In transhumanism and science fiction, mind uploading (also occasionally referred to by other terms such as mind transfer, whole brain emulation, or whole body emulation) refers to the hypothetical transfer of a human mind to a substrate different from a biological brain, such as a detailed computer simulation of an individual human brain.
The human brain contains a little more than 100 billion nerve cells called neurons, each individually linked to other neurons by way of connectors called axons and dendrites. Signals at the junctures (synapses) of these connections are transmitted by the release and detection of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. The brain contains cell types other than neurons (such as glial cells), some of which are structurally similar to neurons, but the information processing of the brain is thought to be conducted by the network of neurons.
Current biomedical and neuropsychological thinking is that the human mind is a product of the information processing of this neural network. To use an analogy from computer science, if the neural network of the brain can be thought of as hardware, then the human mind is the software running on it.
Mind uploading, then, is the act of copying or transferring this “software” from the hardware of the human brain to another processing environment, typically an artificially created one.
The concept of mind uploading then is strongly mechanist, relying on several assumptions about the nature of human consciousness and the philosophy of artificial intelligence. It assumes that strong AI machine intelligence is not only possible, but is indistinguishable from human intelligence, and denies the vitalist view of human life and consciousness.
Mind uploading is completely speculative at this point in time; no technology exists which can accomplish this.
The relationship between the human mind and the neural circuitry of the brain is currently poorly understood. Thus, most theoretical approaches to mind uploading are based on the idea of recreating or simulating the underlying neural network. This approach would theoretically eliminate the need to understand how such a system works if the component neurons and their connections can be simulated with enough accuracy.
It is unknown how precise the simulation of such a neural network would have to be to produce a functional simulation of the brain. It is possible, however, that simulating the functions of a human brain at the cellular level might be much more difficult than creating a human level artificial intelligence, which relied on recreating the functions of the human mind, rather than trying to simulate the underlying biological systems.
Thinkers with a strongly mechanistic view of human intelligence (such as Marvin Minsky) or a strongly positive view of robot-human social integration (such as Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil) have openly speculated about the possibility and desirability of this.
In the case where the mind is transferred into a computer, the subject would become a form of artificial intelligence, sometimes called an infomorph or “nomorph.” In a case where it is transferred into an artificial body, to which its consciousness is confined, it would also become a robot. In either case it might claim ordinary human rights, certainly if the consciousness within was feeling (or was doing a good job of simulating) as if it were the donor.
Uploading consciousness into bodies created by robotic means is a goal of some in the artificial intelligence community. In the uploading scenario, the physical human brain does not move from its original body into a new robotic shell; rather, the consciousness is assumed to be recorded and/or transferred to a new robotic brain, which generates responses indistinguishable from the original organic brain.
The idea of uploading human consciousness in this manner raises many philosophical questions which people may find interesting or disturbing, such as matters of individuality and the soul. Vitalists would say that uploading was a priori impossible. Many people also wonder whether, if they were uploaded, it would be their sentience uploaded, or simply a copy.
Even if uploading is theoretically possible, there is currently no technology capable of recording or describing mind states in the way imagined, and no one knows how much computational power or storage would be needed to simulate the activity of the mind inside a computer. On the other hand, advocates of uploading have made various estimates of the amount of computing power that would be needed to simulate a human brain, and based on this a number have estimated that uploading may become possible within decades if trends such as Moore’s Law continue.
If it is possible for human minds to be modeled and treated as software objects which can be instanced multiple times, in multiple processing environments, many potentially desirable possibilities open up for the individual.
If the mental processes of the human mind can be disassociated from its original biological body, it is no longer tied to the limits and lifespan of that body. In theory, a mind could be voluntarily copied or transferred from body to body indefinitely and therefore become immortal, or at least exercise conscious control of its lifespan.
Alternatively, if cybernetic implants could be used to monitor and record the structure of the human mind in real time then, should the body of the individual be killed, such implants could be used to later instance another working copy of that mind. It is also possible that periodic backups of the mind could be taken and stored external to the body and a copy of the mind instanced from this backup, should the body (and possibly the implants) be lost or damaged beyond recovery. In the latter case, any changes and experiences since the time of the last backup would be lost.
Such possibilities have been explored extensively in fiction: This Number Speaks, Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion, Newton’s Gate, John Varley’s Eight Worlds series, Greg Egan’s Permutation City, Diaspora, Schild’s Ladder and Incandescence, the Revelation Space series, Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star duology, Bart Kosko’s Fuzzy Time, Armitage III series, the Takeshi Kovacs universe, Iain M. Banks Culture novels, Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and the works of Charles Stross. And in television sci-fi shows: Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1, among others.
Another concept explored in science fiction is the idea of more than one running “copy” of a human mind existing at once. Such copies could either be full copies, or limited subsets of the complete mentality designed for a particular limited functions. Such copies would allow an “individual” to experience many things at once, and later integrate the experiences of all copies into a central mentality at some point in the future, effectively allowing a single sentient being to “be many places at once” and “do many things at once”.
The implications of such entities have been explored in science fiction. In his book Eon, Greg Bear uses the terms “partials” and “ghosts”, while Charles Stross’s novels Accelerando and Glasshouse deal with the concepts of “forked instances” of conscious beings as well as “backups”.
In Charles Sheffield’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow, the protagonist’s consciousness is duplicated thousands of times electronically and sent out on probe ships and uploaded into bodies adapted to native environments of different planets. The copies are eventually reintegrated back into the “master” copy of the consciousness in order to consolidate their findings.
Such partial and complete copies of a sentient being again raise issues of identity and personhood: is a partial copy of sentient being itself sentient? What rights might such a being have? Since copies of a personality are having different experiences, are they not slowly diverging and becoming different entities? At what point do they become different entities?
If the body and the mind of the individual can be disassociated, then the individual is theoretically free to choose their own incarnation. They could reside within a completely human body, within a modified physical form, or within simulated realities. Individuals might change their incarnations many times during their existence, depending on their needs and desires.
Choices of the individuals in this matter could be restricted by the society they exist within, however. In the novel Eon by Greg Bear, individuals could incarnate physically (within “natural” biological humans, or within modified bodies) a limited number of times before being legally forced to reside with the “city memory” as infomorphic “ghosts”.
Once an individual is moved to virtual simulation, the only input needed would be energy, which would be provided by large computing device hosting those minds. All the food, drink, moving, travel or any imaginable thing would just need energy to provide those computations.
Almost all scientists, thinkers and intelligent people would be moved to this virtual environment once they die. In this virtual environment, their brain capacity would be expanded by speed and storage of quantum computers. In virtual environment idea and final product are not different. This way more and more innovations will be sent to real world and it will speed up our technological development.
Regardless of the techniques used to capture or recreate the function of a human mind, the processing demands of such venture are likely to be immense.
Henry Markram, lead researcher of the “Blue Brain Project”, has stated that “it is not [their] goal to build an intelligent neural network”, based solely on the computational demands such a project would have.
Advocates of mind uploading point to Moore’s law to support the notion that the necessary computing power may become available within a few decades, though it would probably require advances beyond the integrated circuit technology which has dominated since the 1970s. Several new technologies have been proposed, and prototypes of some have been demonstrated, such as the optical neural network based on the silicon-photonic chip (harnessing special physical properties of Indium Phosphide) which Intel showed the world for the first time on September 18, 2006. Other proposals include three-dimensional integrated circuits based on carbon nanotubes (researchers have already demonstrated individual logic gates built from carbon nanotubes) and also perhaps the quantum computer, currently being worked on internationally as well as most famously by computer scientists and physicists at the IBM Almaden Research Center, which promises to be useful in simulating the behavior of quantum systems; such ability would enable protein structure prediction which could be critical to correct emulation of intracellular neural processes.
Present methods require use of massive computational power (as the BBP does with IBM’s Blue Gene Supercomputer) to use the essentially classical computing architecture for serial deduction of the quantum mechanical processes involved in ab initio protein structure prediction. If necessary, should the quantum computer become a reality, its capacity for exactly such rapid calculations of quantum mechanical physics may well help the effort by reducing the required computational power per physical size and energy needs, as Markram warns would be needed (and thus why he thinks it would be difficult, besides unattractive) should an entire brain’s simulation, let alone emulation (at both cellular and molecular levels) be feasibly attempted. Reiteration may also be useful for distributed simulation of a common, repeated function (e.g., proteins).
Ultimately, nano-computing is projected by some to hold the requisite capacity for computations per second estimated necessary, in surplus. If Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns (a variation on Moore’s Law) shows itself to be true, the rate of technological development should accelerate exponentially towards the technological singularity, heralded by the advent of viable though relatively primitive mind uploading and/or “strong” (human-level) AI technologies, his prediction being that the Singularity may occur around the year 2045.
The structure of a neural network is also different from classical computing designs. Memory in a classical computer is generally stored in a two state design, or bit, although one of the two components is modified in dynamic RAM and some forms of flash memory can use more than two states under some circumstances. Gates inside central processing units will often also use this two state or digital type of design as well. In some ways a neural network or brain could be thought of like a memory unit in a computer, but with an extremely vast number of states, corresponding with the total number of neurons. Beyond that, whether the action potential of a neuron will form, based upon the summation of the inputs of different dendrites, might be something that is more analog in nature than that which happens in a computer. One great advantage that a modern computer has over a biological brain, however, is that the speed of each electronic operation in a computer is many orders of magnitude faster than the time scales involved for the firing and transmission of individual nerve impulses. A brain, however, uses far more parallel processing than exists in most classical computing designs, and so each of the slower neurons can make up for it by operating at the same time.
There are many ethical issues concerning mind uploading. Viable mind uploading technology might challenge the ideas of human immortality, property rights, capitalism, human intelligence, an afterlife, and the Abrahamic view of man as created in God’s image. These challenges often cannot be distinguished from those raised by all technologies that extend human technological control over human bodies, e.g. organ transplant. Perhaps the best way to explore such issues is to discover principles applicable to current bioethics problems, and question what would be permissible if they were applied consistently to a future technology. This points back to the role of science fiction in exploring such problems, as powerfully demonstrated in the 20th century by such works as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, each of which frame current ethical problems in a future environment where those have come to dominate the society.
Another issue with mind uploading is whether an uploaded mind is really the “same” sentience, or simply an exact copy with the same memories and personality. Although this difference would be undetectable to an external observer (and the upload itself would probably be unable to tell), it could mean that uploading a mind would actually kill it and replace it with a clone. Some people would be unwilling to upload themselves for this reason. If their sentience is deactivated even for a nanosecond, they assert, it is permanently wiped out. Some more gradual methods may avoid this problem by keeping the uploaded sentience functioning throughout the procedure.
True mind uploading remains speculative. The technology to perform such a feat is not currently available, however a number of possible mechanisms, and research approaches, have been proposed for developing mind uploading technology.
Since the function of the human mind, and how it might arise from the working of the brain’s neural network, are poorly understood issues, many theoretical approaches to mind uploading rely on the idea of emulation. Rather than having to understand the functioning of the human mind, the structure of underlying neural network is captured and simulated with a computer system. The human mind then, theoretically, is generated by the simulated neural network in an identical fashion to it being generated by the biological neural network.
These approaches require only that we understand the nature of neurons and how their connections function, that we can simulate them well enough, that we have the computational power to run such large simulations, and that the state of the brain’s neural network can be captured with enough fidelity to create an accurate simulation.
A possible method for mind uploading is serial sectioning, in which the brain tissue and perhaps other parts of the nervous system are frozen and then scanned and analyzed layer by layer, thus capturing the structure of the neurons and their interconnections. The exposed surface of frozen nerve tissue would be scanned (possibly with some variant of an electron microscope) and recorded, and then the surface layer of tissue removed (possibly with a conventional cryo-ultramicrotome if scanning along an axis, or possibly through laser ablation if scans are done radially “from the outside inwards”). While this would be a very slow and labor intensive process, research is currently underway to automate the collection and microscopy of serial sections. The scans would then be analyzed, and a model of the neural net recreated in the system that the mind was being uploaded into.
There are uncertainties with this approach using current microscopy techniques. If it is possible to replicate neuron function from its visible structure alone, then the resolution afforded by a scanning electron microscope would suffice for such a technique. However, as the function of brain tissue is partially determined by molecular events (particularly at synapses, but also at other places on the neuron’s cell membrane), this may not suffice for capturing and simulating neuron functions. It may be possible to extend the techniques of serial sectioning and to capture the internal molecular makeup of neurons, through the use of sophisticated immunohistochemistry staining methods which could then be read via confocal laser scanning microscopy.
A more advanced hypothetical technique that would require nanotechnology might involve infiltrating the intact brain with a network of nanoscale machines to “read” the structure and activity of the brain in situ, much like the electrode meshes used in current brain-computer interface research, but on a much finer and more sophisticated scale. The data collected from these probes could then be used to build up a simulation of the neural network they were probing, and even check the behavior of the model against the behavior of the biological system in real time.
In his 1998 book, Mind children, Hans Moravec describes a variation of this process. In it, nanomachines are placed in the synapses of the outer layer of cells in the brain of a conscious living subject. The system then models the outer layer of cells and recreates the neural net processes in whatever simulation space is being used to house the uploaded consciousness of the subject. The nanomachines can then block the natural signals sent by the biological neurons, but send and receive signals to and from the simulated versions of the neurons. Which system is doing the processing biological or simulated can be toggled back and forth, both automatically by the scanning system and manually by the subject, until it has been established that the simulation’s behavior matches that of the biological neurons and that the subjective mental experience of the subject is unchanged. Once this is the case, the outer layer of neurons can be removed and their function turned solely over to the simulated neurons. This process is then repeated, layer by layer, until the entire biological brain of the subject has been scanned, modeled, checked, and disassembled. When the process is completed, the nanomachines can be removed from the spinal column of the subject, and the mind of the subject exists solely within the simulated neural network.
Alternatively, such a process might allow for the replacement of living neurons with artificial neurons one by one while the subject is still conscious, providing a smooth transition from an organic to synthetic brain – potentially significant for those who worry about the loss of personal continuity that other uploading processes may entail. This method has been likened to upgrading the whole internet by replacing, one by one, each computer connected to it with similar computers using newer hardware.
While many people are more comfortable with the idea of the gradual replacement of their natural selves than they are with some of the more radical and discontinuous mental transfer, it still raises questions of identity. Is the individual preserved in this process, and if not, at what point does the individual cease to exist? If the original entity ceases to exist, what is the nature and identity of the individual created within the simulated neural network, or can any individual be said to exist there at all? This gradual replacement leads to a much more complicated and sophisticated version of the Ship of Theseus paradox.
It may also be possible to use advanced neuroimaging technology (such as Magnetoencephalography) to build a detailed three-dimensional model of the brain using non-invasive and non-destructive methods. However, current imaging technology lacks the resolution needed to gather the information needed for such a scan.
Such a process would leave the original entity intact, but the existence, nature, and identity of the resulting being in the simulated network are still open philosophical questions.
Another recently conceived possibility is the use of genetically engineered viruses to attach to synaptic junctions, and then release energy-emitting molecular compounds, which could be detected externally, and used to generate a functional model of the synapses in question, and, given enough time, the whole brain and nervous system.
An alternate set of possible theoretical approaches to mind uploading would require that we first understand the functions of the human mind sufficiently well to create abstract models of parts, or the totality, of human mental processes. It would require that strong AI be not only a possibility, but that the techniques used to create a strong AI system could also be used to recreate a human type mentality.
Such approaches might be more desirable if the abstract models required less computational power to execute than the neural network simulation of the emulation techniques described above.
Another theoretically possible method of mind uploading from organic to inorganic medium, related to the idea described above of replacing neurons one at a time while consciousness remained intact, would be a much less precise but much more feasible (in terms of technology currently known to be physically possible) process of “cyborging”. Once a given person’s brain is mapped, it is replaced piece-by-piece with computer devices which perform the exact same function as the regions preceding them, after which the patient is allowed to regain consciousness and validate that there has not been some radical upheaval within his own subjective experience of reality. At this point, the patient’s brain is immediately “re-mapped” and another piece is replaced, and so on in this fashion until, the patient exists on a purely hardware medium and can be safely extricated from the remaining organic body.
However, critics contend that, given the significant level of synergy involved throughout the neural plexus, alteration of any given cell that is functionally correspondent with (a) neighboring cell(s) may well result in an alteration of its electrical and chemical properties that would not have existed without interference, and so the true individual’s signature is lost. Revokability of that disturbance may be possible with damage anticipation and correction (seeing the original by the particular damage rendered unto it, in reverse chronological fashion), although this would be easier in a stable system, meaning a brain subjected to cryosleep (which would imbue its own damage and alterations).
It has also been suggested (for example, in Greg Egan’s “jewelhead” stories) that a detailed examination of the brain itself may not be required, that the brain could be treated as a black box instead and effectively duplicated “for all practical purposes” by merely duplicating how it responds to specific external stimuli. This leads into even deeper philosophical questions of what the “self” is.
On June 6, 2005 IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne announced the launch of a project to build a complete simulation of the human brain, entitled the “Blue Brain Project”. The project will use a supercomputer based on IBM’s Blue Gene design to map the entire electrical circuitry of the brain. The project seeks to research aspects of human cognition, and various psychiatric disorders caused by malfunctioning neurons, such as autism. Initial efforts are to focus on experimentally accurate, programmed characterization of a single neocortical column in the brain of a rat, as it is very similar to that of a human but at a smaller scale, then to expand to an entire neocortex (the alleged seat of higher intelligence) and eventually the human brain as a whole.
It is interesting to note that the Blue Brain project seems to use a combination of emulation and simulation techniques. The first stage of their program was to simulate a neocortical column at the molecular level. Now the program seems to be trying to create a simplified functional simulation of the neocortical column in order to simulate many of them, and to model their interactions.
With most projected mind uploading technology it is implicit that “copying” a consciousness could be as feasible as “moving” it, since these technologies generally involve simulating the human brain in a computer of some sort, and digital files such as computer programs can be copied precisely. It is also possible that the simulation could be created without the need to destroy the original brain, so that the computer-based consciousness would be a copy of the still-living biological person, although some proposed methods such as serial sectioning of the brain would necessarily be destructive. In both cases it is usually assumed that once the two versions are exposed to different sensory inputs, their experiences would begin to diverge, but all their memories up until the moment of the copying would remain the same.
By many definitions, both copies could be considered the “same person” as the single original consciousness before it was copied. At the same time, they can be considered distinct individuals once they begin to diverge, so the issue of which copy “inherits” what could be complicated. This problem is similar to that found when considering the possibility of teleportation, where in some proposed methods it is possible to copy (rather than only move) a mind or person. This is the classic philosophical issue of personal identity. The problem is made even more serious by the possibility of creating a potentially infinite number of initially identical copies of the original person, which would of course all exist simultaneously as distinct beings.
Philosopher John Locke published “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” in 1689, in which he proposed the following criterion for personal identity: if you remember thinking something in the past, then you are the same person as he or she who did the thinking. Later philosophers raised various logical snarls, most of them caused by applying Boolean logic, the prevalent logic system at the time. It has been proposed that modern fuzzy logic can solve those problems, showing that Locke’s basic idea is sound if one treats personal identity as a continuous rather than discrete value.
In that case, when a mind is copied — whether during mind uploading, or afterwards, or by some other means — the two copies are initially two instances of the very same person, but over time, they will gradually become different people to an increasing degree.
The issue of copying vs moving is sometimes cited as a reason to think that destructive methods of mind uploading such as serial sectioning of the brain would actually destroy the consciousness of the original and the upload would itself be a mere “copy” of that consciousness. Whether one believes that the original consciousness of the brain would transfer to the upload, that the original consciousness would be destroyed, or that this is simply a matter of definition and the question has no single “objectively true” answer, is ultimately a philosophical question that depends on one’s views of philosophy of mind.
Because of these philosophical questions about the survival of consciousness, there are some who would feel more comfortable about a method of uploading where the transfer is gradual, replacing the original brain with a new substrate over an extended period of time, during which the subject appears to be fully conscious (this can be seen as analogous to the natural biological replacement of molecules in our brains with new ones taken in from eating and breathing, which may lead to almost all the matter in our brains being replaced in as little as a few months). As mentioned above, this would likely take place as a result of gradual cyborging, either nanoscopically or macroscopically, wherein the brain (the original copy) would slowly be replaced bit by bit with artificial parts that function in a near-identical manner, and assuming this was possible at all, the person would not necessarily notice any difference as more and more of their brain became artificial. A gradual transfer also brings up questions of identity similar to the classical Ship of Theseus paradox, although the above-mentioned natural replacement of molecules in the brain through eating and breathing brings up these questions as well.
A computer capable of simulating a person may require microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), or else perhaps optical or nano computing for comparable speed and reduced size and sophisticated telecommunication between the brain and body (whether it exists in virtual reality, artificially as an android, or cybernetically as in sync with a biological body through a transceiver), but would not seem to require molecular nanotechnology.
If minds and environments can be simulated, the Simulation Hypothesis posits that the reality we see may in fact be a computer simulation, and that this is actually the most likely possibility.
Uploading is a common theme in science fiction. Some of the earlier instances of this theme were in the Roger Zelazny 1968 novel Lord of Light and in Frederik Pohl’s 1955 short story “Tunnel Under the World.” A near miss was Neil R. Jones’ 1931 short story “The Jameson Satellite”, wherein a person’s organic brain was installed in a machine, and Olaf Stapledon’s “Last and First Men” (1930) had organic human-like brains grown into an immobile machine.
Another of the “firsts” is the novel Detta r verkligheten (This is reality), 1968, by the renowned philosopher and logician Bertil Mrtensson, in which he describes people living in an uploaded state as a means to control overpopulation. The uploaded people believe that they are “alive”, but in reality they are playing elaborate and advanced fantasy games. In a twist at the end, the author changes everything into one of the best “multiverse” ideas of science fiction. Together with the 1969 book Ubik by Philip K. Dick it takes the subject to its furthest point of all the early novels in the field.
Frederik Pohl’s Gateway series (also known as the Heechee Saga) deals with a human being, Robinette Broadhead, who “dies” and, due to the efforts of his wife, a computer scientist, as well as the computer program Sigfrid von Shrink, is uploaded into the “64 Gigabit space” (now archaic, but Fred Pohl wrote Gateway in 1976). The Heechee Saga deals with the physical, social, sexual, recreational, and scientific nature of cyberspace before William Gibson’s award-winning Neuromancer, and the interactions between cyberspace and “meatspace” commonly depicted in cyberpunk fiction. In Neuromancer, a hacking tool used by the main character is an artificial infomorph of a notorious cyber-criminal, Dixie Flatline. The infomorph only assists in exchange for the promise that he be deleted after the mission is complete.
In the 1982 novel Software, part of the Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker, one of the main characters, Cobb Anderson, has his mind uploaded and his body replaced with an extremely human-like android body. The robots who persuade Anderson into doing this sell the process to him as a way to become immortal.
In the 1997 novel “Shade’s Children” by Garth Nix, one of the main characters Shade (a.k.a. Robert Ingman) is an uploaded consciousness that guides the other characters through the post-apocolyptic world in which they live.
The fiction of Greg Egan has explored many of the philosophical, ethical, legal, and identity aspects of mind uploading, as well as the financial and computing aspects (i.e., hardware, software, processing power) of maintaining “copies”. In Egan’s Permutation City and Diaspora, “copies” are made by computer simulation of scanned brain physiology. Also, in Egan’s “Jewelhead” stories, the mind is transferred from the organic brain to a small, immortal backup computer at the base of the skull, with the organic brain then being surgically removed.
The Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard Morgan was set in a universe where mind transfers were a part of standard life. With the use of cortical stacks, which record a person’s memories and personality into a device implanted in the spinal vertebrae, it was possible to copy the individual’s mind to a storage system at the time of death. The stack could be uploaded to a virtual reality environment for interrogation, entertainment, or to pass the time for long distance travel. The stack could also be implanted into a new body or “sleeve” which may or may not have biomechanical, genetic, or chemical “upgrades” since the sleeve could be grown or manufactured. Interstellar travel is most often accomplished by digitized human freight (“dhf”) over faster-than-light needlecast transmission.
In the “Requiem for Homo Sapiens” series of novels by David Zindell (Neverness, The Broken God, The Wild, and War in Heaven), the verb “cark” is used for uploading one’s mind (and also for changing one’s DNA). Carking is done for soul-preservation purposes by the members of the Architects church, and also for more sinister (or simply unknowable) purposes by the various “gods” that populate the galaxy such gods being human minds that have now grown into planet- or nebula-sized synthetic brains. The climax of the series centers around the struggle to prevent one character from creating a Universal Computer (under his control) that will incorporate all human minds (and indeed, the entire structure of the universe).
In the popular computer game Total Annihilation, the 4,000-year war that eventually culminated with the destruction of the Milky Way galaxy was started over the issue of mind transfer, with one group (the Arm) resisting another group (the Core) who were attempting to enforce a 100% conversion rate of humanity into machines, because machines are durable and modular, thereby making it a “public health measure.”
In the popular science fiction show Stargate SG-1 the alien race who call themselves the Asgard rely solely on cloning and mind transferring to continue their existence. This was not a choice they made, but a result of the decay of the Asgard genome due to excessive cloning, which also caused the Asgard to lose their ability to reproduce. In the episode “Tin Man”, SG-1 encounter Harlan, the last of a race that transferred their minds to robots in order to survive. SG-1 then discover that their minds have also been transferred to robot bodies. Eventually they learn that their minds were copied rather than uploaded and that the “original” SG-1 are still alive.
The Thirteenth Floor is a film made in 1999 directed by Josef Rusnak. In the film, a scientific team discovers a technology to create a fully functioning virtual world which they could experience by taking control of the bodies of simulated characters in the world, all of whom were self-aware. One plot twist was that if the virtual body a person had taken control of was killed in the simulation while they were controlling it, then the mind of the simulated character the body originally belonged to would take over the body of that person in the “real world”.
The Matrix is a film released the same year as The Thirteenth Floor that has the same kind of solipsistic philosophy. In The Matrix, the protagonist Neo finds out that the world he has been living in is nothing but a simulated dreamworld. However, this should be considered as virtual reality rather than mind uploading, since Neo’s physical brain still is required to reside his mind. The mind (the information content of the brain) is not copied into an emulated brain in a computer. Neo’s physical brain is connected into the Matrix via a brain-machine interface. Only the rest of the physical body is simulated. Neo is disconnected from this dreamworld by human rebels fighting against AI-driven machines in what seems to be a neverending war. During the course of the movie, Neo and his friends are connected back into the Matrix dreamworld in order to fight the machine race.
In the series Battlestar Galactica the antagonists of the story are the Cylons, sentient computers created by man which developed to become nearly identical to human beings. When they die they rely on mind transferring to keep on living so that “death becomes a learning experience”.
The 1995 movie Strange Days explores the idea of a technology capable of recording a conscious event. However, in this case, the mind itself is not uploaded into the device. The recorded event, which time frame is limited to that of the recording session, is frozen in time on a data disc much like today’s audio and video. Wearing the “helmet” in playback mode, another person can experience the external stimuli interpretation of the brain, the memories, the feelings, the thoughts and the actions that the original person recorded from his/her life. During playback, the observer temporarily quits his own memories and state of consciousness (the real self). In other words, one can “live” a moment in the life of another person, and one can “live” the same moment of his/her life more than once. In the movie, a direct link to a remote helmet can also be established, allowing another person to experience a live event.
Followers of the Ralian religion advocate mind uploading in the process of human cloning to achieve eternal life. Living inside of a computer is also seen by followers as an eminent possibility.
However, mind uploading is also advocated by a number of secular researchers in neuroscience and artificial intelligence, such as Marvin Minsky. In 1993, Joe Strout created a small web site called the Mind Uploading Home Page, and began advocating the idea in Cryonics circles and elsewhere on the net. That site has not been actively updated in recent years, but it has spawned other sites including MindUploading.org, run by Randal A. Koene, Ph.D., who also moderates a mailing list on the topic. These advocates see mind uploading as a medical procedure which could eventually save countless lives.
Many Transhumanists look forward to the development and deployment of mind uploading technology, with many predicting that it will become possible within the 21st century due to technological trends such as Moore’s Law. Many view it as the end phase of the Transhumanist project, which might be said to begin with the genetic engineering of biological humans, continue with the cybernetic enhancement of genetically engineered humans, and finally obtain with the replacement of all remaining biological aspects.
The book Beyond Humanity: CyberEvolution and Future Minds by Gregory S. Paul & Earl D. Cox, is about the eventual (and, to the authors, almost inevitable) evolution of computers into sentient beings, but also deals with human mind transfer.
Raymond Kurzweil, a prominent advocate of transhumanism and the likelihood of a technological singularity, has suggested that the easiest path to human-level artificial intelligence may lie in “reverse-engineering the human brain”, which he usually uses to refer to the creation of a new intelligence based on the general “principles of operation” of the brain, but he also sometimes uses the term to refer to the notion of uploading individual human minds based on highly detailed scans and simulations. This idea is discussed on pp. 198-203 of his book The Singularity is Near, for example.
Hans Moravec describes and advocates mind uploading in both his 1988 book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence and also his 2000 book Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind. Moravec is referred to by Marvin Minsky in Minsky’s essay Will Robots Inherit the Earth?.
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