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    Mind Uploading Into The Computer - 2045

    Scientists believe by 2045 humans will be able to upload their consciousness to computers. (Image: © BrainGate 2, www.braingate2.org)
    Articles explore the concepts underlying mind uploading into virtual reality. Mind uploading is an ongoing interest of active research, bringing together ideas from neuroscience, computer science, engineering, and philosophy.

    Philosophical Issues: What is Life?

    In biology, the definitions of life include characteristics such as reproduction and metabolism. Such a definition may be too narrow for the future, as stranger forms of life are found. Still, where's the line between life and nonlife? If an uploaded person is alive, then what about a robot (not created from a person, but still very intelligent)? What about a supercomputer? A farm tractor? It seems safe to say that the farm tractor is not alive, but that leaves a lot of room for debate. Steven Potter's paper, The Meaning of "Life", presents an excellent overview of the topic from a scientific perspective.

    How are memories stored in the brain? 

    This is one of the great questions of neuroscience, and bioengineering research that nearly converged on an answer. There are two types of memories: (1) Short-term memory (the primary or active memory). Those are memories which last a few minutes or hours -- they can be stored in a variety of ways like in the forms of protein activation and inactivation within the neurons, or simply cycles of neural activity. (2) Long-term memory. Stored by structural changes in neural processes. These changes include the number of branches a neural process makes and the number and efficacy of synapses. Byrne et al. present an excellent overview of brain work documenting these changes in Aplysia (a marine mollusc).

    What is mind uploading?

    Mind uploading is a popular terminology for a process by which the mind, a collection of memories, personality, and attributes or conscious of a specific individual, is transferred from its original biological brain to an artificial computational substrate (electronic chip). Alternative terms for mind uploading have appeared in fiction novels and movies, such as mind transfer, mind downloading, off-loading, side-loading, and several others. They all refer to the same general concept of “transferring” the mind of living entity.

    The human brain is made up of billions of nerve cells connected by trillions of synapses. Together, they encode information, such as personality and memory. Scientists at Harvard’s Center for Brain Science have developed a technique called “Brainbow” to map this circuitry in exquisite detail. The cerebral cortex, at the top of this image, stores memory and controls conscious activity, such as motor skills and vision. By making a 3-D dataset of high-resolution images, scientists can trace the brain cells to reveal connections. Livet, Weissman, Sanes, and Lichtman/Harvard University

    Proposed Uploading Procedures 
    • Microtome Procedure 
    • Nanoreplacement Procedure 
    • Moravec Procedure 
    • Nondestructive Procedures
    (1) Nanoreplacement Procedure: In this proposal, billions of microscopic machines are injected into the brain, where they take up residence in or near the neurons. Each machine monitors the input/output activity of its neuron, until it is able to predict perfectly how the neuron will respond. At that point, it kills the neuron and takes its place. This proposal sounds good -- in some ways, simpler than the microtome procedure. But the machines would probably have trouble with the sheer size of neurons and their connections.

    A neuron may have inputs many millimeters away and may have outputs connections as long as a meter. How could a tiny machine (smaller than a cell) monitor all those inputs, or reach all those output sites? It would have to be capable of growing as large as the neuron itself and in the same shape. Proponents of nanotechnology sometimes claim that almost anything is possible. Let's suffice to say that it's not clear how this would be accomplished, for now at least.

    (2) Uploading by the Microtome Procedure: The proposal which requires the least advancement of technology goes like this: the patient's brain (possibly entire head) is made solid, either by perfusing with (for example) paraffin or by freezing to liquid nitrogen temperatures. Next, the brain is cut into very thin slices. Each slice is scanned by a computer using very high-resolution instruments (e.g., the electron microscope). The computer uses this data to reconstruct the patient's brain circuitry in an artificial substrate (probably dedicated brain-simulating hardware). The simulation is activated, and the patient finds herself or himself in a shiny new body. This procedure requires relatively modest extensions of current technology.

    Anatomical reconstruction from serial sections has been done for many years. Currently, only a very tiny piece of tissue can be scanned in this way at the resolution needed for circuit reconstruction, and the process is both slow and labor-intensive. Researchers are currently working to automate the process, increase the speed, and increase the sample size. Eventually, these developments should permit the scanning of an entire brain -- but there's still a long way to go to that point (unless, of course, someone starts pouring lots of money into development). As a word of caution, it may not be enough to capture just the structure of the neurons and connections; functionally relevant information is undoubtedly contained in, for example, the ratios of chemicals in the synapses and the distribution of ion channels in the cell membrane. Staining techniques will probably permit all relevant variables to be read during the scan, but it's something to keep in mind.

    (3) Uploading by the Moravec Procedure: Hans Moravec proposed a different procedure. A robot surgeon is equipped with a manipulator that branches into ever-finer branches until at the ends, he has billions of nanometer-scale sensitive fingers. The patient sits comfortably (though presumably with his head locked in place) and awake, while the surgeon puts its manipulator in the patient's head. The tiny fingers on the manipulator start peeling away cells, exposing the brain, but closing blood vessels and such so that it doesn't get too messy. With electrical and chemical sensors on the fingertips, it monitors the activity of all the exposed brain cells. When the robot's computer has figured out what they're all doing, it configures a simulation to reproduce their activity. It then removes those cells, and (through the magic nanofingers again) connects the remaining brain tissue to the simulation. Layer by layer, it proceeds in this manner until the patient's head is empty and it's all simulation. Neat idea, but the complications here boggle the mind.

    (4) Nondestructive Uploading Procedures: Most proposed mind uploading procedures destroy the brain in the process -- slice by slice, layer by layer, or neuron by neuron. Such procedures suffer from two drawbacks: you only get one chance at the process, so if it fails you will be lost forever; and you can't make a "backup" copy of your brain while still in biological form. Nondestructive techniques would avoid both of these problems; these procedures somehow manage to scan the brain in its active, biological form without destroying it. (Actually, some techniques would require an inactive brain, but still not damage it; these avoid the first problem but not the second.) A variety of nondestructive techniques have been proposed: 
    • Gamma-Ray Holography, which uses a coherent gamma-ray source to produce a three-dimensional recording of the brain structure with near-atomic resolution. The resulting information would then be interpreted by a computer to produce a functional reconstruction. 
    • X-Ray Holography, which works in a similar manner but with different complications. X-Ray lasers are very difficult to produce even in theory (much more so than gamma-ray lasers); these proposals require more exotic means of producing coherent X-rays. Unfortunately, both gamma rays and X-rays would have about 100 times the energy needed to vaporize whatever they hit, so this is not likely to be as nondestructive as it sounds. 
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), a technique that uses a steep magnetic field gradient to cause atoms (usually hydrogen) in the brain to emit radio waves, which are collected and analyzed to produce a three-dimensional map of the distribution of those atoms. Currently MRI is used on live human subjects with a resolution of about 1 mm. Magnet technology will probably never permit sufficient resolution using protons. However, it has been suggested that Helium-3 would diffuse rapidly into cells and permit resolution sufficient for uploading. Also, MRI may be used in serial sections with great resolution (but that would not be a nondestructive technology). 
    • Biphoton Interferometry, like holography, takes advantage of photon interference to recover information about the sample. It was suggested that the resolution does not depend upon the wavelength of light used. This is almost true in astronomy, where milliarcsecond resolution corresponds to several parsecs because the objects being imaged are so far away. In the brain, however, you want to resolve objects much smaller than that, and the wavelength does matter. The position uncertainty is the wavelength of your probe, and to get the resolution we require, we'd be right back to X-ray or gamma-rays, as above. 
    • Correlation mapping, in which roughly 10^12 nanoscale probes are injected into the cerebrospinal fluid; each takes up residence in a random neuron and monitors its activity. At regular intervals, the probe secretes a chemical binary code which encodes the probe's serial number and the current state of its host cell. These codes are collected over an extended period of time, and the correlations between cell states are used to infer the functional connectivity of the brain. This is a very intriguing proposal but needs more study to see whether it could actually work. 
    Why Humanity Needs It 

    Human evolution has been directed by the environmental conditions of Earth. As human beings, we need essential things from our environment to live such as breathable air, food and water, Earth-normal gravity and Earth-normal atmospheric pressure. These are things that all biological humans need to survive. However, if humanity merges with machines, our biological needs will become less relevant. If human beings are no longer biological creatures, and instead have minds with emulated brains residing in an artificial substrate, what does this mean for our environmental essentials for survival? With the emergence of a human society that contains brain emulation on the horizon, a change in the definition of an "essential ecosystem for humans" is inevitable.
    Robots shall inherit the Earth; and they shall be Us
    The Brain Emulation continues to gain traction in research and development. Whether it be in the advancements in neural prostheses, more precise connectomic mapping, or strictly in artificial intelligence; more effort is being focused on engineering research instead of solely philosophical debates. If this trend continues, there will be a point where the first facility is established to conduct official testing of human brain emulation. After that, the first successful emulation will be made marking the day where human evolution takes another giant leap forward. It is easy, and exciting, to let one’s mind imagine all the possibilities for whole brain emulation advancements and what that could mean for divergent evolutionary paths.

    However, it helps one’s realistic perspective and guides one's foresight to have a sensible projection of what a substrate independent mind will be on a physical level in regards to aspects such as material, size, limitations, and it’s responsibility to sustain the mind of it’s emulated, human host. This article will theorize what the first substrate-independent mind might physically look like and what its limitations will be. Undeniably, the first case of a successful emulated human mind will have a huge impact on the world and make its mark in our history books. It will also likely be far less sudden and unexpected than we might tend to imagine. Building an emulation is best done in stages. For example, treating each section of the brain as separate emulation projects would be easier to focus on than tackling the entire brain at once.

    There will be successful emulations of sections of the brain before they can operate as one complete operating substrate. Even emulating a handful of neurons at biophysical precision is a daunting task and every group of neurons in the brain have their own unique operations. Furthermore, emulating animal brains will come before a human emulation. Progress will be marked by emulations of animal brains with increasing cognitive complexity. This is why subjects such as the fruit fly drosophila and the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans are prime initial emulation subjects. It will also be a massive cooperation effort. Teams from all over the world are already working on various research and development projects that ultimately help get us to whole brain emulation.
    If I upload my brain to a computer, would it really be me or a copy of me?
    The more cooperation, the better. Progress toward the first successful human emulation will be very gradual. Therefore, when the day comes to witness the first successful human emulation it will be more like a sigh of relief for all the hard work rather than some grander surprise. So, what does this first successful emulation look like physically? Some things to consider are the similarities to a modern day computer and what that includes. The default consensus is that the structure of the substrate is built with similar features of a modern day computer. Now, this might seem redundant to note as it is obvious to anyone familiar with the concept of mind uploading, but it really is important to keep this in mind: that a new type of computer is really all that it is. Nothing about the substrate, to enable the emulated mind, should be any concept too foreign to wrap one's head around.

    So, given that the information of a person's mind is huge (big data) the substrate may have a large size compared to that of modern day computers. There are other possible outcomes of what computing capabilities will be like in the future by the time that whole brain emulation is realized. The size of the computer required to store all the data necessary for an emulated brain may be very small. It is hard to predict what computer sizes will be like based on how much information they can hold. It could also likely need a huge power source depending on how the methods for power consumption has advanced for computing. It will likely be made of circuits housed in silicon surrounded by wires, power supplies, cooling devices, and encased in a well-sealed metal containment.

    Imagine the size of the first computers in the 1970s. It may be realistic to project that the first successful emulation substrate could be the size of several rooms when considering that if the substrate were built today, it would need this much space. In the facility in which this substrate will be, it will likely be monitored and maintained around the clock by scientists and engineers. The facility would have a security team, well regulated temperature and humidity controls for the environment, be a high level cleanroom and likely be located in an area with a high concentration of engineering organizations (like Silicon Valley).

    How can we know when a test is successful? 

    There is also the question of how we test the success of an emulated mind. Imagine how the scenario will be when the first successful whole brain emulation is observed. The immediate imagined scenario that plays in my head is this: The donated patient's brain is fully scanned, the room-sized substrate has been built, the lead scientist presses the button to download the code that constructs the patient's mind simulation program in the hardware of the substrate; once the download is complete, the scientist says to the mind, "Mr. Smith, can you hear me?" A few seconds later, there is text written on the scientist's screen that says, "Yes." This may be far from what will take place when the first successful emulation is observed, but it tries to remain within a reasonable and somewhat likely portrayal of how the event will unfold.

    It is not unreasonable to project that the emulated mind will have to provide the observers with feedback that communicates a level of cognition similar to the levels of cognition of the host patient prior to the scanning of the original organic brain. Assuming that the patient's original mind now operates within the substrate, that patient would likely need to willingly give feedback to the observing scientists to provide as much data as possible that this is indeed a successful emulation. The task of recognizing some level of distinguishable personality will be limited by the capabilities of the substrate. This may be limited by the ability to recognize the unique personality of a patient by the physical features of their original body (such as facial expressions, mannerisms, and tone of voice), given that their mind now resides in a room-size box-shape computer.

    As a proposition, maybe a voice producing device with code capable of replicating voice patterns unique to an individual may provide a means for the scientists to observe some level of recognizable personality that is unique to that of the emulated patient. There is also the possibility that the lifespan of the first emulated mind will be very short, perhaps even only a few seconds. This could be an acceptable risk for patients volunteering to undergo the first emulation procedure with the understanding that this procedure is also testing many aspects of sustainability. It would still be a monumental accomplishment in whole brain emulation, even if the patient’s emulation was sustained for only a short time.

    The bare environmental essentials for an emulated society 

    Traditional human beings with animal bodies may be fragile and vulnerable compared to persons with emulated brains that store secure backups; yet even a world of digital people needs essential resources from the environment to survive. In comparing an emulated person residing in an artificial substrate to a software program on a computer, it could be rationally claimed that emulated people need electricity, hardware fabrication materials, and atmospheric pressures less than those that would crush a computer chip, and with temperatures lower than that whose which would melt a computer chip. Technology can be developed to protect these "chip people" to an extent; yet this will require more fabrication material and power.

    Taking a broader perspective, the essentials for a society of "chip people" to survive can be analogous to the essentials for a network of computers to collaborate and persist over spans of time greater than the time since the first gargantuan computers (e.g. Colossus in 1943) to today. Obviously,  persons with emulated brains will want to communicate with each other to some degree. Assuming that there is still individual consciousness in this hypothetical world, rather than a single massive hive mind with no separable identities, emulated persons will likely benefit from collaboration with one another to keep their emulated brains in top shape and without decay.

    Scientists wearing AR Hololens Access Brain Information and Upload it to the Cloud. Neuronal Data shows on Hologram. Concept of: Brain Hacking, Brain digitalization, Brain Upload, Mind Upload. (Stock Photo)
    Communication may be important if emulated persons will be responsible for helping biological persons to join the emulated population. An emulated ecology may need to be able to support communication between distinguishable emulated minds if communication results in some needed collaboration effort. Electricity and signal transmission are essential. Comparing the bare essentials for the survival and thriving of a society based on humans with emulated brains  with those for biological human societies, it is clear that environmental limitations imposed on biological humans are far more restrictive than those imposed on humans with emulated brains..

    An evolutionary divergence

    It is clear that a list of bare essential ecological conditions are needed to sustain a society of people with emulated brains. The complete list of essentials for a given people with emulated brains, however, depends on the societal organizational structure defined by new path of evolutionary pressures a given group has taken. Perhaps, an emulated society has become totally digital versions of their minds. They exist in virtual environments and minimally influencing the physical world around their artificial substrates housing their minds. This kind of ecology might have minimal reasons to construct ways to control the natural environmental processes, whether that be a future Earth environment, the vacuum of space, or another planet. Their main ecological concern would be the conditions necessary to sustain their substrates.

    Alternatively, an emulated society may have kept their abilities to interact with the physical world freely by housing their emulated consciousnesses in engineered bodies with sensory inputs, robotic limbs, and mobility. Such a society of "mechanical people" would likely have additional ecological concerns compared to the example society of completely digital people living in virtual worlds. The environmentally influencing people would need ecological conditions capable of sustaining an infrastructure and the means to sustain their mechanical engineered bodies. These examples of future emulated societies are only two out of infinite possible outcomes for what human beings will become in the future.

    During 2019 Winter Workshop Event, Dr. Ken Hayworth and Dr. Randal Koene discuss several possible outcomes for human evolution divergent paths with the introduction to realized Whole Brain Emulation. It is likely that many possible paths for humanity to take will happen at the same time, like a second Cambrian explosion of evolution. The likely groups of post-emulation societies could range from groups of pure biological humans avoiding emulation, to groups of humans who discarded their individual consciousnesses to merge with other emulated humans to become one massive singular consciousnesses.

    It is not illogical to predict some kind of conflicting living standards among the post-emulation human groups. While the mechanical individuals may want electricity for equipment to build roads, the singular mind might rather use the electricity resources to expand it's computing power. In any case, the future, and the vastness of the universe, could likely hold several different emulated societal ecosystems coexisting around each other.

    How about biological existence in a world with uploading?

    There is a possibility that the emulated societies of the future will live alongside other human beings still catering to their biological way of life. A continuing population of biological human beings may persist for a variety of reasons. An important reason is a free choice or preference. It is also possible that this situation might exist for some period of time due to delays in the availability of whole brain emulation technology, depending on factors such as local regulations, financial accessibility, or dissemination of knowledge, though we would hope that such imbalances would be minimized as much as possible in the process of the widespread introduction of the technology. Still, the emulated society will not let their advancements be held back by any restrictions that may be affected by the group of non-emulated peoples.

    In some ways, biological human populations may find themselves at a disadvantage compared with their uploaded kin, even if uploaded society is more than happy to engage with, entertain and support their biological cousins. For instance, emulated people do not need to spend time and resources to produce food and water, they do not need breathable air, and they can survive in the vacuum of space. The group of biological humans remaining will still need to be concerned about these ecological essentials, in regards to sustainability, if they rely on their continuation to support these essentials. People with emulated brains will still need to acquire resources that are essential for their survival, such as energy and construction materials.

    In a practical outcome, the emulated society would develop methods for resource gathering that does not conflict with groups with fewer advantages. For instance, resources of materials can be gathered from asteroid mining and energy from solar arrays as opposed to destructive methods that would cause harm to the Earth’s environment. In his comment on the ecology for mind uploading, Joe Strout mentions the future possibility of emulated people maintaining habitable environments for people who are still biological. With the technological aid of the emulated group, containment structures for environments with ecological essentials that biological humans need such as air, food and water, Earth-like gravity and atmospheric pressure, would allow the remaining biological human race to keep on living in the scenario of the Earth becoming otherwise inhabitable by overheating or contamination..

    From projection to construction 

    A successful first emulation will likely be done with a substrate that is crude, experimental, expensive, highly monitored, fragile, and assembled with computer components that are familiar to what is manufactured today. It will also likely have a large spatial volume and high power consumption (assuming that computing capabilities at the time when whole brain emulation is realized is similar to that of today). While a completed successful first emulation on a substrate independent mind is a theory based on reason, it serves as a blueprint to fill in the gaps.

    While research and development is absolutely essential for real progress toward a working emulation, theory and philosophy provide goals and milestones to aim to reach. Keeping in mind that the first successful emulation will not be surprising, epic, or pandemonium-inducing, can help encourage those working to realize the first successful emulation without anxiety or hesitation. As with every scientific breakthrough in human history, whole brain emulation will just happen, and it will be normal.

    Currently we can scan a section of tissue about 2 micrometers thick by electron microscope tomography. The largest sample area that could be imaged is about 1 square millimeter. Neuroscience is making steady progress at understanding how real neurons perform mental functions. Software for automatically interpreting the micrographs is still primitive, but getting better. Computing capacity is sufficient for our scanning technology; the largest storage devices currently measure in the terabytes (i.e. millions of megabytes).

    In manufacturing technology, researchers are starting to experiment with three-dimensional techniques that might eventually lead to neurocomputer fabrication (see, for example, Curtis 1993). Although the technology required to implement mind uploading lies (at least) many decades away, many facets of the problem can be addressed more immediately. Some of the work described below requires expensive lab equipment, but much of it can be done with modest resources.

    Most of the work in mind uploading, like that in nanotechnology, must currently be in the realm of theoretical applied science, because we do not yet have the means to physically produce the relevant devices. To make progress, then, we must attempt to show that uploading could in theory be accomplished by this or that process. Though we cannot test these proposals by carrying them out, we can (and must) put them to trial against the current body of knowledge in physics, chemistry, biology, and neuroscience. Where gaps in our knowledge force assumptions to be made (which is especially likely with regard to neuroscience), these assumptions should be made explicit so that the weakness of the theory is known.

    Scanner Technology 

    Most uploading proposals assume that the detailed morpholgy of neural tissue will need to be determined as an integral part of the procedure. No current technology can achieve both the resolution and sample size needed for the task. The requirements seem to include resolution in the 1-10 nm range, and large sample size (both area and thickness) to reduce the amount of tissue slicing and handling that is required. With thick slices, it is necessary to have good depth resolution as well. A scanner with a very narrow depth of field can effectively "section" a sample into slices optically rather than physically. Electron microscopy (EM) offers adequate resolution, though the samples must be both small and very thin. Work is underway to increase these bounds, using high-voltage EM to increase sample penetration, tomography or optical sectioning to make effective use of greater thickness, and mosaics to increase the imaged area.

    These developments are well justified. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, also called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) can achieve roughly 1 mm resolution in an intact human brain -- a valuable achievement for neuroscience and medicine, but orders of magnitude lower than the resolution that uploading requires. The resolution of MRI is determined mostly by the steepness of a magnetic field gradient which is generated in the sample; when extended across the breadth of the head, sufficiently steep gradients appear impossible. However, much steeper gradients can be achieved over short distances; researchers routinely obtain 0.05 mm resolution in live rats.

    It may be that a properly built scanner could achive the desired resolution in brain slices which would be thin compared to normal MRI fare, but still large compared to EM slices. For example, the ability to image 1 mm slices with 10 nm resolution would surpass EM by several orders of magnitude. If this thickness could be increased to several millimeters, and the area extended to 0.01 m^2, then processing the brain tissue would become relatively straightforward. Other techniques have various drawbacks. Light microscopy is limited by the wavelength of light to a resolution which is probably insufficient for uploading. Acoustic imaging suffers worse resolution still.

    Image Processing 

    If uploading is accomplished through the microtome procedure, a major requirement will be the automated processing of images of the tissue. Major structures -- e.g., mitochondria, nucleus and nucleolus, vescicles, synapses, and so on -- will have to be identified and any relevant measurements taken. The raw data will probably look like [images no longer available] these electron micrographs. Sophisticated recognition algorithms are needed to accomplish this. [Note: If anyone is interested in doing a project in this area, I can supply some digital electron microscope images of neural tissue.] A related problem occurs with establishing 3-D structure from 2-D information. Several approaches currently exist (e.g., EM tomography), but researchers still trace structures of interest by hand, so that the computer can align the data for the reconstruction. This could be automated though a combination of image recognition and signal processing algorithms. Such automation is vital if a significant amount of neural tissue is to be scanned in a reasonable amount of time.

    Neural Networks 

    Neural networks, as the term is commonly used, refers to the study of artificial systems of neuron-like processing elements. Networks of these simple devices have been shown to exhibit a variety of robust behaviors, including some which are notoriously difficult for conventional computers (e.g., vision, learning from examples, etc.). They offer support for the idea that there doesn't need to be anything magical about individual neurons; it's their interaction that gives rise to complex processes like the mind. As to whether an upload will be implemented as a neural network, the answer is "no" if you mean the type that's typically studied today. These are too simplistic to easily replicate real neural circuits. However, there is a growing number of neuroscientists working with more realistic biological neural models (see, for example, the Computational Neuroscience Class Library).

    These will probably lead (eventually) to functional duplication of brain circuitry. Research in neural networks continues to advance at an ever-increasing rate, and all such studies help answer important questions in neuroscience and simulation. Of particular importance to mind uploading, however, are the more biologically detailed simulations. An area ripe for research is the complete simulation of small nervous circuits or systems. For example, the nematode C. elegans has on the order of 100 neurons in its nervous system, all of which have been identified and characterized. The medicinal leech has about two orders of magnitude more, but there is a great deal of repetition among its body segments. Detailed physiological and modeling studies of such simple nervous systems will be invaluable in determining which physical characteristics are functionally relevant. It seems extremely likely that the first creature uploaded will be one of these invertibrates.


    The research in the previous section ranges from computer science to neuroscience (and indeed is often referred to as computational neuroscience), but a great deal of research remains to be done in physiological and anatomial neuroscience as well. For example, the mechanisms of learning are only starting to become clear, and little is known about the molecular biology of these processes. Without an accurate model of long-term neural plasticity, uploads will be fixed in an anterograde amnesic state, unable to aquire new memories or skills. Other important questions include the relationships between hormones and neural function, sensory input and motor output, and so on.

    Computer Science & Engineering 

    Today's computers do not even begin to achieve the capacity and processing power needed to implement an uploaded brain. A more detailed discussion of the hardware side of uploading appears in the next. Much debate has been generated recently over what sort of hardware will be required to support an uploaded person. Will any (Turing-machine equivalent) computer do, or are specialized devices necessary? The issue is more important than it may first appear, because it places constraints on the conditions under which uploaded people may operate. For example, Moravec has proposed that uploads may be able to function in computers constructed on the surface of neutron stars, and other exotic environments; clearly, if the mind requires certain properties in its supporting hardware, then many such scenarios become impossible.

    The "strong" uploading position is that the mind is simply an information processor, equivalent to a Turing machine in principle (though highly parallel). If this is true, then any computer with sufficient speed and capacity can implement the mind of an uploaded person. Of course, the speed and capacity of current hardware is far below what is required, and typically more exotic components (optical or molecular) are imagined. Nonetheless, in principle even a personal computer (or a Turing machine made of tissue paper!) could support an upload if it is given sufficient storage capacity, and if one is sufficiently patient. The "weak" uploader asserts merely that the mind can be supported by an aritificial device, but makes no assertions about the nature of that device. It may, for example, require quantum interactions and nonlocal effects which cannot be implemented in a Turing-equivalent machine.

    The device may have to be geometrically similar to a real brain, or have components which respond to magnetic fields, or whatever. Robert Ettinger gives a commentary on this issue in which he argues that such nonsymbolic processes are necessary for generating our subjective consciousness. In either case, no one actually supposes that an upload would be implemented on anything resembling today's computers. The speed and storage capacity required are simply too vast. Some developments which may prove relevant include:

    • Protein-Based Computers. Recent work with bacteriorhodopsin, a light-sensitive bacterial protein, has been applied to optical data storage and computing. Cubes of material can theoretically store nearly 100 trillion bits per cubic centimeter (compared to about 100 million bits per cm^2 in two-dimensional media). Furthermore, this data can be read, written, and acted on in a highly parallel manner. For an excellent introduction, see the recent Scientific American article (Birge 1995). 
    • Nanocomputers. In Nanosystems, Drexler describes the molecular equivalent of simple mechanical computers, with switches implemented by interacting rods and knobs. With conservative assumptions, he estimates a switch density of roughly 15 trillion switches per cubic centimeter in a CPU with a 1 GHz clock speed, processing about a billion instructions per second (1000 MIPS). 
    • Optical Computers. Certain materials change their optical properties based on the light passing through them; that is, light changes the way they affect light. This allows us to build optical equivalents of transistors, the basic component of computers. In principle, an optical computer might be smaller and faster than an electronic one. But the chief advantage is that such a computer can pass signals through each other without interference, allowing for much higher component density. 
    • Quantum Computers. In late 1993, Seth Lloyd described a general design for a quantum computer which could, in principle, actually be built. The computer consists of a cellular automaton-like array composed of quantum dots, nuclear spins, localized electronic states in a polymer, or any other multistate quantum system which interacts with its neighbors. The units are switched from one state to another by pulses of coherent light, and read in an analogous manner. Lloyd has shown that such a computer could perform both as a parallel digital computer, and as a quantum computer in which (for example) bits can be placed in a superposition of 0 and 1 states. Technical difficulties in building such a computer include finding systems with long-lived localized quantum states, and delivering accurate pulses of light. Recent developments have been bringing quantum computers ever closer to reality; see Science Magazine articles on Quantum Computing.
    Brain Enhancements
    Once the brain is in an artificial form, it will be much easier to modify it. Assuming a good understanding of our neural circuitry, a number of enhancements and deletions will be possible. These will strain the definition of "human." At a minimum, it is probably best to prohibit modifying other people's brains without their fully informed consent. It may also be worthwhile to restrict certain types of modifications. Some of the changes which have been discussed follow.
    • Enhancements: Brain enhancements include added or extended senses (e.g., seeing ultraviolet light); increased working memory capacity; mental calculator or database; language modules, which allow you to speak and understand many languages; and telepathy. Some people may want to go further and more fully integrate their minds with computers, changing their very thought processes.
    • Deletions: Some people may want to remove instincts which are no longer "needed." These could include food, sex, anger/violence, fear, and so on. Some may even try to remove all emotion. Although it may (or may not) be true that these no longer serve a logical purpose in an uploaded person, they are certainly an integral part of what we now understand "humanity" to be.
    • Memory Alterations: If mechanisms of human memory are well understood, it may be possible to manipulate our memories almost as easily as we manipulate disk files. This includes procedural memory -- for example, the ability to drive a car -- and episodic memory, such as your skiing trip last December. Memories could be deleted, added, or swapped between persons. (Note that this complicates the personal identity issue even further, but not beyond what fuzzy logic can handle: if I take some of Jane's memories, then I become a little bit Jane, but still mostly me.) Like the other mind alterations, these are powerful tools that need to be used very carefully.
    • Mind Probing: A spin-off of memory technology would be a device which can search a person's memories for knowledge related to a specific event. This could be use to establish guilt or innocence of a crime, for example. However, if there are memory-altering techniques as well, then mind-probing would no longer be conclusive. Also, mind probing has frequently been treated in a discussion as an invasion of privacy -- or is it just a sophisticated polygraph test?

    Artificial Reality 

    Most people seem to assume that if you've scanned someone's mind into a computer, the natural thing to do is make an environment in the computer for the patient to live in. Though this is sometimes called "virtual reality," I prefer to use "artificial reality" to avoid confusion with the current generation of immersion-interface for us biological (non-uploaded) folks. Artificial realities would probably come in varying degrees of realism -- to duplicate the patient's familiar world, you'd have to calculate wind currents, light reflections, gravity, friction, and so on, as well as the effect all of these have on the senses. Then you'd have to interpret activity in the motor neurons of the simulated nervous system, to update the patient's simulated body position.

    These will be difficult, and will never perfectly match the real world, but it is reasonable to suppose that algorithmic shortcuts will be found which generate results that are "good enough". Artificial reality would have the advantage of being able to shape the laws of physics to the programmer's whim, allowing, for example, magic spells or anti-gravity devices. However, there would be a risk of people getting addicted to direct brain stimulation, or simply getting lost in some virtual game and losing touch with reality.

    Artificial Bodies 

    The alternative to artificial reality is to build a mechanical body which carries the brain simulator around, just as our bodies carry around our brains now. The body would need to duplicate the senses and motor functions of a real human body if we want to minimize the patient's adjustment. Artificial bodies would no doubt be crude at first, with numbed senses and clumsy muscles, but if demand is high, technology is sure to improve. Rather than clunky metal robots such as the famous "C-3P0" of Star Wars fame, artificial bodies will probably be made of smart polymers, ceramics, and other advanced materials. Note that as artificial bodies will probably run on some sort of fuel cell or nuclear power source, eating will no longer be necessary. However, a properly designed body may still allow for the act of eating, for the pleasure of it. The same goes for other bodily functions (e.g., sex) -- if there is a demand for it, then artificial (or simulated) bodies will no doubt be capable of it.

    Should Duplication Be Permitted? 

    Once the mind has been transferred to an artificial substrate like a computer, it would be relatively trivial to make two, three, or dozens of simultaneously active copies of a person. Don't have enough time to run all your errands? Bifurcate and divide your work! But what happens when your work is done -- who gets to come home to your spouse? Maybe your spouse will duplicate too, and then the lot of you can fight over the house. I won't go on; the social problems are obvious. Similar complications arise in the legal arena. It may be worth considering a law prohibiting multiple active copies of the same person (where "same" is defined as anyone sharing any history). People would still be allowed to make backup copies of their brain information, to be activated in case of an accident. But to purposely duplicate yourself would be prohibited. An exception might be made for duplicates in separate star systems; assuming that no faster-than-light communication system is discovered, then the separation between the stars might be great enough to prevent serious problems. This is a difficult issue which involves personal liberty and social stability. More discussion would be welcome.

    Teleportation & Traveling 

    Travelers on a long journey will probably be able to go at the speed of light. That is, the information in their brains will be read out, transmitted by a very high-bandwidth communications device to the destination, where they are installed into a new body or artificial reality. If the read-out and read-in process takes many hours, it will not be a practical means of travel on Earth, but it would be a vast improvement over rockets for traveling the solar system. Trips to other stars would still take years -- but still, it beats flying. A number of specialized businesses would arise if mind uploading is developed. Body manufacturing, sales, and rental would be a large industry (larger than the automotive industry today). Backup services will probably be popular; such a business would back up your most valuable data, your brain, in some disaster-proof set of vaults. Brain modifications, as permitted, will make a lucrative new business, as will artificial-reality programming

    Population & Demographics 

    If people live a two-stage life cycle (i.e., live and have children in biological form, then upload as the body starts to fail), then uploading will not slow the growth of Earth's population. In fact, it will probably accelerate it. However, artificial bodies may be built which are adapted to other environments. They could live comfortably on the surface of the moon or in unpressurized orbiting habitats without protection. It will probably be uploaded pioneers who colonize the solar system, and eventually other stars, returning to Earth for the occasional visit. As population continues to grow, more and more people may choose to live in artificial realities, which can be much roomier on the inside than on the outside. One can imagine a great orbiting computer, a cubic kilometer of circuitry, housing billions of uploaded people in relative comfort. Or, perhaps, people will live instead in a great network of smaller computers, transferring themselves from one to another just as we send email around the Internet today.

    Escaping the Iron Grip 

    Death has been called "the great equalizer," forcing a redistribution of wealth from even the greatest billionaire. One objection to any form of immortality is that this redistribution is no longer guaranteed to occur. Powerful people could remain in power indefinitely. One answer to this is the idea of a "positive-sum society." In such a society, resources are increasing rather than limited. This means that everyone can increase in wealth; an increase by one person does not mean a decrease by another. Even if one person is tying up wealth, others can still improve their condition. Escaping the grip of powerful people is more difficult to answer. If the population is expanding (into the solar system, or to other stars), there will probably always be a colony to which one could flee. But probably the best defense against despotism is a good, stable government which prevents dictators from forming. Such a government has never been known to last more than a few centuries, but it may be very needed in the future.

    Policy of Artificial Realities 

    Artificial realities present a host of policy issues. First, will citizenship (or even the rights of humans) be granted to those living in a computer simulation, with no physical bodies? It seems obvious that it should, but it will be a big step for governments to take. Another possibility is that the government may actually require some patients to enter an artificial reality under some circumstances. For example, patients who cannot afford the uploading procedure may be uploaded by the government into artificial realities, which will no doubt be cheaper on the large scale than manufactured bodies. Another possibility would be to upload convicted criminals into a "prison box" -- an artificial reality safely insulated from the rest of society. Finally, artificial reality pose a real threat of abuse. A programmer of such a system would have nearly godlike power over its inhabitants, and "god syndromes" would be a chilling possibility. To prevent the abuse of uploaded people, careful safeguards will have to be put into place.

    Below is a brief summary of key events in science and technology in the last century:
    • 1830s: Charles Babbage develops the principles of the mechanical computer
    • 1847: rotary printing press invented
    • 1858-9: theory of evolution put forward by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace
    • 1857-66: first transatlantic telegraph cable laid
    • 1867: typewriter invented (with QWERTY keyboard)
    • 1876: telephone patented
    • 1879: first practical light bulb
    • 1903: first sustained flight by a power driven aircraft (Wright bros.)
    • 1904: first "electronic valve"
    • 1915: Einstein's general theory of relativity
    • 1921: teleprinter invented
    • 1944: IBM produced a mechanical calculating machine
    • 1945: first nuclear bombs made and tested
    • 1948: transistor invented
    • 1950s: magnetic recording developed
    • 1953: structure of DNA determined
    • 1955: computers enter into commercial use, and common by 1960
    • 1956: nuclear power on an industrial scale
    • 1957: Sputnik I launched
    • 1966: first heart transplant
    • 1960s: integrated circuits developed
    • 1969: first Moon landing, Apollo 11
    • 1970s-80s: Innovation in solid state electronics led to an information boom as personal computers, fax machines, and satellite communication systems became internationally accessible
    Singularity is loading for the year....2045


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