Within your lifetime it could be possible to upload your brain onto a computer in what futurists call “singularity”, a blending of mind and machine offering virtual immortality. Your mind, which is the essence of you, can be stored on a computer long after your mortal body gives up. Or maybe not.
Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering for Google and no mental slouch, is one of the advocates of futurist ideology. He was one of the major speakers at the Global Futures 2045 International Congress this past weekend in New York. Kurzweil believes this melding of mind and machine will be feasible by 2045.
Dr. John Byrne is chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the UT Health Science Center at Houston Medical School and no mental slouch. He doesn’t see that as being likely to happen.
“I frankly think this is – pardon the pun – wishful thinking,” Dr Byrne told KTRH. “The thing with brains is that they contain 100 billion neurons, and all these neurons are connected to each other in very complicated ways. So rather than being a computer, it’s more like a computer network. So the concept of downloading that doesn’t hold up to the way things work.”
Futurists also see body parts as something that can be replaced, virtually. Pick an avatar and you can become it. Dr. Byrne says he can fully agree that there is going to be great leaps ahead in the creation of organs. “We know the heart’s a pump, and we can create pumps; we know the liver’s a filter, and we can create filters. So I think there is going to be great progress in artificial organs and artificial limbs, but the last one that is going to be recreated or re-synthesized is going to be the brain,” says Dr. Byrne.
“The progress in neuroscience has been phenomenal. We’ve learned more about the brain in the last 20 years than all of civilization, so progress has been fantastic and will continue to be fantastic. But there are still fundamental issues that we’ve just scratched the surface of, and one is ‘what is the mind’?”