Confronting death – with defiance

I’m terrified of dying – so I have decided not to.

I am convinced that my personality, memories, and self-consciousness are all emergent properties of a rather simple algorithm, implemented in brain-hardware.

Theoretically, this same algorithm could be implemented in computer hardware. If I could somehow find a way to smoothly transition (emphasis on smoothly…) from brain hardware to computer hardware, I’m willing to bet that I would still consider myself “me”.

That’s my bet. I’m willing to stake nearly everything on it because well, what other options do I have?

I could accept the inevitability of death and try to “live my life to the fullest”, but in the long run, what’s the point? If you are still going to die anyways, eventually all your memories, experiences, loved ones will all be gone. It seems meaningless to me.

I could attempt to convince myself that this isn’t actually the end, and live in hope of a future existence in some kind of religious afterlife. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to convince myself that this is true. I’m pretty sure I would just be believing out of fear of death. Essentially it would just be a kind of denial.

I could try to distract myself with my career, my family, the pursuit of wealth, etc. and just try to avoid thinking about it. I have been trying this for years and I’m over it. I still lie in bed at night, breaking out into cold sweats, and feeling a pit of fear in my stomach when I think about my eventual non-existence.

So faced with these options, I have decided to “not go gently into that good night”, but instead fight it with all I’ve got.

I figure I have a fighting chance of success. I feel enormously lucky to have been born in a time where modern computers are approaching the speed and power required to actually run the “intelligence algorithm”, and store a lifetime of memories.

I feel lucky to live in an era when rapid advances are being made in the field of AI, and lots of funding is pouring into the field.

I feel lucky to live in a time where medical devices are successfully being integrated with human bodies, allowing people to control artificial limbs with their minds.

I have a feeling that we are at the cusp of a revolution. The timing is perfect. In my lifetime, I believe we will finally defeat death.

So, what do I plan to do about it?

I want to help make this happen. I want to accelerate this revolution in any way I can so that my brain is still young enough and plastic enough to make that transition to silicon. I fear that if I don’t act, I’ll miss the boat, and be counted among the last generation to die.

Here are the steps I believe are necessary to make this happen:

1.) Figure out the “Algorithm of Intelligence”

This is pretty straightforward reverse engineering. I don’t want to develop a brand new algorithm of intelligence, I just want to figure out how my brain is working and copy it.

Fortunately, this dramatically simplifies things. For one thing, the brain doesn’t have “read write memory” in the traditional sense, so we can immediately save time by not bothering to investigate any proposed algorithm which requires this. For another thing, we know that neurons cannot grow new connections all that quickly, so we can write off any solution which involves growing brand new connections to implement our short term memory.

We also know a lot about what kinds of things to expect to see. We know that we make associations. We know that we tend to categorise things. We know that we acclimate quickly to low-information noise and tune it out. We know that we use context to help us interpret our world. We know that we can forget. All of this can help us narrow the set of possibilities.

Basically, the “intelligence algorithm” is a neural network. It is in a constant feedback cycle with the physical world, where sensory input comes in, sending us information about the state of the world around us; and motor neurons actually affect the world (or at least our view of it).

What do we know about this neural network?

We know that it is basically binary. A neuron either fires or it does not. So long as the input signal exceeds the required threshold it sends out the same signal. It doesn’t matter if that threshold was barely crossed, or totally blown away, the outbound signal is the same.

We know that it changes slowly. As I mentioned earlier, new connections take a long time to form. Any kind of short term memory can only be explained through changes to synaptic strengths via some kind of chemical mechanism.

We know that it is slow. Compared to a CPU the brain is ridiculously slow. Our reaction time to a stimulus is just a few “processor cycles”. This is great! It means we can write off entire categories of algorithms which require many, many steps to arrive at a solution since we couldn’t possibly implement that in brain hardware.

This is a good start, but I am sure that as I start to do more extensive digging through the scientific literature on neurology I’ll learn more important tidbits that help to further constrain the possibilities.

2.) Build a brain-computer interface

This is a lot harder. Assuming we do figure out how the brain works, the next step is to find a way of integrating it with a computerised implementation of the “intelligence algorithm” such that new memories can start to be formed in the silicon backed parts of the android brain.

Once this is possible, the next step is to spend many years becoming a hybrid organism – with a larger and larger share of what makes you “you” stored in the computerised parts of your brain, so that when the biological part of you dies, enough is left that you still have the same memories, personality, etc.

It may be a catastrophic event. You will feel a loss. You will change – but someone who has had a major injury and partially lost some of their memories is not a new and different person.

This is my plan to try to cheat death.

In future posts I’ll lay out more specifics on these ideas, report on progress, and most crucially ask for help.

I can’t do this alone. Unlocking the mystery of intelligence will be the defining achievement of our era.

Anyone who wants to have a place in the history books should thank their lucky stars they were born in this time – and get on to working on this problem, pronto.

Captain Ahab didn’t catch his white whale, and I too may succumb in my struggle with death, but as Melville wrote:

“I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. To neither love nor reverence wilt thou be kind; and e’en for hate thou canst but kill; and all are killed. No fearless fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of the personified impersonal, a personality stands here.”
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