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IEET > Rights > Neuroethics > Personhood > Life > Access > Enablement > Innovation > Implants > Vision > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Affiliate Scholar > Patrick Hopkins

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Uploading Won’t Help You


Patrick Hopkins
Patrick Hopkins
Ethical Technology

Posted: Aug 14, 2012

If there is a Holy Grail in the technological search for longevity and immortality it is uploading.  Unfortunately, while uploading will work (in a way), it won’t work for you.

The idea of uploading is basically that every human mind is simply the activity of an individual brain.  If we could scan that brain, map all its connections down to the finest level, we could then reproduce that structure in another medium—some form of computer hardware that would have the same functional organization as the original brain and whose activity would produce the same mind.  Same mind, new hardware.  The benefit of the new hardware, of course, would be that it’s far stronger, far more durable, far more resistant to injury and infection, and is perpetually open to spare parts replacement.  Instead of our minds succumbing to the biological breakdown of brain matter, we could instead live on safely and securely in a silicon upgrade.

The belief that brains make minds is probably right.  The belief that what is important about brains is just the way they are organized—how they process, transmit, store, and create information—is probably right.  The belief that other materials besides water, fat, protein, carbs, and salts could turn out thinking states if properly structured is probably right.  The belief that copying your brain will save your mind is probably wrong. 

What’s wrong is not a mistake in the science, not a mistake in the technology, but a mistake in the metaphysics.  It’s a problem with understanding what is preserved when you copy something.  Fans of uploading want to scan a brain’s organization.  Ok, that’ll work.  They think that if we organize computer hardware to match the original brain’s architecture, the computer will produce a mind with cognitions (memories, feelings, beliefs, etc.) that match the original brain.  Ok, that’ll work.  They do not think that the computer hardware is the same exact object as the original brain.  Ok, that’s right.  But they do think that the computer’s mind is the same exact thing as the original mind.  Wait a minute.

Why think that the new computer is obviously not the same exact object as the brain you scanned but think that the new mind is the same exact mind you started with?  Why think that copying won’t preserve the identity of the brain but will preserve the identity of the mind?  If you copied a song from a friend’s computer to a CD you wouldn’t think that the sound waves you hear are the very same sound waves your friend’s speakers make.  You would think your CD player produces sound waves that are just like your friend’s computer.  We might use the term “same” song, but we know its copies all the way down.

Typically, people describe uploading as “transferring” a mind from one place to another.  Over and over in uploading discussions, there is some version of this:  If you copy a brain’s structure, then what happens is that the mind “in” the original brain will “move” to the computer.  Notice how the language here is all about something moving from place to place.  Even though uploading proponents would likely say they don’t think minds are immaterial objects (like ghosts or souls), but rather are brain activity, the language they use belies this functionalist position.  Instead, talking about minds “moving” and “being transferred” and “traveling across information channels” is exactly the way one would talk about an object in motion from one location to another.  It matches exactly the way a religious believer might say a soul has “left the body” or “gone to heaven” or “entered a new form.”  It treats the mind as a specific, locatable thing that is “in” a current brain able to be moved over to a new type of brain.

This way of talking isn’t just casual metaphor.  In fact, it is crucial to think this way for uploading to work.  After all, uploading isn’t about creating artificial intelligence.  It’s about saving and preserving a specific mind.  It’s about personal identity.  If the uploading procedure doesn’t actually transfer you, then whatever its other appeals, it won’t save you, won’t help you get a longer and safer life.  Unfortunately, I don’t think uploading can save you.

The technology of uploading could copy your brain.  But the mind the new brain produces will also be a copy.  It will be a real mind.  It will have memories and dreams and desires and it will have exactly similar memories and dreams and desires as yours.  But so what?  Your goal in going through the uploading process wasn’t to make a copy of you that could go on with its own life—it was to save yourself.  In spite of the language uploading enthusiasts use, your mind will not “travel” across the room to the computer.  The reorganized computer will start producing a new mind.  That mind will have exactly similar features as you, but won’t be you.  You will be right where you started.  The fact that you could be staring at the computer to which your mind was supposedly “transferred” shows that.

Now, lots of uploading descriptions include the slow destruction of the original brain that is being copied.  As each neural connection is scanned and copied in the computer, that part of your old brain is destroyed.  The result is supposedly that you wake up in the new brain and the old brain is all gone.  But that doesn’t help.  Destruction makes no difference to identity.  The new mind is in exactly the same relation to the old mind regardless of whether the old mind is allowed to survive.  Destroying the old mind just makes it less obvious that the new mind is new.  If a mind really were transferred during uploading, the old body—even when completely unharmed and neural system still functioning normally—should be mindless.  No need to destroy it. 

What’s happening here is that the view of the mind as an immaterial object—like a ghost or a soul—is sneaking into the definition of uploading.  That’s understandable.  All languages use metaphors and many times we don’t even realize it.  But in this case, the actual outcome of uploading depends on the metaphor being real and that’s a problem.  When we talk about minds being “transferred” from a brain to a computer we are using metaphors of objects, motion, and place—just like when tell someone to “put your ideas into words” or “get your thoughts across to the audience.”  But ideas aren’t really inserted into words and thoughts aren’t really moved across rooms.  Neither are minds.  When we copy a brain, we get a mind.  But it’s a new mind, just like the brain is a new brain. 

Ironically, my problem with uploading (and I really do wish it worked) is not some old-fashioned magical and mystical attachment to a spiritual notion of minds.  Quite the opposite.  I think the old-fashioned spiritual notion of minds is haunting the idea of uploading.  Although very materialistic and technological on the surface, uploading treats minds as moveable immaterial substances.  But if minds aren’t like that, they can only be copied, not moved.  And if they are like that, do you really need machines to help find them new homes?

(for a much more extended discussion of these issues, see my article, “Why Uploading Will Not Work, Or, The Ghosts Haunting Transhumanism,” International Journal of Machine Consciousness, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2012) 229-243. http://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S1793843012400136  )


Patrick D. Hopkins, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a philosopher and ethicist who combines a life-long love of science fiction with academic scholarship on very real-world issues of science and technology.
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COMMENTS


So just replace the matter in your brain piece by piece with something more sturdy and compatible with external systems.
You don’t upload into a new system and leave the old ‘self’ behind, you just rebuilt your brain while continuing to live. There is no death of the old self and no awakening of a copy.

Metaphysical problem solved, now someone develop me the technology. grin





Consider the following link and what it implies. Continuity of consciousness - and migrating into an electronic brain - may not be so far fetched if done transitionally. Not exactly uploading, I know, but it could achieve the same goal.       

http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/thinking-tech/scientists-successfully-create-artificial-brain-region/8706





Mind is not a moveable immaterial substance. Mind is data. And, for all even remotely relevant purposes, moving data from source to target is actually *moving* the data, regardless of the fact that technically it consists of deleting and replicating the bit-string in question.

There is no magical identity-ball hidden in data. If a chunk of ones and zeros gets deleted in source and recreated in target, it is fully identical to whatever we might call “actually” moving it.





Easy solution.. make the original brain central to begin with then continue to upgrade and interconnect it with external processing units. More and more activity will inherit these externals.
In the end the original brain will be nothing more than an interface for remote controlling the human biological bipedal vehicle. Time to replace it wink





Thanks for this.

While I don’t believe that mind is information (that can be copied), I am open to the idea of a bio-engineered “brain” that is both computational and living at the same time. It would be interesting to constrain the growth of such a brain to match a template (your or my brain), and even integrate that brain in a non-living technological body.

Even in this case, the same problem persists. The constrained cultured brain would be influenced by your template, or even start off being a lot like you, but not only would it not be you (it would have a consciousness separate from yours), it would increasingly diverge from you as it lives on, becoming someone else.

Actually, this constrained growth of a living thing already exists, its reproducing and rearing children! Even if you clone yourself and copy your whole childhood (as if that would be possible) you would never confuse yourself with your clone.

Maybe all this emphasis on brains and consciousness has missed an important concept: Self.





The “self” is almost assuredly something that is perceived quite differently from what is actually there. There is a phenomenal self-model which the brain constructs from the available data about the body and its disposition within its environment but there is no self-thing that could “get lost” in the uploading process.

Also, at least I am perfectly content, both on personal and on philosophical level, with a bit of death before the uploading process is complete. Clinical or even biological death is probably not so big an actual deal as long as the stage of information-theoretic death is not reached and my mind can be reliably reconstructed on another substrate.





Great article!  You make an excellent point and I like the way you think.  Here are my thoughts.

If we were going to upload our minds, I believe we will already have the computers that will house our minds already in our heads swimming around.  Nanobots if you will.  Ray Kurzweil says we have people in the world today that already have microscopic computers in their brains for Parkinson disease.  So, in my opinion, slowly we will replace more and more of our brains, (in the lab first and then for health reasons and later for entertainment) until we get to a “tipping point.”  For example, maybe we can replace 40% of the brain before it ceases to be the original mind. 

With a little help from exponential growth and big data, what if we stop right before the tipping point?  We’d have a lot of time to study and fix whatever problems there are for mind transfer with whatever new information we find by then. Of course, there might need to be some breakthroughs, but that’s what we humans are good at.





Please, not this tired old argument again!

Look, your self/mind/identity/soul, whatever you want to call it, is a pattern of patterns all the way down.  In actuality, you are being uploaded/downloaded/copied, whatever you want to call it, continuously, every moment of your existence, even right at this moment.  Are you really you from 5 seconds ago, 5 days ago, 5 years ago?  This question is meaningless, there is no fixed ‘you’, you are a fluid process, and you can never step into that same river twice, as the sages say.  Is someone with a cochlear implant not themselves anymore?  How about someone with a deep-brain stimulator for depression?  This is such antiquated nonsense that it really gets me mad to see it in a transhumanist forum. 

How uploading happens, what substrates are necessary, and what techniques will be used to accomplish it, are all technical questions we can only speculate upon right now, but the argument that you won’t be ‘you’ and therefore uploading is impossible really needs to be put to rest once and for all!





DutchCon’s method is probably sound.

Melis256’s method requires relatively massive brain upgrades to work, and if you’re worried about making yourself more durable quickly, you’ll need to rush things in a probably unpleasant way.

b.‘s method is missing something interesting, but possibly non-obvious - the long-term use of data links between multiple humanoid brains to synchronize their memories, experience, &c.  I’d be happy to go about my day in two or three places at once, coping with lousy cellular data-links during the day and only making a full sync while all of me are sleeping.  (Or suck it up and eat the overage bill if one of me is hit by a bus, and needs to dump a day’s experience wirelessly)





Asking “Who and what am I?” is interesting-  ask yourself “Am I that?” about any aspect of “Yourself”, you will find no center that can be positively identified.

In Greg Bears 1986 novel “Eon” people had a small, extremely durable, removable implants that stored the mind in the event of death to be placed in a created body, they also had linked or autonomous virtual selves that could incarnate in various ways.

Transfer is important and good as copying allows the saving of experience but unfortunately not the individual (except as experienced by the current self and others) as illustrated in my example below-

The difference between transfer and copy is destruction of the original.
Imagine you copied yourself into the same room, but alas you hate yourself and a battle to the death ensues; If the copy wins, transfer complete.

Ever see “The Prestige” (2006)?





This is an interesting topic and a well-written article. I disagree on two points

While I’m inclined to agree with the authour that the “old-fashioned spiritual notion of minds is haunting the idea of uploading” I think it may also be haunting the idea of original versus copy, upon which this article’s thesis depends (and “continuity of consciousness” upon which several comments hinge).

1. To use the software example - when you copy a song to a new computer, we ask ‘is it the same song?’ But what if we don’t copy it - is it still the same song when we play it, restart our computer, and play it again? Is that recreation, interpreted from a disc, the ‘same song’ as the original in some way that copying it over is not? True, the data has not moved from disc to disc (nor has it been been copied, cut etc… - unless the disk has been defragmented, in which case it has moved internally, yet is still considered to have not moved) but why does that matter? Why would it make two local-machine plays of a song into “the genuine article” and the non-local ones others ‘mere copies?’


2. This article claims that “Your goal in going through the uploading process wasn’t to make a copy of you that could go on with its own life—it was to save yourself.”

I disagree. I would upload so that my friends can avoid grief, so that my contributions to society can continue without interruption, so that we don’t spend another thirty years training someone up to my levels of skill, and so that *someone* can have first-hand enjoyment of the life that I have built.

Will it save my self? That presumes that I have a ‘self’ to save. Will she/I have continuity of consciousness? No. But seeing as I probably don’y have it in the first place, this should be no loss.

As we change our mental focus, go to sleep, fall unconscious, meditate and so on, is our consciousness actually continuous? Are our selves continuous? If a human being is thoughts and feelings layered on emotion, is zer continuity just a polite fiction? If so, while there is only an illusionary continuation of self through uploading, it’s not a problem - because *all* continuation of self is a polite fiction.

Why does it matter what brain (or brain emulator) produces a set of reactions and experiences so long as they are congruent? Imagine if, post-upload, your copy turns to you and claims to be you? You respond saying, “but I have the original brain” to which your upload replies with “Yeah, what’s your point?”

So why do we call ourselves the same person day to day? I’d say because it cuts down on cognitive load when it comes to predicting future behaviour and experiences. It’s convenient. But arbitrary. And if our upload-copies match that convenient predictability - if they behave enough like us - then let us make peace with them and call them our selves.





Chrontius
I must point out that DutchCon’s and my solution is extremely similar if not the same.
I just explained that while upgrading the brain in the way Dutch proposed, through networking technology there could be done Much more outside the cranium. In fact so much that gradually the majority of “you” would process in these externals.





What Noetic Jun said.

Consciousness and self are properties of thoughts and memories, not of the hardware substrate. Copy thoughts and memories to another substrate, and you have copied consciousness and self.





What Amy Fox just said.

The self is just a moment-to-moment construction arising from the materials that just happen to be on hand at that time. Any persistence is illusory. Therefore, it is no less true to say that a “copy” of you wakes up and that the “real” you dies every time you go to sleep, than saying that the uploaded “copy” of you wakes up (provided the uploading process results in a sufficiently accurate representation of your neural pattern) is “you” in the same way.





haig writes: 

[Please, not this tired old argument again!
Look, your self/mind/identity/soul, whatever you want to call it, is a pattern of patterns all the way down.  In actuality, you are being uploaded/downloaded/copied, whatever you want to call it, continuously, every moment of your existence, even right at this moment.  Are you really you from 5 seconds ago, 5 days ago, 5 years ago?  This question is meaningless, there is no fixed ‘you’, you are a fluid process, and you can never step into that same river twice, as the sages say.  Is someone with a cochlear implant not themselves anymore?  How about someone with a deep-brain stimulator for depression?  This is such antiquated nonsense that it really gets me mad to see it in a transhumanist forum]

You are trying to have it both ways here.  You say there is no fixed ‘you’ and then you claim that the self survives changes like cochlear implants.  Which is it?  If there is no fixed ‘you’, that’s fine.  That just means that ordinary life changes don’t preserve a permanent unitary self——plenty of people from the Buddha to Hume have argued that.  But that only means uploading is as hopeless as regular life in preserving the self. 

As for patterns, that doesn’t help either.  A pattern is the way something is organized.  It is not a thing-in-itself that is lifted from one place and deposited somewhere else.  Uploading fans often treat “patterns” the same way they treat “data” and “minds”——as objects that move around like souls.  To say a new brain has the “same” pattern as the old brain just means the connections are organized in the same way.  Copying the pattern of the old brain “into” a new brain doesn’t make the new mind the same thing as the old mind anymore than rearranging the furniture in my living room the way someone else does would make their living room now exist in my house.





Amy Fox writes:


1. To use the software example - when you copy a song to a new computer, we ask ‘is it the same song?’ But what if we don’t copy it - is it still the same song when we play it, restart our computer, and play it again? Is that recreation, interpreted from a disc, the ‘same song’ as the original in some way that copying it over is not…

>>>>You are exactly right.  But I didn’t claim in the piece that somehow ordinary life does preserve a unitary self.  There may not be such a perfectly continuing thing.  I just argued that uploading would not preserve the self. 

2. This article claims that “Your goal in going through the uploading process wasn’t to make a copy of you that could go on with its own life—it was to save yourself.”

I disagree. I would upload so that my friends can avoid grief, so that my contributions to society can continue without interruption, so that we don’t spend another thirty years training someone up to my levels of skill, and so that *someone* can have first-hand enjoyment of the life that I have built.

>>>>I completely understand that that might be a person’s motivations.  That’s fine.  But when most people write about uploading they write about it somehow saving themselves, not about making other useful people who have their skill sets. 

Why does it matter what brain (or brain emulator) produces a set of reactions and experiences so long as they are congruent? Imagine if, post-upload, your copy turns to you and claims to be you? You respond saying, “but I have the original brain” to which your upload replies with “Yeah, what’s your point?”

>>>>Great scenario.  So, I would point out the inconsistency in his remark and ask him why he first said he was me, but now refers to me in the second person. 





The mind as pattern of information is a theory, not a fact.





@b. re “The mind as pattern of information is a theory, not a fact.”

It is certainly a theory, in the same sense that Einstein’s relativity is a theory. But it seems to me that it is the only theory compatible with the scientific worldview. Other theories resort to unscientific ideas such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism





@Giulio Prisco, fair enough. As far as I understand, it has been shown that the closer to the speed of light an object travels the slower time unfolds, proving a relation between time and space? If there is such evidence when it comes to the theory that minds as information, I am not aware of it.





@b. Relativity explains experimental evidence better than pre-Einstein physics, which postulated a mysterious and non-observable “aether” whose non necessity was proven by Einstein, It seems to me that vitalist objections to mind-as-information are the “aether” of modern neuroscience.





*Smiles* Some great comments here, very enjoyable reading.

As everyone appears to be contemplating with the similar notions that mind is “encapsulated” and integral/reliant upon the biological brain and processes, reductionism is acceptible and possible? Thus the funda-mental question of “what am I?” is surpassed with “who am I?”

Concerning Self and identity, this article regarding future understanding of “Erosion of identity” is worth a visit..

ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/hughes20111119

Concerning this speciality and celebrity status of phenomenological consciousness..

Please contemplate replacing the term consciousness with “awareness”, thus Self-reflexivity is no more than “awareness of Awareness”, and the realisation that the mind, (processes), are what gives this celebrity status?

It is not the eye that sees, it is “seeing” (Hindu Upanishads)





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