By 2075, Twitter will be used by disembodied spirits (e.g. dead people) to send messages to the living.
These "spirits" will be the minds of uploaded people who have died, live in "Afterlife Chips," and who will want quick convenient communication paths to the "living."
The material in this article is presented in final format in my book The Heaven Virus.
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Eye Artwork by Cliff Pickover
The notion that we can one day simulate a mind or upload it to a computer assumes a materialist view in which the mind arises from brain activity. I hold this view and believe that it will someday be possible for us to become software running on machines. If I could opt for hundreds of years of subjective time having wonderful adventures, ideas, and relationships in such a simulation--achieving bliss--I'd take it. Perhaps I could think more clearly, love more deeply, discover new realities, be more creative, and achieve a state of fulfillment, peace, and accomplishment not possible in the real world.
If our thoughts and consciousness do not depend on the actual substances in our brains but rather on the structures, patterns, and relationships between parts, then brains embodied with other materials or in software could think. If consciousness is the result of patterns of neurons in the brain, our thoughts, emotions, memories, and romantic longings could even be replicated in huge moving assemblies of automobile parts, blowing leaves, or Tinkertoys.9
In the next century, we will live our lives or afterlives as software running in computers that I call "heaven machines." This software will simulate not only the functions of our neocortex-the seat of human intelligence and conscious thought--but also other structures like the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory and navigation.
The memory capacity of the heaven machine should not be an insurmountable barrier to its construction. Computer architect Jeff Hawkins estimates that the brain's cortex has about 32 trillion synapses-the junctions between nerve cells. Let's assume that we represent each synapse by only two bits, giving us four possible values per synapse (00, 01, 10, 11). Given this, we find that we would need roughly 8 trillion bytes of memory to have the same amount of memory as a human cortex, which is less than eighty of today's hard drives.10 Thus, it should be easy to embody a heaven machine with sufficient capacity in the coming decades. Hawkins writes, "It took fifty years to go from room-sized computers to ones that fit in your pocket. But because we are starting from an advanced technological position, the same transition for intelligent machines should go much faster."11 In the early years of the 21st century, various companies are being started to develop new types of computer memory systems modeled after the human neocortex.12
Today, scientists are engineering brain implants that can recreate thoughts and affect memories. Richard H. Granger, Jr., a professor of brain sciences who leads the Neukom Institute for Interdisciplinary Computation Sciences at Dartmouth College, notes that "Replicating [human] memory is going to happen in our lifetimes, and that puts us on the edge of being able to understand how thoughts arise from tissue--in other words, to understand what consciousness really means."13 According to a 2007 issue of Popular Science, researchers at the University of Southern California are working on memory chips designed to "reroute sensory information like sound, taste, and sight around injured tissues in the hippocampus, the [brain's] seat of memory."14 When this part of the brain is damaged, the chip intercepts the signals, digitizes and processes them, and then re-injects them into the hippocampus. Stephen Handelman writes in Popular Science about possible concerns with the "bionic brain":
Tampering with fundamental processes like memory and consciousness could play havoc with notions of identity. For instance, what if a brain chip in the future caused people to recollect things that never happened to them…. Changing the wiring of our memories… could subtly scramble our patterns of associations and… the thought structure that defines our individual personalities….15
Hardware fault tolerance often involves the use of identical copies of crucial system components so that a backup can take over for any system that temporarily fails. According to various NASA technical briefs, current hardened systems often include SDRAM memory protected with "double-device correction Reed-Solomon" methods.16 Future heaven machines will consist of numerous identical subcomputers, with associated hardware and software, each with hardened physical boundaries called Heaven Fault Containment Regions (HFCRs) operating simultaneously and executing identical simulations. To assure correct computation of a person's adventures in his or her afterlife, each logical processor has several microprocessors operating synchronously. If the results of a processor disagree with the majority of processors, the processor is considered to be faulting and instantly assumes the value of the majority.
The seeds of fault-tolerant computing available today will evolve for use on future-technology platforms that will be ripe for exploration, including optical computing, quantum computing, nanotube computing, or three-dimensional chip architectures. Of course, it is impossible to accurately predict what society and technology will be like many decades from now. Recall that technologists did poorly at predicting the dramatic rise of the personal computer and the Internet. In the 1950s, some believed that by today we would have atomic reactors in our homes and would have established vacation homes on the moon. Nevertheless, we can speculate on overall trends in order to expand our outlooks and blaze new trails. While we cannot provide details, in the coming years we will certainly enter an era that we may call The Mind Revolution, completing a progression that proceeds as: First Wave: The Agriculture Revolution (10,000 BC); Second Wave: The Industrial Revolution (1750 AD); Third Wave: The Technological Revolution (1950 AD), and Fourth Wave: The Mind Revolution (2020). During the Mind Revolution, direct mental augmentation, exploration, and adventure will be commonplace.17
Returning to the present, scientists are already investigating the use of field programmable gate arrays to increase the versatility of future computing machines. These arrays don't have hardwired patterns of circuits but instead employ programmable logic blocks that may use evolutionary algorithms to fix themselves after exposure to radiation or other environmental stresses. Similarly, the nascent field of immunotronics focuses on self-healing digital immune systems complete with antibodies. Systems protected by immunotronics scan for corrupted information and take appropriate action to recover. Given mature versions of these technologies that should be available in coming decades, computers will be safer places in which to live our digital lives.18 Once we are embodied in software, simulations of a person's experiences should continue in a straightforward and controlled manner. At least, this is the desired target for Electric Heavens in the 22nd Century, but what if something goes wrong?
Technology changes our culture--the way we seek pleasure and establish human relationships. Three-dimensional virtual realities, such as Second Life, are already changing our notions of what is right and wrong, and what is prudish or licentious. Developed by Linden Lab of California, Second Life software enables users to interact with one another through mobile avatars in order to explore and socialize in strange new worlds. Advanced computing technology is even beginning to change the way we seek transcendence and view God.
I hope that The Heaven Virus raises questions for readers. For example, our brains appear to be delicately poised between madness and sanity. With just small chemical, electrical, or structural imbalances, individuals see visions, become hyper-religious, encounter alien beings, or explore entirely new realities. People with unusual psychiatric disorders such as Charles Bonnet Syndrome see elves. People with Capgras Syndrome act as if they are in a parallel universe in which family members are "doubles" or "impostors." People with Cotard's Syndrome mistakenly believe that they have lost organs or that they have died and are walking corpses. The human minds in computer chips may develop all sorts of unusual ways at looking at their new "reality"--some productive and yielding happy, creative spirits and others that lead to inactivity or madness. Simulated beings will be exposed to new sensations and perhaps live in dreamy, psychedelic cultures preoccupied with sexual gratification and new experiences.
If small amounts of the psychoactive compound DMT (dimethyltryptamine) open up entirely new realms of sensory exploration and cause its users to see ornate palaces inhabited by elves, what might a simulation of a mind experience? Because our simulations will probably never be perfect, the realities experienced by our simulacrums will differ from those in our real world. DMT coaxes users to quickly enter a completely different reality that some have likened to an alien or parallel universe. Perhaps simulacrums will experience similar kinds of worlds. The distinction between fantasy and reality, and subconscious desire and actualized events, will blur in a simulated world. How could the mind cope? Today, we live in a hyper-sexualized world where sexual images are everywhere. We can only imagine what new psychosexual desires will emerge in a chip.
As an example of sensory expansion in today's world, consider the genes that code the Kv1.3 protein in mice. Researcher Debra Fadool of Florida State University gives mice a super-sense of smell by inactivating the gene for this protein. In other words, the mouse sensorium is held back from its reality perception, until we knock out the reality-restriction gene, and then, suddenly, the mice have a sense of smell 1,000 to 10,000 times as sensitive as that of typical mice. They can now easily discriminate between close odors. A visual analogy is one in which we can suddenly differentiate between close colors of indigo or even see new colors.19
So far, Debra Fadool has not found any other physical or behavioral anomalies in mice without this gene. Perhaps in the future, scientists will knock out some of our own reality-limiting genes, take off the brakes, and let us soar. Of course, it may be rather unpleasant if our minds are not able to assimilate the new sensory input, but perhaps we can look for genes that control the quality of information without saturating us with quantity. There is no guarantee that we have evolved to sense reality accurately, or in its many facets. Mental or genetic tampering could make us happier and more creative. Perhaps God applied the brakes by giving us reality-restricting genes until we were sufficiently advanced, like Fadool, to figure out how to remove them. Simulated societies will have senses and thought processes that we can barely imagine.
I hope that The Heaven Virus will not only draw science-fiction fans and technologists, but also those who have wondered about their own passage from this existence into the world to come.
Judging from what I know of you, two other books may be of interest to you:
Sex, Drugs, Einstein, and Elves and A Beginner's Guide to Immortality.
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