Over the past few days I've been thinking about the nature of consciousness--yes, I know, very philosophical of me. What started this all was an essay entitled "Artificial Intelligence" by Grant Fjermedal. In this essay, he describes an idea formulated by the respected robot scientist Hans Moravec. This idea was that in the future, we could become immortal by 'uploading' ourselves into a robot. This procedure would theoretically work by scanning the exact makeup and behavior of your mind and automatically writing software code that perfectly emulates this. Once the procedure is complete, your original body is killed, as you now exist in the robot. Supposedly...
The robot brain would contain a functional, completely acurate simulation of your brain contained in software. It would talk like you, walk like you, and otherwise behave exactly like you. Everyone, your family, your best friends, all would declare the robot to be you. But is the robot really you?
Now, we don't know what consciousness really is, or what its source is. How do we perceive the inputs from all of our senses as a single, whole experience? that makes us one distinct individual? Some think that the conscious self--the 'mind'--lies outside the body and is metaphysically connected to the body. Others think consciousness is a direct product of the electrochemical workings inside the brain. If your being lies in the brain itself, then that can't be transferred into the robot. And if your consciousness is outside the body, how do you tell it to attach itself to this robot? When it comes down to it, such a robot would be nothing more than an incredibly accurate simulation of you. And if you were allowed to live after the operation, you wouldn't feel any connection to the robot, and you and the robot would be two obviously separate entities.
More recently, though, I read Timeline by Michael Crichton. In it, a company has developed a technology that transports you between parallel universes by reconstructing you exactly in the other universe at the same time, but your old body is destroyed. It's even mentioned in the book that the person who comes back isn't really the person who left, though for all intents and purposes they're exactly the same... to an outside observer. It occurred to me that this same problem would be encountered in a teleportation device, because the method of transportation destroys you and then reconstructs you. The same would happen if the aforementioned robotic upload actually constructed a new biological brain for you. If perfect, the reconstructed you would seem to be exactly the same as the destroyed you. But can you really consider the reconstructed you the actual continuation of you? Because your own conscious experience would end when your original was destroyed; would your mind transfer to the new body? or would it be oblivion? This all raises very intriguing philosophical and ethical issues; does teleportation cause a real death each time? is the one's mind and behaviors more important that knowing that your friend is still the same flow of consciousness that you knew before? Wouldn't widespread employment of such destroy-and-reproduce technologies lower the importance of individuality? If we can be destroyed, created, and recreated at will, how insignificant do we become? Food for thought.
But there's another idea from this that caught my attention. There are many stories of identical twins being able to finish each other's sentences, and having their own language and shared dreams and knowing when something bad has happened to the other one... If this is true, what causes this? Is it perhaps because the two minds are similar enough that they perhaps blend somewhat? In that case, what might happen if an exact duplicate of you could be made? Would you experience both bodies as one single conscious experience? If that last question was true, and distance has no effect, then and only then could we say that teleportation or the other things I discussed above could be ethically and soundly used.