The idea of immortality has had great appeal since time immemorial but was thought of in terms of creating some elixir with the property of bestowing it. But more recently some people have started to think that technology may be able to actually achieve it. This article looks at the ethical implications of two of the proposed methods: rejuvenation and mind uploading.
Like a futuristic fountain of youth, rejuvenation promises to remove and reverse the damage of ageing at the cellular level…. Practically speaking, this might mean that every few years, you would visit a rejuvenation clinic. Doctors would not only remove infected, cancerous or otherwise unhealthy cells, but also induce healthy ones to regenerate more effectively and remove accumulated waste products.
We can be pretty certain, for instance, that rejuvenation would widen the gap between the rich and poor, and would eventually force us to make decisive calls about resource use, whether to limit the rate of growth of the population, and so forth.
Of course you could still die from an accident or other trauma so, as the authors say, “You’d need to avoid any risk of physical harm to have your one shot at eternity, making you among the most anxious people in history.”
Mind uploading mean the brain is digitally scanned and copied onto a computer and making multiple copies of it just in case on copy fails. But would that uploaded mind really be you in any meaningful sense? Once separated from your body, would you be some kind of zombie?
One question the essay does not address is the fact that our minds are not just neural networks that process information that can be simulated. They also have various glands that secrete neurochemicals all the time and are an essential part of its functioning. How would an uploaded mind deal with that? Also wouldn’t the uploaded mind immediately begin to diverge from the mind still in the brain because the latter would experience new sensory inputs?
The authors look at the ethical implications of each option. It is fun to speculate but apart from the ethical issues, the practical barriers are so immense that I cannot see it becoming viable. But who knows what things might be possible hundreds of years from now?