Mind Uploading is the
transfer of the brains mindpattern onto a different substrate
(such as an advanced computer) which better facilitates said
entitys ends. Uploading is a central concept in our vision
of technological ascension; here I shall examine a few common
objections, present thought experiments, and make a few points
of my own.
The most common initial reaction to uploading
is absolute incomprehension, a feeling of modelling utter foreigness,
followed by a deluge of mental associations with bad sci-fi
and knee-jerk dismissal. Its not "natural".
You wont be "you" after being put into a computer.
A number of people have made this objection many times before,
and I certainly agree if we are thinking in terms of a virtual
reality life or even a computer I/O life within the limits,
or minor extensions of what is available today.
However, if you think of the highly advanced
computer into which you are uploaded as simply your brain, with
all the potential sensing devices which might exist as your
inputs (microphones for all sound frequencies, all the various
types of EMF detectors, particle detectors of all kinds, smellers,
feelers, tasters, DNA scanners, all manner of bio-detectors,
etc - besides internally and/or externally modulated pleasure
generators), and all the potential physical action causing devices
which might exist as your outputs, then I can hardly see why
you would feel limited at all by such a transition (uploading)
and would rather be dead. In fact, I don't see any good reason
why a truly advanced uploading situation could not provide everything
that a human body has now and more. Moreover, the current human
body is proof in principle that this can be done. Your computer
brain currently drives your robot body via a signal network
of nerves and your robotic body dynamically feeds back information
about itself via another signal network of nerves to the controlling
brain. With technology advanced enough, it will even be possible
for us to feel and act as non-human bodies if we wish, and for
all other kinds of machines which we do not now have the experience
of directly controlling and sensing. As some have even suggested,
if you want to travel the universe then you will be best to
become a spaceship with all of its necessary I/O and whatever
other sensors/contollers that you need/want to help you enjoy
A long time ago, people would have been disturbed
not only be the idea of having their body or brain replaced,
but even something as mild-seeming as having their photo taken
or riding on a train or airplane. The intuitive aversion is
not even so precise as "wanting to protect one's own identity"
or the like, just a foggy, irrational set of guesses made by
our obsolete evolution-rooted decision-making faculties that
say "this is probably more trouble than it's worth".
Part of the human maturation process is learning what things
are actually scary and bad, and which things just seem bad at
first but turn out to come in handy later. I assume you're on
a computer of some sort right now, unless you're already an
upload; many elderly individuals have a fear of computers simply
because they aren't used to them. Human beings are constrained
to only find very few types of change acceptable, although the
rational parts of our mind often remind us that change can be
good, sometimes too much, even.
The point the above paragraph is making is
that it's useless to desire a cybernetic body but a still organic
brain; our consciousness, our identity, lives in the pattern
of our neurons, not magically connected to the substrate on
which it lives. Patternscan be picked up, modified, accelerated,
deaccelerated, blended with other patterns, copied, and placed
in a wider variety of contexts than organic brains could ever
experience. We may love life as ourselves very much, and have
a sort of protectiveness about exactly who we are, advocating
stasis over change, but eventually those who choose stasis will
die off due to natural causes and only the immortals will remain.
For the same reasons as one who lives for
the sake of living, it is worth it to replace the organic brain,
which is prone to suffer constant problems over time and different
environments and will always due to the nature of its substrate.
The original "identity" is nothing
more nor less than structure and patterns (ie software). If
I replaced every molecule in your brain one by one, maintaining
all the original intermolecular interfaces, there would be nothing
left of your original organic brain but you could not possibly
tell the difference.
Ray Kurzweil illustrates this problem by offering
a scenario where the original Ray (Ray1) is uploaded during
his sleep, which results in a creation of an exact copy of his
mind (Ray2) in the computer. When Ray1 wakes up, he is informed
that there exists Ray2 who swears that he is the original Ray,
who attempts to prove it by giving specific facts from Kurzweil's
life. Now, here's a question: Does Ray2 represent a successful
experiment in Ray1's identity/consciousness preservation? Are
the two the same person?
My answer is no, because two Rays would be
forced to coexist, and their perception and experiences would
be different and diverging with passing time. They would be
almost exactly the same in every detail, but they would not
form the same entity. For example, Ray1's mind cannot process
Ray2's sensory data. The link has been broken. In fact there
was no link at all. Both have separate minds, and separate copies
of their consciousness. Uploading performed in this way would
merely create a new being, who, I might add, would deserve the
same legal status as the original from whom he/she was derived.
Perfect twin, but not the same person. As a consequence, if
we were to kill Ray1, we would kill real Ray Kurzweil i.e. his
subjective experience would be a "feeling of death".
There also exists a different way of
performing uploading where all neurons are gradually replaced
by new ones. In this procedure, no extra copies are made (otherwise,
a new copy would be forced to coexist with the original one,
which would result in a creation of a new being). The idea is
that our minds are just a pattern independent of the substrates
on which it might run. As an example and informal proof of this,
Kurzweil describes an ongoing and natural process in which individual
atoms that make up our brains are continuously replaced by different
atoms. The process is analogous to a river where the water flow
follows the same pattern while the water that makes up the flow
is continuously replaced by new sections of water. The concluding
statement is that our pattern which produces consciousness is
independent of the physical substrate of our minds.
Kurzweil, however, goes on to equate "uploading
where a new copy is made" with "gradual uploading",
saying that both approaches do not preserve identity.
I believe this is wrong. The second approach
does appear to preserve identity and consciousness, since it
seems that our identity is not affected during the process in
which our atoms are being continuously replaced by other atoms
of the same kind. Why the practical consequences of this natural
process could be extended, and applied to a procedure seemingly
as alien, and theoretical as uploading depends on one subtle
observation, namely, that our minds replace their substrates
all the time by the units of the same kind (and atoms replaced
by other atoms just implement this rule). The atoms do not posses
intrinsic "magical" properties that a mind and identity
depend upon, therefore the phrase "identity is preserved
when a mind's substrate is replaced by the atoms of the same
kind" could be replaced by "identity is preserved
when a mind's substrate is replaced by the perfect equivalents
of the mind's functional units".
There are few things here that need to be
emphasized. Identity remains intact in the process where the
mind's existing substrate is only gradually replaced by the
exact functional equivalents of the substrate units. How big
should those units be to prevent identity crisis depends on
the level of functionality we are able to reproduce. If we are
able to create functional equivalent of a given neuron, it shouldn't
matter how it is implemented as long as it performs exactly
like the original one. If the mind can be subjected to a process
such as the one described above, my belief is that this kind
of uploading would preserve person's identity/consciousness.
All living organisms are no more than walking
algorithms. What many individuals do not seem to be able to
grasp is that the complexity of a fully simulated "walking
algorithm" is far, far beyond and different in kind to
what we can now do with and within computers. No one was planning
to upload anyone onto a Windows system. In the next decade or
so, nanocomputing will become possible, and an inane amount
of computing power will be dumped directly into our laps for
us to play with and reshape our very souls for the better. Uploading
is not betraying humanity, in fact, it is doing humanity a favor.
The true "core" of humanity used to be defined by
white males - soon it will be defined by beings of intelligence
and empathy beyond our conception. (If these entities are not
empathetic, then the whole thought experiment is moot - you
can't fight a being that thinks a million times faster than
you. For that matter, it's not likely that an upload with merely
an accelerating brain will be able to fight a being with qualitative
improvements in intelligence.)
Morality is one of the manifestations of complexity.
So is "free will". Humans are another, yet they can
yet be vastly improved. It's interesting to observe the "rebel
against society" trend really picking up, but unfortunately
when you're constantly bitter about something, it's hard to
see it objectively or see that solutions might exist outside
the box of their little dichotomy.
What is important is to use all of reality
in a manner which optimizes the individual's long-term, rational
happiness. The high intelligence of humans simply allows them
to do that more successfully then other animals can do, in the
same way that a transhuman or upload could pursue their goals
in a much more appropriate fashion than a human being would.
Enhancing ones life requires both a deep understanding
of ones nature and what is required for ones happiness (read
life enhancement), and then, the application of ones best
possible reasoning and evaluation (in terms of ones personal
"life-tastes") to decide on ones actions in a continuously
updating, dynamically self-observing, self-correcting manner.