IEET > Vision > Directors > Giulio Prisco > HealthLongevity > Enablement > Futurism > Innovation
Mind Uploading, Vitology, and Crystal Minds
Giulio Prisco   May 21, 2012   Turing Church  

Our cosmic destiny: Upload your mind,  leave biology behind, become a cyber angel.

In A Window of Opportunity, Dr. Randal A. Koene says that the long term future will either not involve us or will demand that we become vastly more adaptable:

“Ultimately, that is where the solution to adaptability lies, in the ability to move functions of the mind to many different types of substrates — to be substrate independent minds (SIM)… Almost every religion attempts to address the problem of Being, and most espouse some form of adaptable existence whereby experience can be carried on in another substrate.”

I agree, and I think our ultimate cosmic destiny is to leave biology behind and become cyber angels.

Why we should upload our minds

Over at H+ Magazine, Eugen Spierer  thinks that we should upload out minds. He says:

“The first and foremost challenge we should “put our minds to” is mind uploading. Once we have severed the link between our consciousness and the cruel joke someone has played on us by enclosing it in a mortal body, can we begin to really appreciate the beauty of the world around us.”

I share his enthusiasm for creating human personalities based on computer hardware, but I don’t share his contempt for “the miserable excuse we have for a wetware body.” I think our bodies are wonderful biological machines, developed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and I don’t consider them as “a cruel joke.” But I think we will soon be able to build, and move our thoughts to, better machines. Our biological bodies are good, but our technological bodies will be better. Spierer concludes:

“Just think of the possibilities! Eternal life. Easy and accessible space travel and colonization. Plenty of time for all human beings to grow and develop. Far less strain on the planet’s limited resources. No more disease. No more suffering. No more death. A better understanding of the world around us, free of the constraints which currently bind us to a meager existence and a short life span.”

Spirer has earned a transhumanist badge of honor with his H+ Magazine article: he has been flamed by Dale Carrico himself, no less, who asks “What if the possibility of suffering is sufficiently inherent in the very possibility of experience as such that to circumvent the one is to eliminate the other, and hence render the proposal of a total elimination of suffering self-defeating?” I must confess that I feel inclined to agree with Carrico on this point. I don’t think the forthcoming age of uploading will eliminate suffering, no more than growing up and becoming adult does, and I don’t believe it will eliminate disease. It will eliminate biological diseases because we will not drive biological bodies, but I guess that there will be other kinds of disease.

I suspect that Carrico understands, as well as I do, that someday we will leave our meat bodies behind and become cyber angels. The difference is that he doesn’t like the idea, and I do. I don’t think mind uploading technology will be operational in time for me to upload (I am 54 — if you are less than 25, perhaps it will be available in time for you), but this is not a big issue.

I don’t fear personal death, because I have some weird hope to be resurrected by future beings with god-like powers, and some even weirder hunch that perhaps every “I am” is the same (I first encountered this concept in Rudy Rucker’s Infinity and the Mind). So I am not a uploading enthusiast for fear of personal death but rather because I am persuaded that this is the future of our species and our “manifest destiny.“ I agree with Spierer that there will be plenty of time for all human beings to grow and develop, and colonize the universe as uploaded minds.

See my cyber angels post for a beautiful quote of Sir Arthur C. Clarke — who else? — and Lincoln’s critique in the comments: “In my opinion, the greatest hurdle to sharing these ideas is the unnecessary assumption that “plastic” or “metal” will be the substrate for our digital spirits. We want and will have warmer and more beautiful substrates than those words imply.” I think “crystal minds” is a better metaphor for alternative substrates, because crystal is beautiful. We will become cyber angels with crystal minds, and move to the stars and beyond.

Martine Rothblatt has coined the beautiful word “vitology” for a new and broader definition of life, not (necessarily) related to biological life but open to new material substrates for life. A staunch advocate of space colonization and the founder of Terasem, Rothblatt says: “Vitology includes biological life as well as cybernetic life, while excluding non-teleological biology (such as organelles within a cell) as well as non-teleological non-biological entities (such as a memory chip).  The science of vitology includes the study of all entities that demonstrate Autonomy, Coopetency, and Transcendence (ACT) — things that are alive.

Divisions of vitology could include biovitology (entities like homo sapiens which demonstrate ACT and are organized according to organic cellular chemistry), cybervitology (entities like intelligent computers or futuristic robots which demonstrate ACT and are organized according to inorganic circuit chemistry) and infovitology (entities like “virtual personalities” which demonstrate ACT and are organized according to software logic).



In a recent poll IEET readers were asked: Would you prefer to be cryogenically preserved and resurrected in an enhanced young body, or to have your mind uploaded to a non-biological medium? 28% of participants answered that they would prefer uploading, and 24% said that either is fine. This is more than 50% support for uploading to a non biological medium, an idea whose time has come.

A Mind Uploading Roadmap

Back to Randal’s article, he believes “we have what it takes to get to the next stage [of post-biological life],” and here is the beef: a concrete roadmap to SIM based on the requirements for system identification.

After a discussion of the state of the art, Randal introduces a relatively novel approach, a microscopic hierarchical system for in-vivo measurements, where the basic component is an agent built in familiar IC technology:

“A chip the size of a red blood cell can contain more transistors than the original Intel i4004 microprocessor. Power can be delivered in a number of ways, from magnetic induction to glucose fuel cells, but most easily through light. There is a wavelength of infrared light between 800 and 1000 nm at which tissue is essentially transparent.

Recording of activity can be done either by detecting voltages over a capacitor or by optical means when operated in combination with voltage sensitive proteins that are used to show activity in neurons.

To conduct brain-wide measurements and to deliver data to the outside, large numbers of microscopic agents need to collaborate, each carrying out specialized roles. They would form a team or a secondary network of computation within and side-by-side with the brain.

Measurements made by agents can be collected, multiplexed and converted into signals that are more readily identified by external imaging methods. Locations of measurements can be obtained by combining direct detection of larger hubs with a protocol for relative triangulated distances between agents.”

A secondary network of computation within and side-by-side with the brain would be a brain co-processor, or brain implant, an artificial processing network that co-resides and operates concurrently with the neuronal network of the brain. Though Randal is proposing it only (!) as a brain measurement system, I can see this technology leading to general purpose brain implants that would work together with the biological brain for years, or decades, absorbing memories and taking over more and more of the processing functions of the brain. When your biological brain dies, it is no big deal… because you are already in the implant, and the information stored in the implant (aka you) is retrievable by design.

This is one of the conceptual strategies for mind uploading that I prefer, especially if the cloud of microscopic computers can be easily implanted (say, swallowed in a pill). It is similar to the “stack” in Richard K. Morgan’s fictional universe, but even better because it is easier to install and retrieve. Morgan writes science fiction, but reality is catching up fast: On April 12, 2011, nearly 15 years after she became paralyzed and unable to speak, a woman controlled a robotic arm by thinking about moving her arm and hand to lift a bottle of coffee to her mouth and take a drink, using the BrainGate neural interface system.

In Substrate-Independent Minds, Randal says:

“In past years, I have made it my responsibility to seek out and bring together the pioneers, the investigators, and to identify the technologies. With , I put together, maintain and update road maps for WBE and SIM. An essential task has been to spot key pieces of the puzzle that require urgent attention. Now, we are directly involved with and provide objective oriented coordination and communication between projects, insuring that results will meet the requirements and will come together to achieve substrate-independent minds.”

I am very happy to see that our understanding of the brain is advancing fast, and preliminary technologies for mind uploading are being developed, but I still think that our generation will not live long enough to upload. But with cryonics everyone can buy a ticket to a future with uploading technology, and from there to the stars.

A very promising alternative to “traditional” (!) cryonics is being developed by the Brain Preservation Foundation: “Can the standard chemical fixation and plastic embedding technique used for electron microscopic investigation of brain circuitry be adapted to preserve the synaptic connectivity of an entire human brain?” There are promising indications that the answer to his question is yes. If this is the case, in only a few years there will be simple and affordable medical procedure to preserve our brains for the future. Instead of “chemical fixation and plastic embedding,” which does not sound emotionally appealing (see Lincoln’s objections), I propose to refer to preserved brains as crystal minds.


Image #1 Crystal mind image: (Nevit Dilmen/Wikipedia Commons)

Image #2 Concept schematic of Micro-Neuro-Interface circuit technology within a bio-compatible casing.

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.


Some day, a tea spoon of this stuff will be my substrate:

Neutrons Become Cubes Inside Neutron Stars

Interesting. I think a major challenge for the uploading folks is the filtering of information. How much of “us” is necessary to constitute a person in the uploaded state? I also wonder at what changes in our fundamental assumptions will be necessary for uploading to work. We are pretty much wedded to the idea of the physicality of our bodies, so if we cease to be physical beings will our concept of self be able to make the shift?

@Alex re “if we cease to be physical beings will our concept of self be able to make the shift?”

I am sure it will be a difficult and sometime painful transition. But also growing up (ceasing to be children and becoming adults) is a difficult and sometime painful transition. Undergoing and overcoming painful transitions is what we do.

re “How much of “us” is necessary to constitute a person in the uploaded state?”

That’s the key question indeed. A related question is how much of “us” is individual to each person and how much is standard “human firmware.” I think at least 90% of what goes on in our brain is dedicated to keeping our body alive (e.g. breathing) and at least 90% of the remaining 10% is standard subsystems (e.g. domain specific knowledge, foreign languages, visual memories of places) that could eventually be re-installed from stock. If I am correct we will only need to preserve 1% of the information in our brain (which is still a lot).

@Hank re virology - please correct the typo, Martine doesn’t do virology. (Actually, she does, but in another context;-)

Re virology and defining life in a way that is not specifically biological, I think this is related to my belief that we have reached a stage where the battle between genes that has dominated most our our evolutionary history is ceding that dominance to the battle between ideas. The battle between genes has not stopped, of course, but as a driver for change I have the impression that it is no longer where the real action is.

And if we follow that idea further, we might say that just as biological life forms emerged as vehicles for the propagation of genes, the new life forms are/will be vehicles for the propagation of ideas. And they don’t have to be physical, let alone biological. IEET is not a physical entity, but it is certainly a vehicle for the propagation of ideas.

IEET is alive.

It’s also, unfortunately, a vehicle for the propagation of typos. I meant vitology.
Blaming the iPad autocorrect again.

Another thing to say about biological life-forms is that we not only ACT (well, some of us anyway) as vehicles for the propagation of our genes, we have actually been constructed by those genes to serve that purpose.

The same can be said, in relation to ideas, of a think thank that has been established with the specific aim of propagating an idea, or set of ideas.

Intriguingly, if a human being has been conceived with the explicit aim of propagating an idea (let’s say “we need to raise more communists”, or “we need someone to continue the family business”) then that human being is a life-form in this new, non-biological sense.

Of course, the human in question, being also a vehicle for the propagation of his or her genes, and being generally bathed in a linguistic environment and thus both exposed to and the generator of new ideas, may underperform with regard to the purpose for which he or she was conceived.

They call them kenes:

[Greg Benford’s] basic idea seems to be that once you have sufficiently rich “memospheres” where memes can thrive (like the Internet?), predatory memes can appear, some kind of meta-lebel entities which are not directly observable to the hosts of the memes (humans or computers). In fact, since they somehow *eat* memes, we can’t even think or understand them. I seriously doubt that the last is possible, but it is a fun idea that there could exist beings which we are *by definition* unable to comprehend.

Benford has the ‘voice’ of the Syntony describe how: “a new stage
deploys. Above the apparent order of the gene world, above even the
drama of organisms ... the largest theater of all ... self-replicating
ideas in the minds of machines . . . called kenes.”

Here’s another one: once a person has decided on his or her life’s purpose, vocation, dharma, or whatever you want to call it, he or she becomes alive in this new, non-biological sense. Only then. Because it is only then that an idea, or set of ideas, has transformed (constructed) that person specifically as a vehicle for its/their propagation.

@Peter re “IEET is not a physical entity, but it is certainly a vehicle for the propagation of ideas. IEET is alive.”

Perhaps “The persons in the IEET propagate ideas through the IEET” is more correct. But it is very interesting to speculate on whether groups, or societies, could be consistently thought of as having a life of their own, and a meta-consciousness above their physical layer (the persons).

What about the idea “I want to live for ever”? How many of us would be up for considering the propagation of this idea as our life’s purpose?

Re “it is very interesting to speculate on whether groups, or societies, could be consistently thought of as having a life of there own”, this is an idea I first came across at TEDx Brussels last year. I think they can. In fact in many ways it seems reasonable to state that IEET indeed _exists_ to propagate certain ideas, whereas the same cannot be said for the people that do its work. As far as I know we all have other motivations, other interests, other priorities.

@Peter re “What about the idea “I want to live for ever”? How many of us would be up for considering the propagation of this idea as our life’s purpose? “

“I want to live forever” is too narrow and “provincial” for me to consider it as my life’s purpose. It is only important for me, and perhaps for two or three others. The universe doesn’t give a damn, and there is no reason why it should.

However, the indefinite lifespan meme is often embedded in the much wider Cosmist philosophical system (aka spiritual transhumanism, the soft of things that I like to write about), which I do consider as my life’s purpose.

Then you are alive, Giulio smile

“Our cosmic destiny: Upload your mind”....

Damnit Giulio, I thought we had this conversation before. You talk about YOUR cosmic destiny as if it were also mine. Do you care to hear about my cosmic destiny? Do you want to know about my ideas about how AI technologies can vastly expand the human mentality before any serious identity issues arise?  You continue to demonstrate that you don’t give a flying fuck, this goes for all of your supporters and friends too, without exception. You have latched on to your dim, narrow conception of mind uploading, have placed it on the highest pedistal you can find, and you are now so deep in it that you don’t even acknowledge that competing ideas even exist much less have merit. Then you write the line I just quoted. You didn’t write “MY cosmic destinty: Uploading MY mind”... NO, that is not what you wrote at all.

I have repeatedly stated strong technical objections to mind uploading but I’m sure you don’t even remember them. Nobody in the uploading community has, in the last ten years, even given serious consideration to the ideas I propose. You don’t care. You have latched onto an idea that your mind likes and you are now incapable of even appraising ideas that do nothing more than fix conceptual deficiencies in what you consider sacred.

@AlonzoTG re “Damnit Giulio, I thought we had this conversation before. You talk about YOUR cosmic destiny as if it were also mine.”

I talk of mine, feel free to talk of yours.

I don’t think the rest of your comment deserves a reply.

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