There’s a good chance that in a few short decades science will develop three separate paths for human immortality:
- Science will “cure” aging. (See Google’s announcement.)
- Humans will be able to transfer their minds to robots.
- Humans will be able to transfer their minds to software-only virtual worlds.
Those options might sound like science fiction to you, but credible futurists imagine all of it being possible someday, perhaps in a few decades. If you and I last long enough, we might have some interesting choices in our twilight years.
If you decide to ride out eternity in a mostly human body that never ages, you’ll probably meet the minimum definition of a cyborg – a being with both organic and machine parts. Many of us are already inseparable from our smartphones, so the way I see it, The Age of Cyborgs has already begun. I assume there will someday be options for better-than-human knees, super hearing, and other useful cyborg upgrades. I already want all of that.
The poor among us, and people with certain religious beliefs, will remain 100% human for as long as the more advanced beings – the cyborgs and robots – allow it. Life will be somewhat awkward when part of civilization is immortal and part is not. But the one thing we know for sure is that the richest cyborgs and robots will eventually consolidate power. For starters, only the people who have wealth will be able to afford the jump to immortality. So the first robots with human minds and the first immortal cyborgs will be rich. Just imagine how much money Larry Ellison will someday have if he stubbornly refuses to die and dilute his fortune across less-capable heirs. Eventually most of the world will be owned by five multi-trillionaire robots that live on yachts the size of Connecticut. The immortal cyborgs, with the limitations of their organic parts, will be mere millionaires who can’t stop complaining about “the Kevlar ceiling.”
If you believe humans have souls, you might prefer staying at least partly organic for eternity. Or you might game the system by becoming 99.9% robot and .1% preserved human cells from your original body that you carry in a locket around your robot neck just in case there’s a soul hiding in there.
Those of us who are non-believing heathens might prefer porting our minds to robot bodies before the natural expiration date on our organic selves. It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that a digital representation of your mind, no matter how accurate, is still “you” in some sense. But I think that fear will go away as soon as we see the first robot that thinks and acts exactly like Uncle Bob did before he made the jump. If Uncle Bob the robot acts human enough, we’ll come to see him as the same entity that once inhabited an organic shell. When technology is sufficiently advanced, we’ll get past the magical thinking about spirits and souls and the specialness of having organic parts.
To me, the most interesting possibility for the future involves porting human minds to software that includes entirely simulated realities. Such a program – a digital mind if you will – could live in an entirely artificial reality and experience what seems to be a genuine human life for the rest of eternity, or at least as long as the software keeps running. The freaky part is that if such a thing will someday be possible – and I think it will – then it follows that the time after it happens will be infinitely long whereas the history of time before it happens is finite. So it follows that there is an infinitely greater chance you are already the simulation and not a human who is reading this paragraph and contemplating it. Weird.
If you didn’t already have enough reasons to eat right, exercise, and keep your mind sharp, consider what you might be bringing to your own immortality. I was hoping to get there before the dementia sets in. But I just reread what I wrote and apparently I’m already too late.
Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.