(This article was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, February 21, 2016.)
Marshall Brain (1961 – ) is an author, public speaker, and entrepreneur. He earned an MS in computer science from North Carolina State University where he taught for many years, and is the founder of the website HowStuffWorks, which was sold in 2007 to Discovery Communications for $250,000,000. He also maintains a website where his essays on transhumanism, robotics, and naturalism can be found. His essay, “The Day You Discard Our Bodies,” presents a compelling case that sometime in this century the technology will be available to discard our bodies.[i] And when the time comes, most of us will do so.
Why would we want to discard our bodies? The answer is that by doing so we would achieve an unimaginable level of freedom and longevity. Consider how vulnerable your body is. If you fall off a horse or dive into a too-shallow pool of water, your body will become completely useless. If this happened to you, you would gladly discard your body. But this happens to all of us as we age—our bodies generally kill our brains—creating a tragic loss of knowledge and experience. Our brains die because our bodies do.
Consider also how few of us are judged to have beautiful bodies, and how the beauty we do have declines with age. If you could have a more beautiful body, you would gladly discard your body. Additionally, your body has to go to the bathroom, it smells, it becomes obese easily, it takes time for it to travel through space, it cannot fly or swim underwater for long, and it cannot perform telekinesis. As for the aging of our bodies, most would happily dispense with it, discarding their bodies if they could.
Why would the healthy discard their bodies? Consider that healthy people play video games in staggering numbers. As these games become more realistic, we can imagine people wanting to live and be immersed in them. Eventually you would want to connect your biological brain to your virtual body inside the virtual reality. And your virtual body could be so much better than your biological body—it could be perfect. Your girlfriend or boyfriend who made the jump to the virtual world would have a perfect body. They would ask you to join them. All you would have to do is undergo a painless surgery to connect your brain to its new body in the virtual reality. There you could see anything in the world without having to take the plane ride (or go through security.) You could visit the Rome or Greece of two thousand years ago, fight in the battle of Stalingrad, talk to Charles Darwin, or live the life of Superman. You could be at any time and any place, you can overcome all limitations, you could have great sex! When your virtual body would be better in every respect from your biological body, you would discard the latter.
Initially your natural brain may still be housed in your natural body, but eventually your brain will be disconnected from your body and housed in a safe brain storage facility. Your transfer will be complete—you will live in a perfect virtual reality without your cumbersome physical body, and the limitations it imposes.
Summary – We will be able to discard our bodies and live in a much better virtual reality relatively soon. We should do so.
[i] Marshall Brain, “The Day You Discard Your Body”