2045, that’s the date that some futurists hope we can upload our mind. Uploading your mind to a computer and living eternally in bits and bites might seem like an episode from black mirror, but the possibility that we can upload our brain is a very possible feat in the future. There are plenty of objections and pessimistic critics who think it will never be possible. In this essay we will not only try and show why we think, given the right advancements in science, it can be done but also why researchers should focus on this endeavour. We think the world will be a better place once humanity can upload their consciousness. We hope that you learn more about relevant technological fields by reading this paper and that it makes you think of the societal implications of brain uploading. We will first discuss the necessary advancements, then we will discuss the benefits of mind uploading such as the benefits of digital immortality, hyper intelligence and space exploration. After that we will refute arguments such as the question who gets to be uploaded, legal issues and the issue of the sense of agency.
Before we can discuss the benefits of mind uploading we need to discuss if it is even possible. While there are plenty of pessimists, there are some very convincing arguments which show us that mind uploading might be possible in the future. In the 2015 New York Times article neuroscientist Kenneth miller writes that he doesn’t see any reason to believe that mind uploading wouldn’t be possible in the future. Although his predictions as in when, are very conservative. There are a few important hurdles we need to overcome in the foreseeable future before we can start to think seriously about brain uploading. We will discuss and try to prove the most important aspects in this section. The obstacles are as follows: Computing power, energy consumption, brain understanding and scanning.
Since 1975 we speak of Moore’s law, meaning that every two years the number of transistors on a computer chip is doubled and the price is halved. This would mean that the computing power of our PC’s grows exponentially. However as Moore’s law is not as strict a law as say, Newton’s laws; this exponential growth is coming to an end. To place more transistors on a computer chip they need to keep shrinking in size and we are reaching the limit we can shrink the transistors, because we’re reaching atomic levels. The next few years will prove to be a turning point for computer chip manufacturers. Undoubtedly, researchers will come up with creative new designs. However, there is a big chance that the necessary amount of computing power will come from a new technology. Researchers are already investigating the possibilities of using quantum computers which might be the solution to the problem.
Powering the brain
Another issue is the question of power supply. Computers as we know are very power inefficient. This means that for the future of mind uploading we will have to make advancements in either power generation or power consumption of computers. A new technology which would have a massive impact would be the introduction of nuclear fission. With nuclear fission we could create vast amounts of power using just hydrogen. Another option would be to tackle the power consumption of computers. A human brain only uses 20 watts and is therefore vastly superior to computers with regards to power consumption. In comparison, the computer which beat Jeopardy a few years ago, IBM’s Watson, uses 80kW. According to doctor Bruno Michel, we can learn lessons from the way our brain is built up to increase the power and spatial efficiency of our computers. It’s almost paradoxical to take inspiration from the brain to build a better computer, which will then be used again to upload our brains into a computer.
Then there is the issue of actually scanning. In 2007 researchers from the university of Oxford brought together a group of scientists from various fields related to mind uploading to discuss the feasibility of such an endeavour. Mind uploading is seen as the end game of several sciences and since there are many advancements in various fields of technology necessary before this goal can be reached, it is even seen as presumptuous to try and create a roadmap for a project like this. But as the scientists say, it’s good to do preemptive research to know what’s ahead and to direct the flow of funds to the right projects. As the figure to the left shows this roadmap they’ve created. What’s important to note is that it’s not necessary to understand all the functionality of connected cells. It’s possible that having a complete overview of all low level information of cells is enough to let them run together and therefore make them work.
♫ Who wants to live forever!?
The ability to upload your mind would basically mean immortality. The product of digital duplication of the mind could lead to some kind of virtual afterlife. Even when a person passes away, their mind could potentially live forever on the internet. This means that we would be able to see our loved ones, even after death. And it doesn’t stop with relatives. Remember holographic Tupac? Just imagine the possibilities of this concept with mind uploading techniques. These holographs will literally come to life and legends will never have to die anymore.
Ever since the invention of writing, knowledge of great minds could be preserved and spread out all over the world. But what if we could preserve the great minds themselves? This would not only help us preserve their knowledge, but also their wisdom. Unlike knowledge, wisdom is not something that can be easily captured in writing, but has to be accumulated and learned in a lifetime. Now, if a generation dies, we lose all of their collective wisdom. Mind uploading can help us ensure this wisdom is carried over to the next generation. This has the potential to advance civilization as much as writing did.
Digital brains are likely to compute faster than biological brains. Therefore, the “thought processes” of these digital minds. Since pretty much everything is online these days our AI counterparts will be able to access it and learn with immense speed. Mind uploading can be seen as the ultimate dream of transhumanism, since this creates human level AI’s with flexible autonomous goals, which could potentially evolve into Artificial Superintelligence. A lot of jobs can already be accessed from “the online” too. This means that digital minds can keep working on their jobs, with extra speed, as well as more wisdom that could be acquired in just one lifetime. This would likely result in higher productivity that their human counterparts would ever be able to. What is more, is that we can be at multiple places at once. Since digital data can be copied easily we can have multiple versions of ourselves. This opens up the possibility of having different versions or ourselves, allowing our human capacity to quickly multiply itself. Never again, will conflicting schedules be a problem. On the note “teamwork makes dreamwork”, this could possibly skyrocket human productivity to levels we’ve never seen before.
Using uploaded minds is also proposed as a solution for otherwise impossible interstellar missions. State of the art, traveling to the nearest star would approximately take 100.000 years. This is obviously more than a human’s life-span. To shorten this time to be within a human lifetime, extremely high speed is necessary. However, this is physically impossible, since you’d need more fuel than exists in the known universe. Furthermore, crewed space missions have very high costs to ensure safety and survival of this crew. Sending only the minds of astronauts to space would solve a lot of these problems. A crew of human minds, won’t require air, water, food, medical care and radiation protection. This presents opportunities for a dramatically reduced size and weight of spaceships, which would result in faster traveling times. Mind uploading provides us with the prospect of exploring space without any biological limitations. Therefore, uploading human minds would be extremely beneficial for our quest of space exploration.
Mind uploading sounds all fun and games, but there are some serious moral issues we need to keep in mind if we want to release it into society.
Who gets to be uploaded?
The first moral issue that we need to overcome before we can start uploading ourselves is: Who gets to upload themselves? If uploading isn’t done fair, it can even further the already existing inequalities in society. Graziano, professor of psychology and neuroscience sketches two possible future perspectives concerning the power division. In the first one, it’s the minds in the digital world that will accumulate most power. Compared to the living biological people, the digital minds will have acquired lifetimes of experience. They will have centuries to expand their empires of influence. In this new society biological humans will become the larval stage of humans that aspire to ascend to the immoral elites in the digital world. In the second one, it’s those who control access to the digital world, that are the most powerful. People could just Skype virtual minds that are already in the virtual world and there is nothing more convincing than a personal testimony. In advance of religion, the people controlling this acces, will now have a verified digital heaven as leverage. At this point, the gatekeepers of this digital afterlife might gain more power than we can even imagine.
It’s also proven that machiavellianism, a trait from the dark triad related to psychopathy, is associated with the desire of mind uploading. When the wrong people are in charge of the digital afterlife, instead of a digital heaven it might as well turn into a digital hell. To avoid this digital hell, we need to make sure that mind uploading services do not fall in the wrong hands. It should not be some multinational company, nor a political leader, that controls the afterlife. That would entail that only either the rich, or the followers will be able to gain access to the digital world. We need to make sure that there is a responsible board that decides about uploading humans. A board that is not only justice, but also fair, to avoid existing inequalities to be magnified.
The laws of the singularity
Another dilemma is; who has ownership of these digital copies? Are they their own person? Or are they owned? Or is it the company that makes them? As stated before, it would not be a good idea for big companies to be in charge of all these digital copies. This will not be beneficial for society nor for the digital minds themselves. Technologically, nothing is stopping your digital mind from connecting with the real world. They can call, skype or follow the latest news. They will have a real personality with real memories and real interests. They will want to be part of the world. Maybe they will even want to be their own person. Also, digital dangers are lurking for our digital minds. Can other people just copy them, and acquire their own digital version of you? What if your digital mind is altered by someone else? Is that ok? The question even arises if it would be ok to alter your own digital mind.
Therefore, we need to establish digital rights and safety measures for the digital minds. Just like in the human world, we need law makers to stay on top of making new regulation for the digital world. To figure out what rights our digital minds should have, we need to figure out what exactly consciousness would mean for our digital minds. If they are, in fact, as conscious as we are, the only thing that separates us would be our biological body. If that is indeed the case, they should have the same rights as we do. If we don’t, our digital minds might end up as some kind of toys that are replaceable. And when replaceable, human life might come to be seen as fundamentally less valuable. We should avoid that scenario at all costs. Therefore, rights and safety of our digital minds should be a main priority.
The sense of agency and sensory deprivation
Assuming that our digital minds are as conscious as we are, is it ethical to trap them in a digital environment? The question arises if a computer can provide adequate human sensory input for our digital minds. Sensory deprivation can have gruesome effects on the human mind. They can develop schizophrenia-like symptoms, which are correlated with a changed perception of consciousness. In plain language: going mad. A sense of agency and body-ownership are associated with the sensory and motor areas in the brain. Therefore, without a body, there is a chance that the sense of agency will be heavily disturbed. A disturbed sense of agency is also found in schizophrenia and is characterized by not feeling any control, or the contrary, feeling counterfeit control. Fear of something we have no control over, like confinement, is very common among humans. Imagine being trapped in a digital environment with only your own thoughts. Without any form of body, digital minds might feel like they’re trapped, stuck in the computer, with no way out. In the worst case scenario, they will lose their minds.
Therefore, we need to ward over the mental health of our digital minds. The embodied mind theory is in contrast with most mind uploading theories, since it stresses that embodiment is a necessary and constructive conduction for the existence of a mind and its functions. This might give some insights in the case of misfortune, caused by the absence of a body. If this would be the case, instead of only a digital copy of the mind, we would need a copy of the whole body in order for a mind to be uploaded. We need to know what having a body actually means for us, and if we could potentially change this with a digital one. To solve this problem, we do not only need to know what consciousness means for machines, but also what consciousness means for the human mind itself. Therefore, more research about consciousness is important for the future of mind uploading.
In this article we’ve discussed the complications of mind uploading. Although it might initially sound like some far away sci-fi fantasy, it might be closer than we think. Altough science need to make big steps in the fields of computer hardware, power generation and brain scanning, mind uploading could very well be possible before the turn of the century.
With uploaded minds accessible, loved ones can be visited even after death and great minds, along with their great wisdom, will never have to go to waste. The productivity of our society will significantly increase and we might even unlock super intelligence. Digital minds even have the potential to enrich our space exploration missions.
However, before we can welcome uploaded minds into our world, there are still some things that need to be done. Of course, there are the technical obstacles we need to overcome, but alongside the technical part, there are also some social aspects we need to keep in mind. We can only speculate about the real social consequences of mind uploading, but if the uploaded minds are anything like us – which is exactly what they are supposed to be – we should be able to figure out most things beforehand. For the smooth integration of digital minds in our society, there will need to be laws and rights for whose minds can be uploaded and for the digital minds themselves. To establish these laws and rights, questions about consciousness need to be answered first. We need to figure out what consciousness means for machines, and to do that, we need to know what consciousness means for humans themselves. Ultimately, we’re dealing with human minds. The technical and social parts of mind uploading need to be united. Only then, we can welcome digital minds in our society with open arms.