Neurology Facts

Like some other futurists, Ray Kurzweil thinks the best way to avoid aging is to avoid biology altogether. With a sufficient understanding of the brain, he says, we’ll be able to upload our minds to (presumably non-organic) structures and become digitally immortal. This might sound plausible enough, if a bit speculative, since the pace of technological advancement can seem surreal. Who’s going to rule out such an idea so early in the game?

Susan SchneiderPhotograph by Laura Latimer

Answer: Susan Schneider, philosopher and cognitive scientist at the University of Connecticut and member of the Technology and Ethics study group at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. “It would be silly to claim you can ‘upload’ your consciousness to a computer, the way futurists like Ray Kurzweil envision, ” she says. “You wouldn’t be conscious, and it wouldn’t be you. Uploading would not be a route to digital immortality but suicide.”

Tomorrow, in Portugal, she’ll be presenting more of her remarks as the featured speaker at a conference dedicated to her work, put on by the Lisbon Mind and Cognition Group, an organization with ties to the New University of Lisbon. “Whether or not you think our minds are actually computational, our abilities to interface with machines from virtual reality technologies such as Oculus Rift, to our more everyday use of smart-phones and wearable gadgetry, is undergoing a profound shift, ” the conference’s website states. “We seek to motivate serious philosophical analysis of these changes and assess their implications.”

Schneider spoke to Nautilus about her thoughts on the mind, the potential promise and danger of AI, as well as the conference in Lisbon.

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