Could We Transport Our Consciousness Into Robots?
Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.
Question: Is consciousness imprinted in the brain, and will it be possible to transfer that via teleportation? (Submitted by Robin de Roover)
Michio Kaku: Robin, you ask yet another very embarrassing question. Believe it or not even though tens of thousands of papers have been written about consciousness in the literature nobody has a suitable definition for "consciousness." What does it mean to be conscious and how do you encode it and what is the minimum amount of consciousness necessary to animate something else? This raises questions for artificial intelligence because some people in the field of AI believe that one day we will be immortal; we will live forever. But the question is what will live forever? The atoms that make up our body, that give us consciousness, that give rise to our personality and our fears and desires—that may die, but yet the essence of the neural circuits may survive.
Now there are many ways to do this, so let’s break some of them down. The most ambitious has been proposed by people who believe that one day we will create a robot body that is perfect, a Superman, beautiful, elegant, super-powerful body with no brain. Then we will start to extract our brain tissue neuron-for-neuron and duplicate it with transistors. So for every neuron we take out of our brain we replace it with a transistor. Sooner or later chunks of our brain are removed and inserted transistor-for-transistor inside this robot body. Now we’re fully conscious during this process. Part of our brain computes here and part of our brain computes over there connected by wires. Well, after a few hours large portions of the brain are gutted and huge chunks of transistors are added to this robot of silicon and steel and when it’s finally finished you now have no brain in your head and here is a robot with a complete brain and a complete body. That is one of the most ambitious ways to transfer consciousness from our body to another body and then the question is: is that really you?
Well there is another way to do it and that way was explored in "The Sixth Day" with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that movie the bad guys get killed, but each bad guy was cloned, cloned. And somebody was able to somehow photograph all the memories of our brain and insert these memories into the clone. Now we don’t know how to do that, obviously. That is way beyond our technology, so don’t expect Arnold Schwarzenegger to come back fully-formed, with all his memories, as a clone. That is not going to happen anytime soon. However, the initial steps are once again being made at CalTech for example. They’ve been able to take a mouse brain and look at a certain part of the brain where memories are processed. Memories are processed at the very center of our brain and they’ve been able to duplicate the functions of that with a chip. So again, this does not mean that we can encode memories with a chip, but it does mean that we’ve been able to take the information storage of a mouse brain and have a silicon chip duplicate those functions. And so was mouse consciousness created in the process? I don’t know. I don’t know whether a mouse is conscious or not. But it does mean that at least in principle maybe it’s possible to transfer our consciousness and at some point maybe even become immortal.
Recorded September 29, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
If we were able to move our brains, neuron-for-neuron, into a robot, would we still be the same person?