Posted on Sep 13, 2019, 4 p.m.
“..Imagine a place that is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, it is a vast space and as timeless as infinity, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination...”
This place, time, and the day may well be coming where you might be able to scan your entire consciousness into a computer. This brings about memories of science fictions movies the likes of The Matrix, Tron, Chappie, Outer Limits,Twilight Zone, and Ghost In The Shell. But how will we coexist with these digital replicas, and will it still be us?
Thanks to science fiction suggestions and advances in technology it is possible to imagine a future in which a machine will be able to scan your brain to migrate your brain essentials to a computer; technically there are no known laws of physics that stand in the way, however, such technology has not yet been invented, and who knows when and if it may be available.
The magnificent and wondrous brain is still not fully understood, but we do know it relies on an elegant underlying principle of a single working part: The Neuron, which is repeated over and over to create a complexity. There are approximately 86 billion neurons that are interconnected by approximately 100 trillion synapses which information flows and transforms through these connected networks in complex and unpredictable patterns to create the brain.
To upload the mind there will be at least two technical challenges that will need to be addressed. An artificial brain would need to be created made of simulated neurons to begin with, and the person’s brain would need to be scanned to copy the exact pattern in the artificial brain. To copy that pattern into the artificial brain the scan needs to be exact in measuring how the biological brain’s neurons are connected to each other, this is a process that is not known if it would actually be able to recreate a person’s mind or if other aspects of the brain that are more subtle must be copied as well.
Engineers already know how to create artificial simulated neurons and how to connect them through synapses. But would this be enough to recreate things such as personality, emotion, and empathy or are they one of the more subtle aspects? Thousands or even millions of neurons can be simulated in networks. Thanks to modern wonders and advancements in technology, current artificial intelligence depends on large artificial neural networks, but simulating a brain with 86 billion neurons is still beyond current technology, but for how long is not known.
Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine recently used an electron microscope to complete a connectome pattern of connectivity among all neurons in a roundworm which has about 300 neurons. This milestone task took close to 10 years. To upload a human brain first a scanner would be required that did not kill the subject which is able to scan at at least a hundred million times as many details. This kind of technology does not exist today, even the most wildly optimistic predictions put this kind of technology to a few decades, but more realistic predictions place it to centuries.
Regardless of how long it takes to develop this technology it seems very likely to be part of human future, which makes it worth thinking about the implications, and what mind uploading could mean for humans philosophically and ethically.
If one decides to have their mind uploaded, currently it is not known what the process will really entail, there are numerous scenarios. The optimal scenario would be having a conscious mind wake up having the person’s wisdom, emotion, memories, and personality, this should mean the artificial host thinks it is the original human and it can continue to learn and remember because its adaptability is the essence of an artificial neural network with synaptic connections that will continue to change with experience. This “new host” should be able to look around and see things pretty much like the real world with a matching virtual body. Maybe there will be an assigned living space to live in a city populated with other uploaded digital bodies with perfect weather every day. Senses such as taste and smell may be muted, but overall this may be a pleasant digital afterlife to the newly awakened simulated brain.
But what does the biological me think of a copy of me existing in a cloud somewhere? I’m on the fence, as to feeling cheated and thinking it may not be bad if done in the last stages of life, but I still have many questions. What will the relationship be between the simulated and biological person? Biological beings eventually die, when a mind is uploaded it creates another path that can in essence live forever and accumulate different experiences, but will it also live on as memories and experiences? Or would the person have actually achieved a digital immortality?
Every day we go to sleep and wake up 99.9% the same, a little of you dies each night, you wake up not exactly the same. No one obsesses or really thinks about yesterday’s me dying and a new version awaking in its place as we are so used to the process it is out of mind. However, with mind uploading it’s a whole new ball game outside of the comfort zone.
In Tron when a person enters the digital world the physical self magically disappears and reappears when leaving the digital world so there is only one self at a time. In Matrix a person has one mind that experiences the physical world as well as the simulated world when plugged in. Movies use these kinds of gimmicks for clever storytelling to make it more digestible to the modern mind. If and when mind uploading arrives that mindset will need to be adjusted to something more like a file that can be duplicated and morphed into multiple versions, each following their own path.
Simulated version may be able to connect to the real world to keep up to date on social media and current events, they may live with other uploaded minds with the host personality and memories, which may want to communicate with loved ones in the real world just as the original host would. What would happen then, should it be allowed, how do you stop/prevent that?
In the simulated world would a person be able to accumulate power? Those in the simulated world spent a lifetime building connections in the real world before entering, once uploaded they could continue to accumulate more resources to expand their empire and influence. But is this fair, imagine the power that could be amassed? Biological living could be seen in terms of a larval stage with aspirations to be among the lucky few who are allowed to continue metamorphosis into the simulated immortal elites. Should the most powerful people living in the real world be allowed to continue expanding in a simulated world or should there be equal commonality?
Mind uploading doesn’t have to be dark if moral concerns are dealt with fairly before it is even allowed to be done. Mind uploading could allow for greater accumulation of wisdom, accumulation of skills and wisdom could cause a positive change in human civilization. It may also allow for deep space farming in far off galaxies that our fragile bodies are not able to reach or withstand, without the limits of time and space.
What about religion, many wars have been fought over this, what about the soul and essence of a person? There are many questions. When will it happen, no one knows for sure, it may never be successfully developed, but mind uploading may be in the future for humanity to which we will be unburdened by mortality or fate of our terrestrial home.
“...You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey to a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination…”
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