X-Message-Number: 11683
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 22:25:09 EDT
Subject: compulife; relevance

Mike Perry writes:

>I was also thinking of the idea of expressing a human
>being in a non-protoplasmic form, i.e. "emulating" in that sense, even
>though contact with an outside would be allowed. (Is there a better term I
>should use?)

If we just want to talk about whether a person or being could "live" in a 
computer, perhaps we should talk about "compulife." If that ever proves 
feasible, there would be ethical/legal considerations. Again, I don't think a 
"being" in a computer--even if intelligent and goal-directed--could have 
consciousness, because probably awareness depends on a physical construct 
that binds time and space, e.g. some kind of standing wave. Isomorphism is 
not enough.

If we are talking about a particular person and enough of his environment, 
then I suppose we can speak of "emulation"--meaning not just an isomorphism 
of someone at some initial moment, but an ongoing isomorphism of the person 
cum environment, with intended maintenance of fidelity through his future 
history. Here ethical/legal considerations would be even more important, but 
that doesn't worry me because I don't think it can happen, for reasons I have 
expressed repeatedly.

Going back to compulife, Donaldson asked whether a character in a video game 
could be conscious, to which Perry replied:

>In my view, if the characters meet certain reasonable criteria (being able
>to respond in some appropriate way to their environment, including input
>from the outside) it would be reasonable to grant them a rudimentary
>awareness. Of course, such characters probably are less complex than
>insects, thus less aware than insects. I see no fundamental reason to deny
>that they could have awareness, however.<  

I don't agree with Dr. Donaldson's apparent implication that failure of 
consciousness in a video game character would necessarily imply failure of 
consciousness in an emulated person--any more than failure of consciousness 
in a robot would imply lack of consciousness in a person. But neither do I 
agree with Dr. Perry's apparent assumption that anything goal-directed and 
adaptable is necessarily in some degree conscious. (Turing Test revisited.) I 
think consciousness is distinct from other characteristics of life, and 
possibly a relatively late arrival in evolutionary terms. We won't know for 
sure until we understand the anatomical/physiological basis of awareness at 
least in some animals.  

And once more to late comers, on the possible relevance of such seemingly 
esoteric stuff to the real lives of ordinary people:

A vague, partial analogy might be with "germ theory" at the time of 
Semmelweiss or Pasteur. Very few people knew about--let alone took 
seriously--the notion that invisibly tiny parasites caused communicable 
diseases, and that simple control measures, along with further study, could 
improve and lengthen human life.

In the first half of this century, quantum mechanics and relativity and 
nuclear physics were almost totally mysterious to almost everybody (and still 
are, except for the illlusion of understanding through familiarity)--but 
nuclear weapons came to loom large in the calculations of life and death.

Today, artificial intelligence and compulife raise many separate and distinct 
possibilities for both the near and distant future--possibilities which may 
determine whether you live or die, or the circumstances of your life. The 
easiest response is just to shrug, go about your ordinary business, and leave 
these developments to the professionals and to society, hoping you will be 
reasonably well protected from the dangers and allowed to share the benefits. 
However, just as in the case of cryonics, such hopes will often fall short of 
reality, and only the proactives and the self-starters may survive.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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