DIRECTIONS for questions: The passage given below is accompanied by a set of six questions. Choose the best answer to each question.
Immortality has gone secular. It’s now the subject of serious investment - both intellectual and financial - by philosophers, scientists and the Silicon Valley. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical implications of the highly speculative ‘solutions’ being mooted?
Of course, we don’t currently have the means of achieving human immortality, nor is it clear that we ever will. But two hypothetical options have attracted the most attention: rejuvenation technology, and mind uploading.
Rejuvenation promises to remove and reverse the damage of ageing at the cellular level. Gerontologists argue that growing old is a disease that we can circumvent by having our cells replaced or repaired at regular intervals. Practically speaking, this might mean that every few years, you would visit a rejuvenation clinic. Doctors would not only remove infected, cancerous or otherwise unhealthy cells, but also induce healthy ones to regenerate more effectively and remove accumulated waste products. This deep makeover would ‘turn back the clock’ on your body, leaving you physiologically younger than your actual age. You would, however, remain just as vulnerable to death from acute trauma - that is, from injury and poisoning, whether accidental or not - as you were before.
The other option would be mind uploading, in which your brain is digitally scanned and copied onto a computer. This method presupposes that consciousness is akin to software running on some kind of organic hard-disk - that what makes you ‘you’ is the sum total of the information stored in the brain’s operations, and therefore it should be possible to migrate the self onto a different physical substrate or platform. This remains a highly controversial stance. However, let’s leave aside for now the question of where ‘you’ really reside, and play with the idea that it might be possible to replicate the brain in digital form one day.
Unlike rejuvenation, mind uploading could actually offer something tantalisingly close to true immortality. Just as we currently backup files on external drives and cloud storage, your uploaded mind could be copied innumerable times and backed up in secure locations.
Despite this advantage, mind uploading presents some difficult ethical issues. Some philosophers think there is a possibility that your upload would appear functionally identical to your old self without having any conscious experience of the world.
You’d be more of a zombie than a person, let alone you. Others have argued that since you are reducible to the processes and content of your brain, a functionally identical copy of it - no matter the substrate on which it runs - could not possibly yield anything other than you.
What if the whole process is so qualitatively different from biological existence as to make you utterly terrified or even catatonic? If so, what if you can’t communicate to outsiders or switch yourself off? In this case, your immortality would amount to more of a curse than a blessing. Death might not be so bad after all, but unfortunately it might no longer be an option.
Which option is more ethically fraught? In our view, ‘mere’ rejuvenation would probably be a less problematic choice. Yes, vanquishing death for the entire human species would greatly exacerbate our existing problems of overpopulation and inequality - but the problems would at least be reasonably familiar. We can be pretty certain, for instance, that rejuvenation would widen the gap between the rich and poor, and would eventually force us to make decisive calls about resource use, whether to limit the rate of growth of the population, and so forth. On the other hand, mind uploading would open up a plethora of completely new and unfamiliar ethical quandaries.
Q. Which of the following is not a negative consequence of rejuvenation technology?
I. Those who undergo rejuvenation become vulnerable to injury, poisoning and trauma.
II. Rejuvenation could widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
III. Rejuvenation could increase the population burden.
IV. Rejuvenation is still a hypothesis, and not practically feasible.