Medicine, dentistry fraud, dentistry

To upload or not to upload – that is the question

We are all uploading information about ourselves all the time. Think LinkedIn, Face Book, Twitter, photo-sharing websites, various cloud storages for family archives. With development of brain-computer interface this process would accelerate and take new forms. Some leading scientists predict that by the middle of this century it would be routine to scan our brain and upload all of our memories and thoughts into computer networks – the cloud. First crude uploads would primarily store our memories for backup. More advanced uploads would be conscious, thinking beings.

Some claim that we would be able to transfer our minds to computer networks and live forever instead of growing old and dying. Others disagree. When a perfect digital copy of you had been made, you are still here, stuck in your biological body.

Imagine a potential future scenario.  It is a mid-21 century, and you are receiving rejuvenation therapy.  It is not faultless, you are still ageing, albeit slower, and then a promising mind uploading technology has been developed and perfected.  Your brain is scanned and a digital copy is created and placed in a virtual reality environment. There are now two of you.  You talk to yourself over an interface similar to Skype, but full immersion, and it is amazing! Your digital self is obviously you, he has all of your memories, in fact he remembers things you have completely forgotten, he shares your ideals and dreams. He is everything you ever wanted to be and then some! He can add, multiply and divide huge numbers in a split second with no calculator.  He knows every trivia fact there is to know. He can read a 300 page book in under one second; he can speak 358 languages without an accent. He has amazing social grace and a perfect sense of humour. He can read people’s faces like an open book. And he has a beautiful castle by a misty lake, a hundred acres of enchanted woods and a magic wand.  It all looks totally real. There is even a replica of your beloved grandmother living in a pretty cottage under three majestic oak trees... There are talking animals and plants... Your mind is reeling now. This all looks so cute you wish you were there...


Your robotic doctor kindly points out that you are there, because your upload and you are the same person. Indeed in virtual reality, VR, you can merge with your upload and be one person – for a while at least. When you disconnect, you retreat to the aches and pains of your own failing body, dejectedly observing through TV screen above your hospital bed your uploaded self continuing with his immortal digital life; and oh, he has so many delightful friends! Some of them are unloaded people like himself popping in for a chat, others are computer projections, some are VR visitors – it is not quite possible to tell who is who.

Doubts besiege you.  But the upload has been deemed a complete success and you are informed that they will now stop providing you with medical treatment, “rejoice, your uploaded self is you, so you no longer need your biological body!”  You will of course wish your uploaded self well, but you are still here, stuck in your aging body, sans rejuvenation therapy...  Obviously there is a problem. You are on a Liverpool Care Pathway...

Well, some futurists naively believe this can be overcome if the original biological person is scanned destructively. This way, according to them, there is just one continuer, just a single “you”. “No person, no problem”, to quote Joseph Stalin...  I find such an approach deeply disturbing and an example of lazy thinking too. But persons holding this viewpoint are not necessarily evil or stupid, more likely they suffer from self-hatred, a silly liberal middle-class guilt complex, and harbour self-destructive urges. Indeed, some of them refer to their biological body as being inferior, outdated, a “meat bag”, “flesh coffin”, often with an adjective such as “smelly” thrown in for a good measure.  Or maybe they just grasp at philosophical straws.

It would seem a safer option would be gradual replacement of the brain with non-biological parts; the rate of this replacement being no greater than the natural rate of replacement of neuronal structures. Humans are not static files to be cut and pasted.  We are a dynamic collection of running processes that can only be migrated to a new machine with great care.

If you keep repairing the wooded ship of Theseus plank by plank over many years, it will still be the same ship even after most of the original timbers have been replaced.  But if you burn it down and replace it with a steel-hulled freighter fifty times its original tonnage, it will be a different ship.  Even if it carries the same name.

Proponents of destructive uploading, however, point out that there is no radical difference whether the brain is destroyed gradually or instantly.  It had even been jokingly suggested that every time we fall asleep we die, and a “replicant” wakes up in our place in the morning. This is because we are not exactly the same person in the morning – some neurons are dissolved, other neurons are created, some memories have been erased, other memories have been gained via dreams. But since there is nothing we can do about it, there is no need to lose any sleep over it. Madness lies that way.

There is also an argument that if the upload captures 100% of the memories of the original, it is a proof of success. Much emphasis is being placed on this. This, however, is a red herring.

Firstly we are not 100% the same we were a mere second ago, and human memories are far from perfect.  “Uncle, it’s really me!” is ridiculous as a proof the upload worked. Less than 100% precision would be fine as long as nothing is deliberately destroyed, but an upload is done through gradual replacement of naturally dying neurons at a sufficiently low rate of transfer. For example, wherever a micro stroke destroys 0.1% of the brain its function is taken over by a machine. Whether this machine is internal or external to the body is of little importance. More important is that the biological and non-biological parts constitute one single network, like left and right hemispheres of the brain constitute a single mind.

Secondly, our uploads would run on a different computational substrate and should have many abilities that we don’t have: photographic memory, much faster thinking, keeping multiple variables in mind without forgetting their values and interrelatedness. The uploads should be far more intelligent, unless they are deliberately dumbed down to our level. So a 100% match is not even desirable.

There is a school of thought that believes that a mind cannot be separated from the brain and cannot be migrated to the new computational substrate. They believe that when a biological brain dies we die too. I hope this is not the case.  Cells in our bodies, including neurons, get replaced all the time, yet we still remain ourselves. If we thing logically it should not matter if a lost neuron is replaced with another neuron or a digital process running on a network.  It is important that we could upload ourselves. When through progress in medicine and bio-technology we become eternally youthful and virtually immortal, we would still be vulnerable in our soft biological bodies. Even if that body is much upgraded, it is still one single body, not a network with multiple backups.

In the worst case scenario, even if transferring consciousness proves to be futile, there is nothing wrong with uploading our minds for backup purposes. If an accident befalls us, at least we leave behind a digital child who carries our memories and shares our values, but who is far more intelligent and suffers from none of our headaches, depressions, mood swings, irrational panics or petty hates.

We have nothing to fear regarding uploading. By the time it is available, intelligences higher by an order of magnitude would ponder its paradoxes and decide how to implement it safely.

Before the uploading technology becomes a reality we would see such things as: self-driving cars on every road; fully automated manufacturing, agriculture, building construction and maintenance; automatic transportation, medicine and resource management; computers replacing lawyers, teachers, managers and doctors; Universal Citizen’s Dividend and massive retirement of most workforce; eradication of cancer and heart disease, rejuvenation therapies that actually work and are available to the masses and not just the lab mice; brain computer interface, immersive virtual reality à la Matrix, human intelligence augmentation, software expert systems that are so advanced that some would argue they are sentient, robots doing your cooking and laundry. It is even likely that a strong or general AI would emerge by that time.  And it will be these augmented human intelligences, or the strong AI with an IQ measured in billions that will review this philosophical debate regarding at what point does your copy and you become one, or whatever...

The Bible also tells us of similar things, although it doesn’t say when or how, but it does say that the righteous will join G*d in Heaven and they will also get new wonderful, eternal bodies, and lions and lambs will live side by side in perfect peace. It is written that G*d will do this for us. But as we know He usually acts through human agents. We cannot know for sure, but it well may be that His agents are scientists, engineers, programmers and entrepreneurs who are labouring to make His will happen – on Earth as it is in Heaven. So, perhaps there really is no contradiction between science and religion, except in the blinkered minds of zealots on both sides of the artificial divide.

Filed under: futurism, mind uploading, brain computer interface, BFI, longevity, rejuvenation therapy, technological immortality, philosophy, religion