Some thoughts on mind uploading

When I first heard about the concept of mind uploading, I thought it meant creating a digital copy of one’s mind in a computer. Where it would then merrily continue to live all on its own. Obviously, I thought, this is of no help to me, the original. Who cares how many clones of me are created, if I — this particular instance of me — die, that would be the end of the only ‘me’ I have ever been a part of.

To counter that view, some say that a clone of you waking up and believing that it is you is the same as you waking up every morning — after all, you lose consciousness every time you go into deep sleep —but for me personally the above kind of mind uploading is still the least preferred. I would be willing to try it as a last resort in the case of, say, recovery after cryopreservation, but I would much rather upload my mind gradually.

Gradual mind uploading makes the most sense. If fact, most of us already engage in it, as we are outsourcing more and more of our memories to digital substrates — how many phone numbers do you remember today? And it’s not just memories that we already outsource. A lot of our daily mental processing is now done by our phones and computers. The only problem is that our interaction with them is limited by what Elon Musk (and many others) calls our bandwidth — the ability to input and output information between our wetware and our silicone extensions — that is limited by our reading and typing (or speaking) speeds.

That is also why Elon is a big fan of the neural lace technology which is essentially an interface to greatly increase the communication bandwidth between our brain and our computers. Imagine that instead of having to type into Google and read back the Wikipedia article it finds you, you can accomplish both activities simply with the power of thought. And yes, you would have a direct link to the Internet in your brain rather than at your fingertips. Just imagine how much more Facebooking you could accomplish!

Of course, neural lace is a huge step in the direction of complete mind uploading, but it is only one of many. We would obviously need to replicate human mental and emotional processing in silico. When you don’t just store memories or perform computational tasks in your digital extension, but also analyze, think and feel in it, only then I would say you have accomplished full mind uploading. Note that we would not necessarily need to decode and replicate the underlying biological mechanisms behind those mental or emotional centers of our brains, just their functionality. Or maybe we could even improve upon it— avoid anxiety, reduce anger, cure addiction. Finally, turn off love — who needs it. (Just kidding!)

So, to me, ultimate mind uploading would involve having all your memories and all your processing moved or parallelized to a machine safer than your brain so that even if your brain dies, you would still retain all or most of your personality. This would reduce losing your entire brain to what happens today if you suffer a minor head injury or stroke: a small region of your brain might die and you might lose some memories or the ability to drive, but you are still alive, able to enjoy life and interact with your loved ones.

The next interesting question is avatars. If most of your personality now resides outside your brain, then would your original body become reduced to being essentially an avatar? Could you then get more than one like in that Hardcore Henry movie? I don’t see why not. Obviously, avatars would need to be in constant (or at least frequent) communication with one’s primary consciousness, or things could get too out of sync, but I am sure that those are solvable technological issues. Growing new avatars might be a bigger challenge that keeping them in sync, and possibly more of an ethical one than a biological one. But that’s food for thought for a different post. Obviously there are many risks and ethical questions, and mind uploading has its detractors.

Among other negatives, opponents of mind uploading charge that even gradually uploaded you would cease to be you, and while agreeing with them on this principle, I disagree that this is a negative. Just like a 1-year old you is very different from a 15-, 35-, or 65-year old you, so would a digitally extended you be a very different you indeed. While others might prefer the 3-year old version of you, if you personally would rather stay the 35-year old one, then no one else should deny you this choice. Would the difference between the superhuman you and you before uploading be greater than between the 1-year old you and the 65-year old one? I bet it would. And I bet it would be awesome.