Can a soul be upgraded?

I was watching a TV show yesterday called “Intelligence”. Initially, I actually wasn’t that interested in watching it, because it seemed to me to be a standard action type of show, that I can take or leave. But it was late and the TV was on. What I saw was actually a very well thought out show that dealt with the reality of merging human and machine.

In the show, a highly trained soldier has a chip placed in his brain, that allows him to connect to any and all electronic and computer systems, including the Internet and any other online data source. The writers of the show definitely demonstrate that such a person would have access to effectively everything. And with such access, it would be extremely hard for anyone to keep a secret.

I was impressed that this show use the term “singularity” which, in addition to the world of Physics, has also become a standard term in technology. This term, often used by Ray Kurzweil, a famous author, computer scientist and futurist, refers specifically to this type of blending of man and technology. Therefore, I was very interested to see how this program dealt with this step in human evolution.

At one point, the main character is directly referred to as a form of Frankenstein’s monster. He is questioned about his humanity. He is directly asked if he even knows whether his thoughts are his own or that of the chip and all of the information he is constantly being fed.

This is actually a fascinating question to be asked of such a person. I suspect that there are already quite a number of papers and even PhDs that have been written on the place of the human soul in a cybernetic world.

At one point in the show, the main character is told that what still makes him very much human are the decisions he makes. The implication of this statement is that we define humanity not by our DNA or anatomy. We define it in terms of our actions. Following this logic, it would not matter how much we combine silicon with carbon. As long as humans act in a moral fashion, we are justified in calling ourselves “people”.

The problem is that morality is not a fixed constant, in the world’s eye. There are many issues that were once thought moral, and today are seen as the utmost in immorality. And of course, the reverse is just as true. How is one to decide the measure of a man, when that measuring stick is constantly changing its shape and form?

I cannot speak for the world. I can only speak for myself and for my own people. Jews are incredibly fortunate to have been given a set of laws that continue to be the foundation of morality until today. I always find it interesting that people try to negate the morality of the Bible, by quoting excerpts that speak of topics that we consider to be primitive, cruel and inhumane. But these same Bible challengers seem to ignore the fact that those laws and edicts, are not practiced in the modern world.

I can’t say that I recall any person who was executed in Israel for having desecrated the Sabbath. As far as I know, the State of Israel, as well as the vast majority of its inhabitants, do not condone the marriage of a 12-year-old girl to a 30-year-old man. I leave it to the Bible experts, Talmudists and religious philosophers to discuss the significance of these changes in religious legal behavior. The point is that the commandment of giving charity is still regarded as one of the primary roles of a Jewish person. Kindness, caring for others, defense of the weak – these are all also Jewish laws which are very much a fixed measuring stick that we appropriately still use.

Physicians today continue to question the rate of development in the world of technology. Whatever their personal agenda, they claim that doctors will soon lose the human connection between themselves and their patients, as more and more healthcare is provided by computers and even robots. They openly ask whether a patient would ever want a simulated human [which I have discussed in a previous blog post] to take care of them. The same physicians argue that there will always be a fundamental need for human doctors to watch over the health of the human population.

I will agree with this much. A human may be faced with a medical decision that poses some form of difficulty. The automated digital physician will provide all of the data, along with the likelihood ratios of surviving the disease based on the choice of the patient. The computer at some point will also be able to simulate an empathic human being helping the patient to work through all of the options available. But at some point, that person who is in need of the medical care will have to decide. And it is that decision which will define that patient as still being human.

Let us imagine that the Asimov laws of robotics do not exist and that the computer physician suggest that the patient pay another individual to take their liver. The argument can easily be made that the other person is already old, perhaps isolated, perhaps extremely limited and thus, in a cold and calculating way, has nothing “left to give” except his organs. The patient could be presented with the option of living via obtaining the liver of this person. The patient will decide. And depending on the decision, and according to what I believe is the ultimate standard in morality, that patients humanity will be put to the test.

As strange as it sounds, after watching this fantasy TV show, I feel better about the whole future of technology and humanity. For those who claim that we have outgrown the ancient and primitive religions that were needed by people who lacked advanced science, I would argue in return that we have never needed those “ancient” laws of humanity more. Yes, we can reach a point where we will never know how much of our intelligence and thought processes are occurring in our own brains versus human-designed hardware. but apparently, the human soul was purposely designed to be ethereal so that it could never be upgraded. And I now truly rely on this fact to keep humanity on the proper path.

Thanks for listening

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About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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