What are the Benefits of Mind Uploading?

Universal mind uploading, or universal uploading for short, is the concept, by no means original to me, that the technology of mind uploading will eventually become universally adopted by all who can afford it, similar to the adoption of modern agriculture, hygiene, or living in houses. The concept is rather infrequently discussed, due to a combination of 1) its supposedly speculative nature and 2) its “far future” time frame.

Before I explore the idea, let me give a quick description of what mind uploading is and why the two roadblocks to its discussion are invalid. Mind uploading would involve simulating a human brain in a computer in enough detail that the “simulation” becomes, for all practical purposes, a perfect copy and experiences consciousness, just like protein-based human minds. If functionalism is true, like many cognitive scientists and philosophers correctly believe, then all the features of human consciousness that we know and love — including all our memories, personality, and sexual quirks — would be preserved through the transition. By simultaneously disassembling the protein brain as the computer brain is constructed, only one implementation of the person in question would exist at any one time, eliminating any unnecessary confusion.

Still, even if two direct copies are made, the universe won’t care — you would have simply created two identical individuals with the same memories. The universe can’t get confused — only you can. Regardless of how perplexed one may be by contemplating this possibility for the first time from a 20th century perspective of personal identity, an upload of you with all your memories and personality intact is no different from you than the person you are today is different than the person you were yesterday when you went to sleep, or the person you were 10^-30 seconds ago when quantum fluctuations momentarily destroyed and recreated all the particles in your brain.

Regarding objections to talk of uploading, for anyone who 1) buys the silicon brain replacement thought experiment, 2) accepts arguments that the human brain operates at below about 10^19 ops/sec, and 3) considers it plausible that 10^19 ops/sec computers (plug in whatever value you believe for #2) will become manufactured this century, the topic is clearly worth broaching. Even if it’s 100 years off, that’s just a blink of an eye relative to the entirety of human history, and universal uploading would be something more radical than anything that’s occurred with life or intelligence in the entire known history of this solar system. We can afford to stop focusing exclusively on the near future for a potential event of such magnitude. Consider it intellectual masturbation, if you like, or a serious analysis of the near-term future of the human species, if you buy the three points.

So, say that mind uploading becomes available as a technology sometime around 2050. If the early adopters don’t go crazy and/or use their newfound abilities to turn the world into a totalitarian dictatorship, then they will concisely and vividly communicate the benefits of the technology to their non-uploaded family and friends. If affordable, others will then follow, but the degree of adoption will necessarily depend on whether the process is easily reversible or not. But suppose that millions of people choose to go for it.

Widespread uploading would have huge effects. Let’s go over some of them in turn.

1) Massive economic growth. By allowing human minds to run on substrates that can be accelerated by the addition of computing power, as well as the possibility of spinning off non-conscious “daemons” to accomplish rote tasks, economic growth — at least insofar as it can be accelerated by intelligence and the robotics of 2050 alone — will accelerate greatly. Instead of relying upon 1% per year population growth rates, humans might copy themselves or (more conducive to societal diversity) spin off already-mature progeny as quickly as available computing power allows. This could lead to growth rates in human capital of 1000% per year or far more. More economic growth might ensue in the first year (or month) after uploading than in the entire 250,000 years between the evolution of H. sapiens and the invention of uploading. The first country that widely adopts the technology might be able to solve global poverty by donating only 0.1% of its annual GDP.

2) Intelligence enhancement. Faster does not necessarily mean smarter. “Weak superintelligence” is a term sometimes used to describe accelerated intelligence that is not qualitatively enhanced, in contrast with “strong superintelligence”, which is. The road from weak to strong superintelligence would likely be very short. By observing information flows in uploaded human brains, many of the details of human cognition would be elucidated. Running standard compression algorithms over such minds might make them more efficient than blind natural selection could manage, and this extra space could be used to introduce new information-processing modules with additional features. Collectively, these new modules could give rise to qualitatively better intelligence. At the very least, rapid trial-and-error experimentation without the risk of injury would become possible, eventually revealing paths to qualitative enhancements.

3) Greater subjective well-being. Like most other human traits, our happiness set points fall on a bell curve. No matter what happens to us, be it losing our home or winning the lottery, there is a tendency for our innate happiness level to revert back to our natural set point. Some lucky people are innately really happy. Some unlucky people have chronic depression. With uploading, we will be able to see exactly which neural features (“happiness centers”) correspond to high happiness set points and which don’t, by combining prior knowledge with direct experimentation and investigation. This will make it possible for people to reprogram their own brains to raise their happiness set points in a way that biotechnological intervention might find difficult or dangerous. Experimental data and simple observation has shown that high happiness set-point people today don’t have any mysterious handicaps, like inability to recognize when their body is in pain, or inappropriate social behavior. They still experience sadness, it’s just that their happiness returns to a higher level after the sad experience is over. Perennial tropes justifying the value of suffering will lose their appeal when anyone can be happier without any negative side effects.

4) Complete environmental recovery. (I’m not just trying to kiss up to greens, I actually care about this.) By spending most of our time as programs running on a worldwide network, we will consume far less space and use less energy and natural resources than we would in a conventional human body. Because our “food” would be delicious cuisines generated only by electricity or light, we could avoid all the environmental destruction caused by clear-cutting land for farming and the ensuing agricultural runoff. People imagine dystopian futures to involve a lot of homogeneity… well, we’re already here as far as our agriculture is concerned. Land that once had diverse flora and fauna now consists of a few dozen agricultural staples — wheat, corn, oats, cattle pastures, factory farms. Boring. By transitioning from a proteinaceous to a digital substrate, we’ll do more for our environment than any amount of conservation ever could. We could still experience this environment by inputting live-updating feeds of the biosphere into a corner of our expansive virtual worlds. It’s the best of both worlds, literally — virtual and natural in harmony.

5) Escape from direct governance by the laws of physics. Though this benefit sounds more abstract or philosophical, if we were to directly experience it, the visceral nature of this benefit would become immediately clear. In a virtual environment, the programmer is the complete master of everything he or she has editing rights to. A personal virtual sandbox could become one’s canvas for creating the fantasy world of their choice. Today, this can be done in a very limited fashion in virtual worlds such as SecondLife. (A trend which will continue to the fulfillment of everyone’s most escapist fantasies, even if uploading is impossible.) Worlds like SecondLife are still limited by their system-wide operating rules and their low resolution and bandwidth. Any civilization that develops uploading would surely have the technology to develop virtual environments of great detail and flexibility, right up to the very boundaries of the possible. Anything that can become possible will be. People will be able to experience simulations of the past, “travel” to far-off stars and planets, and experience entirely novel worldscapes, all within the flickering bits of the worldwide network.

6) Closer connections with other human beings. Our interactions with other people today is limited by the very low bandwidth of human speech and facial expressions. By offering partial readouts of our cognitive state to others, we could engage in a deeper exchange of ideas and emotions. I predict that “talking” as communication will become passé — we’ll engage in much deeper forms of informational and emotional exchange that will make the talking and facial expressions of today seem downright empty and soulless. Spiritualists often talk a lot about connecting closer to one another — are they aware that the best way they can go about that would be to contribute to researching neural scanning or brain-computer interfacing technology? Probably not.

7) Last but not least, indefinite lifespans. Here is the one that detractors of uploading are fond of targeting — the fact that uploading could lead to practical immortality. Well, it really could. By being a string of flickering bits distributed over a worldwide network, killing you could become extremely difficult. The data and bits of everyone would be intertwined — to kill someone, you’d either need complete editing privileges of the entire worldwide network, or the ability to blow up the planet. Needless to say, true immortality would be a huge deal, a much bigger deal than the temporary fix of life extension therapies for biological bodies, which will do very little to combat infectious disease or exotic maladies such as being hit by a truck.

It’s obvious that mind uploading would be incredibly beneficial. As stated near the beginning of this post, only three things are necessary for it to be a big deal — 1) that you believe a brain could be incrementally replaced with functionally identical implants and retain its fundamental characteristics and identity, 2) that the computational capacity of the human brain is a reasonable number, very unlikely to be more than 10^19 ops/sec, and 3) that at some point in the future we’ll have computers that fast. Not so far-fetched. Many people consider these three points plausible, but just aren’t aware of their implications.

If you believe those three points, then uploading becomes a fascinating goal to work towards. From a utilitarian perspective, it practically blows everything else away besides global risk mitigation, as the number of new minds leading worthwhile lives that could be created using the technology would be astronomical. The number of digital minds we could create using the matter on Earth alone would likely be over a quadrillion, more than 2,500 people for every star in the 400 billion star Milky Way. We could make a “Galactic Civilization”, right here on Earth in the late 21st or 22nd century. I can scarcely imagine such a thing, but I can imagine that we’ll be guffawing heartily as how unambitious most human goals were in the year 2009.


  1. I agree with your points about the benefits of mind uploading, particularly it’s economic and environmental advantages. Unfortunately, there are at least 2 big problems:

    1) it doesn’t exist, and may not even be possible

    2) there may not be time to develop it, given that our fossil fuel-based industrial civilization is going to start running out of cheap energy before long (some say this has already started). The downward energy curve will take everything else down with it, including Moore’s Law, political stability, a large fraction of the world’s population, etc.

    My own thinking is that we are in a race between the exponential upward technological growth curve toward a post-human future, and the downward exponential decay of energy/environmental depletion (google Olduvai Theory). We should know in the next 2-3 decades which trend will prevail. We are clearly running up against some hard limits as primates on this planet, and need to transfer our intelligence to more efficient forms rather quickly. It should make for interesting times.

  2. I guess I’m not a huge fan of the idea of mind uploading. It seems like it would leave a person susceptible to computer like viruses. Your digital computer uploaded brain could be open to all sorts of hacks if it was connected to some sort of internet network.

    Plus there is the issue of control. A person on the outside of the computer program could theoretically have a top level control over any of the mind uploads within the system.

    Oh and Mr. Anissimov, you should alert Dale Carrico to this article. He’d probably have a brain aneurysm from reading it.

    I do think mind uploading is still relatively implausible. Replacement of biological neurons with artificial ones seems to be a more likely future scenario.

  3. Stuart Anderson

    I guess my biggest issue with uploading is that the outcomes (positive and negative) are so extreme – there are plenty of examples of cultures being destroyed by the introduction of technology that is far superior. Just because we are doing it ourselves won’t necessarily protect us from that.

    My thoughts regarding the points:

    1) Doesn’t matter, the economy is essentially an invented virtual construct. Playing monopoly 1000% faster doesn’t interest me. Getting rid of money completely (or rather the problems it causes) would be of more interest to me.

    2) I think it will be a case of iterative improvement rather than leaps and bounds.

    I also don’t think smarter is automatically better – I’d rather have a higher quality of ideas and I don’t necessarily believe that has anything to do with raw processing ability.

    Most interesting thoughts couldn’t be brute forced, so unless we can come up with better cognitive processing it isn’t going to be a quantum leap forward. We could apply a whole bunch of optimisations, but it’s not a case of upload and have unified theory nailed in 5 minutes.

    If all that IQ improvement just results in a more efficient cubicle drone, then I don’t think it is that much of an improvement.

    Something that is rarely talked about is augmenting creativity. There is more to a brain than just intellect. The other thing that is rarely mentioned is creating capabilities that don’t yet exist. Making ourselves smarter is obvious, making new emotions, new senses, new conceptions of consciousness (what happens when you weld two minds together, or make one that functions as two? What happens when a mind is turned into a swarm?), those things are far harder to anticipate.

    3) This is a recipe for disaster.

    At the risk of sounding completely deluded, I’m going to champion the case for depression (and anger, shame, fear, boredom, etc.). There is very strong cultural pressure to be happy all the time – which is obviously impossible. If we could take pain away, and really be happy all the time, it would make being happy meaningless. There would be no point doing anything – because there isn’t any emotional pay-off. If you are going to emotionally lobotomise yourself it would be no different to being high on MDMA all the time – you’d be turning yourself into the happiest zombie alive.

    I have quite severe bipolar depression, so I should be the first one lining up for the mood mod – and to be realistic, I would do it, I take drugs now that do exactly the same thing. Doing so would stop me from being depressed, and stop me from doing the things I do when depressed and I would start doing different things. For the individual it’s clearly a win – in the same way that changing your genes is a win for the individual. It may not be a win for society however. Humans are notoriously bad at choosing the best options for society – we only think about, and in terms of, ourselves. To open up the door to neurological eugenics is a bad idea.

    Just being able to flick a switch on mood is going to mess people up.

    4) The environment is the biggest beat up ever. Environmentalists are just another religion – and equally as unaffected by common sense.

    It’s an engineering problem, nothing more. We even have a large part of the solution available to us today: nuclear energy. Unfortunately we cannot use it because it goes against the beliefs of the faithful – it doesn’t matter that it would work, it’s heresy (and they still kill people for that).

    If uploading killed religion, I would be categorically in favour of it regardless of the risks.

    5) The idea of putting any part of my brain in Second Life makes me gag (that place is a cesspit). Look at the internet, where every second person is an idiot psychopath – I don’t want any of that in my head.

    I like the idea of games, the idea of sculpting things I couldn’t in real life (like gravity or the capacity to bend light), of being a virtual tourist in hazardous environments (standing on the outside of the ISS or going to the bottom of the ocean), but social applications on the web have always lacked any attraction for me. The idea of Facebook in my brain doesn’t appeal to me.

    6) Don’t want it. It’s one of those ideas that gets worse the more you think about it.

    Communication is as much about what is not said and not shared as what is. It would be like saying why read Shakespeare when you could just read his mind? It would kill every bit of storytelling, every joke, and all the interest in meeting a new person. Cutting to the chase removes the chase – and it’s getting there that is often the most valuable part of any endeavour.

    Then there is the matter of trust. Just because someone shares a thought with you doesn’t actually make it true – being able to offer a deception as truth would give a massive tactical advantage in any relationship. I’ve been screwed hard enough by people who can’t read my mind – I’m not about to help make it easier for them.

    7) Don’t want it. More of a better life, yes – but a banquet that never ends is pointless. Finishing something is just as important as starting it was. I need to have an end to make living worth it.

  4. Z. M. Davis

    “It’s obvious that mind uploading would be incredibly beneficial.”

    It could be incredibly beneficial, but let’s not forget about unintended consequences. I imagine you’re familiar with the Hanson and Bostrom scenarios.

  5. Great article Michael.

    Mike: “I do think mind uploading is still relatively implausible. Replacement of biological neurons with artificial ones seems to be a more likely future scenario.”

    But replacement of biological neurons with artificial ones is one of the proposed paths to uploading. When biological neurons die, enough of a mind may be encoded in the (supposedly longer-lived) artificial neurons to be able to retrieve it.

  6. Z. M. Davis Says:”

    “It’s obvious that mind uploading would be incredibly beneficial.”

    It could be incredibly beneficial, but let’s not forget about unintended consequences. I imagine you’re familiar with the Hanson and Bostrom scenarios.”

    – Seconded.

    If people get uploaded and realize that they can arbitrarily mess with their reality, a lot of people might do potentially unwise things, like turn themselves into wireheads without thinking it through thoroughly.

    But overall, great summary.

    We just need to work out how we can persuade a substantial number of people to agree…

  7. > The first country that widely adopts the technology might be able to solve global poverty by donating only 0.1% of its annual GDP.

    And what is it today? 5%? 10%? Do you really think that the reticence of people redistribute wealth is a matter how cheap it is?

    When the bulk of people are forced to sustain themselves with their labor, flooding the market with competitive emulants does not sound like something to look forward to on its face – even if those emulants have no enhanced intelligence, and are still granted the legal rights of persons and workers, instead of being property.

    I realize this is speculation (and yes, it is), but we’ve already been actually experiencing the un-hooking of productivity from wages. Up until last year, the US GDP continued it’s usual boom, but those benefits simply haven’t found their way to most people. I don’t feel that being forced to subsist on private charity (no matter how cheap) instead of democratically-mandated and regulated public welfare or more traditional employment, both of which we have some say in negotiating, to be an improvement in the human condition.

    Now, I realize that democratically-mandated and regulated welfare might be part of that solution you passed over so briefly (just like they “might be able” to solve global poverty). If it is, then it’s worth mentioning that we will need to renegotiate the social contract surrounding work and income. Otherwise, I end up imagining that the labor glut that results from whole brain emulation will only further radically precaritize the majority of working, “proteinaceous” humanity, rendering us dependent on the whims of the wealthy of whatever species, regardless of how cheap it might become to sustain us.

  8. I’m not convinced about the arguments of 1. Yes, I can see where we could have massive economic growth, but there’s also another factor to consider, by changing our needs so dramatically, aren’t we creating a situation where huge sectors of the economy may vanish? If we don’t need food what’s the agricultural sector to do? If we don’t need houses what’s the housing sector to do? If we don’t need cars, or clothing, or health care, or toiletries… It seems to me that you need to assume more than that the early adopters don’t take over the world, but rather that the availability becomes widespread enough so that as wages fall people can be uploaded fast enough.

    There’s also cultural resistance to consider. Though no one that frequents your site would object, think of how strong the fundie culture is in the States (and throughout the world). To what extent will they fight this progress tooth and nail? How will this slow the adoption rate? Or what legal ramifications would their disapproval have in regards to access to the technology? Age limits? Parental consent?

  9. Recent astronomy news. There are 3 trillion stars in the Milky Way. Milky way is bigger than was thought. We still have a shaky understanding of our own galaxy as refined measurements of star speed in the arms indicates that the volume is about 8 times more than was previously believed.


    This is something that also relates to SETI and various speculation about aliens. We are still finding larger than Pluto size objects in our own solar system and are trying to pin down the size of the galaxy to an order of magnitude.

    I was in interested in calculating what a Type III civilization that is mind uploaded and using reversible computing yet is still using up all of its power would be doing in terms of ballpark capabilities. How many human brain equivalents ?

    So here is my estimate.

    Milky Way energy production comes at a little over 3 X 10**47 joules.

    The performance per unit power of ordinary irreversible computing (which does an irreversible storage operation with every logic-gate operation) will start to level off at a maximum level of at most 3.5 X 10**22 irreversible bit-operations per second in a 100 W computer that disposes displaced entropy into a room-temperature (300 K) thermal reservoir. This rate is about a million times higher than the maximum rate of bit operations in a ~30-million-gate, 1 GHz processor or 100,000 times more than an average computer now.

    As of 2005, irreversible device technology has at most ~3-4 orders of magnitude of power-performance improvements remaining.
    * And then, the firm kT ln 2 (VNL) limit is encountered.

    But, a wide variety of proposed reversible device technologies have been analyzed by physicists.
    * With theoretical power-performance up to 10-12 orders of magnitude better than today’s CMOS.
    o Ultimate limits are unclear.

    So instead of 3.5 X 10*20 per watt for irreversible.
    A likely reversible computing capability for an advanced civilization is 10*29 operations per watt. Plus that civilization definitely could have figured out more tricks to go a lot higher.

    A watt is one joule of energy per second.

    3*10**47 joules per year for the galaxy
    31, 556 ,926 seconds per year.

    10*40 joules per for the galaxy.

    10**69 reversible operations per second.

    10**19 ops/second likely level of one uploaded human mind.

    So Type III civilization has a lower end estimate of 10**50 simulated mind equivalents.

  10. Because all the simulated minds would be on a reversible computing basis, then in time and everything would be reversible in the advanced simulated existence. Anything could be undone and redone/altered.

  11. Diane H

    Interesting idea.

    But no account has been taken of the memory of the intelligence in the body or the person’s energy fields. Simplistic dreaming without taking into account the fact that transplant an organ from one person to another, and you have part of the previous person transplanted, complete with likes and dislikes, preferences and certain reactions.

    The Mind is NOT just in the head, it is NOT just in the body.

    Dealing only with the physical will create problems, as every person is more than the sum total of their thoughts, emotions, beliefs, programs or situation.

    It’s not wise to play God with other people’s heads and wiring, – personally find other ways to open to the huge potential of further knowledge in ways not leaving anyone open to the controllers of this world, who continually prove what happens when a little power goes to their ‘head’, “just because they can”!

    We have all we need to make the changes we want. We just have to use it.

  12. Wolf

    “If functionalism is true, like many cognitive scientists and philosophers correctly believe…”
    Thank you, you made my day :)
    But seriously, the “disassembly” of a functional human brain for uploading purposes causes a bit of an ethical problem from today’s perspective. Especially if it only serves to eliminate “unnecessary confusion”.
    Maybe the problem really lies only in the limited 20th century viewpoint of personal identity. But I have to admit that I can’t take any other (maybe early 21st century, but that’s the best I can manage). Assuming a future point of view would be pretending. The best I can do is argue from today, and try to get there the hard way.
    The universe can’t get confused, only you can? Actually I don’t care about the universe, I only care about me. So if I get confused that’s bad enough ;).
    I admit, I’m still hung up on monism. Personal identity is coupled to a body for me and extracting some informational essence out of it won’t do in order to preserve that. So I don’t agree with the silicon replacment thought experiment. To formulate it in the “Ship of Theseus” thought experiment: The ship of Theseus was preserved for a long time, replacing the old planks and oars with new ones, as they started to rot away. After all the parts have been replaced, will it still be the same ship? I’d argue yes, still the same ship, since it retains most (if not even all) of the essential characteristics that define that ship: Made of wood, can swim on an ocean, one can sail the seas with it, still looks pretty much the same. If you digitalized it, simulated all its essential properties, would it still be the same ship? I’d say no, it would be a digital copy of a ship. No more wood, no more sailing, no more swimming (only in a digitalized ocean…). In the same way a digital copy of me wouldn’t be me in many ways. Unlike the me of yesterday, or even ten years ago. Memories, many traits of a personality, a consciousness, sure, a copy would have them (actually only a simulation of them, but that’s unimportant). But that copy wouldn’t have any of the physical attributes that make me up. It would be vastly different from me, which is the reason behind the whole exercise. But I think you can’t have both: On the one hand changing phsical properties of the thing beyond recognition, making it ultra durable, ultra fast and everlasting, but at the same time claim that it’s the same thing as it was yesterday for practical purposes.
    Enough bashing against the foundations of transhumanism for today, on to the good stuff:

    Do we implicitly assume that human level AGI didn’t work out? Else points 1 and 2 wouldn’t be hung up on uploading, since an AI could have provided the economic growth as well as the increased intelligence.

    1.) Assumption: Economic growth is coupled to population growth. Not necessarily true, it’s probably demand that forms the limiting factor here. There are only so many people who need certain types of products and at the same time can afford them. Sure, the production of high quality products for a cutting edge price would give that country the edge in a free market. But who earnestly believes that a free market is a given factor? Country one can only grow 1000% by cutting into the markets of coutry 2; country 2 will limit the import of products from country 1 and the world is well again.

    3) What would hinder anyone setting this basic happiness just to the max? In the real world the use of heroin has severe negative consequences for the user. He will have a down again very soon, he’ll need money for the next shot, illness, poverty and death follow. So it’s forbidden. Not so as a digital being. You can just raise your happiness level to the heavens and sit there in a docile trance until electricity goes out. Will one have to forbid that people be happy above a certain threshold?
    Or are there arguments that would dissuade a reasonable person to maximize his own happiness, if it doesn’t come with any negative consequences? Or motivate that person to do anything if he already is perfectly happy? And why should that motivation be anything else, but to pull the happiness levler a little more?

    to be continued….

  13. Tom D

    Best answer I’ve heard yet to proponents of mind uploading:

    “I can’t wait until they upload themselves to a computer, so that I can unplug it.”

  14. Diane, we’ll just have to upload those energy fields too, won’t we. Also, read this.

    Wolf, your comment is really long and breaks the flow of the comments section. Perhaps you should get your own blog for such long comments and post a link to your post here? Also, happy to have made your day with my remark. :)

    Tom, the “best answer” you’ve heard to a statement of someone wanting to do X is that X would provide an opportunity to kill them? Why is substrate prejudice any more acceptable than prejudice based on race?

  15. Tom D

    Because there are people of different races, but there are no people inside my computer. And even if one could simulate a mind inside a computer so that it could pass a Turing test, I still would not believe that it approaches the level of humanity. And therefore, I might feel entitled to pull the plug, or alternately, take no special steps to keep energy flowing to the computer.

    Talk about your existential risks! If you decide that your future consists of interactions inside a machine, you apparently have two choices: take the risk that someone who doesn’t believe that life can exist inside a computer pulling the plug; or proactively eliminating everyone who believes as I do. Which do you choose?

  16. Ben

    I agree that making a digital copie of myself won’t be me,it’s like making organic copie,
    making a clone then upload my memories and destroy me.

    Apparently all of our body cells are replaced every 15 years exect for the one inside the brain there must be a reason for that.

    Probably that our identitie is phisicaly inside our brain,i don’t agree with the poster that say:
    “The Mind is NOT just in the head, it is NOT just in the body”
    I think this is a religious concept like soul.
    I think mind and identidy are phisicaly inside the brain people have been inconcious sometimes even without brain wave and still made a complete recovery, in brain trauma people can lose a part or even the totality of their memories and capabilities.

  17. Radical Robot

    Tom D:
    > Which do you choose?

    Neither. If I drove by a rock in the desert with poisonous snakes coiling beneath, I wouldn’t have to choose between turning the rock anyway, and pre-emptively killing the snakes. I could just keep a safe distance. No need to adopt the Bush doctrine if potential enemies are sufficiently contained by their own limitations. Thus the uploaded people of the future might choose to protect themselves from the bio-racists by migration to harsher environments. In space and the deep seas, canned apes should be at enough of a disadvantage to render their threat manageable. And since uploads can be expected to achieve super-intelligence in a short span of time, they will likely think of something even better.

  18. M C


    There’s a way to use copies without generating additional entities. The idea is that if the copies slave their long-term memory to each-other then they are all the same individual. Copies would differ only in short term memories for whatever task they are working on.

    Updating of long-term memory would be done from only one copy, maybe through a voting mechanism or using some other mechanism of choice.

    This is somewhat less powerful than completely independent individuals, because you can’t specialize the training of each copy. Yet it is more powerful because you don’t have to divide your wealth by 10,000 when you make as many copies.

  19. Wolf

    Sorry, got a little carried away there, didn’t think it would really be that long.
    I’ll cut to the cheese here (which should make the really disturbingly long thing above pretty much obsolete; feel free to get rid of it):

    Transhumanists always want both, transforming ourselves into vastly differnt beings (points 2,3,5,6… even the conept of uploading in general), while still claiming to maintain identity (indicated by talking about all that in first person plural).
    Exotic thought experiment: The transfer of all your neural circutry (or functional equivalent thereof) into… a hummingbird. Or a bee. The transhumanist argument would be that this, for practical purposes is still the same person, because it’s actions would be the same as your own. Though it’s flying around, sipping nectar and percieving the world in superslowmo.

    So basically I still calaim that first person for uploaded people is wrong grammar. They will be so different that “they” is the only proper way to adress them. Which gives the transhumanist claims a little of the distance they imho desperately need.

  20. Great post! I love pondering the future possibility of uploading. If you believe in the coming singularity theorized by Kurzweil, et al, I think you have to include uploading as one of the various possible event horizons. It is enjoyable to contemplate the pros and cons, but we are woefully ill-equipped to even imagine the full impact of such a technology.

    One area of uploading impact I find particularly entertaining is what it could mean for planetary and interplanetary travel and expansion. I like to imagine traveling over fiber optic cable or via some wireless transmission method to the other side of the Earth (or the solar system), only to be downloaded to some type of ambulatory “body” and go off exploring. Because I think even uploaders will never fully substitute simulation for first-hand experience.

    As for powering-off the computer and “killing” uploaders, there will be no “off switch”. There will be recharging of batteries rather than consuming of foodstuffs. Killing an uploader will be a deliberate act requiring either blunt-force destruction or “starvation”. Beware of backup batteries and “sleep mode” in the latter scenario. :-)

  21. Cavolonero

    Information entropy will affect this. ( You can’t make a copy without loosing some. Might be negliable, but, the copy is a copy , no two things are exactly the same, ever )

    Every new technology brings about a new kind of suffering and a new kind of death. ( Do you really want to find out how a machine might suffer ? )

  22. Esteban

    I think mind uploading project could to begin on 2015 with first simulation of brain in ¨blue brain project¨ a supercomputer look like to Änton supercomputer¨( for biology simulation).

  23. Dave Oliva

    I’ll enter the matrix if there are hot chicks involved.

  24. Andrew Dun

    Stuart Anderson: You say you don’t want an endless banquet, and fair enough. But maybe you should consider alternatives between eternal existence and total exinction. There are a range of possibilities to consider here:

    * Morph slowly into a totally different being. This could happen by default, or in conjunction with various other strategies:
    * Periodically increase your emotional and cognitive plasticity, allowing radical self re-invention; recurrent adolescences, perhaps.
    * Undergo temporary supression of memory and identity, again allowing the formation of new personality characteristics or total immersion in some kind of adventure game (consider the sceptical hypothesis that your life already is one).
    * Morph *with* another individual; subsume your identity into a collective. Then drop out as some kind of totally different individual on the other side.
    * Radically boost personality factors related to Openness to Experience, again reasserting plasticity of identity and the benefits in terms of fun and creativity that come with such plasticity.

    Given the existing psychological importance of narrative, endings are very important, but they don’t need to be absolute to serve their purpose. Once you give a bit of elbow room to your sense of personal identity, the game changes. Existence becomes genuinely interactive.

  25. @Mike:

    “It seems like it would leave a person susceptible to computer like viruses. Your digital computer uploaded brain could be open to all sorts of hacks if it was connected to some sort of internet network.”

    In a way people are already open to such things through fads, fashions, rumours, religions, cults, and memes.

    The way I see it is that uploading would leave you as open to these as before — the benefit is you are less likely to suffer from the panoply of biological viruses and diseases people suffer from.

    @Stuart Anderson:

    “Doesn’t matter, the economy is essentially an invented virtual construct. ”

    So is freedom, love, beauty, and, as you say, money. Just because something is imaginary and invented doesn’t mean it doesn’t have subjective AND objective value to people.


    “If we don’t need food what’s the agricultural sector to do? If we don’t need houses what’s the housing sector to do? If we don’t need cars, or clothing, or health care, or toiletries… ”

    Nothing! All these industrial sectors will become as irrelevant as the flint-knapping industry is today! Think of all the waste and environmental degradation that can thus be avoided.

    Wolf @12:

    “You can just raise your happiness level to the heavens and sit there in a docile trance until electricity goes out.”

    Congratulations! That’s probably the solution to the Fermi paradox right there! ;)

  26. richard

    Space travel

    Richard Morgan covered mind uploading in his Takeshi Kovacs trilogy. You could be beamed through space into another body..

  27. I think it will be a good thing to do once we have lived out our lives first, and then it can be a renewal of life for us when its time for out real bodies to die. It would be nice to continue to keep in contact with our loved ones in this manner, but, I wonder if we wouldnt wish to be in our human bodies again once our minds are in the box.

  28. If we were all to upload ourselves into a virtual construct of the imagination, would that not mean that we would limited by what we can dream of and would therefore never be able to experience anything that we could not first think up?

  29. Rofus Finkelstein

    ok… um.. I hate to pee all over your uploaded mind picnic here…

    but I was kinda wondering. If this were to happen then WOW! HOLY CRAP! Now we’d be able to make waaaay more people in the world and sustain them for a fraction of the effort that we do now. And then we would. We’re not really that good about self limiting. We would make more and more and more and more and more and more of us – because compared to where we are now with this whole pesky ‘everyone needs to eat’ thing it would appear that we had virtually unlimited room for growth. And then the more we reproduced the bigger the whole system would get and the more it would need to be maintenanced and the more resources it would need to function. And eventually, it’d run out of memory or room. Or the earth would run out of room to make all the electricity and whatever else this thing would need (I don’t know, I’m not very scientifical, ok?) but… that’s pretty much just a repeat of the situation we’re running into now. When humans started this whole mess, we thought we’d never reach the borders of the planet and run out of room, oops. We thought we could never drain or taint the WHOLE ocean or other water sources, uhm. Oops. We thought oil was limitless when we built all these cities on the idea that everyone could have a car… uh.. oops.

    Shouldn’t we just focus on connecting *more* with our own bodies and .. I don’t know… fixing whatever internal disease it is that disallows us from acknowledging a reasonable ‘stop’ point? A squirrel is happy eating nuts, screwing other squirrels and then dying. I’m siding with those guys from now on.

  30. Where did you got this much info on your blog from?? Also can i take the initiave to take the feeds from your blog for my yoga website?? But cant find the RSS feeds link here!!

  31. In searching for credible links on mind-loading to add to my blog links, I came across your article. I have written a novel, Babylon Dreams, that fictionalizes many of the points you make about what changes in humanity and the world might occur due to mind uploading technology. One of the things I stress is the growth of a “virtual environment” or “post biological destinations” industry. There would be a set of laws pertaining to virtuals and their place in society. Changes caused by mergers, lobbyists, etc. might adversely affect those in a virtual existence. Would those uploaded be able to communicate with “bio” friends and family? You address the “happiness” benefit, however, is that possible? A lot of intriguing possibilities–good and bad. The “green” benefit is one I hadn’t considered. I enjoyed your article.

  32. MindBodyProblem

    I haven’t read through the comments thoroughly, but I’m not filled with confidence after seeing the ones I did. The article also didn’t help. Has no one pointed out the obvious? Let’s assume for now that functionalism is true (despite my total disagreement with it) and that mind uploading has become possible. Would I agree to upload my mind and go to machine form? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Suppose I upload my mind, but do so without destroying my brain, so now there are two ‘copies’ of me, one digital and one biological. Which one am I, i.e. which one do I see through the eyes of? The original, biological one, of course. Just because the same information is contained in both versions of me does not give them some sort of mystical connection; I would not be able to experience anything that happens to my digital self, and that fact wouldn’t change if my biological self were killed in an accident the following week. So now consider the prospect of mind uploading and disposing of the obsolete original hardware. Does my consciousness make the jump to the new version? Clearly not, same as it wouldn’t if my original body was kept kicking around. Sure, the outside world would still think of it as ‘me’, but I don’t care; I couldn’t see or feel or experience anything from its perspective, so I’d be dead. THIS IS NOT A DESIRABLE OUTCOME FOR ME.

    On another note: all this talk of the environmentalism of uploading is nonsense. Presumably, uploaded minds would be living in a ‘matrix’ i.e. a totally virtual world experienced as if it were ‘real’. Why would anyone living in this virtual world care the slightest bit about carbon levels in the ‘real’ world? As long as the energy needed to maintain the virtual world continues to be delivered, the ‘real’ world is irrelevant to these minds.

  33. “All is mind the universe is mental”

  34. What if you have mixed feelings? And all those repressed memories bite you where the moon don’t show. John Gray claims that all of what comprises you that would be uploaded would be incomplete–a new you “cartoon” –far from the old you with all the baggage (resentments,socially unacceptable fantasies, etc). I know that “recovered memories” have fallen out of favor–for good reason considering the accusations of child molesting in the eighties, however when all those busy little nanos are scurrying around your synapses and traveling through the brain taking notes and whatnot, they might uncover some rather embarrassing artifacts–just the type of things that float out during all that “sharing in depth.” Still it might be worth it to fly like superman (or girl).

  35. Strongly agreed with comment #35 the outcome would not be so desirable if mind upload simply means creating a copy of me. I want a transfer not a copy

  36. The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you. – Tony Robbins

  37. Psyagon

    Um, I have seen a lot of hooplah and uproar about the File-Copy concept of Mind-Uploading, and yes that’s true, that means the robotic/digital version of you is a counterpart, not you, and I agree, I wouldn’t want that.

    But have any of you ever once considered the File-MOVE possibility? From what I’ve read, even if some of you have, most of you, and even the article itself are not realizing that that is the outcome to work toward to make mind-uploading desirable

    By using the File-Move function concept for your mind, it IS you on the machine or inside the neural net, the original person is preserved, so it is you who learns, experiences, and lives forever, just as Kurzweil truly anticipates, that’s what he envisions, not solely the File-Copy path you all keep whining about.

    Apparently also no one has read up on new technologies like memristors and even more amazing ones that have been postulated from the now proven existence of memristors, memcapacitors and meminductors, with memcapacitors not having any resistance and potentially able to hold a set amount of power indefinitely with no loss when memory functions are performed. so I think Kurzweil is right, and that we can achieve indefinite life, with us as originals getting the deal instead of a digital clone of us being the one with benefits.

    I agree though that we’ll first have to find out whether it is even possible to file-move, or even file-copy our minds period. If both turn out to be utterly impossible despite centuries of study and research even after learning every bit of science required to make it possible in theory, we’ll simply have to find ways to augment our bodies biologically if we want to live forever (Which nature already shows is quite possible and we could make better use of the ability by protecting ourselves with technology), and then this entire argument will be null and void since uploading won’t even be an issue if its possibility is shot down.

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