Ask Ray | How can I maintain my stream of personal identity?

April 24, 2013 by Ray Kurzweil

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Dr. Kurzweil,

My name is Stanley. I too was born and bred in Queens, New York. I am also an Alcor member since 1992. I was part of the New York stabilization team and was part many cryonic cases.

I I am currently experiencing an extreme case of death terror.

I am 45 years old and am desperate not to require cryopreservation, and live to be uploaded.

I so want to live forever, though as a human I can’t conceive of eternity.

I never want to lose my stream of identity and prefer an uploading scenerio which involves replacing my neurons with chips, rather than uploading into cyberspace, in which case the uploaded me would think it’s me, but the me that is writing to you today would die as my brain dies of hypoxia.

Dr. Kurzweil, can you please write to me, and calm this horrid, Emily-Dickinson-like anxiety.



I discuss the issue you raise –– which is called the “identity issue” in the chapter “Thought Experiments on the Mind” in my latest book How to Create a Mind.  I can send you a complimentary signed copy if you send me a land address.

My vision of the future is that we will start to augment our brains with nonbiological intelligence starting in the 2030s. We are already doing that with devices and cloud computing outside of our bodies.

Some people such as Parkinson’s patients already have computers connected into their brains that have wireless communication allowing new software to be downloaded from outside the patient.

In the 2030s, nanobots will travel into the brain noninvasively (no surgery required) and connect our neurons directly to the cloud. In the book I describe how our neocortex (the region of the brain where we do our thinking) has about 300 million modules each of which can recognize, remember, and transmit a pattern and can also connect itself to other modules to create new patterns.

We will be able to expand that number (300 million) by creating synthetic neocortical modules in the cloud. Our biological thinking is more or less fixed in capacity whereas the cloud being pure information technology approximately doubles in capacity each year.

So as we get to the 2040s our nonbiological intelligence will predominate.  That portion of our thinking — which will become essentially all of it — will be backed up.

In the book I argue that our identity is preserved if there is continuity in our pattern which the above scenario maintains.  So we can gradually transform into a nonbiological intelligence that will be backed up.  That is the scenario that avoids cryopreservation and the path I am seeking to follow.

Ray Kurzweil