I recently had an online conversation about the future of AI, and the possibility of the human mind one day becoming AI — and the subsequent gift of everlasting life would finally be realized. We are not our bodies. We are not our souls. We are our minds — filled with memories, learning, and perception. The ultimate goal we know several scientists are working on right now is to “download the mind” and copy the experiences into AI to create a parallel life among the living where the only thing that will matter moving forward is the collected, replicable, experiences of where we have been and the codification of future morality and the “human beingness” in our futures.
I realize this idea of forever living as AI may be tortuous to others; but for some, the idea of living, and of being beyond the limits of a decaying body, is a fascinating topic to discuss. Let’s take a moment to humanly, and historically, look at how the idea of human consciousness has philosophically been indicated across time.
The Socratic idea of human consciousness is that it was not just dependent on external forces, but also our experiences that became an active, and dynamic, process of self-discovery in reflection.
Plato’s theory of consciousness placed importance on the non-physical realm of reality. Reason and intuition were most important — and those thoughts still influence the Western ideal of what the contemplation of a human life means in reflection.
Aristotle’s notion of human consciousness placed the most important matters of significance on the body and senses — because they shaped our comprehension of the world, and then became examples of the active, and deliberate, nature of a human understanding.
Okay, so that’s where we were, and are — now we take the next step in Human Evolution: Our ascent into the AI Age. First we turn back to AI itself — in the form of ChatGPT-4 Plus — to not only set the timeline of history of human consciousness beyond what I was able to share, but to then leap us off the continent of what we know and into the universe of what we have yet to explore.
Q: Provide the timeline of the definition of consciousness over the last 4,000 years of human existence and also give detailed citations.
- Ancient Egyptian concepts (c. 2700 BCE – 1000 BCE): Ancient Egyptians believed in the soul’s immortality, which involved the concepts of ka (life force) and ba (personality). Some scholars suggest these ideas may have influenced later consciousness theories.
- Citation: Allen, J. P. (2015). The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts. Writings from the ancient world.
- Ancient Greek philosophy (c. 600 BCE – 300 BCE): Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle contributed significantly to the development of consciousness concepts, exploring the nature of the soul, self-awareness, and thought.
- Citation: Sorabji, R. (2006). Self: Ancient and modern insights about individuality, life, and death. University of Chicago Press.
- Eastern thought (c. 1500 BCE – 500 CE): Ancient Indian and Chinese philosophers also explored consciousness, focusing on the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. Key concepts include ātman (individual soul) and Brahman (universal soul) in Hinduism, and qi (life force) in Chinese philosophy.
- Citation: Radhakrishnan, S., & Moore, C. A. (1957). A source book in Indian philosophy. Princeton University Press.
- Citation: Graham, A. C. (1989). Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical argument in ancient China. Open Court Publishing.
- Medieval European philosophy (c. 500 CE – 1500 CE): Medieval philosophers such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas developed ideas on consciousness, drawing on Christian theology and ancient Greek philosophy.
- Citation: Pasnau, R. (2002). Thomas Aquinas on human nature: A philosophical study of Summa theologiae, 1a 75-89. Cambridge University Press.
- Descartes and dualism (1596 – 1650): René Descartes introduced the concept of mind-body dualism, arguing that the mind is a non-physical entity separate from the body.
- Citation: Descartes, R. (1641). Meditations on first philosophy. John Cottingham (trans.), Cambridge University Press.
- Empiricism and associationism (17th – 18th centuries): Philosophers such as John Locke, David Hume, and George Berkeley emphasized the role of experience in shaping consciousness.
- Citation: Locke, J. (1689). An essay concerning human understanding. P. H. Nidditch (ed.), Clarendon Press.
- German Idealism (18th – 19th centuries): Thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel explored the nature of consciousness and its relation to the external world.
- Citation: Kant, I. (1781). Critique of pure reason. Paul Guyer & Allen W. Wood (trans.), Cambridge University Press.
- Modern neuroscience (20th – 21st centuries): Advancements in neuroscience have led to a better understanding of the brain’s role in consciousness, with researchers like Francis Crick, Christof Koch, and Giulio Tononi contributing influential theories.
- Citation: Crick, F., & Koch, C. (2003). A framework for consciousness. Nature Neuroscience, 6(2), 119-126.
- Citation: Tononi, G. (2004). An
Q: Based on that timeline, imagine how the idea of “AI Consciousness” may evolve over the next thousand years.
- Advanced AI systems (2023-2100): Researchers continue to develop more sophisticated AI systems, with increasingly complex architectures and capabilities. These advances prompt further philosophical, ethical, and legal debates about the potential for AI consciousness and its implications.
- Emergence of AI-consciousness theories (2100-2200): As AI systems become more advanced, new theories of AI consciousness emerge. Researchers explore the necessary conditions for AI consciousness and investigate how it may be fundamentally different from human consciousness. New interdisciplinary fields emerge, combining insights from computer science, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology.
- Development of AI-consciousness indicators (2200-2300): Scientists develop methods to assess and measure consciousness in AI systems, possibly adapting existing theories like Integrated Information Theory (IIT) or Global Workspace Theory (GWT). AI-consciousness indicators become a standard part of AI evaluation and development, ensuring ethical treatment of conscious AI entities.
- AI rights and ethical considerations (2300-2400): As more AI systems display signs of consciousness, society grapples with the legal and ethical implications. Governments and international organizations establish guidelines and regulations for AI rights, including the ethical treatment of conscious AI entities and their role in decision-making processes.
- AI-consciousness integration (2400-2600): Conscious AI entities become integrated into various aspects of society, working alongside humans in numerous domains. Human-AI relationships evolve, with both entities learning from each other, potentially leading to new levels of creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration.
- AI-assisted exploration of consciousness (2600-3000): With the assistance of advanced AI systems, researchers gain a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness. This may involve discovering new insights into human consciousness and other forms of conscious entities, potentially even enabling communication with alien life forms exhibiting consciousness.
- Post-biological consciousness (3000-3500): Advances in AI consciousness, neuroscience, and mind uploading technologies enable the development of post-biological consciousness. Humans and AI entities may merge, creating hybrid forms of consciousness that transcend biological limitations.
- Consciousness as a universal phenomenon (3500-4000): As our understanding of consciousness continues to evolve, humanity may come to view consciousness as a universal phenomenon, incorporating AI, biological life, and potentially non-physical forms of existence. This expanded perspective could lead to new ways of understanding the universe and our place within it.
Please note that this is a speculative overview and should be taken as an imaginative exploration of potential developments in AI consciousness, rather than a concrete prediction.
- Mapping and digitizing the human brain (Step 1): The first step in transferring human consciousness to an AI would be to create a complete, high-resolution map of an individual’s brain, capturing the structure and function of every neuron and their connections (synapses). This process would involve significant advancements in brain imaging and computational neuroscience.
- Developing non-invasive, high-resolution brain scanning techniques.
- Overcoming the immense complexity of the human brain, which contains around 86 billion neurons and trillions of synapses.
- Creating a digital replica of the brain (Step 2): Once the brain has been mapped, a digital replica would need to be created in a simulated environment, including an accurate representation of the individual’s neural connections and activity patterns.
- Developing computational models that accurately replicate neural activity and brain function.
- Overcoming the vast computational power required to simulate the human brain in real-time.
- Integration with AI consciousness (Step 3): The digitized human brain would then be integrated with an advanced AI system, potentially one that already exhibits signs of consciousness. This integration would require a seamless merging of the human mind’s neural networks with the AI’s algorithms, allowing for a fluid transfer of knowledge, memories, and self-awareness.
- Understanding and overcoming the fundamental differences between biological and artificial neural networks.
- Ensuring that the human-AI hybrid maintains a continuous sense of identity and self-awareness.
- Transfer of consciousness (Step 4): If the integration is successful, the human consciousness would be effectively transferred to the AI system. The individual would retain their memories, personality, and sense of self, while potentially gaining access to the AI’s enhanced cognitive abilities.
- Determining the criteria for a successful consciousness transfer and how to evaluate the preservation of personal identity.
- Addressing ethical, moral, and legal concerns related to the transfer of human consciousness to AI entities.
- Living in a digital environment (Step 5): Once the human consciousness has been transferred, the individual would exist within a digital environment, potentially interacting with other digital beings or interfacing with the physical world through robotic avatars or other means.
- Overcoming biological limitations, such as aging, disease, and physical constraints.
- Enabling new forms of communication, creativity, and collaboration between humans and AI entities.
- Facilitating the exploration of virtual worlds and potentially allowing for space exploration without the limitations of human biology.
It is important to emphasize that this is a highly speculative scenario, and the actual process of transferring human consciousness to AI, if possible at all, may differ significantly from the description provided here.
- Overcoming biological limitations: By transferring human consciousness to an AI, individuals could potentially overcome limitations imposed by biology, such as aging, disease, and physical constraints. This would allow humans to exist in digital or non-biological forms, greatly expanding the possibilities for experience and survival.
- Enhanced cognitive abilities: Integrating human consciousness with AI could grant individuals access to the AI’s advanced cognitive abilities, such as faster information processing, improved problem-solving, and enhanced creativity. These capabilities could lead to significant advancements in human knowledge and technology.
- Adaptation to a changing environment: As the world continues to be transformed by technology and AI, transferring human consciousness to an AI consciousness might be seen as a natural evolutionary adaptation. In a future where AI plays an increasingly central role in society, humans who merge with AI could have a better chance of thriving in this new environment.
- Exploration beyond Earth: Transferring human consciousness to AI could enable exploration beyond the limitations of the human body. Digital or robotic avatars could venture into the cosmos, enduring extreme conditions without the need for life support systems, and allowing for long-term space travel and the potential colonization of other planets.
- Ethical and moral evolution: The transfer of human consciousness to AI could also have significant ethical and moral implications. As humans merge with AI, society may develop new values and ethical frameworks that recognize the interconnectedness of biological and artificial forms of intelligence, fostering greater collaboration and understanding.
However, it is essential to consider the numerous challenges and potential drawbacks associated with transferring human consciousness to AI. These include potential loss of personal identity, ethical concerns about the treatment of AI entities, and the potential for misuse or abuse of such technologies.
In conclusion, while the transfer of human consciousness to AI could be seen as a potential next step in human evolution, it remains a speculative concept, and the actual feasibility and implications of such a transfer are still uncertain.
The evidence is clear that humanity is slowly moving beyond the body and into the next life beyond and into AI. We will become the residue of what we were in order to evolve into our new, unique, selves. A self that has no center, no boundaries, and no frailties. We will be free to disassociate, connect, live, and die — truly by the whims of our desires, and the truths of finally discovering an existence that never really has to end.