Immortals come in a number of varieties: deities, vampires, ghosts, zombies, alien races, observers, and even humans who, through science or magic, have escaped the grasp of death. Some forms portray immortality as gruesome; tales of warning perhaps. Some laud it as the holy grail of all life. And all make us question our own feelings when faced with such a possibility.
A recent news article - where Russian scientist Dmitry Itskov is working to create a humanoid robot, capable of housing artificial brains which contain a person's complete consciousness - got me to thinking about this subject. This project, if successful, would allow the human consciousness to escape the body before death, and live on forever in the body of an avatar. Some of our wildest science fiction could soon become reality.
|Da Vinci Vitruvian man, © Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0)|
Aside from the initial knee-jerk reaction of not wanting to die, it's an interesting quandary. One could quite realistically choose to avoid death, but could one choose to give up that borrowed time later on? There are many ethical and moral questions to be pondered here besides simple immortality. What about things like human relationships and sex? Since a venture of this nature is so incredibly expensive, what of the implications of Itskov suggesting that such cybernetic immortality can be exchanged for a price? At what point does one's intellect and contributions to society factor into the equation? And when will the ability to choose potential immortals be bought and paid for? Almost immediately after implementation, one would assume.
And while many people jump at the idea of living forever, many others are repulsed by the idea. The thought of always being around, outliving anyone you ever cared about, watching as those around you die off one by one is something they'd rather not face. To those of this opinion, it's a horror - a curse, not a blessing at all.
I intend to live forever. So far, so good.
- Steven Wright
That's my opinion on the matter too. While death is said to be the last great adventure, I'm not quite ready to give up adventuring where I am just yet. I'm having far too much fun. I don't think, even after pondering it as long as I have, that I'd be too disappointed with immortality. I think I'd kind of like it. After all, it'd give those "back in the day" stories some real meat, wouldn't it?
A lot of this argument centers around quality of life. "I wouldn't want to outlive my usefulness, my ability to really get out and live!" we opine from the comfortable sanctuary of the couch. We say this, while hiding the fact that not only haven't we been anywhere or seen anything special in longer than we care to admit. We love the adventurer, the world traveler, the guy who gets into these fantastic, chaotic situations around the world, but we only love it because we can watch from the safety of our own little world.
|A symbolic gravestone in Foulden Churchyard, © Copyright Walter Baxter|
And it seems the main argument is that we'd have to sit around for all eternity watching our loved ones die, but really, that happens even now. And we continue to live and move on, as does the circle of life. We're constantly making new friends, losing track of some of the old ones. Would immortality really change this pattern? I don't think it would.
So how about you? How does Itskov's possibility of cybernetic immortality strike you? Is it the coolest idea ever? A nightmare too horrible to consider? Some combination of nightmare and dream?