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Information Theoretic Death

In the purely physical world, death is a straightforward thing: You are either alive, or you are not.

When you add in the purely virtual, heavily interconnected worlds of cyberspace, that model changes drastically. When do you deem someone to be irredeemably dead, if part of their mind is active and self-modifying online?

It is already becoming increasingly unsatisfactory to declare death when the heart stops. The brain retains information for twenty minutes or more, and, if it is possible to access that information, pulling it onto another medium then is that individual truly dead?

Pulling data out of the brain and storing it on another medium may seem far-fetched, and the stuff of science fiction. However, it is already possible in very primitive, very low data transfer form, via brain-machine interfaces and neuroprosthetic implants. At the moment this information is limited to only a few neuron circuits, nowhere remotely near enough to pull out a sizable portion of an individual?s consciousness.

However, the mere fact that it is indeed possible, combined with the rapid pace of neuroprosthetic development and information retrieval, makes it likely that within a generation, it will be possible to place a significant fraction of a person?s mind in a virtual medium. This has already been done with half a mouse brain, and will likely be a full such in just a few years.

With this capability now looming, the physical definition of death as the end of an individual?s conscious self, is in danger of becoming meaningless.

We therefore require another definition for death, one which takes into account the potential for individual survival beyond the death of their body.

Enter Information Theoretic Death. This is not a set in stone ?this is alive, this is dead? model for death, but rather one based on probabilities and percentages.

If there is no physical body for a person, then that person may not be dead, if there is a personality for them, active on a computer system or systems. However, if that personality is in all reasonableness, unable to be found, or apparently not running in active memory at the moment then there is a high probability that that individual is dead. If that probability is high enough then that person can officially be declared as dead.

The issue of stored datafiles does, at first glance, give a new twist to this model, as a datafile could be stored for a hundred years, on a flat medium, awaiting reloading into memory.

However, it is not as big an issue as it seems. A stored datafile is not alive, merely the potential for the resumption of the mind. Not alive = currently dead.

On top of this, there is at present no evidence to suggest that a mind can be reconstructed from a static state in storage. It is more likely that it requires existence in a quantum state to continue functioning ? it needs to keep running and changing. Once it is fully stopped, information in transit is lost, and it may very well not be possible to restart once stopped.

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