Vanessa Fogg: Traces of Us
Are uploaded minds people too?
Full Worlds is an ethnography podcast where we meet the worlds of its creators. In this episode, we talk to Vanessa Fogg about the world of her short story Traces of Us.
The story has two parallel storylines, one in the present time and one in a far future where mind-uploading has been made a reality. An inspiration for the story was an article in The New York Times back in 2015; “A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future.”
The young woman in the article came down with brain cancer, and she and her boyfriend started a fundraising campaign to preserving her brain to hopefully give her a chance to “come back” if mind-uploading became reality one day. I wanted to give that story a happy ending.
The science of mind-uploading is, to say the least, very early.
Connectomics is the map of all the synaptic connections in the brain. If you could encode this, then maybe we could store not only memory but personality. Most experts would say that more is needed, but it is a lot of basic research in this field right now. Even if we had the mapping, it is probably insufficent as we need to preserve every receptor and how the proteins around them are functioning. The neurons of basic worms have been mapped but we are far from a human brain right now.
But, there are startups and companies right now claiming that they have progressed on the problem, or just urge to you freeze your brain as they think it is a kind of insurance.
In the spring of 2018, a startup named Nectone, went public with an interview in MIT Tech Review saying they would offer mind-uploading services to the public, to people with terminal illnesses. Just like what I had written in my story. They would fill the brain, while the still alive person would be under general anesthesia, with “scientific embalming chemical” and preserve the brain until the technology would be able to “resurrect an identity”. They were already in consulting with lawyers familiar with California’s End of Life Option Act. Every neuroscientist who was willing to go on record condemned it.
If, or when, mind-uploading becomes a reality there will be many ethical issues — ranging from environmental-sustainability of use of energy today to store people, to the unequal opportunities because of wealth, to when it would be here, new kinds of problems.
What would purpose be? What is the value of human life if you could copy someone. Of course, you could say, that is not me, but if that person feels like you and has all your memories — it is you? What rights does a mind-copy have? Do you have an “ownership” over them? Will we create a “slavery of copied minds?”
Of course, we might already have “mind-uploading” using games or even just all the ways we can “record ourselves” and experience people long gone.
All of us can leave records behind, these “traces of us”. It used to be that we wrote letters or diaries, to leave thoughts behind. Now we have photos, tweets, YouTube videos, and people have much more access to these and do it more prolifically. That is a beautiful thing about art, that people can keep exising in a timeliess way, as we have the technology to do and experience these recordings.
Listen on Spotify, Soundcloud, Stitcher, or iTunes:
E03 Vanessa Fogg - Traces of Us — on Spotify
What happens when we can upload minds? Will be think differently about death? Will copies be "slaves" or will they have…
To see more about the short story go to GoodReads. You also get a discount to Vanessa’s book Lillies of Dawn. To keep up to date with the Podcast, follow Full Worlds on Twitter, and check out the other interviews on Full World’s Medium Publication.