Thursday, October 3, 2013

Transhumanism and mind uploading

To those who follow matters transhuman and monitor our march towards the singularity, it is not a new concept.

Uploading your mind to a massive computer system is a pervasive theme.  Science fiction has long mused about the possibility, Kurzweil has spoken about it as being nearly inevitable, and Natasha Vita-More has somewhat incorporated it into her cybernetic notion of the Whole Body Prosthetic.  At the Singularity Weblog, Steve Morris recently posted his own thoughts on the idea of mind uploading and what it might mean, especially in regard to issues of identity.  It's a well-reasoned piece.  As he asks:

"Assuming that a “mind map” could be extracted from a biological brain and transferred to a computational substrate without loss of information, what would this mean for the individual? If the self is just a pattern, and uploading preserves the pattern, then is the uploaded mind still you, or is it merely a copy? After all, if we can create one copy, we can create many copies. Is each copy the same person, or they just replicas? What is the self in such a scenario?"

Valid questions indeed. Are "you" still "you" after the upload or are you a copy?  Is the copy an entity who is altogether different?

Even more interesting to me is Morris' concept of the "black box uploader." Imagine that you have a friend who has chosen to upload themselves into a computer.  They step into a black box and moments later, their face appears on a viewscreen and they happily report that they have been uploaded.  You then see a technician sweeping ashes out of the box.  These ashes are humans remains that are essentially waste after the upload.  As Morris says:

"These ashes bother you. You’re worried about this uploading process. You reach for your smartphone and call your friend. Sure enough, his face appears on your phone. He’s all smiles. He appears to be on some kind of virtual beach, drinking a virtual cocktail. He seems happy. You ask him some questions that only he could possibly know the answer to, and he answers them correctly. It’s definitely him. But what about the heap of ashes left over in the black box. Was that him too?"

And we're back to the question: is your uploaded friend still your friend is he/she a copy?  Or one day, a copy of a copy?

Morris argues for an alternative to mind uploading that can still be regarded as transhuman:

"Instead of uploading a biological mind into a computer, why not start by enhancing the biological brain with additional capacity in some kind of artificial substrate? We don’t necessarily need to carry this hardware around with us. Some kind of wireless interface would do the trick.  So now you have your original biological brain plus an artificial one that you could use for storing data or running extra thought processes."

I would agree to this.  That is if there were no other viable alternative, but as Steve Morris says it would merely be a start.  While I would certainly be pleased with enhancing my brain, this proposed alternative does not correct the physical issues I am most interested in resolving.  The Whole Body Prosthetic accomplishes that.  If I could upload my mind into a computer or into a cybernetic vessel of total body prosthesis, that would be ideal.  No more sickness.  No more frailties.  No more constant fatigue. more pesky emotions.

But would that mean I am a copy?  A "replicant" if you will?  Would I lose my sanity as I'm disembodied within a cyber hoosgow?  Would I still be human?
This may be shocking but ya know what?  I'm not sure that I care.  I love philosophy as much as the next academician (unless the next academician is a philosopher) and "what makes us human" is one of my favorite topics of discussion and argument.  Despite this, I am not willing to surrender the benefits of transhumanism to preserve an artsy, philosophical definition of my humanity.  I want to transcend my limitations, not wallow in them or be hostage to their demands.

That likely loses any respect for me from the anti-transhumanist, sandal and tie-dye wearing hippie crowd as they cry "oh the humanity!"

I can live with that.

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