truly human? Dixie and other characters such as Finn, Armitage, and Wintermute possess qualities that make them individualistic, that allow us to sympathize with them, and that give them depth. They are not just a voice spitting out data; they contain algorithms that allow them to theoretically “think”, to process interactions with humans and respond to them accordingly. Is this enough? Is it the brain, not the body, which makes us who we are? And if this were the case, where it is the information in our brain that makes us who we are, then would uploading that information to a computer—an artificial brain—subsequently maintain our humanistic traits? We become unsettled by the idea of living amongst machines in what could be the near future, but when it comes down to it—are we really that different?
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1984. Print.
Woollaston, Victoria. “We’ll be uploading our entire MINDS to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years, Google expert claims.” Daily Mail. 19 Jun 2013: n. page. Web. 4 Sep. 2013. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2344398/Google-futurist-claims-uploading-entire-MINDS-computers-2045-bodies-replaced-machines-90-years.html>.