Artificial immortality

“The initiative’s goal is to create a network with the world’s leading scientists who are focused on the development of cybernetic technology with the ultimate goal of transferring human’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier.”

There was a conference held in New York City this past weekend with the relatively modest title of Global Future 2045. But its focus and goal are anything but modest. These were some of the program topics: The Transformation of Humankind – Extreme Paradigm Shifts Are Ahead of Us, Intelligent Self-directed Evolution Guides Mankind’s Metamorphosis Into An Immortal Planetary Meta-intelligence, and, a little more concisely, Immortality by 2045.

The founder and participants in this global initiative have as their goal attaining the robot-human-handstechnological capability to replace every human being’s physical body with an android one – an avatar. These robotic bodies would be uploaded with an individual’s mind…somehow…and the person would theoretically be able to live forever with periodic updates and replacements of the manufacturable body parts.

You and I may scoff at its sci-fi feel and apparent preposterousness, but this is a serious endeavor supported or being considered by scholars and scientists from Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, as well as leaders in various scientific fields like molecular genetics and neuroprosthetics. They tout recent medical advancements like brain implants and robotic limbs as evidence that avatars are a real possibility. Science fiction meets science fact.

Though I’m not equipped to debate the feasibility of the effort, there are a few aspects that I, as a Christian and student of human nature, do feel qualified to comment on.

The initiative’s founder, Dmitry Itskov, a 32-year-old Russian multimillionaire, believes that he has the answer to world problems like hunger and military conflict. Do away with the natural struggle to survive which is part and parcel of what it means to be (traditionally) human, and even the need for food, and there’ll be no motivation for conflict, he proposes. To which I respond: Right. Last I checked, computers (which are what these avatar bodies would be) require a power source, and I think it’s safe to say they always will. If people are going to fight over food supplies, they’re going to fight over fuel supplies.

Because conflict traces its source to the human heart, not the stomach. But not the physical, beating, blood-pumping heart – the non-physical “heart”, which is really the mind and emotions, the personality. The very “stuff” that Itskov believes can be converted into digital form and live on in a computer-run, metallic shell.

This global project is not only concerned with science and technology. One of their stated goals is “the spiritual transformation of humanity.” Or as stated elsewhere, “the spiritual enlightenment of humanity.” I haven’t come across any details on that particular focus, but judging from the listed speakers at the conference, and Itskov’s courting of the Dalai Lama’s support, it’s most assuredly non-monotheistic, and reasonable to conclude that Buddhism, a religion without a god, is the spirituality of choice of those pushing for this transformation. Is there any doubt that if this were to become a reality, some spiritual pre-programming would be standard in every avatar?

I don’t believe “human” avatars are possible. But I find this effort disconcerting anyway, because it promotes a philosophy of self-actualization apart from faith in and dependence on God. Contrary to what many believe, we already are immortal. Not our physical bodies but our souls…our spirits…that which animates our physical bodies, and is inextricably linked with our minds. The proponents of this initiative would seem to agree with this.

But in seeking to live eternally on this earth, we are rejecting God and his provision for eternal life with him in Heaven. This is a grave sin and he will judge it. He has promised everlasting bliss for those who believe in him, when this mortal body returns to the dust. To turn up our noses at that and instead act as our own gods is an affront his holiness and justice cannot ignore.

I guess it’s only logical to expect this kind of monumental effort to escape death in a world that is increasingly not just secular but atheistic. If this life is all there is, better make it last. Or maybe it’s actually driven by a fear that an eventual meeting of one’s Maker might be the reality after all. And it’s a meeting to be avoided at all costs.