Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Would you become a robot for the chance at a longer life?

It’s a tough question to answer. There are so many angles to consider—so many existential issues to ponder, like “What does it mean to be human?”

After considering this question for a little while, I’ve come to a few important contemplation-points. Hopefully my musings on the subject will help you in your pondering, for if—or maybe even when—you have to make this decision for yourself.

In Mark Alpert’s The Six, a number of terminally-ill teenagers have their minds copied and transferred into robots. This book is quite useful for one’s own consideration of this issue because the author crafts a contemplative tone, offering a number of perspectives from different characters, showing both positive and negative sides.

The main positive is the most obvious one: performing this procedure could be seen as saving people’s lives. This is what Adam’s father feels (51, 75). In theory, the brain can be completely copied, including every aspect that makes us who we are, so we could be uploaded into robots and still remain basically ourselves. I suppose such science could be possible since AI’s machine learning capabilities are relatively close to human brain development.

These human-robot hybrids would be more
internal hybrids than external like this guy is,
but I would still consider them cyborgs.
Another positive side to this has more to do with humanity than the individual. Some people believe that we would more successfully be able to make safe AI if they had a human center because they would already have a sense of ethics and morals, plus an understanding of humans. This idea could be taken even further, considering these cyborgs (so to speak) as bridges between humans and AI. This is especially important as we approach the Singularity point—the theoretical time when artificial, machine intelligence will surpass our own (49).

We would, however, have to chose very carefully who was transferred. Certain people would be no better for humanity in terms of ethics and morals than AIs would. No one wants someone like evil Dr. Zola from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have the superhuman capabilities of an AI. (see Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Maybe what a soul looks like?
Although Adam’s dad raises an important point about the potential to save lives, Adam’s mom brings in the opposite perspective, believing more in their destruction. While she argues with Adam, she raises a heart-stopping question: what about the soul? (76). If your body dies but your mind lives on in a metal shell, what happens to your soul? It is a somewhat terrifying concept to consider, especially when you have no idea what the answer might be.

As I said before, The Six helpfully offers a number of different perspectives on the issue of transferring humans to AI. The juxtaposition of Adam’s parent’s responses is very important for readers who are attempting to consider all possible sides to this issue.

The soul is typically considered a vital part of who we are as humans. Along with the idea of potentially losing that part of us during the transfer comes the issue of the body. I think a lot of people would feel they had lost so much by losing their bodies. What about physical contact (of any kind)? You couldn’t have human-feeling contact in a robot body. Even if our technology did advance far enough to include detailed sensors, would it really be the same?

Much of Adam’s response relates to his body. Before and after the procedure, that is what his mind is absorbed by.

All my attention is focused on my right hand, which now rests on my thigh.
I grasp the meager flesh there, the stiff band of dead muscle, and squeeze it as hard as I can.
Though it’s broken and dying, this is my body. How could I exist without it? (67)

Adam’s before-procedure musings bring up an important point. Our bodies are a fundamental part of who we are. Would we be human without them?

And wouldn’t most of us miss our bodies, even if we could survive without them?

I’ve been a machine for less than fifteen minutes,
but already I want to be human again. (126)

After Adam undergoes the procedure, he sees his new form and feels that it can’t truly be him (121). When Adam goes to find his body, he laments its loss. He doesn’t feel whole anymore.

I’ve lost the best part of me. I’ve lost it forever. (125)

Could we truly be human as just data in a computer? With no human body and potentially no soul?

And one more ethical issue for your contemplation: Given all we’ve learned so far, would it be right to do such things to a human—take away their body and potentially their soul, strip them down to coding—even if it were voluntary? Could such action be considered adulterating or desecrating human life?

Personally, I don’t think I would agree to have myself uploaded to a computer. I like being human in the fullest way; I wouldn’t want to lose my body or soul. And if it were a loved one...I suppose if they really wanted to do it, I would support their decision, but I certainly wouldn’t push if they were not willing themselves.

So now, after all this, I return you to my title question. Would you?