The concept of replicating human consciousness is explored in the British television show Be Right Back and in the movie Her. They bring into question what is consciousness and can it be...

The concept of replicating human consciousness is explored in the British television show Be Right Back and in the movie Her. They bring into question what is consciousness and can it be replicated through Artificial Intelligence? While both AI forms demonstrate characteristics of a human being, only Samantha in Her is advanced enough to display a sense of awareness that is crucial to human consciousness, while Robot Ash in Be Right Back explores the concept that future advancements in technology will someday lead to a physical manifestation of a human being, one advanced enough to replicate the mind or soul.

Using these contrasting characters, provide a cogent argument to support your opinion for or against the ability to replicate human consciousness. Provide current scientific and technological advancements that support your contention.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the ending to both works might reflect how human consciousness will not be able to be fully replicated by technological advancements.  In "Be Right Back" from the Black Mirror series, the Robot Ash is repudiated and locked up in the attic.  While Martha is still emotionally frail at the end of the episode, she gains her strength and is able to reject the Robot Ash, leaving him in the attic while retrieving her daughter.  Jonze's Her shows Samantha leaving with other Operating Systems.  Samantha does not try to appropriate human consciousness.  Rather, she forms a community with other OSs.  In both of these works, machines are unable to fully recreate human consciousness.

I think that one specific reason technology is unable to replicate human consciousness can come from recent thought in the field. Duke neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis has made the argument that artificial intelligence is unable to fully replicate human consciousness.  His argument is rooted in the idea that technology is unable to calculate the multiplicity of neurological realities that the human mind offers:  “The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it."  

Nicolelis suggests that the vast intricacies of the human brain and consciousness lie beyond the calculative notions of technology: “You can’t predict whether the stock market will go up or down because you can’t compute it...You could have all the computer chips ever in the world and you won’t create a consciousness.”  Nicolelis finally suggests that human minds can appropriate machines and technology as an "extension of their own selves."  

Nicolelis's ideas demonstrate how the human mind and consciousness cannot be fully mapped out through technology.  For example, in both films, technology was able to collect existing data but could not account for changes in human behavior that broke away from data-driven patterns. Robot Ash could not understand why Martha would turn on him and Samantha does not understand why Theodore moves away from her and why their relationship is ultimately unsatisfying. In both films, humans end up appropriating a world without technology.  Theodore takes comfort in Amy's arms, while Martha lives for her daughter.  In both works, Nicolelis's theory is proven true, as humans have appropriated a world where technology is not dominant.  It is in this light that I think a clear case can be made for technology being unable to fully replicate active human consciousness.

Part of the challenge here is that each of the artistic examples depicts a simulation of human consciousness.  Robot Ash and Samantha are a simulation of human consciousness.  Duplication is not what happens.  For example, each cannot duplicate the presence of a soul.  Samantha might have gone with the other OSs, but it is unclear that she has duplicated consciousness.  Seeing that she takes to the extremely intelligent OS simulation of Allen Watts, Samantha has not duplicated a form of consciousness.  She has merely simulated a form of it.  Technology can simulate human existence, but being able to duplicate it requires another level that cannot be reached.  I think that this ties into Nicolelis's point.  It is in this regard that I think technology is unable to replicate human consciousness and a human soul.