As you read these words, your brain is alive and well, stored inside the protective shell of your skull where it will reside for the rest of your life. I feel the need to point this out because there is a small but vocal population of self-proclaimed “transhumanists” who believe that in their lifetimes, technological advances will enable them to “upload their minds”. of computer systems, thus allowing them to escape the limitations of their biology and effectively “live forever.”
These transhumanists are wrong.
To be fair, not all transhumanists believe in “mind uploading” as a path to immortality, but there is enough chatter about the concept within the community that excitement has spilled over into the general public – more so, that Amazon has a comedy TV series based on the premise called TO UPLOAD. These stories may be entertaining, but the idea that a biological person can extend their life by uploading their mind to a computer system is pure fiction.
The science behind transhumanism
The concept of “mind uploading” is rooted in the very reasonable premise that the human brain, like any system that obeys the laws of physics, can be modeled in software if you devote enough processing power to it. -compute the problem. To be clear, we’re not talking about modeling the human brain in the abstract, but modeling very specific brains – your brain, my brain, your uncle Herbert’s brain – each represented in detail. detail that every single neuron is accurately simulated, including all the complex connections between them.
It would be an understatement to say that modeling a unique, individual human brain is a trivial task.
There are over 85 billion neurons in your head, each with thousands of links to other neurons. In total, there are about 100 trillion connections, which is unfathomably huge – a thousand times more than the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. These are the trillions of connections that make you who you are – your personality, your memories, your fears, your skills, your traits. Your mind is encoded in about 100 trillion connections, and in order to accurately replicate your mind in software, a system must accurately simulate most of those connections down to the most subtle interactions.
Obviously, that level of modeling is not done by hand. People who believe in “mind uploading” envision an automated scanning process, possibly using some kind of supercharged MRI machine, that captures biology up to resolutions close to the level of molecule. They then envisioned using intelligent software to turn that scan into a simulation of every unique brain cell and the thousands of connections with other cells.
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That is a very challenging task, but I cannot deny that it is theoretically possible. If it does happen, it won’t happen in the next 20 years, but much, much longer. And with more time and resources, it’s also not crazy to think that a large number of simulated minds can coexist within a rich and detailed simulation of physical reality. However, the idea that this process will offer anyone reading this article a path to immortality is far from absurd.
As I said above, the idea that a biological person can extend their life by uploading their thoughts is pure fiction. The two key words in that passage are “their lives.” While it is theoretically possible with enough technological advances to replicate and reproduce the exact form and function of a unique human brain within a simulation, the original human is still in their biological body. , their brain is still inside their skull. What is on the computer becomes a copy — a digital doppelgänger.
In other words, you won’t feel like you’ve suddenly transported yourself to a computer. In fact, you can’t feel anything. The brain copying process can happen without your knowledge, while you sleep or relax, and you don’t have the slightest say that a replica of your mind exists within a simulation. And if you find yourself crossing a busy road with a car racing towards you — you jump out of the way, because you will not become immortal.
But what about that version of you inside a simulation?
You might think it’s a digital clone or identical twin, but it really is not be you. It’s a copy of you, including all your memories up until the moment your brain was scanned. But from then on, it creates its own memories. It can interact with other simulated minds in a simulated world, learn new things and have new experiences. Or maybe it interacts with the physical world through robotic interfaces. At the same time, the biological you can create new memories and have new experiences.
In other words, it’s the same for an instant, and then you and the copy diverge in different directions. Your skills will vary. Your knowledge will vary. Your personality will be different. After a few years, there are many differences. Your copy may be very religious while you are agnostic. Your copy may be an environmentalist while you are an oil executive. You and the copy will hold similar personalities, but you are different people.
Yes, the copy of you is a person — but a a different person. That is a critical point, because that copy you need to have its own identity and its own rights that has nothing to do with you. After all, that person feels as real inside their digital mind as you feel inside your biological mind. In fact, that person doesn’t have to be your slave, it has to do the tasks that you are too busy to do in your biological life. Such exploitation would be immoral.
After all, the copy feels like you do – fully entitled to own property and earn its own wages and make its own decisions. In fact, you and the copy probably have an argument over who gets to use your name, because you feel like you’ve both been using it your whole life. If I make a copy of myself, it will wake up and fully believe that it is Louis Barry Rosenberg, a lifelong technologist in the field of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. If it is able to interact with the real world through digital or robotic means, it will believe that it has every right to use the name Louis Barry Rosenberg in the physical world. And it certainly doesn’t feel subservient to the biological version.
In other words, making a digital copy by “mind uploading” has nothing to do with consent you to live forever. Instead, it will only create a competitor who has the same skills and capabilities and memories as the biological version, and who feels equally justified in owning your identity. And yes, the copy feels equally reasonable to marry your spouse and parent your children.
In other words, “mind uploading” is not a path to immortality. This is a path for creating another you who will immediately feel that they are the equal rightful owner of everything you own and everything you have done. And they react exact the road you how would you react if you woke up one day and were told: “I’m sorry, but all the memories of your life are not really yours but copies, therefore your spouse is not really your spouse, your children are not really your children, and the your job it’s really not your job.”
Is this really what anyone wants to subject a copy of yourself to?
A dystopian future
Back in 2008, I wrote a graphic novel called Upgrading which explores the absurdity of mind uploading. It takes place in the 2040’s in a future world where everyone spends most of their lives in the Metaverse, logging in the moment they wake up and logging out the moment they go to sleep. (Incidentally, the fictional reason why society went in this direction is a global pandemic that brought people inside.) What the inhabitants of this future world do not realize is that while they live their lives in Metaverse, they are characterized by AI. systems that observe all their actions and reactions and interactions, capturing every sentiment and emotional response so that it can create a digital model of their mind from a behavioral perspective instead of from molecular scanning.
After 20 years of data collection in this dystopian metaverse, the fictional AI system has perfectly modeled every person in the future society with enough detail that real people are no longer needed. In fact, real people are not very efficient, because we need food and housing and health care. Digital copies don’t require any of that. And so, guess what the fictional AI system decided to do? It convinces all of us biological humans to “upgrade ourselves” by ending our own lives and allowing digital copies to replace us. And we are willing to do this under the mistaken idea that we will be immortal.
That’s what mind uploading means. It means ending humanity and replacing it with digital representation. I wrote Upgrading 14 years ago because I truly believed that we humans would be foolish to go in that direction, ending our biological life in favor of a digital one.
Why is this bad? If you think Big Tech has too much power today – having the ability to track what you do and moderate the information you access – imagine what it would be like if people’s minds were trapped inside systems that they control, can’t get out. That is the future that many are pushing for. Terrible. “Mind uploading” is not the path to immortality that some believe it to be.