The Best Sci-Fi Show on Amazon Prime Reveals a Disturbing Science Debate
And if you could live forever? It’s an idea scientists have been tossing around for ages as our understanding of the human body continues to grow. But one sci-fi series eschews the idea of endless life through pills or fad diets to portray something different: virtual reality.
Amazon Prime’s sci-fi sitcom To download imagine a world where humans can live forever as digital avatars in luxurious, metaverse-like virtual worlds by uploading our consciousness to some kind of computer simulation — assuming you have enough money.
To download Season 1 introduced this concept far back in 2020. Two years later, at the start of season 2, we all know the concept of the metaverse much better, but is there any science to back up the concept of downloading your brain on the cloud?
Season 2 of To download debuts this week on March 11. In honor of the new season, Reverse interviews experts in the fields of neuroscience and philosophy to unpack some questions raised by the show’s core premise, specifically: Could we really use science to download our minds?
This may not be a near-term possibility, but the theoretical implications of consciousness uploading are nonetheless fascinating to explore.
“We are uploading more content inside the awareness bucket. But no one downloaded consciousness itself,” Michael Grazianoprofessor of psychology and neurosciences and director of the Graziano Laboratory at Princeton University, says Reverse.
With the help of a few more scientific experts and philosophers, let’s take a closer look at the real science behind To download.
Coil Science is a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and series.
What is “mind downloading?”
Before we can answer this question, we need to understand what “consciousness” really means.
“A lot of people think of consciousness as the feeling of what it’s like to experience something,” Alan Jasanoffprofessor of biological engineering at MIT, says Reverse.
Graziano compares consciousness to a bucket that reflects our ability to have subjective experiences. Our memories, perceptions and experiences are the content that fills the bucket.
Jasanoff adds, “What makes consciousness unique, yours or mine, certainly depends on the memories and biases we bring with us.”
Uploading consciousness or mind is just a theoretical exercise – for now – but theorists propose scanning a brain in sufficient detail and uploading the scan to a computer simulation, which would reconstruct their personality. and simulate their consciousness in a digital space. A more technical term for the process is “whole brain emulation”, and that’s basically the premise of To download.
As Graziano explains, “If you could scan a brain in enough detail, you could download that person’s entire mind, consciousness, and everything.”
But experts are skeptical that we could ever make mind downloading happen.
“The brain is far too complex for us to simulate in the degree of detail that would replicate things like our individual personality,” says Gualtiero Piccinini, Associate Director, University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Marya Schechtmanprofessor of philosophy and member of the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, accepted.
“We’re a long way from understanding how we could ‘scan a brain’ and replicate anything like its function in a computer simulation,” she said. said.
Jasanoff says the connections between the brain and the environment are key to generating our experiences, so one would get an “extremely incomplete view” of our brain alone.
“No scanning technology may ever be good enough to produce predictions of brain function,” he adds.
Could you “upload” your mind and survive?
For his part, Graziano finds the representation of a luxurious digital beyond in To download entertaining, if currently implausible:
“As the download doesn’t exist yet, it’s all fiction and no one knows what it will look like. But if it is ever possible, then there is no limit to the digital video game world that could be created for downloaded people to live in. Why not make it sumptuous?
But suppose, for a moment, that consciousness downloading is possible in a futuristic world like To download where the rich pay to live their best life in a virtual reality space for the living dead.
Even if you could simulate the human mind with a computer program, it’s debatable whether “you” would really survive in a philosophical sense – or just a hollow digital clone of your complex being.
“Behind all this talk about downloading is an assumption about the nature of self or person – that your consciousness and personality can be ‘copied’ and downloaded onto a computer and that downloading would always, somehow another, really you,” says Susan Schneiderdirector of the Center for the Future Mind at Florida Atlantic University.
“It’s a big assumption,” she adds. The idea of a download also blurs the line between humans and artificial intelligence (AI).
“We currently don’t know if an AI can be sentient, and a download would be a form of AI, as it would be part of a program that runs on some sort of supercomputer,” Schneider says.
The premise of To download raises complex questions about personal identity and consciousness that we cannot yet fully answer, according to Schectman.
In addition to wondering if we can really reproduce consciousness in a digital simulation, Schectman says we also have to wonder if the upload would “continue the original consciousness it modeled or just replicate it in a separate test subject.”
Furthermore, the prospect of downloading raises serious ethical questions, such as the rights of these downloaded beings, the formation of relationships with digital “persons” lacking physical bodies, and social inequalities in a computational afterlife.
“I actually think the first season of To download did a pretty good job of exploring both the attractions and dangers of these technologies, as well as some of their complexities,” Schechtman says.
Will the metaverse make it easier to download the mind?
Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of helping people live their lives online through virtual worlds – the metaverse – could be seen as an interesting real-life precursor to the digital afterlife imagined in To download. We are arguably well on our way to virtual worlds – we have already spent much of our lives on social media.
So, are we already beginning the process of offloading our consciousness to virtual social worlds through our incessant tweets and TikTok posts? Not quite, say the experts.
“Digital media allows people to leave ‘consciousness imprints’, but they in no way constitute consciousness itself, and they could never be enough to recreate an individual’s conscious experience,” says Jasanoff.
“Technology never develops exactly as one imagines.
Graziano agrees. “What we do is not so different from ancient writers who ‘downloaded’ their thoughts and observations into books. It’s a long way from preserving a true conscious mind,” he says.
But our increasingly online lives or “digital footprints” could help “simulate other consciousnesses” in the same way that automated response services simulate conversations with real people, according to Jasanoff.
So To downloadThe future is quite distant, but perhaps we can get a sense of what consciousness might look like in a digital realm thanks to the show’s exaggerated schematic.
“What we tended to find, however, is that technology never (or almost) develops the way it is imagined in science fiction,” Schechtman says.
Season 2 of To download is streaming now on Amazon Prime.