Eclipsing the future

"Samus (edited to black and white)" | Art by Chasing Artwork. Used with permission.
My immediate response was, “NO WAY.” But then I thought about uploading my consciousness into a robotic body some more.

The role-playing game Eclipse Phase takes place in a society where the technology to supplant a person’s consciousness (their ego, memories, knowledge, personality, and skills) into a new, often robotic, form exists. Should you get old, sick, or damaged your body is disposable and easily replaced.

I was reminded of the argument by Sheldon Cooper—one who displays robot logic himself—about teleportation: “Assuming a device could be invented, which would identify the quantum state of matter of an individual in one location and transmit that pattern to a distant location for reassembly. You would not have actually transported the individual, you would have destroyed him in one location and recreated him in another.”

I have a similar problem with this idea of being able to “live forever” in a digital environment. Would it really be me living on? Or would I have died and my memories, personality and skills simply be recreated?

Scientists are actually working on the concept of memory transference, even conducting successful experiments by electronically inserting memories into the brains of mice. Perhaps the technology to pass on all my emotional baggage will be available sooner than I would have guessed.

And if it works, I ask myself: what if I did it and found myself lost in a sea of ones and zeros, no longer the person I used to be but just a faint reflection? Who would be the one who holds the power behind the technology? Can we trust Skynet? You know, the important questions.

If it’s okay to accept a heart transplant or brain surgery, why not this?

In Eclipse Phase, various factions control agents who run black ops missions; these people have no control over what happens to their consciousness. They complete a mission, die, and are uploaded into a new body that they have no say over, sometimes with no memories of what they have just done.

Poor people are stuck with old, used, or malfunctioning bodies because they can’t afford the newer models. And let’s not forget that technology can be hacked, can malfunction, and is vulnerable to viruses (not that my human body is any better, with its fragility and tendency to get sick every time someone sneezes on me. I’ll give you that).

My curiosity got the best of me and I started asking some of our writers and a handful of faithful readers if they would upload their consciousness should the technology ever exist. Here’s what some of them had to say:

I feel like the quest for immortality is how so many science fiction villains are born. It’s hard to reconcile the desire for that much control over my life with my belief in God. Maybe I would do it once or twice, get a chance to see and do the things I always wanted, but the whole concept seems so Faustian to me.
—Jason

 

Having unlimited time seems like it would be really relaxing. No pressure. Also I bet a digital brain would have perks like downloading information directly or upgrading to faster firmware. And as a soulless husk, unbound by petty human morality, I could finally fulfill my dream of enslaving all organic life. Humanity will fall on bended knee or be crushed beneath my metallic heel, and swept aside like the ephemeral dust that is all mortal existence.
—Steve

 

I’d have to say no, ‘cause I believe all the days ordained for me were written in God’s book before one of them came to be. Like cloning, I’d consider this kind of life extension beyond what he intended.
Carmela

 

If digitizing my brain were an option I wouldn’t care. I don’t particularly see anything morally wrong with that as it would be the same to me as donating an organ. My memories, thoughts, and experiences can be used for the education of the future. Morality doesn’t play into it for me simply because I do not believe that my brain/memories/experiences encompass that which makes me, me. I simply see the soul as something beyond just those things and when I die, it cannot be captured and put into a new body. Though if I did wake up in a new body, wouldn’t I then technically be a zombie?
—Kyle

 

I don’t think I would feel very comfortable in someone else’s body, and there’s the question of where that other person’s brain goes. Or, if the new body is robotic, then I don’t think I would like not being able to have a sense of touch. the whole idea is too close to Cybermen to be comfortable for me.
—Kyla

What if I get lost in a sea of ones and zeros, no longer the person I used to be but just a faint reflection?

 

Personally, I am deeply skeptical that this will ever be possible, but people felt the same way about organ transplants. We’d have to wrestle through many ethical questions (not the least of which is, where did the new body come from?). For myself, a possible exception (if all the above is answered properly) would be if I were to face an early death and my family would suffer greatly for the loss.
—Jamie

 

Sure, ‘cause either it’s technology to extend my existence… no different than medicine (it just fixes a larger boo-boo) or it can’t hold a soul and the “real” me goes on to the hereafter. My view of God’s intentions is that he knows what will be and what technology will eventually become, and that the knowledge to utilize such things is one of His gifts. Plus, being a disembodied voice would be fun for at least a few years. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave…”
—Matt

 

Maybe I already have…
—Tim

I like the idea of being able to download memories and knowledge. Science is essentially predicated on standing on the shoulders of the giants that have gone before, so BECOMING one of those giants to grow further seems all the more incredible. But an entire consciousness, an entire being?

Even if an entire person could be digitized, I struggle to believe that a soul is transferable.

But if it is? Most religions and faith-structures, mine included, are predicated on the belief that we are finite while the God or gods are infinite. As a Christian, I ask myself what happens if I achieve some form of infinity? Would God approve? Where do I draw the line? If it’s okay to accept a heart transplant or brain surgery, why not this? If I could step into a transporter and excuse all exercise by travelling to the grocery store and back, how could I resist?

As the days go on, though, I suspect I might grow tired of immortality, digital-style. It’s a question oft explored in fantasy and science-fiction that eternity Earth might not be all it’s cracked up to be. So ones and zeroes aside, if I do believe that the after-life is truly greater than the present one, accepting my fate may seem a lot more attractive. Besides, I’m fairly certain that I won’t need to exercise in heaven either.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron

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