Technological Singularity & Zombie Wills

We touched on Cryopreservation yesterday and the fact that if a person is cooled below -5C the water inside their cells freezes and creates ice crystals, which essentially destroy the cell membranes.

To help arrest this process cryonic preservation facilities replace some of the body’s water with cryoprotectant agents, in an attempt to reduce the amount of ice crystal formation in a process known as vitrification. Cryobiologists have no proof that human organs can be successfully vitrified. As the bodies are stored in liquid nitrogen there is no way to know if their organs have been damaged irreparably during the vitrification process.

Similarly even if the cryopreservation of organs was possible, in order to be preserved different organs need to be cooled at a different rate and with a different mixture and concentration of cryoprotectant. The preservation of the brain is even more complex.

With these problems to overcome some people are hoping to upload their mind—encompassing their memories, skills and personality—to a computer programmed to emulate the processes of a human with the effect of being “immortal”.

As with cryonic preservation it relies upon the presumption, that the human mind in all of its beautiful intricacies is contained within the anatomical structure of the brain.

It has been estimated that the human brain, has about 86 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. The Human connectome project is currently attempting to map the neural pathways that underlie human brain function. This kind of mapping has been done on simpler life forms. A connectome for the nervous system of a roundworm called C. elegans containing 300 neurons and 7,000 synapses took a little over a decade to produce.

Ray Kurzweil has adopted the term “technological singularity” (first coined by Vernor Vinge in the early 1990’s) and believes that the technology required for uploading a specific brain with every mental process intact will be available by 2040, at this point “human life will be irreversibly transformed”.

However the definition of death in most jurisdictions is, the irreversible cessation of all function of the person’s brain or the irreversible cessation of circulation of blood in the person’s body.

Therefore at this point of technological singularity, if the definition of death does not change the uploaded brain of an individual may become immortal but their estate will be distributed according to their Will or the laws of intestacy if the upload occurs before they make a WIll.

Similarly what happens if the medical nanotechnology becomes available that can repair the damage inflicted by the destructive effects of cryopreservation enabling some one who is legally dead to be revived?

Perhaps the law will need to change to reflect the fact that a person who is legally dead has returned in an altered state. Are they considered a person for tax purposes? Should they be able to inherit part of an estate if it was left to the person that they once were? Should there be a change to succession law allowing for these “Zombie Wills”? Changing technologies require that legal frameworks are able to adapt to meet the new outcomes. Regardless the need to plan for your future remain the same.


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