Why Arguments Against Mind Uploading Don’t Work — Constant Neural Molecular Turnover

As always, there’s been some nice activity over at anti-transhumanism central, The New Atlantis Futurisms blog. Most recently is a post “Why Transhumanism Won’t Work”, which is as provocatively named as my recent post “Transhumanism Has Already Won”. The post, a guest post by Mark Gubrud, is more of a screed against mind uploading than against transhumanism in general, however Gubrud claims that “transhumanism itself is uploading writ large.” Basically, Gubrud calls attention to a talk that will be given by a philosophy professor against mind uploading at the upcoming H+ conference at Harvard. The essence of the argument is that advocates of mind uploading are dualists because they speak of a “pattern” that is really a “soul” which is postulated to be transferable across substrates. (It’s ironic that Gubrud makes a guest post arguing against the soul on a site funded by “Washington, D.C.’s premier institute dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.” It shows that some modern Christians are willing to be pragmatic about the messages they put out there.)

I made a very short comment in response to the post:

Why don’t we lose our identity/become different people when the constituent proteins making up our cells are continuously renewed? Is the soul transferred from the old proteins to the new proteins? How is that scientific?

This elicited a good-length response from Gubrud, beginning with this dramatic condemnation of my seemingly innocuous question:

You ask a very good question, one of the key questions which lead people into the nihilistic wilderness in which a noxious weed like transhumanism can flourish.

!!!

The #1 question on my mind when I read this is, “Is Gubrud a Christian, or does his hatred of transhumanism stem from something else?”

Gubrud continues to talk about how identity is just a concept, which I concur with, and then says:

Transhumanists look outside the human community for a source of meaning and moral order. They believe in a great story of Evolution, Intelligence, and Destiny. It’s kind of a throwback to a pre-Copernican worldview.

Humanists understand that this is a random universe, to which we bring our own meanings. Humanists treasure humanity and nature, while regarding technology as the tool we use to protect these primary values, rather than a primary value in itself.

This really is a debate about human values and the future of humanity. There still ain’t nobody else here.

This is definitely false with respect to the community around the Singularity Institute, at least. We understand that human values are a lone candle in an otherwise morality-indifferent galaxy. The only difference is that we see opportunity for moving beyond strict adherence to the fitness-maximizing goals that natural selection gave us, and into secondary characteristics such as mathematics, literature, art, etc. If the latter is truly more important than the former, then given the opportunity to modify our own minds and bodies, we will choose minds and bodies that nurture the latter while the former falls out of style.

To sum up, I have to say — folks, critiques of mind uploading and transhumanism are not the same thing. You can blend them together like some sort of philosophical porridge, but for clarity’s sake they ought to be handled individually. I think part of the problem is that transhumanism is so compelling that attacking it head-on is a huge challenge, so critics prefer to target its more radical ideas, such as mind uploading.

Mind uploading is indeed a radical idea, and I can sympathize with some of Gubrud’s arguments about continuity, but critics have to realize that the “mind uploading as dualism” argument is over a decade old and has already been refuted many times. It is refuted by positing mind transfers so incremental that it is quite impossible to say that the original person has been lost. The transfer can be made arbitrarily incremental, and there will still be people who say that the original person is lost, and keep saying that forever, but it seems quite likely that society will eventually adopt the technology anyway. We’ve already incrementally uploaded so much data about ourselves into an “exoself” of computer files and Internet sites.

Comments

  1. IthinkXthereforeX

    “I think part of the problem is that transhumanism is so compelling that attacking it head-on is a huge challenge, so people would prefer to target its more radical ideas, such as mind uploading.”

    Wow, said like a true transhumanist with its head buried in the sand. I use “its” intentionally to acknowledge your desire to become a sexless indentityless group of bits in a computer that can be readily deleted.

    You do realize that transhumanisim is a long way from catching up to Christianity as the dominant belief. I guess when your head is buried in the sand its hard to see that.

    Mind uploading a purely theoretical idea which has yet to be proven with some actual doing so when the first system comes out please be sure to be the first in line. Just remember when the computer crashes and you are erased; you will have no legal recourse for charing them with murder since bits cannot be murdered.

    Cheers

  2. IthinkXthereforeX,

    You do realize that laws about murder can change, don’t you? At least the hypothetical being that you talk about who has been erased has the possibility of having been backed up in another location, and thus could be re-animated, unlike us in our current situation.

    Did Michael say that transhumanism is close to catching up with Christianity in popularity? What’s your point when you bring that up?

    If you disagree with the idea that people attack mind uploading because so much of transhumanism is compelling, why not point out the other weak points in transhumanism? Maybe it’s easier to simply insult and misrepresent the person you disagree with.

  3. ZJ

    “…a sexless indentityless group of bits in a computer that can be readily deleted.”

    Yes, I’d much rather be a collection of cells in a skull that can be easily shattered and scrambled.

    Anyway, I have to wonder if Gubrud, in his view, simply *needs* uploading to “not work”, because otherwise he’s afraid it would lead to bad things, like whatever his idea of nihilism is. Saying that it would be bad is one thing, but he should know that’s not the same as saying it won’t work.

  4. Gus K.

    Gubrud completely evaded your question.
    1. He argues that minds cannot cross substrates.
    2. You argued that they already cross substrates when different atoms or molecules move in and out of our brains.
    3. He then completely changes the subject and says that this leads to nihilism and talks about which community you identify with.

    The term “identity” as applied to the continuity of a human mind has nothing to cultural/social/religious “identity”.

    This is almost exactly the debate (“reasoning?”) strategy of religious believers.
    1. You critique the basis of their beliefs.
    2. They cannot provide a reasonable answer (If they could, we’d all be Christians/Moslems etc.)
    3. They change the subject and argue about the consequences of non-belief; as though something cannot be true and lead to bad consequences, and confuse the definitions of words.

    I think that people either learn to be rational by a certain age, or they cope by adopting illogical rationalizations. These same rationalisations can then be applied, literally sylogism by sylogism, to any belief that they encounter that they dislike emotionally.

    I bet Gubrud has at least a BA, probably an advanced degree, and is a member of some profession. It amazes me how far people can rise and not be able to follow, and respond to, basic argument.

  5. Gus K.

    On second thought, I don’t think Gubrud is a religious nut. He has reasonable positions on nanotech here:
    http://www.nanotech.biz/i.php?id=01_22_09

    In the above (nanotech) article, he says that he dislikes the cultiness of transhumanism. He describes Kurzwelian uploading being like accession to Heaven; a process in which we loose all sense of individual identity.

    In his New Atlantis article, he basically agrees that uploading is possible. He doesn’t say that the upload will not be a close enough simulation to do what your biological self can do. (A position distinct from Penrose, Hameroff, and religious believers in souls). He just quibbles over the term “identity”.

    It’s the percieved cultiness of some parts of transhumanism that seems to bother him.

  6. Great post Michael.

    In a related IEET discussion
    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/eskow20100603/
    I wrote a comment which may also be applicable here:

    Before going to sleep, I could think that I will cease to exist and another person, who remembers most of my memories, will wake up in my bed tomorrow morning.

    This cannot be theoretically disproved, but of course thinking so would be masochism. Instead, I choose to think that I will sleep, and the same I will wake up. We all do.

    I can make this choice because experience tells me that today’s me has always felt like, and accepted himself as, a continuation of yesterday’s me. And today, I am willing to accept tomorrow’s me as a valid continuation of today’s me. There is continuity, because the perception and acceptance of continuity is never broken.

    The same applies to uploading. Note that most people would accept teleport (you disappear here and an identical copy appears there), which logically is the same as uploading. This tells me that the difficulty is mainly psychological.

  7. @IthinkXthereforeX: Sexless, huh? Are you channeling old Teddy Roosevelt? Is gender identity so fundamental to humanity?

    With regardless to uploading, I would be much more comfortable with a gradual transition rather than an abrupt one.

  8. Hedonic Treader

    The discussion about the feasibility of uploading, or its implications on our concepts of identity and personhood are relevant and necessary, but they tend to distract from the most severe ethical implication: The risk of artificially enhanced supertorture.

    If algorithmic processes in fast digital supercomputers could really generate sentient affective experience modes, the creation of super-human quantities and qualities of agony and suffering would become feasible as well, and with the push of a button. A hypothetical scenario in which such an entity – or even thousands or millions of them – is forced to undergo “agony loops”, creating the subjective equivalent of thousands of years of constant supertorture, should be considered ethically far more abhorrent than even the extinction of sentient life.

    Much work has been done on existential risk, but the true dark side of transhumanist concepts are not constituted by the opportunity costs of unlived happy lives but by the very real danger of supertorture and artificially enhanced suffering. If paradise engineering is hypothetically feasible, as David Pearce suggests, then hell engineering may be just as realistic, at least locally.

    And there might be game-theoretic reasons that this threat could emerge not just from the sadistic glee of technologically skilled psychopaths, but by factions or agents who act perfectly rational from their respective POV -> mutually assured supertorture as a conflict-solving tool, much like the MAD of the nuclear powers during the cold war. There should be at least as much attention and analysis of such risk scenarios as there is of existential risk.

  9. While I’m inclined to dismiss the concept as silly, your explanation of supertorture actually sounds rather reasonable. Assuming future intelligences still experience suffering in a similar fashion, hitting them where it hurts would be a natural tactic. I wonder about the technical limitations. Artificial beings might engineer themselves away from emotions such as pain and frustration, if they retain emotions at all.

  10. Uploading pushes a lot of people’s buttons because it challenges their deeply-held assumptions about humanity and identity.

  11. Hedonic Treader

    @Summerspeaker: I’m not sure about the sentience of AI, but with uploads, their psychological nature should be expected to be very similar to humans. Especially when individual humans want to upload their minds, they probably wish to retain their basic emotional nature. Certainly initially.

    In theory, an upload’s nature could be manipulated more easily in positive ways. A pain or fear limit could be implemented, for instance. But then again, such a threshold could be removed by anyone malicious with access to the cognitive architecture. And the idea to remove all negative emotions is hypothetically brilliant… but it’s an open question whether this could work without impeding personhood and behavioral functionality to an unacceptable degree.

  12. Heartland

    Michael, saying that constant turnover of matter in the body kills the argument against uploading is like throwing a rock at a tank and exclaiming, “I destroyed you!” This is not so simple. Now, I don’t think the guy you mention in this post understands the concepts associated with identity, considering his claims that identity can’t cross substrates. Of course it can as it is a mind that contains the essence of identity, and since any physical process could be sustained without affecting its function despite gradual replacement of that process’ elements with elements made up of other substrates, so would minds and identities contained within them be sustained and preserved during a gradual replacement of the stuff that makes them work.

    However, *some* forms of uploading are going to destroy people and some won’t. We shouldn’t give in to temptation to label uploading as totally undesirable or desirable. Instead, we should focus on why some forms of uploading will probably be safe and some are deadly.

    In light of this, the only thing “constant turnover of atoms” argument defeats here is merely the claim that minds can’t cross substrates, not the other remaining arguments that some forms of uploading do destroy identity.

  13. Heartland, good points, sort of, but people have to acknowledge that uploading is possible before they even look at the question of whether identity can be preserved in some uploading procedures. If they don’t acknowledge uploading as possible, or assert that it’s a foregone conclusion that uploads will never be treated as persons, then they tend to care less about starting the entire analysis.

    I never imply that neural molecular turnover implies that uploading is moral and wise under all circumstances, not at all. I’m merely talking about its feasibility. I think that’s pretty clear from the text.

  14. terry

    Does anyone have a link explaining the theory behind a gradual transition from biological to synthetic neurons. I vaguely remember the philosopher David Chalmers having some thoughts on the matter.

  15. SI

    “Uploading pushes a lot of people’s buttons because it challenges their deeply-held assumptions about humanity and identity.”

    Yep, they are “special”. A good take down is by Dennet, Deflating Consciousness. It may be on youtube or somewhere on the net.

  16. reader17

    The debate on the possibility of mind uploading is _OVER_.

    This blog just consistently fails to fail. Kudos.

  17. Khannea Suntzu

    Not too worry. This is a starting discourse and we’re just getting started – it’s fun!

    ‘Transhumanists’, insofar they represent a consistent, organized group (and if they I appoint mike as PR guy) do not advocate. Life is going on as it is, and progress is being made in some fields. At best the vast majority of cheerleaders are standing by as history unfolds, pointing to patterns and speculating. They are at best applauding. NOT ANYWHERE is but a small group of transhumanists involved with making an actual widespread contribution, when compared to business as usual.

    Those that attack transhumanists attack people who are little else than volcano watchers. It is no use to blame volcano watchers and volcano enthusiasts for the volcano. Better, no amount of policies, complaints, angry blogs, eloquent articles and comments at the washington post will have any serious dent in what is unfolding before our eyes. The critic can disagree whether or not the message of transhumanism pertains to this volcanic eventuality. They may even respond with annoyance about the glorification of volcano’s in general.

    But so what? They aren’t going to change one iota, and if they succeed beyond their wildest dreams in what I’d uncharitably call a luddite circlejerk, they may postpone some developments by a decade or so. Great, so they postpone life extension. A billion more people die prematurely that could have lived a great deal longer. So, they make a real effort and they halt progress in nanotechnology, a bit.

    They make a massive cognitive blunder. These critics assume transhumanists are pushing for these changes, and enforcing either false transhumanist fantasies on the world (which would be debatable, but not very long, since there is a pretty nifty track record of remarkable advances already) or, transhumanists are somehow leveraging these changes on the world.

    Which would make transhumanist something like volcanomancers.

    I say sod it. This is for entertainment value only. It does not affect reality, it does not affect the future. They wish to abort a future they don’t like, well good luck, we have a wish list too.

  18. Mark A. Gubrud

    Michael,

    There’s too much here for me to respond to all of it, so I’ll pick a few points.

    I’m aware of who funds The New Atlantis and that it is basically a conservative venue, but it has hosted some of the finest critical responses to transhumanism yet written(e.g. Charles Rubin’s beautiful essay “Artificial Intelligence and Human Nature”, from 2003 http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/artificial-intelligence-and-human-nature ). I am pleased to make common cause with them in the defense of humanity against its ideological would-be assailants.

    Now, I know that you are well-intentioned, and my calling transhumanism a “noxious weed” that grows in the vacant lot left where the abandoned church burned down, was not meant to denigrate any person, but rather a set of ideas (“memes” if you like) which just are not healthy for children and other living things.

    I do not see human existence in terms of “fitness-maximizing goals,” and I don’t know what you mean by “moving beyond” them. What is “beyond”? Which direction is that? Where is the signpost? Who put it there? This kind of language, which appeals to an assumed a priori betterness of something other than… us… is what I mean by calling transhumanism “pre-Copernican.”

    As for arbitrarily incremental invasions of the brain by, say, artificial neurons replacing the natural ones, your assertion, that in such a case “it is quite impossible to say that the original person has been lost,” assumes the existence of a thing which you call “the original person” and which is different from the person’s body (or brain, at least), since your scenario ends with that brain being completely replaced by something completely different and not even human. The completely different thing might cause the body to act just as the original brain would have, but it would be completely different in ultrastructure, principles of operation, etc., e.g. by reference to physical facts.

    So, basically, you appeal again to the idea of the soul (“the original person” which is “lost” or not) and argue that it can be transferred from brain to machine by this slow variant of Moravec’s scenario. But the thing at the end is clearly not a human being, i.e. a creature of the species Homo sapiens. If you contemplate rendering yourself up to such a process, what we can say unambiguously, by reference to clear physical facts, is that the process will kill you, and that the thing at the end will be something else.

    Now, you will point out that, in the normal course of life, atoms are exchanged, biomolecules broken down and new ones replace them, and people change in time. Which is entirely true, and sometimes we might even say that a person has changed so much that “the original person is lost.” But, this is the nature of human existence, and in each case what you start with is a human being, and what you end with is a human being. I just don’t think there is anything more to this story.

    The point is, again, that this is about the future of our species, of humanity, and whether that future is to be usurped by technology which attains autonomy, perhaps by appropriating human “souls” to claim human rights. I am against that.

  19. Mark A. Gubrud

    One writer above says I argue that “minds cannot cross substrates,” another that I claim that “identity cannot cross substrates.”

    What I actually say is that the words “mind” and “identity” are here being used as covert terms for the idea of the soul. So if you don’t believe in a soul, you shouldn’t believe in a “mind” or an “identity” that can “cross substrates.”

    The second writer, scrambling to nail down what he means, even grasps at phrases like “the essence of identity” which he seems to equate with the “function” of a “process”, and before he’s finished there are “minds and identities contained within” the substrates like, well ghosts in the machine.

    Then, finally, a third writer declares that “The debate… is _OVER_.” So be it.

  20. @Mark The point is, again, that this is about the future of our species, of humanity, and whether that future is to be usurped by technology which attains autonomy, perhaps by appropriating human “souls” to claim human rights. I am against that.

    I have the impression that you are the dualist here.

    In my opinion, the objections to your claims that have been raised here, in particular those based on the constant molecular turnover, make perfect sense. You disagree with: “But, this is the nature of human existence, and in each case what you start with is a human being, and what you end with is a human being.“, which is not a sensible argument, but an assumption. You are assuming that the result of uploading is not a human being.

    Transhumanists are not dualists, because we don’t deny the fact that mentality and consciousness arise from the computational activity of a material substrate that can be understood, reverse-engineered and re-engineered by technology. My impression is that, if you want to deny this, you cannot escape postulating a mystic “elan vital” beyond the reach of science. And this makes you a dualist.

    I also have the impression that most of the objections to uploading, even those as nicely articulated as yours, are basically religious objections: you believe in immaterial souls beyond the realm of science, and you don’t like others stepping on your turf. I see this as one more battle of religion against science.

  21. Choi

    Mark is essentially saying it is the *physics*, including the molecular turnover that makes us conscious as human beings, not the computational activity or pattern. He claims that the “computational activity” is really a “soul”.

  22. Mark Gubrud:
    > I do not see human existence in terms of “fitness-maximizing goals,”
    > and I don’t know what you mean by “moving beyond” them.

    Maybe you see it, maybe you don’t, but the fact is that humans are “programmed” by natural selection to be a certain way. For example, we tend to care about our own children more than we care about the children of others, which sometimes leads even to destructive conflict. This is so because such behaviour was fitness-maximizing (i.e. advantageous to the spread of our genes) in the ancestral environment.

    “Moving beyond” this means e.g. changing certain aspects of our psyche, should the technology to do so be developed. We could for example make ourselves care about all children equally.

    > What is “beyond”? Which direction is that? Where is the signpost?
    > Who put it there? This kind of language, which appeals to an assumed
    > a priori betterness of something other than… us… is what I mean by
    > calling transhumanism “pre-Copernican.”

    Every human being can choose the signposts according to their own values. Different people make different choices, but most are alike in the sense that there are things about themselves that they would like to change. Human beings are not perfectly what they wished they were (or if some individual is, I’m scared by such self-satisfaction). By making changes we can become what suits our individual human values better, e.g. more compassionate.

    > As for arbitrarily incremental invasions of the brain by, say, artificial
    > neurons replacing the natural ones, your assertion, that in such a case
    > “it is quite impossible to say that the original person has been lost,”
    > assumes the existence of a thing which you call “the original person”

    No, it is just the opposite. If there is no “the original person”, then saying that this thing that didn’t even exist has been lost is quite weird.

    If you postulate that “the original person” can be lost, then it is *your* position that requires that such a thing exists in the first place. If it doesn’t exist, then as Michael said “it is quite impossible to say that the original person has been lost.”

    > [...] argue that it can be transferred from brain to machine by this
    > slow variant of Moravec’s scenario. But the thing at the end is clearly
    > not a human being, i.e. a creature of the species Homo sapiens. If you
    > contemplate rendering yourself up to such a process, what we can say
    > unambiguously, by reference to clear physical facts, is that the process
    > will kill you, and that the thing at the end will be something else.

    How human-racist of you to think that removing oneself from the species Homo sapiens is equal to being killed.

    What if I engineered myself into slowly transforming into a Neanderthal? Would I “die” and lose all claims to human-equal rights in your view? Is the particular genome so important? The change would in many ways be smaller than the process of growing from a human child into an adult, but would you give such magical meaning to belonging to a particular species that you would see the change as “dying”? Why don’t you think that children die when they grow up then?

    > The point is, again, that this is about the future of our species,
    > of humanity, and whether that future is to be usurped by technology
    > which attains autonomy

    We shouldn’t all be forced to have the same kind of future. I’ll allow you to be whatever species and physical form you wish, and I just hope you won’t start campaigning to remove human-equal rights from those who choose to be different than you (and have therefore “died” already in your view).

    > perhaps by appropriating human “souls” to claim human rights.

    I don’t believe in a “soul” or a “continuous identity”. I’m not sure what the former means, and the latter is just a psychological illusion in my mind, a concept with no real correlate in reality. At each moment, I have an identity, but there is no magical continuity between them that can be lost. What either will or won’t be lost is the psychologically illusory experience of being a continuation of a former self of which one has memories. But the only part of this that is real (as more than a psychological illusion) is the memories, and those can be carried over in many transfers, arbitrarily incremental or not. (And the illusory experience of continuity can also be carried over, without being any more or less illusory than it was all along.)

  23. Mark A. Gubrud

    Giulio,

    I have the impression that you are basing your otherwise inexplicable comment that I am a dualist on my use of the word “soul” (in quotes, no less) in the passage you quoted. You may take it on faith that I meant that ironically.

    I do not assume that the result of uploading is not a human being. It might, for example, be a human being, albeit one artificially created, say, by cloning, as I discussed right at the beginning of my Futurisms post. However, even in that case, the person to be “uploaded” would still have to be killed, so that this new person could be created.

    Now, when you write that “mentality and consciousness arise from the computational activity of a material substrate…” you are not only thinking and speaking dualism, but if I were less charitable I would accuse you of quadralism, instead of merely being confused.

    No, I do not believe in immaterial souls beyond the realm of science. That’s my whole point. In order to believe that uploading provides a path for you to escape death and transcend to some shining new form of existence, you have to believe in something like an immaterial soul, and furthermore, in its manipulability by technical means.

    Arguments for the possibility of this are a form of magic, and magic is a form of technology, but its target is not the world but the mind, which is fooled into believing something which does not correspond to reality, such as the notion that it is possible for a human being to survive brain disassembly.

    I keep laying this out, you keep not getting it.

    Choi,

    You’ve almost got it, but not quite. This is not physics vs. computer science.

    We are human beings because that’s what we are. We are conscious because that’s what our brains do. They do that because they are structured in the way that they are. I think that other things than brains could also be conscious, depending on how you define that verb “be conscious”. But they would not be human.

    I do not claim that “computational activity” is really a “soul.” Rather, I claim that uploading proponents use terms like “computational activity” and “pattern” and “information” and “algorithm,” etc., as stand-ins for the word “soul,” because the former sounds technological, and they don’t want to sound religious. But in fact, they are thinking dualistically when they use these terms, and using these stand-in terms to convey the same meaning that would be conveyed by the word “soul,” including its immateriality, separability from the body, and transferability to some other “embodiment.”

  24. Mark A. Gubrud

    Aleksei,

    I’ll take your points one at a time, skipping duplicates.

    We have general motives which you might describe as genetically “programmed,” although that’s a bit awkward because the way it works is fairly unlike the way we program computers. By the same token, I really don’t see how any kind of genetic manipulation is going to cause us to care for all children equally. We tend to care most about the children we bond with, which aren’t always our own. In fact, it is doubtful that there is even a specific genetic mechanism which ensures that one bonds only or primarily with one’s own children, as any number of adoptive parents could attest. Rather, this emotional bonding, and more generally, caring about one’s own and others’ children, has a large cognitive component which can only be understood in terms of people’s understanding of what it means to be a parent, or a responsible adult within a community. Improving people’s behavior in this regard is neither dependent on nor likely to be advanced by anything I’ve seen advertised in the transhumanist nexus.

    You are right that people will have different ideas and values, but there are limits to personal freedom. You do not have the right to create some kind of out-of-control technology and let it loose in the world, just because you have some screwy belief system about it’s being an improvement on humanity.

    You suggest that people might want to change themselves to become “more compassionate.” So why don’t they, then? It doesn’t take any pills or implants.

    Michael is the one who claims that sufficiently slow replacement of neurons by transistors or something else that is not human preserves “the original person.” I don’t see how that’s possible, since the end result is something that is not even human.

    Now, I really take offense at terms like “human-racist” which trivialize the bloody and despicable history of racism, as suffered by so many millions and billions of our brothers and sisters. We are talking about the potential creation of some kind of technology that would pose a threat to humanity, not about the oppression of one group of humans by another.

    Why do you ask a question like “Do children die when they grow up?” Obviously, they grow up if and only if they do not die. (And yeah, we don’t all mature equally.)

    Death is a very particular kind of change, in which a human being ceases to be alive. For example, when his or her brain is disassembled by an uploading machine.

    The “correlate in reality” of our notion of personal identity is the continuous existence of our living physical bodies. Why would you call this an “illusion”?

  25. Mark,

    You are correct that I did not write a comprehensive description of how children-valuation works. That was not my intention, just trying to give an example of how because of our evolutionary history, we are less the beings that we would want to be than we could conceivably be.

    > You suggest that people might want to change themselves to become “more
    > compassionate.” So why don’t they, then? It doesn’t take any pills or implants.

    Well, through experience I’ve found out that if I try to act as compassionately as possible, “to maximize my ethical output”, I may get burnt out. I also have desires for various uses of my time that aren’t particularly conducive to the world changing for the better (or at all). My desires are one thing that very advanced tampering of the brain could affect. I could be changed to getting kicks out of being ethical in a way that is more conducive to increased ethical productivity than my current landscape of various conflicting desires.

    > We are talking about the potential creation of some kind of technology that
    > would pose a threat to humanity, not about the oppression of one group of
    > humans by another.

    You’ll be glad to hear that such scenarios also worry me and Michael very much. That’s why we prioritize the work of SIAI very highly. For more discussion of these risks, see: http://intelligence.org/riskintro/index.html

    > The “correlate in reality” of our notion of personal identity is the
    > continuous existence of our living physical bodies.
    > Why would you call this an “illusion”?

    Our bodies are just a particularly specified *pattern* of particles. It is a fact of physics that e.g. electrons don’t have individual identities, all electrons are exactly the same in all properties and perfectly interchangeable. To claim that physical shapes have meaning beyond their *pattern* is to go beyond what physicists have found to exist in the world, i.e. to harbor illusions.

  26. Mark A. Gubrud

    Aleksei,

    I am aware that the SIAI group is concerned with risks posed by out-of-control technology; I haven’t taken a whole lot of time to keep up with that work but from what I have seen there is much to praise as well as much to criticize in the approach taken by that group.

    As to what our bodies are: No particles, no pattern. Of course, depending on how the particles are bonded, they may constitute a living human person, or something else.

    Yes, identical particles are interchangeable, and we do exchange them as part of the normal process of life. Identical particles may be distinguishable by their locations, but that’s not particularly meaningful. None of this is.

    There is meaning, however, in the fact that I cannot be copied without being destroyed. There is also meaning in the fact that some things are human beings and others are not. Meaning, I mean, for me, and for all of us.

  27. > There is meaning, however, in the fact that I cannot
    > be copied without being destroyed.

    The laws of physics do allow for an identical copy of your pattern to appear, it is conceivable.

    That copy would very strongly insist that it is “you” for all practical purposes. It being sentient and really believing in what it says would be just as true as in your case.

    Thought experiments like this show that this “I” you speak of is just an illusion, insofar as you mean by it something that would necessarily be unique to you.

    Any pattern that has the exact same memories as you and the exact same strong insistent feeling that it is you, is you just as much as you are, since you are you in no additional sense than these senses.

    > There is also meaning in the fact that some things are human beings
    > and others are not. Meaning, I mean, for me, and for all of us.

    I give no special meaning to whether I gradually change to a member of some other species or not. As long as I feel that I exist every step of the way, and feel that I am a continuation of the thing that existed a moment earlier, everything is fine by me.

  28. The argument that a gradual transition to a new substrate kills the person while routine processes of replacement do not flatly baffles me.

  29. @Mark: I based my comment that I am a dualist on a Wikipedia’s definition: “In philosophy of mind, dualism is a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism_(philosophy_of_mind)

    You say “No, I do not believe in immaterial souls beyond the realm of science.” and of course I believe you. But this is the impression I had. And I still have the impression that this is a religious debate in disguise.

    With “I do not assume that the result of uploading is not a human being. It might, for example, be a human being, albeit one artificially created” you are conceding that uploading can result in a thinking, feeling and conscious human being. Then, the difference is in the identity of the person uploaded. I say he can be a valid continuation of the original, you say that he cannot.

    We could of course discuss this for years. But how about this: you feel free to consider your uploaded copy as somebody else, and I feel free to consider him as myself. See also my comments to your article on New Atlantis.

    I think I am a set of computational patterns, currently instantiated by physical processes in my biological brain, because I don’t see what else I can be. In this sense, I do “believe in something like an immaterial soul, and furthermore, in its manipulability by technical means.” With the caveat that this soul is not immaterial, but encoded in physical processes, my point being that it is possible to translate it to other physical processes. And I still think this argument is about the old religious notion of soul fighting back against the new scientific one.

  30. Mark A. Gubrud

    Aleksei,

    What physics would “allow for an identical copy of your pattern to appear” (accepting “pattern” to mean “body”)? Pure accident? If so, so what?

    Summerspeaker,

    “gradual transition” of what? Once again, dualistic language.

    Giulio,

    When you say a copy “can be a valid continuation of the original,” you do not explain what you mean by “valid” or even by “continuation,” but you do implicitly acknowledge that the copy and the original are different things.

    To use the words “valid” and “continuation” more clearly, I will say that the idea that

  31. Mark A. Gubrud

    To use the words “valid and “continue” more clearly, I will say that the idea that your life will somehow continue if you get into a machine that picks your brain apart is not a valid idea.

  32. Mark, humans have a great number of instinctual tendencies and weaknesses that it would be nice to have the ability to change. As long as it doesn’t seriously negatively impact other people, why would gaining the ability to change ourselves be such a bad thing?

    There seems to be a school of self-help mysticism that says that humans can change themselves to believe or behave in any way as long as they really want it. This is completely false.

    Anyway, if uploads can exist but not really be the people they are based on, then why does that mean they would necessarily lack consciousness? Why does it mean that they wouldn’t be worthy of rights? Why are you being so human-centric? Let me guess — you eat meat and have no problem with factory farming, because animals only exist for us to eat, and have no value unto themselves. Would you respect any form of non-Homo sapiens intelligence?

    By the way, I’m impressed at the way you’re taking the time to respond to so many of the questions, and that you’re advancing your arguments in an (intellectually) hostile community. Your actions even make me respect academics in general more, by showing that at least one academic is willing to engage with the public directly.

  33. I refer to the process of slowly replacing the brain with functional equivalents of a different material. You acknowledge that substrate exchange happens by default anyway – the atoms switch out. As such, what’s magically different about getting artificial replacements? The following rationalization that you gave earlier does not convince:

    But, this is the nature of human existence, and in each case what you start with is a human being, and what you end with is a human being. I just don’t think there is anything more to this story.

    Literally the same formulation can be used in favor of uploading. The very nature of human existence makes a gradual transition sound fine to me.

    Remember, even for immediate, destructive uploading, the question only matters to the person involved. From the point of view of everybody else, the copy is the same as the original. Conceiving of such uploading as suicide to produce a copy with superior potential hardly changes the procedure. Perhaps that makes transhumanism a death cult, but sacrifice for a laudable objective has emotional currency across cultures. If you win the battle, the movement continues possibly as strong as ever.

  34. Lyte

    From Alexei:

    “The laws of physics do allow for an identical copy of your pattern to appear, it is conceivable.
    That copy would very strongly insist that it is “you” for all practical purposes. It being sentient and really believing in what it says would be just as true as in your case.”

    This argument is something I don’t understand.
    They are clearly two different minds not sharing the same consciousness,so why would the identical copy insist that he is “you”?

    Do you mean that the laws of physics allow one being to spit in two so that there cannot be a way to determine which one was the original, in all practical purposes they are both the original?

    Naturally, both being conscious life forms, they have the same right to exist, but when we go offing the either one of the “you” and claiming that he is not dead but just continuing his existence in another body, leaves me full of huh?

    A man was killed, consciousness was put out permanently, there was no other being out there which shared his consciousness anywhere which would continue existing, only a likeness of him which shared his memories to the point of splitting up.

  35. Michelle Waters

    I’m not sure I believe in the possibility of uploading. If it doesn’t happen it’s neither threat nor promise. However, as someone with brain damage I would like technology to be developed that would keep me from spacing out or becoming confused and ineffective under stress. If that technology involved sticking a device in my brain would that make me less human?

    Also the uploading debate itself could be reframed. Suppose people who miss a dead or dying person could construct an intelligence that’s like him, but isn’t considered by them to be him. Would that that be a wrong thing?

  36. Mark A. Gubrud

    Michael,

    We do have the ability to change ourselves, even without the use of any advanced technology, and we also have technologies that enable or assist us in changing. But everything has limits. For example, you are not legally allowed to change yourself to a corpse, though people do it. If you could change yourself to something that posed a danger to others, that would generally be a problem, too. So, we are talking about what the limits should be, and we are also talking about why you might want change in certain ways, and whether, on reflection, you really do want that.

    I don’t agree it is completely false that people can change their behavior, and that success depends strongly on motivation. But of course, many people try and fail, and you can take the view that they didn’t try hard enough, or that they were trying something that was too hard.

    I don’t know where you got the idea that I was saying uploads would “lack consciousness.” I would not even say that we “have consciousness”, which both makes “consciousness” an object and implies that it is separable from what we are – like every other thing, other than our bodies in whole, that we “have.”

    What I am saying is precisely that we do not have such a thing, a “consciousness” (i.e. soul) that can be separated from our bodies and transfered to something else.

    Rather, we are conscious, which should really be recast as an active verb, and we can probably make non-human things which are conscious,too. We may even be able to make things that are patterned after particular brains, so that they not only are conscious, but have the memories of, think and act like, and perhaps (if they haven’t thought about it enough, or don’t know how they came to exist) believe that they are the persons on which they were patterned.

    But none of this means that we have a separable thing called our “consciouness” which can be moved from our bodies/brains to some other home. That is dualism.

    I don’t like factory farming or any kind of cruelty, but I’m not sure what to do about it. Stronger laws and stronger enforcement seem to me the only thing that will end mass cruelty to animals, but that is quite contrary to the let-everyone-do-as-they-please approach to ethics.

    Now, if we created human-like, conscious AIs, be they “uploads” or independently grown, they clearly would have a strong claim to human rights. If granted such rights, they would become a competitor species, with the outcome unknown. This is my strong reason for opposing their creation.

    It’s nothing at all like racism, because the damn things don’t exist yet, and never will if we don’t go and, like idiots, create them.

  37. Suppose people who miss a dead or dying person could construct an intelligence that’s like him, but isn’t considered by them to be him. Would that that be a wrong thing?

    I believe Kurzweil plans on doing this with his father.

  38. Mark A. Gubrud

    Michelle,

    A prosthetic device that restores the lost function of damaged tissue is entirely distinguishable from an implant whose purpose is to provide some capability humans do not naturally possess.

    I would not say that the use of a device that helps you to overcome the effects of brain damage makes you any less human. It does not make you more human, either, nor would the device (assuming it is not human tissue, say, cloned from your own cells) be correctly described as “human” or “part of you”. It would be something that you use.

    Most people who are enthusiastic about uploading see it as a way that they can escape dying and become some kind of super-being. That belief requires explicit or implicit dualism, as I have argued.

    If you just say it might be nice to have a copy of someone, perhaps someone who had died, well, there are other reasons why this is a very bad idea and should be prohibited.

    One is the reason I just stated to Michael: it provides a way for technology to get its foot in the door of claiming human rights and status as an autonomous force in competition with humanity.

    Another reason is that we really shouldn’t fool ourselves this way. People die, and we need to deal with that fact.

    If you just think it might be comforting to have some kind of animated photograph of a person, recording what they were like as well as what they looked like, it might be possible to do something like this without creating an actual, autonomous conscious robot. For example, the animated photograph could be designed to respond to people, but never initiate anything, or at least always wind down interactions and go back to dormancy.

  39. Hedonic Treader

    “A man was killed, consciousness was put out permanently, there was no other being out there which shared his consciousness anywhere which would continue existing, only a likeness of him which shared his memories to the point of splitting up.”

    The exact same thing happens every second in your life in which your mental states are different than the ones one second before. The concept of “one (time-consistent) consciousness per person” is simply a deeply flawed concept to begin with. As counter-intuitive as it may be, there simply is no such unitary entity.

  40. Heartland

    @Mark A. Gubrud:
    “What I actually say is that the words “mind” and “identity” are here being used as covert terms for the idea of the soul. So if you don’t believe in a soul, you shouldn’t believe in a “mind” or an “identity” that can “cross substrates.”

    It seems you’re carelessly throwing completely different concepts into one bag and accusing others of not recognizing that mind=identity=soul. It’s quite likely that perhaps the confusion about real differences between these terms and their referents lies mainly in your lack of understanding of what mind, identity and soul are. The identity=soul claim is being made frequently. Most people jump to this conclusion without putting in the work to think about these things thoroughly. No, there are no immaterial souls. Yes, there is such a thing as a material or, more precisely, physical identity.

    @Michael:
    “Heartland, good points, sort of, but people have to acknowledge that uploading is possible before they even look at the question of whether identity can be preserved in some uploading procedures. If they don’t acknowledge uploading as possible, or assert that it’s a foregone conclusion that uploads will never be treated as persons, then they tend to care less about starting the entire analysis.”

    Right. It seems Mr. Gubrud claims uploading minds is impossible because mind=soul and souls don’t exist.

    A far more compelling argument for why uploading “into a digital computer” :-) might be impossible should probably involve some form of an attack on functionalism. But then, analog neurons should do the job regardless, so uploading should be possible.

  41. Heartland

    @Mark Gubrud:
    I read your original post and your remarks about dualism are correct as there’s no such thing as an immaterial essence of being that can be separated from the material body. However, what you fail to realize at this point is that there is such a thing as material essence of being that is not a soul. What’s more, as that essence is physical, it should be transferable to other physical, non-biological substrates that are not necessarily computers.

    Your argument about impossibility of uploading is not a convincing one. What I think you should be arguing for is impossibility of identity transfer *even assuming* uploading is possible. Right now, you’re just losing people at the uploading-is-impossible step.

    BTW, Personal Identity list on Google Groups is still open for business if anyone wants to discuss these matters without fear of being accused of beating the dead horse. As a moderator, I will simply not allow it.

  42. Terry Harris

    All current evidence points to the information patterns encoded in the synapses as the physical (albeit distributed) locus of personal conscious identity. If some process permanently destroyed all the synaptic connections, but left the neurons perfectly intact, you would literally be erased. Dead. Logically,replacing the neurons with equivalents which maintain the exact synaptic information and processing wouldn’t change anything.

    Furthermore, our brains/minds change significantly over longer periods of time. We are not exactly the person we were as a five year old child, but we maintain a stream of conscious identity none the less, so change in of itself is not an obstacle to uploading or personal identity.

    Maybe, enabling technologies and knowledge gained during the reverse-engineering of living brains will turn current conceptions about “self” upside down.

    The neurotechnology of the future will likewise produce the means for transforming the physical self — be it through various cognitive techniques, targeted drugs, or electronic implants…our individual self will simply be a broad range of possible selves.

    By the time mind uploading is generally available, perhaps people will have forgotten a time when a singular self was “normal.” They will be used to multiple viewpoints, their brains processing information coming not only from their local surroundings, but also from the remote sensors and cyberspaces they are simultaneously linked to. They will have already become familiar with mental concepts migrating from the brain to spawn digital intermediaries within the clouds of smart dust that surround them. Every idea, each inspiration, would give birth to software lifeforms introspecting from many different perspectives before integrating the results of their considerations with the primary consciousness that spawned them. Each and every brain (whether robot, human, or a hybrid) will continually send and receive perceptions etc. to and from their personal exocortex, operating within the Dust. Just as computers can already cluster together to create temporary supercomputing platforms, perhaps many exocortices will cluster together to form metacortices

    Maybe debates over whether or not “the copy is you” will turn out to have been precisely the wrong kinds of questions to ask.

  43. Mark Gubrud:
    > I don’t agree it is completely false that people can change their behavior

    Don’t make it such a simple dichotomy, that either we can change any aspect of our behaviour or not. Michael obviously didn’t dispute that there are many things that we can change if we really want to, but also noted the other obvious thing here — that there are limits to how much we can mold our psyche without physical intervention in the brain.

    > I don’t like factory farming or any kind of cruelty, but I’m not sure
    > what to do about it.

    You can refrain from personally financially supporting cruel practices. Cutting demand for cruelty reduces the amount of it that is going on.

    (Of course one can do other things to reduce cruelty too, but this should be the start for people who actually care, similarly as it was a good start for anti-slavery campaigners to personally not own slaves.)

    > Now, if we created human-like, conscious AIs, be they “uploads” or
    > independently grown, they clearly would have a strong claim to human rights.
    > If granted such rights, they would become a competitor species, with the
    > outcome unknown. This is my strong reason for opposing their creation.
    >
    > It’s nothing at all like racism, because the damn things don’t exist yet,
    > and never will if we don’t go and, like idiots, create them.

    A complete (and successfully enforced) global ban on advanced transhumanist technologies is a thoroughly unrealistic goal, you’ll never pull something like that off.

    A more realistic policy is what e.g. SIAI is trying to do, i.e. trying to see to it that human-surpassing intelligences are created such that they are nice and friendly towards humans.

    (You might perhaps feel that it is strange to be nice towards “lower beings”, but there are even many humans who do achieve such niceness, so it is certainly possible — especially for beings who aren’t limited by “evolutionary programming” in the sense that humans are.)

    > We may even be able to make things that are patterned after particular
    > brains, so that they not only are conscious, but have the memories of,
    > think and act like, and perhaps (if they haven’t thought about it enough,
    > or don’t know how they came to exist) believe that they are the persons
    > on which they were patterned.

    This whole concept of “person” you use still is just a convenient fiction. (And I share that fiction/illusion in my own thinking to a large degree, and respect people’s preferences to act as if this illusory continuity-of-person-that-is-more-than-having-certain-memories was real, but I admit it is illusory.)

  44. Lyte

    “The concept of “one (time-consistent) consciousness per person” is simply a deeply flawed concept to begin with. As counter-intuitive as it may be, there simply is no such unitary entity.”

    You say it like it is some basic neuroscience that everybody knows (which it probably is), but I’d like to read more about it to understand. Does anyone have a link where this is explained? “one (time-consistent) consciousness per person” – so far I have deeply believed this to be true.

  45. Mike Spence

    Mark,

    Maybe I’m just having trouble keeping up with you, but while I agree with about 95% of the things you’ve said, I don’t see what your argument is. You argue that a slow, gradual process in which a persons neurons are swapped out for something synthetic (and presumably, but not necessarily digital) results in a being that is not human. Even if this is so, I don’t see what’s bad about it, but I can’t agree there. Would you say a person with an artificial heart or arm is no longer human? What’s so special about the brain? You admit that hypothetical artificial beings could be conscious. So in the gradual transition scenario, the person is conscious through the entire process (except when they sleep) and continues to be conscious once the process has ended. At the end of the process the being has an artificial brain, but why does that make them less of a homosapien than an artificial heart? Or, if your contention is that an artificial heart makes a person no longer human, why should we care?

    You seem to fall into the camp that says “restoring function is ok, but new functions is bad”. So I’m curious…if this new artificial brain had safe-guards in it so that it did not allow a person any new abilities, would they still be human? In this case we are talking about something that, by it’s very definition, is only restoring function (or simply not providing enhancement. One could imagine a person undergoing a heart transplant when their existing heart is in good condition)

    If this individual is human with the safe-guards on, what happens when they figure out how to by-pass them? Have they suddenly become non-human? How, since the structure and composition of their bodies has not changed? If not, then how you can say that the previous scenarios resulted in the creation of something that is nonhuman?

    If the individual is not human with the safe-guards in place, then how can you make the statement that a person with an artificial heart is still human? In both cases you have replaced a single organ with one that provides equivalent function. And if a person with an artificial heart is not human, why is that a distinction we should care about?

    Side Note: I have no interest in destructive uploading except as a last resort. I believe quite strongly that I would still die. Now, I assume that if I gradually transition my brain to a different substrate I’ll be able to “create backups” in a non-destructive manner. This, to me, is the same as life-insurance. It will benefit me not at all, but it will benefit those I care about in the same way that (baring fraud) I will never see a dime of my life insurance, but I still have it because I care about those close to me.

  46. Hedonic Treader

    Lyte – ““one (time-consistent) consciousness per person” – so far I have deeply believed this to be true.”

    We have this intuition, and it’s probably an adaptive one from an evolutionary POV, but I find it hard to defend on rational grounds. Let’s assume we want to defend the existence of token-identical “instances” of consciousness that are bound to individual personhood, and time-consistent during the lifetime of an individual homo sapiens.

    In order to defend this assumption, we would have to find a potential correlate of unitary consciousness that is stable enough to provide time-consistent token identity. What are the candidates? 1) Material substrate. This is out, since most of the atoms that are now in my brain were scattered across the landscape when I was five. 2) Informational equivalence. This is out, since almost none of my current average mental states resemble the average mental states of my former five year old brain, at least much less than they resemble the mental states of another adult who shares some similarity with me. Furthermore, it’s questionable whether informational equivalence between distinct conscious moments in space and time can constitute token identity. It may constitute type identity, but that’s not what we’re after.

    So unless we find another candidate, or assume an arbitrary metaphysical one like religion does with its soul concepts, we’re out of luck, and Occam’s Razor does away with “one (time-consistent) consciousness per person”. Ironically, that doesn’t prevent me from making everyday decisions as though I had a time-consistent consciousness unit. The intuition is quite strong in this sense.

  47. Mike Spence

    Lyte and Hedonic,

    These things are far from being limited to the idea of consciousness (and whether or not it exists). How do you define *anything*? Any biological organism that lives long enough will eventually replace all its atoms, and if you’re strict enough the same can be done with information equivalence even in things that are not conscious. (“one cannot step into the same river twice”).

    Yet we seem to have this intuition that says that a certain amount of change is acceptable. We, as adults, still point to certain baby pictures and say, “that’s me” or “that’s when I was 6 months old”. Is this fallacious? I don’t know.

    On the other hand, often when people get out of rehab they will say things like, “that was the old me” and we accept an identity shift that takes place over a few months or years even though we also accept the continuity of identity over many more years (as with the baby pictures).

    So what’s going on here? Is consciousness/identity an illusion? I’d have to ask then, what exactly do you mean by illusion?

    Certainly “consciousness” has no basis in hard science, I don’t think anyone’s saying anything to the contrary. We think we see something like a consciousness because our brains have evolved to see patterns. But how can we even talk about patterns without entering into a form of dualism? I’ll go further than that, how can we talk about information without being duelists?

    I mean, we can *try* to say that information is a part of a physical structure, but if I write a note to my wife on a piece of paper, and then write the same thing down on another piece of paper that’s the SAME information. (the physical media is a copy, but the information is NOT; it is precisely the same)

    I’m not making the case for dualism, but I do find these subjects to be confusing.

  48. nhamann

    I’m very confused by Mark’s argument. He suggests that “we do not have such a thing” as ‘consciousness’, but that “we are conscious, which should really be recast as an active verb.”

    The crux of the matter seems to be this: if a human brain were identically simulated on some hypothetical, infinitely powerful quantum computer, would that or would that not constitute a mind upload? I cannot see how you can say it wouldn’t, so I’m curious: is your argument against mind uploading some technological argument that a) we will never have the computational power to do this and that b) there is no suitable abstraction away from the biochemical details that would enable a more computationally feasible brain simulation to do the job?

    (I’m sorry if I missed it, but I didn’t see anything addressing this in your original article or comments here.)

  49. Hedonic Treader

    “Yet we seem to have this intuition that says that a certain amount of change is acceptable. We, as adults, still point to certain baby pictures and say, “that’s me” or “that’s when I was 6 months old”. Is this fallacious? I don’t know.”

    No, in this context, the pronouns are social network node identifiers. I mean, we have a social network representation in our minds that makes it necessary to identify individual people by various means, mostly to distinguish them from others: “Is this Jack?” – “No, this is Ron.”

    I’m also okay with the concept of informational type identity. The note to your wife is informationally type identical to any other note that contains the same content.

    “So what’s going on here? Is consciousness/identity an illusion? I’d have to ask then, what exactly do you mean by illusion?”

    I think, the relevant point here is about hedonistic value, the value of subjective experience. My pain is my pain and your pain is your pain. My future pain is still my pain (even if I don’t feel it right now), but your future pain is not my pain. This implicit assumtion is why people want to upload themselves in the first place, and this is also the part that I think is conceptually flawed, because my future pain/pleasure is not and never will be my current pain/pleasure.

    The debate over whether “I would die” during uploading, or the hype about life extension, the idea of investing into one’s personal future well-being (as opposed to the utilitarian greater good), are all based on the implicit premise that the future/past hedonistic value of a person’s life is “felt in the same consiousness” of that person, while others are not.

    Why do I want to survive rather than have someone else survive? Because *I* want to feel tomorrow’s pleasures, and I assume that other person’s pleasures wouldn’t be “connected” to my current self, while my future self’s pleasures would be.

    Hence, all these debates, and the transhumanist drive for longevity. This is where I think the illusion lies: There is no unitary consciousness that integrates your future pleasure/pain with your current mental states. The question “Will I feel the feelings of the uploaded mind, or will ‘someone else’ feel those feelings?” is a conceptually flawed question.

    There’s a scene in the movie “The Prestige” (spoiler alert!) where a magician manages to duplicate himself in a magic trick, and routinely drowns the duplicate. In a dialogue at the end, he states that it took a lot of courage because he never knew whether he would end up being the one drowing or the one cheered on by the audience. This shows the same conceptual flaw, it assumes there is one consciousness unit per person, and the duplication process randomly inserts it into one of the resulting clones. And this is just nonsense, consciousness is no such unitary entitiy.

  50. Mike Spence

    Hedonic,

    I understand what you are saying by referring to a persons identity as a social network node identifier, but I still don’t understand how we can talk about social networks (or again, information itself) without entering into dualism. (This, by the way, is not an argument for or against anything)

    Also, I wouldn’t call the separate notes to my wife informationally identical because that implies two copies of the same information. The content is a duplication, the information is not. “I went to the store” is “I went to the store”. Clearly, if we’re to allow for information to have a location, it can exist simultaneously in more than one place at a time. Or, we can say that information itself has no location attribute. Either way, to talk about information is to use dualistic language. That may or may not mean anything, but it seems interesting to me.

    As to the question of, “Will I feel the feelings of the uploaded mind or will someone else?” Well I don’t think that’s conceptually flawed at all. What I would consider, is a nondestructive upload. This create a copy of me that, to everyone else, is me. But since I am still alive, I don’t perceive what the copy perceives. If I am then shot, I die. The fact that another being with (nearly) identical memories and values goes on IS something of a consolation, but I will still die. Note this doesn’t rely on future sensation vs current sensation as both the copy and myself exist in parallel. Baring having someone go out of their way to connect our nervous systems, I *don’t* feel what the copy feels because *he’s someone else* from an internal perspective. The nerves in his skin don’t connect to my nervous system. I can’t see through his eyes. In the end that may make little difference, but I’m not going to assume that it won’t. Not when nondestructive means of transferring your mind to a different substrate will be available. Unlike others, I see a HUGE difference between slicing your brain up into think pieces, scanning it into a computer, and then throwing it away vs having nanomachines attach to your neurons one by one and learn their function.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the former is equivalent to suicide in any but the most legalistic of senses, because it lacks any of the social results of suicide. From an external point of view, destructive uploading works exactly as it’s proponents say, but for me…I’ll opt for the shuttle craft rather than the transporter.

  51. Mike Spence says:
    > From an external point of view, destructive uploading works exactly
    > as it’s proponents say, but for me…I’ll opt for the shuttle craft
    > rather than the transporter.

    This is actually a very good parable (discounting the PR damage taken from quoting stereotypical nerd fiction), and one that I hadn’t heard before. If such a thing as a Star Trek transporter were possible, the question of whether destructive uploading kills you is the same as the question of whether a Star Trek transporter kills you.

    From the point of view of the person getting transported, if he hasn’t got a problem with the process, and feels that he remains continuously alive (as the person appearing at the destination does feel, even though continuity of experience is *always* an illusion, even in every day life), there’s no philosophically sound basis for people to start telling “no, actually you died, and shouldn’t have done that”.

    On the other hand, no-one should be forced to use a transporter if they are so hung-up with the illusion of continuity-of-experience that they worry about the transporter doing away with that. (Of course, people haven’t really ever suggested that anyone should be uploaded against their will, but thought I’d explicitly state this for once.)

  52. People die, and we need to deal with that fact.

    That’s an entirely different argument. If Aubrey de Grey proves correct, we’ll be able escape death while remaining the biological beings we are today. Our willingness to embrace radical goals such as indefinite lifespan ranks as the best thing about transhumanism. That’s the revolutionary mindset at work. When you see a problem, no matter how daunting, you struggle to change it for the better.

  53. I think it is useful to think about identity as a correlation measure rather than a yes/no (binary) measure.

    Think of it as a number between 0 and 1 describing the correlation in information and functionality. Looking at oneself 5 minutes apart, one could say that the identity measure is very close to 1. Yourself at age 6 is probably only correlated 10% with yourself now.

    In both the gradual upload and the destructive upload cases, the measure would be close to 1. On the other hand, if you attach a significant amount of new hardware with new functionality to your simulated brain, the identity measure could be end up being low.

    That said, I think Mark’s problem with uploading is political. I think he believes that the differential in capability would cause a growing gap between haves and have-nots finally leading disintegration of existing civilization. He also considers highly enhanced or modified humans to have lost their humanity because of their different needs / aspirations / contexts.

    That’s debatable. There are already very large differentials, and yet we survive as a civilization. I think differentials are not enough in themselves to cause such disintegration. The haves still have an incentive to play (mostly) nice with the have-nots. Resource contention is a more significant issue and is one that seems uncorrelated with capability differentials.

  54. Mark seems to fixate on the importance of being human in the sense of sticking to how we are now. Though the appeal carries consider rhetorical weight, I could hardly be less impressed. Who belongs to human club has been constantly renegotiated over the millennia. Uploads and the various coming cyborgs may not be human in technical meaning, but that’s irrelevant. I value the species for our intellectual and emotional qualities, not arbitrary notions of authenticity. Now, sufficiently enhanced entities of human origin and made-from-scratch AIs could become so different from baseline Homo sapiens as to warrant a separate classification: posthumans, genies. The creation of such beings does raise myriad legitimate questions, but clinging to gross biological definitions of humanity isn’t a worthwhile response.

  55. You people are nuts. This is fascinating.

    I don’t mean to link whore, but I wrote a post about what’s going on here – a lighthearted overview from an uninitiated member of the public’s point of view.

    Handbags at 10 Paces: Transhumanist Duelism

    Love to know what you mad fuckers think. :)

  56. Mark A. Gubrud

    Mike Spence:

    > Would you say a person with an artificial heart or arm is no longer human?

    No, but the artificial heart or arm would not be human unless it were, in fact, a grown or transplanted human heart or arm. This is just a matter of straightforward description.

    > What’s so special about the brain?

    Are you serious? The brain is the organ that is conscious.

    > So in the gradual transition scenario, the person is conscious through the entire process

    In the gradual transition (to artificial brain) scenario, the human brain is slowly destroyed, but prevented from sensing the physical fact of its destruction. At the end, the person is brain-dead (another unambiguous physical condition).

    The dead do not know they are dead, the dying do not always sense that they are dying.

    Yes, we can have machines replace human beings. Isn’t it crazy that some people think they want that?

    > You seem to fall into the camp that says “restoring function is ok, but new functions is bad”.

    I am in the camp that values humanity. It is what we are, it is everything that we have.

    Also, writing on two different pieces of paper can be considered the “same information” only with respect to your (or some other reader’s) evaluation of the array of ink splotches.

    I see that you are making a serious effort to make sense out of all this. I hope my comments have been of help.

  57. Mark A. Gubrud

    nhamann:

    I don’t know if it will ever be technologically possible to extract sufficient information about brain structure to create a simulation that would appear to behave the same as the person. I think that if it is possible in the future, it will require killing the person. I don’t see how else you could obtain a 3D map at the molecular level, which is what you’d need.

    If this could be done, I agree the simulation would be conscious, because it would behave the same as a conscious human, and “zombies” don’t make sense.

    The simulation would obviously not be the same as the dead person, though you might call it a copy.

  58. Mark A. Gubrud

    miron writes:

    I think Mark’s problem with uploading is political. I think he believes that the differential in capability would cause a growing gap between haves and have-nots finally leading disintegration of existing civilization.

    Mark replies:

    First, I don’t know what this “divide” argument has to do with uploading. But as to the “enhancement divide” argument, I find it rather silly. The rich today are not rich because they are smarter, they are rich because their parents were rich (with very few exceptions) and often they are smarter because they are rich. But in the coming era of AI and robotics, if not already in the present era of technology and capitalism, differences in the abilities of people are of little meaning and do not account, or even strongly correlate with, differences in human welfare.

    To put it another way, whatever small gains may be made by genetic or any biological modification of humans will be totally overshadowed by the fearsome power of AI, robots, and technology in general. To put it another way, a genius can be born in a village in Bangladesh, and a moron in an upper-middle class suburb in the USA. Who is most likely to be better-off?

  59. Mark A. Gubrud

    Summerspeaker writes:

    Who belongs to human club has been constantly renegotiated over the millennia.

    Mark replies:

    I just love this one, ‘If we can accept women and (insert favorite racial slur here) as people, why can’t we accept shiny, intelligent, sensitive robots as people?’

    Then Summerspeaker writes:

    Homo sapiens

    Mark replies:

    That’s it, you’ve got it!!! That’s what we all are, and that’s all we are. The question is, what is our future? Is Homo sapiens going to be the first species that brings about its own extinction deliberately? And to top the irony, just when, and precisely because, we are on the cusp of possessing technical capabilities our forebears could only dream of, to remake the world as we wish?

    Yes, that’s the real question. All the rest of this is mere beating around the bush.

  60. Joe, your post is slightly odd because it seems like you’re kind of pretending to be dumber than you are to make the article appeal more to a popular audience. Note that many people are exposed to philosophy of mind in college philosophy, and defining consciousness and identity are boilerplate issues of modern philosophy of mind. John Searle is one of the best known philosophers. These issues are typical to philosophy in general, not just the small movement of transhumanism.

    Although much of the public might be pseudo-dualistic, no scientists that study the brain are. For anyone who really cares about how the brain works, dualism is a dead end. Millions of people know this — it’s not exactly an obscure notion. Do you live in a country or state where people aren’t very well educated?

    Mark,

    Is Homo sapiens going to be the first species that brings about its own extinction deliberately?

    Yes, through upgrading. Get ready for it, because it will be obvious within a couple decades. If you really think it can be stopped, let me know how, because I’d be curious.

  61. Mark, as best I can tell you’re using the notion that it’s good to be human as presently defined as a foundational assumption. That’s fine for folks who share your view but unconvincing to rest of us. As I said, I don’t value being Homo sapiens for its own sake. Supposed extinction via choosing to gradually transition to artificial brains hardly strikes me as the stuff of nightmares.

    I’m curious as to how you would handle a person forced into a partially synthetic brain by catastrophic injury. Would they be half brain-dead?

  62. Mark A. Gubrud

    Michael,

    Have you seen Cabaret? Do you remember the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”? That’s what your final rejoinder reminds me of.

    Best,
    Mark

  63. Godwin’s law! Looking back I’m surprised it took sixty-three comments.

    Michael, there are a few strategies for preventing extinction via enhancement. My primitivist comrades would of course advice smashing civilization with a big rock. Draconian social control would be another commonly cited solution. I suspect a simple cultural movement against the Singularity, if sufficiently widespread and organized, could at least regard technological progress toward artificial intelligence for a while. I know there’s wisdom in working within what you perceive to be the most likely outcomes, but appealing to inevitability on the matter of supposed human extinction strikes me as the wrong tactic. We don’t know the future with enough accuracy to throw up our hands and try to make the best of the coming robot overlords.

  64. Mike,

    Joe, your post is slightly odd because it seems like you’re kind of pretending to be dumber than you are to make the article appeal more to a popular audience.

    Possibly. How do you know I’m not pretending to be smarter than I am though, so that I appeal more to me?

    I’m not university educated. Whatever intelligence I have is broad-spectrum. I just like putting things together. I genuinely know bugger all about this subject though, or about real(?) philosophy. Haven’t even read one of Kurzweil’s books. I’ve just been google-reader-reading your blog and kurzweil’s feed for the last couple of months.

    Do you live in a country or state where people aren’t very well educated?

    Yes, England.

  65. Mark, that’s just stupid. It’s annoying how you give everyone else reasonable responses but I seem to especially piss you off. I deserve more respect than that. I’m just telling you what I honestly think based on cultural exposure to a diverse cross-section of people.

    Like Summerspeaker mentioned, one of your fundamental assumptions seems to be that being human is inherently good and being non-human is inherently not. OK, I mean, have fun. Something that makes more sense to me is assuming that some sort of transhuman transition is going to occur, and then ask how we can ensure that life stays good for those who choose not to enhance. Probably some kind of universal guaranteed minimum income. I’m here trying to reason it out, and you call me a Nazi.

    Who cares about my position on transhumanism when I agree so much with your and Dr. Altmann’s positions on military nanotech? I’ve admired your arms control work since I was a sophomore ignoring High School. In fact, I used to print out “Nanotechnology and International Security” and read it in class. It helped inspire me to collaborate with CRN.

    Joe,

    Your writing is really funny, it reminds me of my internal monologue.

  66. Thanks Mike,

    Your blog is awesome, it reminds me of the specialised knowledge I might have developed if I wasn’t so busy pretending to be stupid.

  67. I’m here trying to reason it out, and you call me a Nazi.

    Hey, at least he did it with poise and aplomb. I can’t imagine a better way to compare your transhumanist opponent to Hitler. What a chilling scene! And the song title conveniently sounds like it could be a techno-utopian anthem. Well played, Mark. Do you always hold that gem in reserve when debating transhumanists?

  68. Mark A. Gubrud

    Michael,

    Of course you’re not a Nazi. But you’re singing the same song there.

    I don’t agree with your claim that it is somehow inevitable for humanity to surrender to its own creations, which were meant to be tools for making the world more hospitable for people. Tomorrow belongs to human children, not to out-of-control technology.

    Let me say that I find you to be one of the most sincere and open-minded of transhumanist writers. And I do appreciate your understanding of many issues, including the ones I wrote about with Juergen. I wouldn’t bother to write here if I didn’t respect you as a well-meaning and thoughtful person.

    I just think you should think a little harder about the implications of what you already know to be true. In a universe which does not give us signposts to something “better” than humanity, our being human is all we have. To give it up would be a form of death. What is the moral difference, for us, if there are no people on Earth but only radioactive rocks, or if there are no people on Earth but only “intelligent machines” whirling electrons here and there? Kurzweil himself admitted he understood this in TAOSM, when he wrote about his dream, and the “feeling of dread.” Read it again.

    Yours,
    Mark

  69. I don’t understand why the Singularity will necessarily bring about the extinction of human beings as you define them, Mark. If done properly, it should finally bring the good life to everyone on the planet. While I support upgrading in theory, I’m far more interested in reducing want and suffering. Dreams of exploring the galaxy and ever-increasing understanding do appeal, but I’d be satisfied with modest physical adjustments such as ending disease and involuntary aging. Artificial general intelligence facilitates these goals. The genies aren’t bound to destroy us.

  70. Mark A. Gubrud

    Summerspeaker,

    I don’t define human beings. Any definition of “human beings” will be judged on how well it describes us. And no, that’s not at all circular; it’s not a definition, either.

    I am not at all hostile to the use of technology by humans for human purposes, and am very hopeful and excited about the possibilities of 21st-Century technology. But these same possibilities pose great hazards to us, and challenge us to think hard about what we want, and why.

  71. Hedonic Treader

    “I don’t define human beings. Any definition of “human beings” will be judged on how well it describes us. And no, that’s not at all circular; it’s not a definition, either.”

    In fact, that’s completely circular. Who is this “us” you speak of? If I were to define a morally relevant “us”, it would be all of sentient life. Other than that, there’s just “me” (and a few individuals I personally know and care about).

  72. Mark,

    You seem to be especially against uploading, but what about biological enhancement, or brain implants that interface with the flesh rather than replacing it? It’s OK to speak in broad terms about being human being all we have (in some way, I agree with you — finding the signposts for sane self-enhancement won’t be easy), but ultimately you have to draw a bright line in the sand somewhere, and that line will look as arbitrary as hell. If one generation respects it, their children likely won’t, unless the older generation hovers over and controls their children like facists. (Even then, they grow up and make their own choices.) Many conservative adults seem to have no problem with this, of course.

    At the recent H+ conference, I saw that there was a speaker who said that popular media reflects that transhumanism is not popular with the mainstream. But as far as I can tell, the notion of enhancement is extremely common and accepted in movies, anime, and video games geared towards youth. I grew up soaked in enhancement-approving, neophilic messages. Anime, in particular, wholeheartedly embraces it without even really questioning it at all. Hundreds of millions of people are raised on this stuff. Avatar wouldn’t have been successful if people couldn’t empathize with a transhumanist character.

    Note that I’m not arguing here that unrestrained self-modification in every direction is a good thing, just that that could plausibly be the default. Acceptance of enhancement has increased radically over the past couple decades.

    I definitely agree that technology will “challenge us to think hard about what we want, and why”. Many people may simple decide that they want to have simulated sex all day. But, unless really tenacious wireheading loops are established, I think people will broaden their horizons and “link hands” carefully as they explore new regions of the statespace. The only really important modifications have to do with the brain, anyway — a human with the body of a large blue lizard is basically just a human in a costume.

  73. Mark A. Gubrud

    Dear Michael,

    I don’t think I would describe myself as “against uploading.” First of all, uploading is pure science fiction, barely plausible as to what might be physically possible, way in the future, if you assume very general and highly developed nanotechnology.

    Rather, the nonsense of uploading makes an easy target, and it exemplifies what’s wrong with most of transhumanist thinking.

    It is precisely the crude “biological enhancement” and implant technology that is so worrisome, as a route by which technology may invade the human body and begin to take it over.

    The line in the sand is simple – respect the human body. Use every available technology to heal it, but otherwise don’t fuck with it.

    Don’t blur the distinction between Man and Machine, don’t stupidly prefer cyborgization, over embedding within a technological matrix, as a way to extend human capabilities. Make sure you can get back out of the damn thing. At the end of the day, take it all off, and get into bed naked with whomever you prefer.

    Fix genetic damage but don’t engineer the genome. Healing is easier than getting genetics right.

    I’m worried that this generation – between you and my one year old son, is going to be horribly in the grip of technology, and so weakly tied to their also computer-struck parents (my generation) that they completely miss the sense of any connection to us and to our ancestry; and they (you) are the generation who will sail into your Singularity and reap the whirlwind. If I have any hope, it is for your children, that they will grow up to hate your machines and vanities and to seek a new understanding of “what it means to be human.” (Personally, I don’t think it means anything else than being human.) If I am ranting now in Biblical terms, well, isn’t this the place for it, Michael?

    I’m not here to enforce some kind of austerity on fans of Avatar; I would argue that virtual reality and telepresence can accomplish most of what people might want to do by transforming their bodies, and ultimately everything. Arbitrarily high definition simulated experience can be arranged, without requiring any invasion of the brain or body by electrodes, MEMS or photonics.

    I have nothing against fun. And I would note that whatever experiences transhumanists may fantasize about, they are doing so as human beings, without needing to be transformed into giant computers.

    You see, we really can have our cake and eat it too. We can realize our fantasies in various ways, wield immense power through our machines, get top-notch assistance from will-free artificial intelligence, be served by robots of every kind, cure every illness and arrest, even reverse the effects of aging, without giving up on humanity, and while holding on to our humanity as our only refuge in an otherwise meaningless cosmos.

    Listen to your own prophets, Michael. Kurzweil confides in us his terrified dream, puncturing a hole in the anaesthetic surface of his entire thesis. Moravec tells a reporter that robots will become smarter than people and that then people will become robots, and then he laughs that “it’s all rather meaningless.” In Robot, he goes off the deep end contemplating the ripples of raindrops and how they must correspond, by some mapping, to conscious states…. Lately I read that Kurzweil has been thinking along the same lines, gazing out at the ocean in wonder at “all that computation.” Yes, Ray, and it’s all rather meaningless.

    I’m reminded of another song,

    In heaven’s name,
    Why do you play these games?
    Hang on,.. to your love!

    Ah, does anyone seriously think we can do better than that?

    Yours,
    Mark

  74. Hedonic Treader

    Mark, your argument that healing is easier than to get genomics right is certainly valid – it’s generally easier to fix clearly identifiable errors than to add new functionality. But both are possible, and both start with the premise that we’re talking about a system that can be understood in engineering terms.

    Both the human body and the human mind/brain are such systems.

    Imagine we can heal the blind by replacing their defect retinas with artificial retinas that replicate all the functions of a natural retina. Would that be a bad thing? Of course not.

    Now imagine that the artificial implant would not just replicate the natural functions, but add new ones – say, it would allow shading, or brightening up the natural image with a mental command. Would there be any good reason to deny this additional functionality to the patient who is undergoing the operation anyway?

    Or what about brain implants for people with brain damage? Would it be immoral to treat a patient with memory dysfunctions by implanting a neurochip that replicates the defected functions? I don’t think so. And once we allow that, would it be immoral to improve that function by, say, making optional photographic memory available for remembering numbers, texts, faces, situations in detail?

  75. Your vision sounds pleasant enough, Mark, but the distinction strikes me as arbitrary and unnecessary. Now, if I’m interpreting you correctly, you consider independent artificial general intelligence too dangerous to create. That’s an understandable position but I don’t see the connection between that fear and your emphasis of the purity of the human form.

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