How does consciousness exist? Is it able to be downloaded and digitally preserved? Can it be programmed into a non-biological machine?
We may come to a time where consciousness can be replicated and programmed into a non-biological machine, allowing that machine to experience the same type of inner and outer awareness as humans do. Consciousness, ‘characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought’, may no longer be an organically human trait. And if we can create a consciousness inside a non-biological machine then how about our own consciousness? Surely we will be able to download our brains and digitally preserve them. But will it still be us?
If machines can have their own consciousness, their own thoughts and feelings and sense of awareness, then surely as a moral human race we would care for and look after these machines. Or would we? An episode of Black Mirror entitled ‘White Christmas’ explores this very notion of mistreating feeling, thinking digital copies of humans. In this episode, human brains can be downloaded into tiny, robotic replicas and are forced to serve their human counterpart through acts of torture and manipulation. Is this justified considering the robotic replicas are not organic, conscious humans but instead a conscious machine?
And how about our relationships with conscious machines? In a separate episode of Black Mirror called ‘Be Right Back’ a company offers mourning people a service that allows them to reconnect with the deceased. The main character, Martha, is signed up for this service where she is eventually faced with a synthetic clone of her deceased partner, programmed using his online identity. If this clone was an exact replication of Martha’s partner does it matter if she interacts with it humanly? Are there implications if we develop deep, emotional connections with a machine when it acts, thinks and feels as humans do?
This is what I will be exploring.