Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Pursuit of Digital Immortality, Part I

Lately, there has been a wave of news articles coming out on the concept of "digital immortality". Basically, this idea involves storing a person's thoughts and personality in digital media as a means of cheating death. Ideally, proponents argue, the digitized personality would then be able to live forever (until someone pulls the plug) and potentially even develop new thoughts and increase their knowledge base. This isn't something out of a science fiction book, as this article and this article show.

Here's a quote from the first article:
"Itskov and other so-called "transhumanists" interpret this impending singularity as digital immortality."
The singularity as referred to in this article talks about a convergence of technological trends on the near horizon, perhaps around 2045 or 2050. Some believe at this point we will be able to upload or download an entire mind online. Some examples of these definitions can be found here, here, and here.

But would immortality truly be achieved?

Consider this: a typical library with paper books consists of a great deal of information. Does anybody consider the library alive and immortal, though? If people stop writing books and librarians stop stocking them onto book shelves, would the library continue to acquire knowledge on its own? If all the janitors, maintenance staff, patrons, and librarians vacated the building but left the books behind, would the place be considered immortal? What happens when the silverfish and termites move in?

Now consider the internet. The amount of pages and information added daily worldwide is staggering. Yet if people stop adding information and all the connections were terminated would the internet be considered immortal? What happens when servers start to fail and hard drives crash? But wait...what if autonomous software was created so that a machine could acquire knowledge without human intervention and repair itself using available materials? Would the creation be considered alive and potentially immortal?

Here's another quote from the first article:
"Rothblatt introduced the concept of "mindclones" — digital versions of humans that can live forever."
Then, later the article's author asks:
"But would such a mindclone be alive? Rothblatt thinks so. She cited one definition of life as a self-replicating code that maintains itself against disorder."
Is that all that life is? Self-replication in order to overcome disorder? Does that mean immortality is nothing more than a matter of endurance? Does anybody consider self-replicating malware on a computer network to be alive? Are botnets immortal?

Interestingly enough, many times this quest for immortality and ultimate knowledge can involve a form of spirituality, but it's usually anything but Biblical. In fact, some researchers bristle at the mere mention of God despite all the ready answers available in Scripture on these topics.

Case in point, let's take a quick look at this concept of immortality and eternity. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV), it states, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end."

Over in John 10:28 (NKJV) Jesus said, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand." In Romans 6:23 it reads, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Furthermore, in John 3:14-16 it states, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

There are numerous other verses on this topic, but the main point is this: according to Scripture, eternal life does not come from man, it comes from God.

Additionally, reducing the complexity of life, biology, and consciousness to nothing more than code being run on a machine opens the door to a new set of problems. It ignores multiple other verses in the Bible that discuss spirituality, having a relationship with God, and even the idea that God could "breathe life" into someone. As it is written in Genesis 2:7 (NKJV): "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."

It was not knowledge that gave Adam his life, it was God.

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