Volume 2, Issue 3
3rd Quarter, 2007

Trajectories to the Heavens

William Sims Bainbridge, Ph.D.

This article was submitted for publication in Terasem Movement, Inc.’s Journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness by William Sims Bainbridge, Ph.D.

Dr. Bainbridge, in his desire to preserve what makes us uniquely human, depicts an approach to how we may become ‘colonists of the future’ by projecting our personalities into the cosmos and beyond.

There are many conceivable pathways to the stars, and to transcendence of the mundane human condition, so we may need to progress simultaneously along several of them to achieve these high goals. Often, when seeking to achieve a valuable goal, it is best to select one path and forge ahead at full speed in that one direction. However, many uncertainties hedge these roads, so we must hedge our bets. This will not necessarily be inefficient, because some of the same preparations will be needed for several of the journeys, and each trek can accomplish other valued goals along the way. This essay will outline and compare alternative trajectories by which humans may reach the stars, and transform themselves as they do so.

As I have discussed extensively in many publications, the best current model for radical transcendence of the human condition, and for interstellar flight, is transfer of human personalities from their current biological substrate to a diverse range of contexts beginning with artificial intelligence information systems. I conceptualize human personalities as dynamic patterns of information, and my professional judgment tells me that informatic and cognitive technologies are approaching the point at which personalities can be transferred to new media. Indeed, I believe that low fidelity copies can be made today, and the fidelity will increase rapidly if we invest in a substantial research effort.

In a way, electronic personality transfer fulfills the hitherto vain hopes of traditional religions. “Information” is the modern world for “spirit.” Note that information is contained in physical objects, just as the human spirit is contained within the brain, but it is not itself material. Information consists of meaningful relationships between patterns that can be embodied in any number of physical systems. I do not want to push this point too far, because the ancients were ignorant of much of the real world we inhabit, and of the basis by which their own minds operated. But humans have always had an intuition that they were something more than inert matter, and they groped for metaphors to describe a number of perplexing cognitive and emotional perceptions they experienced. Today we have a range of concepts that can better model these subjective but very real phenomena, including “complex adaptive system,” “cybernetics,” and “cognitive science” which links neuroscience with artificial intelligence.

Farmer in the Sky 1950Electronic personality transfer also offers means for fulfilling the twentieth-century dream of spaceflight and interstellar colonization. How foolish we were to think that the solar system contained many potential homes for the human species! It possesses only one: the Earth. I am reminded of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1950 juvenile novel, Farmer in the Sky, about a boy scout whose family emigrates to Jupiter’s large moon Ganymede, where they face terrible difficulties adapting to the harsh environment, and transforming its surface to become suitable for agriculture. Today we know that the four great satellites of the solar system’s largest planet are bathed in lethal radiation, so any colony would need to be deep underground. Perhaps more daunting, we seem to have given up hope that nuclear-powered rockets could be launched from the Earth, because they endanger the biosphere, [1] and nuclear power was always the only really plausible basis for massive interplanetary transport. Only if we transform human beings so they no longer need a biosphere can we realistically envision colonization of the solar system or galaxy, and this is also precisely the requirement for human immortality.

Personality Transfer

At present, there exist two competing models of personality capture, the process of documenting the contents and functional characteristics of an individual human mind. The first and perhaps the simplest to conceive may also be the technically most difficult to achieve: scanning the fine structure of neural connections in an individual human brain. The second employs multi-modal methods, some of which already exist today, to measure the responses and spontaneous action of the individual. We can call these the neuronal and the behavioral approaches.

One can imagine an entirely biological version of the neuronal approach. Genetically engineered benign viruses would visit every corner of the brain, perhaps over a period of weeks, each one collecting a tiny bit of information about the corner of the brain it visited. As the viruses wash out of the human body, they are collected in an incubator where their information is used to construct a second brain having the same structure as the first, perhaps cultured inside a new body. It is easy for me to imagine this, because I am almost wholly ignorant of the host of difficult technical problems that would need to be solved, and thus not inhibited by any facts! Indeed, I conceptualize the design of the virus by analogy with the packets of information transmitted over the Internet and which the Internet Protocol is all about. Each packet includes information about its destination, as well as the information to be transmitted.

Indeed, discussions of the neuronal approach tend to assume application of advanced information technology. Non-destructive scanning of the human brain might possibly be accomplished by some future variant of functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI), which is highly computerized and results in a huge digital data file. In earlier publications I have expressed doubt that fMRI could ever achieve high enough resolution to chart the connections between individual neurons, because of physical laws concerning the long wavelength of microwaves and the high energies associated with short wavelength radiation that would literally cook the brain. (However, low-energy, low-resolution fMRI could be part of a suite of methods used along the behavioral approach.) Destructive methods might involve freezing the brain and photographing the surface as it is slowly ground away, or employing a laser to vaporize it layer by layer while reading out the structure.

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Footnote (Additional references on Page 6)

1. Biosphere - the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosphere August 13, 2007 3:40PM EST

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