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Transhumansm; Merging With Technology

2.6 What is uploading?

Uploading (sometimes called “downloading”, “mind uploading” or “brain reconstruction”) is the process of transferring an intellect from a biological brain to a computer.

One way of doing this might be by first scanning the synaptic structure of a particular brain and then implementing the same computations in an electronic medium. A brain scan of sufficient resolution could be produced by disassembling the brain atom for atom by means of nanotechnology. Other approaches, such as analyzing pieces of the brain slice by slice in an electron microscope with automatic image processing have also been proposed. In addition to mapping the connection pattern among the 100 billion-or-so neurons, the scan would probably also have to register some of the functional properties of each of the synaptic interconnections, such as the efficacy of the connection and how stable it is over time (e.g. whether it is short-term or long-term potentiated). Non-local modulators such as neurotransmitter concentrations and hormone balances may also need to be represented, although such parameters likely contain much less data than the neuronal network itself.

In addition to a good three-dimensional map of a brain, uploading will require progress in neuroscience to develop functional models of each species of neuron (how they map input stimuli to outgoing action potentials, and how their properties change in response to activity in learning). It will also require a powerful computer to run the upload, and some way for the upload to interact with the external world or with a virtual reality. (Providing input/output or a virtual reality for the upload appears easy in comparison to the other challenges.)

An alternative hypothetical uploading method would proceed more gradually: one neuron could be replaced by an implant or by a simulation in a computer outside of the body. Then another neuron, and so on, until eventually the whole cortex has been replaced and the person’s thinking is implemented on entirely artificial hardware. (To do this for the whole brain would almost certainly require nanotechnology.)

A distinction is sometimes made between destructive uploading, in which the original brain is destroyed in the process, and non-destructive uploading, in which the original brain is preserved intact alongside the uploaded copy. It is a matter of debate under what conditions personal identity would be preserved in destructive uploading. Many philosophers who have studied the problem think that at least under some conditions, an upload of your brain would be you. A widely accepted position is that you survive so long as certain information patterns are conserved, such as your memories, values, attitudes, and emotional dispositions, and so long as there is causal continuity so that earlier stages of yourself help determine later stages of yourself. Views differ on the relative importance of these two criteria, but they can both be satisfied in the case of uploading. For the continuation of personhood, on this view, it matters little whether you are implemented on a silicon chip inside a computer or in that gray, cheesy lump inside your skull, assuming both implementations are conscious.

Tricky cases arise, however, if we imagine that several similar copies are made of your uploaded mind. Which one of them is you? Are they all you, or are none of them you? Who owns your property? Who is married to your spouse? Philosophical, legal, and ethical challenges abound. Maybe these will become hotly debated political issues later in this century.

A common misunderstanding about uploads is that they would necessarily be “disembodied” and that this would mean that their experiences would be impoverished. Uploading according to this view would be the ultimate escapism, one that only neurotic body-loathers could possibly feel tempted by. But an upload’s experience could in principle be identical to that of a biological human. An upload could have a virtual (simulated) body giving the same sensations and the same possibilities for interaction as a non-simulated body. With advanced virtual reality, uploads could enjoy food and drink, and upload sex could be as gloriously messy as one could wish. And uploads wouldn’t have to be confined to virtual reality: they could interact with people on the outside and even rent robot bodies in order to work in or explore physical reality.

Personal inclinations regarding uploading differ. Many transhumanists have a pragmatic attitude: whether they would like to upload or not depends on the precise conditions in which they would live as uploads and what the alternatives are. (Some transhumanists may also doubt whether uploading will be possible.)

Advantages of being an upload would include:

Uploads would not be subject to biological senescence.

Back-up copies of uploads could be created regularly so that you could be re-booted if something bad happened. (Thus your lifespan would potentially be as long as the universe’s.)

You could potentially live much more economically as an upload since you wouldn’t need physical food, housing, transportation, etc.

If you were running on a fast computer, you would think faster than in a biological implementation. For instance, if you were running on a computer a thousand times more powerful than a human brain, then you would think a thousand times faster (and the external world would appear to you as if it were slowed down by a factor of a thousand). You would thus get to experience more subjective time, and live more, during any given day.

You could travel at the speed of light as an information pattern, which could be convenient in a future age of large-scale space settlements.

Radical cognitive enhancements would likely be easier to implement in an upload than in an organic brain.

A couple of other points about uploading:
Uploading should work for cryonics patients provided their brains are preserved in a sufficiently intact state.

Uploads could reproduce extremely quickly (simply by making copies of themselves). This implies that resources could very quickly become scarce unless reproduction is regulated.

(Selection from Version 2.1 (2003) TRANSHUMANIST FAQ by Nick Bostrom
*Faculty of Philosophy,Oxford University.
10 Merton Street, Oxford OX1 4JJ, U. K

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