The Prerequisites for Transferring Your Mind to a Computer: A Comprehensive Guide

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Envision the future, where advancements in brain scanning technology allow us to intricately observe the communication between individual neurons. Now, picture the ability to capture and record this wealth of information, constructing a computer-based simulation of someone’s entire brain.

This forms the foundation of mind uploading – a visionary concept suggesting the potential transition of an individual from their biological body to synthetic hardware.

Originating in the intellectual movement of transhumanism, the concept has garnered support from influential figures such as computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, philosopher Nick Bostrom, and neuroscientist Randal Koene.

At the core of transhumanist aspirations is the desire to transcend the limitations of the human condition through advancements in science and technology. The proponents of mind uploading envision the possibility of extending human lifespans as desired, although not necessarily indefinitely.

Furthermore, the idea holds the potential for self-improvement, allowing for simulated brains to operate at faster and more efficient levels than their biological counterparts. It’s a utopian vision for techno-optimists, yet the question remains – does it hold any substance?

The viability of mind uploading hinges on three fundamental assumptions.

  1. Firstly, there’s the technology assumption – the belief that we’ll develop mind-uploading technology in the next few decades.

2. Secondly, the artificial mind assumption suggests that a simulated brain could give rise to a genuine mind.

3. Lastly, the survival assumption proposes that the individual created in this process is authentically “you,” making mind uploading a means for personal continuity.

How credible are these assumptions?

The technology assumption

Attempting to replicate the human brain presents an enormous undertaking. Our brains stand out as the most intricate structures in the observable universe.

Within the human brain reside approximately 86 billion neurons and 85 billion non-neuronal cells, forming an intricate network of around one million billion neural connections. To put this in perspective, the Milky Way galaxy hosts roughly 200 billion stars.

In the current landscape of brain simulation endeavors, neuroscientists are presently working on crafting 3D wiring diagrams, commonly referred to as “connectomes,” specifically focusing on the brains of simpler organisms.

Our current pinnacle in comprehensive connectomes is centered around a fruit fly larva, boasting approximately 3,000 neurons and 500,000 neural connections. Looking ahead, there’s anticipation that we could achieve a similar mapping feat for a mouse’s brain within the next decade.

The human brain surpasses the complexity of a mouse brain by about 1,000 times. Does this imply it would take us 10,000 years to map a human brain? Likely not. Remarkable advancements in efficiency, exemplified by projects like the Human Genome Project, suggest a more optimistic timeline.

Around two decades ago, mapping the first human genome demanded years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, cutting-edge labs can accomplish this feat within a few hours at a cost of approximately $100. If we witness comparable leaps in efficiency, the realization of mind-uploading technology could unfold within the lifetimes of our descendants.

However, formidable challenges remain. While constructing a static brain map marks significant progress, it’s just one facet of the task. The intricate observation of individual neurons in action is essential for simulating a functioning brain. Achieving this objective soon remains uncertain.

The artificial mind assumption

The question of whether a simulated brain could generate a conscious mind akin to yours hinges on the intricate connection between our minds and bodies.

In contrast to the 17th-century philosopher René Descartes, who posited a radical distinction between mind and body, contemporary academic philosophers largely view the mind as fundamentally a physical entity. Simply put, your mind is synonymous with your brain.

But how does a simulated brain, being just a simulation, give rise to a genuine mind? Many cognitive scientists contend that it’s the intricate neural structure of the brain, rather than the specific biological composition (predominantly fat and water), that plays a pivotal role in creating consciousness.

In the context of a computer simulation, every simulated neuron and neural connection would correspond to a specific piece of computer hardware, effectively replicating the structure of your brain. This replication, in turn, reproduces your conscious mind.

Current AI systems, operating on artificial neural networks mirroring some of the brain’s structural principles, offer insightful though inconclusive evidence supporting this structural approach to the mind. These systems can execute a multitude of cognitive tasks, underscoring the potential efficacy of this method.

The survival assumption

Assuming it’s feasible to simulate a human brain, creating a conscious mind in the process, a crucial question emerges: would the uploaded person truly be you, or merely a mental clone?

This dilemma hearkens back to a longstanding philosophical puzzle: what ensures that the person getting out of bed in the morning is the same individual who went to bed the night before?

Philosophers broadly fall into two camps regarding this query. The biological camp contends that morning-you and evening-you are the same person because they constitute the same biological organism, connected by a continuous biological life process. On the other hand, the mental camp argues that the presence of minds is the differentiating factor. Morning-you and evening-you share a mental life, possessing identical memories, beliefs, hopes, character traits, and so forth.

To test your intuition, consider this scenario: envision your brain being transplanted into the vacant skull of another person’s body. Is the resulting individual, equipped with your memories, preferences, and personality, truly you (as the mental camp suggests), or do they align more with the person who donated their body (as the biological camp contends)?

The implications of this question are substantial. If the biological camp’s perspective holds, mind uploading may prove unfeasible, presuming the objective is to sever ties with one’s biology. Conversely, if the mental camp is correct, there exists a potential avenue for uploading, as the uploaded mind could represent a genuine extension of one’s current mental life.

Wait, there’s a caution

Hold on: What unfolds when the original biological version of you also endures the uploading process? Would you, along with your consciousness, bifurcate into two distinct individuals, resulting in two instances of “you” – one in a biological form (B) and one in an uploaded form (C)?

No, you (A) can’t literally divide into two separate entities (B ≠ C) and be identical with both simultaneously. At most, only one of them can truly be you (either A = B or A = C).

The most intuitive scenario suggests that, after a split, your biological form would persist as the genuine you (A = B), and the upload would merely represent a mental duplicate. However, this raises doubts about your survival as the upload, even in a situation where the biological you is eradicated.

Why would the destruction of the biological you magically elevate your mental clone to the status of the authentic you? It seems peculiar to entertain such a notion (although a particular philosophical perspective does propose it could be true).

Worth the risk?

Regrettably, the artificial mind assumption and the survival assumption can’t be definitively tested through empirical means – to find out, we would need to undergo the process of uploading ourselves.

Therefore, uploading will always require a significant leap of faith. I would only consider taking that leap if I had the certainty that my biological hardware wasn’t going to endure much longer.

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