- to a simulated future
Brain is awesome, but slow
The human brain is an incredibly complex and powerful organ, capable of problem-solving, decision-making, language processing, etc. However, compared to the speed of modern computers, the brain can be slow in certain tasks. For example, a computer can perform mathematical calculations and can process large amounts of data in seconds, whereas the human brain may take minutes or even hours to complete the same task. Perhaps our software is great but we may have a hardware performance bottleneck in biological neurons. We are only beginning to unravel the mysteries of the brain and it may be too early to conclude, but we have reasonable data to say the brain operates at millisecond scale while the computers compute at nanosecond scale.
Computing chips can simulate neurons, perhaps a brain
Neuromorphic computing uses a type of computer chip that is designed to mimic the behavior of neurons in the brain. These chips can perform many of the same functions as traditional computer chips, but they can also simulate the way that neurons in the biological brain (BB) work. This means that they can process and analyze information in a way that is similar to how the brain does it. Expert opinion is that neuromorphic computing chips could eventually be used to create a computer that works like a brain, or even to simulate an entire brain.
Copy consciousness to these chips
It may be possible to transfer the information that makes up the human mind, including memories, thoughts, and emotions, to a neuromorphic chip. This would allow for the creation of a machine that can think, feel and behave like a human. If we do a good job at copying (or uploading), this brain in the machine (neuromorphic brain - NB), will be an identical clone of the person whose brain we used. In other words, the person can live inside this computer, obviously with a body and sensory experience missing, but those are problems that we can solve eventually or resolve with virtual counterparts. However, this is a highly complex and controversial topic, as the nature of consciousness and how it can be replicated in machines is not yet fully understood, let alone how our brain or consciousness work is not decoded. If we miss the smallest slice of a faint memory, or a single synaptic link out of trillions that exist in a brain, we may end up with a different person, perhaps a disabled one or a dangerous one.
The NBs are interconnected in a virtual world (VW) so they can interact, like in real world (RW), have conversations, see each other, have a digital persona that may resemble their physical form, have all the physical interactions digitally recreated for a close to real world experience. They not only live there, they learn, work, invent, relax, and indulge in virtual versions of everything they did in their real life, they thrive. We can eliminate all the hardships of real life, there is no need to read books to learn as you can upload knowledge, no need to commute to work as you can teleport, no need to take a shower (no judging) or cook. There could be new challenges as the brain is as fast as a computer, the virtual computers there will be very slow, relatively. But we can fix that by setting the clock speeds for the brain and other virtual machines.
Once uploaded, a person's consciousness could continue to exist in a digital form, potentially allowing them to evade a biological death. They could live in the machine, in the virtual world created to cater to their sensory needs, forever, as long as the machine is powered on and operational. One could argue that this is not beating death, only a ghost of the person continues to exist. But to the brain that processes the external world in the form of electro-chemical signals passed via neurons in its biological form, or artificial sensory events received in digital form, it doesn't make a difference, and thus to the person. And that's what matters.
Identity concerns: Is it the same me inside the chip?
The very first question that people ask, when they hear about the concept for the first time is on consciousness divergence. "The person in the computer is a clone of my consciousness and is an imposter, it/he/she is not me. I am living and breathing right here in the physical world, I like it here, I don't want to live inside a computer forever!". Indeed, there is some truth in that. If the biological body is awake and aware after the consciousness upload, the versions in the physical world and virtual worlds start to diverge from the very nano second they are awake, and they indeed grow apart based on the inputs the respective brains receive and process.
Then if we suggest alternatives such as,
You transform the consciousness if you are in your deathbed, continue to live in VW staying in touch with RW
You put your physical body in to a suspended animation, live in VW, transform back to physical body when done
and the audience shows interest. "It's better than nothing, but it is still not me.. After transferring consciousness, when the person wakes up in VW, it is a different person. I know that, I know I died in RW". But that is not true. Nobody knows that they died. One can know that they are about to, but once the body and PB die, there is no more consciousness and thus no more knowledge to be gained by that expired consciousness. It just stops. On the other hand, the NB in VW wakes up, as if it was the BB in RW. If we begin the VW simulation to match the last environment that the real person was in, in the RW, the NB will never realize that it has physically died and this is a second instance of its original consciousness. The NB is as effective or impactful as the original BB, to any external agents or stimuli. So for anyone who cared about the person in RW, could connect to the person in VW, as if they moved to a foreign country and now available only via Facetime (or WhatsApp). The person who went to sleep in RW before transfer, wakes up as person in VW after a while. NB in VW will identify itself as the original person, not a clone of the person. When you go to bed every night, and wake up the next morning, there is no way you can tell if it was the same you who went to bed that woke up this morning. At an atomic level, lots of things changed in your biological body and brain, but it's mostly you. Similarly, a lot more things changed (the whole hardware) before and after the transfer of consciousness, but it's mostly you when you wake up in VW. If you are still not convinced, maybe you should read about Ship of Theseus.
Time, the most precious resource is now a million times plentiful
There is no doubt, time is the most valuable resource we have, in our short life spans. We can never have enough time. Our biological brain operates at millisecond level. You think at millisecond scale, process sensory information at that speed. The NB operating on silicon based chips can operate at nano second level. Which means, in the virtual world the clock ticks a million times faster. Or in other words, a second in RW is a million seconds in VW. You can live 11.5 days in VW by the time the clock ticks once, a second in RW. A year is a million years!
This changes the way we perceive time, we don't have to hurry anymore, for anything. We can learn or work at any pace we want, we can take years long vacations. Of course, your peers in VW may not take a vacation and get promoted which may put some pressure. But there is no need to set any goals in life that are tied to your age. You don't age in the biological sense, so no need to hurry to get a job, get married, raise children, retire.. you do it at your own pace, when you really need it, not when your age demands you to do so. There will be drastic changes in the way we live, work, and recreate. Every aspect of human life and ambitions will change. In fact, most people may not feel a need to have children, to pass on their legacy, as their legacy is not coming to any end.
While your BB takes wear and tear and ceases to function in a few decades, the NB can go on and on, as long it is powered, even swap chip(s) when necessary, with proper backup and restore for maintenance operations.
Migrate to virtual world
As one recognizes the unending benefits of extra time, they will start spending more and more time there in the VW. They may move their work to VW (Virtual Remote Work?). They may take exquisite vacations in VW for cheap. Obviously, they might want to take their loved ones with them on virtual vacations. Their colleagues are now forced to move to VW for work to match the productivity. This triggers a chain reaction forcing everyone in the network to move to VW, and spend the majority of their time there than in RW. Comparing this to the adoption of mobile phones will not be fair, this is way more faster and way more disruptive. Over time the time spent in RW becomes a bottleneck, a disability that people may eventually get rid of, for living full time in VW.
But in VW, life continues as normal, there is no relative time difference and hence everyone lives their lives as if they were living in RW, with no baggage of reality (traffic, hunger, aging, disease), but with instant access to all the resources they want. If you want a car, you get it in an instant. If you want to go somewhere, you teleport in an instant. If you want to eat, you always have the best food ready. Anything materialistic, has a virtual counterpart ready. Time is not the only plentiful resource you have there in VW, everything you can imagine is available to you instantly. There is no reason to hang in the RW. In fact, the RW will become quiet and lonely pretty fast.
Invention to end all other inventions
Seriously, but in a positive way. There is no need to invent anything new in RW anymore. Virtual world can provide you with anything you want, as imagination is your only limit. You no longer have to invent gadgets, batteries, graphene or flying cars. VW makes any RW inventions unnecessary. This is really the last invention we will ever have to make in RW. Yes, we will need scientific experiments to be carried out in the real world, to collect data and make inferences. But it will be a very time-consuming operation, mostly carried out by automated robots in RW. VW scientists may have to act when they get project progress reports once in a while and if they need to make any course corrections. VW will have its own discoveries and may be inventions in software, but anything more RW like will be unlikely.
Now let's go a bit crazier and make an attempt to extrapolate the future of our civilization after we migrate into VW. Surely it will take some time for people to make up their mind, but let's assume that the majority of humanity decides to move into the VW, in search of better life, immortality or to stay with their loved ones. Some may remain in the RW for religious, identity or other reasons. The datacenter that hosts the neuromorphic computers will be the most important asset in the world and it has to operate with top reliability and should be protected against any natural calamities, or threats of domestic or alien origin. It might make sense to bury this deep underground, opposed to moving it to space where it will be expensive to shield this. Maybe use geothermal energy to power the datacenter. Over time, any signs of this civilization will be wiped from the surface of the planet, if the people who stayed back did not multiply fast enough. We may deliberately choose to wipe any evidence of civilization as a defensive measure as well.
Our civilization at this point is a buried one. Instead of becoming explorers and conquerors of galaxies, we implode and reduce our footprint to such a tiny extent that it will be impossible for an external observer to learn about our existence.
Did this happen before, many times over on this planet?
This naturally begs another question, are we the first civilization on this planet to do this, to implode to a virtual, buried civilization? Could there be other civilizations on our planet itself that might have reached this evolutionary step in their technological advancement, and they buried themselves deep under? Could there be more than one? Why not?
We have now learned that Orangutans are in their stone age. They have learned to use tools and spear fish using sharpened sticks made from wooden branches. Fast forward another hundred thousand years, they will be driving in their Teslas to office and complaining about life-after-the-trees in general, without the slightest hint that their cousins did all that stuff a hundred thousand years ago.
Is that what happens to advanced civilizations, is that why we can't find any?
You could stretch that further and even assume that this is what happens to advanced civilizations in general. Maybe this is why we never made first contact, why we didn't see signs of life anywhere else. The window in RW is too narrow for any overlap, for civilizations to make contact.
Can we find all answers without the physical reality?
Once we move to VW, it doesn't mean that we no longer need the RW. Yes, we need physical data centers to run our software on, and a planet around that to power and protect it. Even beyond that, we can only conduct scientific experiments that cannot be simulated or are beyond our current understanding of the universe, only in the RW. We may have to depend on robotics and automation to do that, as the time moves slowly in RW, but we have to rely on RW and real physics to find answers to questions about the fundamental nature of our universe, provided our RW is really real, we are not in a simulation already.
Evolution of knowledge, will we forget the past?
As hours pass in RW (centuries in VW), people may eventually forget about their historical origins in the real world. They may reinvent themselves, editing their own memories, thinking process, accelerating growth, and may evolve into a far more superior beings that cannot be compared to current day humans.
On a negative route, they may fight new wars in the virtual world, for the only resource that matters - the compute cycles. They may lose track of time, purpose, lose interest in anything that excites current day humans (knowledge, love, relations, etc.), forget about their past, even about their existence, eventually fading away.
The possibilities are endless, in either direction. The journey is tempting and probably our destiny. Are you ready for the adventure?
Send me your thoughts to @vpfaiz