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Technologies could one day enable us to simulate the deceased
Dick Pelletier   Feb 4, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Technologies that can simulate a deceased person’s life experience, consciousness, and memories do not exist today, but many experts believe that exponential advances in computers, artificial intelligence, and communications technologies could bring this dream into reality by mid-century or before.

First, neuroscientists must unravel the meaning of quadrillions of neuron firings; how thoughts turn into memories; how personalities are molded and how consciousness arises from the brain.

Success in this area has just received a boost from Vanderbilt University researchers who recently discovered the procedure in how neurons create our decisions, and HHMI progress in behavior control research.

Once the human mind is completely understood (which optimistically could happen within the next two-to-three decades), it may be possible for tomorrow’s computers to simulate brain activities of a deceased person’s last few years, or even their entire life; then dispatch nanobots to scan the brains of every living person who knew of the deceased, to gather more information.

All this data could then be used to simulate the deceased person’s mind and current state of consciousness; and then program this simulation into an artificial brain fashioned from ‘nano-neurons’ ready for upload into a newly-constructed body resembling the lost loved one.

Would the cloned ‘copy’ believe that he or she was the original person who died, and would others be convinced of the replicate’s authenticity? If the neurons were programmed correctly, no one would have reason to believe otherwise.

It could be argued that every time we rise in the morning, we’re a little different from the person who went to bed last night. So it just makes sense, to experience death, then be reanimated into a new body could be accepted, especially if the brain was programmed to live in an enhanced body.

Will this futuristic technology, which theoretically could become a popular procedure by mid-century, be accepted by mainstream society? The alternative would be to consign our lost loved ones to a state of being dead forever. How boring is that?

What are the chances of a radical concept like this happening? If computer technologies continue advancing exponentially as they have done for the last 50 years, and artificial intelligence develops as most futurist predict; mind simulation could one day become a routine practice. Comments welcome.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


This is the most realistic depiction of how this will likely unfold:

Not quite what Fyodorov envisioned, but a satisfactory intermediate step until quantum archaeology is possible. Things will definitely get pretty complicated once all these forked identities start laying claim to the original, and all the associated perks that entails.

How future society will treat artificial life forms—androids, household robots, etc.—is yet to be determined.

Lawmakers will surely consider some form of “robots rights”.

Great post! Frank Tipler had a lot to say about this issue in “The Physics of Immortality.” Tipler had sort of an eschatological view of emulation of the deat - he set it in the deep future during the collapse of the universe. Since it would take only a finite amount of computing power to emulate a dead person (assuming consciousness is ultimately computable,) it could be done in the not so distant future.

I don’t see this as a difficult procedure.

If information technologies continue to advance exponentially, the ability to create a doable simulation of a lost loved one should be relatively simple.

it’s mainly searching for data, then crunching the numbers.

Tomorrow’s technologies could handle this with ease—maybe by mid-century or so.

“Tipler had sort of an eschatological view of emulation of the deat - he set it in the deep future during the collapse of the universe.”

Good idea for a SF flick: “The ‘H’ Program”...
The ‘H’ (as in Jesus H. Christ) Program simulates Christ on Earth, but immediately after Jesus is simulated the world ends coincidentally.
“Or is it coincidence?”, the announcer asks at the very end.
Quick! better write a screenplay before someone takes the idea and runs with it; unless it’s already been done—by now everything must have been thought of.

I hate to be the one to throw cold water on this, but I think this schedule is wildly optimistic. The human brain is the most complex phenomenon we have yet dealt with and we still have no full idea how such basic functions as emotions, memory, or language really work. We’re not even on the verge of curing neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or major mental illness let alone having a model that explains how the whole system works together. Promising endeavors such as the Blue Brain Project are trying to tackle this lack of systemic understanding, but confusing it with us being on the verge of building a living brain our own mind could inhabit is akin to thinking simulations of the weather will allow you to control when it snows.

The argument that we will crack this nut by mind century seems to be based on Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns, but what Kurzweil misses is that the problems we are trying to solve also grow exponentially in complexity and are thus harder and take longer to solve.

Just think about the “war on cancer” it started way back with Nixon and only now do we seem to be getting a handle on it. And two other words- COLD FUSION. I am afraid it will be some time before the mind uploading begins and none of us will likely live to see it.

@ Rick Searle,

I would rather stay positive about this possibility.

In the next two-to-three decades, amazing advances are expected in computiing ability, molecular nanotech, and information technologies.

Breakthroughs in these areas could very well unravel most of the mysteries we now associate with consciousness.

Stay positive, and should this technology be developed and becomes affordable, you too may one day revive a lost loved one!

Comments welcome.

“Comments welcome.”

It is a Go.
Simulating the deceased is a great advertisement for the future. The only time I was able to interest my family was via this topic (they wanted to simulate certain deceased ‘saintly’ Methodist aunts, but now they themselves are gone).
The bubble communities the majority of us live in or near mask the nostalgia of the masses; but what backward-looking—80% of the population—person doesn’t want to simulate a deceased individual or two? if nothing else, it’s a ‘selling point’.

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