IEET > Vision > Virtuality > Bioculture > HealthLongevity > Martine Rothblatt > Futurism
Why Worry About This Sci-Fi Stuff Now?

The term “mindclone” evokes a wide range of sci-fi images from the “Cylons” of Battlestar Galactica to the “Mr. Smiths” of The Matrix.  While it is indisputable that we are creating large mindfiles, as described in Question 1, and surely there are geeks working hard on mindware, as reviewed in Question 2, how close could we be to an actual mindclone when computers can’t converse on their own much better than a two-year old kid?

Very close.  Close enough to feel the bits and bytes of cyberbreath on our cheeks.  To realize how close we are to cyberclone reality it is necessary to understand the exponential nature of advances in information technology.

Pattern recognition expert Ray Kurzweil has shown in his best-seller, The Age of Spiritual Machines, that information technology has been doubling its capabilities every one to two years since the early 1950s.  For example, we have more computing power in our cellphones today, for about $200, than there was in the Apollo spacecraft that went to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s at a cost of $30 billion.  While voice recognition technology was non-existent in the 1990s, only ten years later it was a free feature in most laptops and PDAs, and a ubiquitous customer service front end for large companies.  Ray Kurzweil and others have shown that based upon the doubling rate of information technology it is reasonable to expect mindclones for about $1000 by the end of the 2020s, and sooner than that for a higher price.

The following chart compares the number of information processing circuits available at various dates with biological lifeforms that have the equivalent number of neurons.  Up through 2010 we see computer programs no smarter than a mouse or a bug, and are not impressed.  However, this is most misleading in two ways.

First, there are a great many software packages that are already far smarter than even very clever humans.  For example, the mapping software in your cellphone or PDA can best any of us at finding addresses in unknown neighborhoods.  Gaming software, from grandmaster chess to the complex Asian game of go, and including all manner of virtual world environments, far outstrip the conceptual capabilities of ordinary humans.  Hence, while no software package has “put it all together” the way a human mind does, programs are popping into existence with great competence in many of the areas to which we devote our mental skills.  How long could it be until some software “puts it all together?”  Per Kurzweil’s chart, no longer than the 2020 timeframe in which computers will have as many processors as the human brain has neurons.

There is a second reason, born of psychology, why we find it hard to realize how near-term the mindclones are when all we see on television are robots with the brains of a rodent or a bug.  This reason relates to the difference between our natural way of perceiving things, which is linear, and the way in which information technology is advancing, which is exponential.  Linear things proceed the way children grow, perhaps half-a-foot or so a year until they reach a plateau height.  This is the “linear” way we have evolved to perceive the relationship between changing things and the time it takes them to change forms.  Things that change like people grow, linearly, change about the same amount each year or so.  Hence, if there is a billion-fold deficit between the processing capability of a computer today, and that of a human mind, it is natural for us to project the arrival of mindclones as equal in years to about one billion divided by the increase in processor speed we can get on our computers from one year to the next.

For example, my one year-old computer has about 1/100,000th of the capability of a human mind (its processing speed is about that fraction of the number of human brain neural connections, although its software is in some areas pretty advanced).  In other words, it has only .001% of the capability of a human mind.  It’s a rodent.  I could go buy a new computer today that has 2/100,000th or .002% of the capability of a human mind.  At this rate, with the way my linear mind works, I would expect to be able to buy a mindclone in 99,998 more years.  What, me worry!  Our linear minds take our most recent experience – such as going from a 1/100,000th of a human mind computer to a 2/100,000th of a human mind computer in one year – and extrapolate it forward such that we think it will take 998 more years to get 1% of a human mind, another 1000 years to get to 2% of a human mind, another 1000 years to get to 3% of a human mind, and so on.

In fact, though, information technology does not grow linearly, but exponentially.  This means, according to “Moore’s Law”, information technology doubles each 1-2 years – something very different from growing linearly.  Because computer capability doubles it means next year I will get not 3/100,000th of a human brain computer, but 4/100,000th of one.  Exponential growth means the year after that I will get not 5/100,000th of a human brain computer, but 8/100,000th of one.  With information technology, I can expect to reach mindclone computing as rapidly as this:

Years From Now   Fraction of a Mindclone
Next Year               4/100,000th
Year After               8,100,000th
Third Year             16/100,000th
Fourth Year           32/100,000th
Fifth Year             64/100,000th
Sixth Year           128/100,000th
Seventh Year         256/100,000th
Eighth Year           512/100,000th
Ninth Year         1000/100,000th
Tenth Year         2000/100,000th
Eleventh Year     4000/100,000th
Twelfth Year       8000/100,000th
Thirteenth Year 16,000/100,000th
Fourteenth Year 32,000/100,000th
Fifteenth Year   64,000/100,000th
Sixteenth Year   128,000/100,000th = MINDCLONE

Three clarifying comments are in order.  First, the rounding down from 1,024 to 1,000 in the ninth year is just to make the arithmetic easier to follow.  Second, while Moore’s Law says that the doubling occurs every 1-2 years, in the example given above I showed the doubling every year.  The effect of making it every two years would simply be to postpone mindclones to 32 years from now instead of 16, or to 24 years from now if we use a doubling period of every 18 months.  The important point is that mindclones are around the corner – not in some other millennium, or even in some other generation.  This is about our lives.

The third clarifying comment is that some people question for how long Moore’s Law can continue, noting that other exponential phenomena – such as the growth of bacteria in a Petri dish – end when the room for growth runs out.  In fact, because knowledge (unlike bacteria) can grow without limit, the doubling of information technology is not limited.  Knowledge is the only resource that the more you exploit it, the more you have to exploit.  Engineers have already designed the pathways for Moore’s Law to continue for many decades.  For example, when technology limits are reached with flat integrated circuits computers will shift to three-dimensional integrated circuits.

So, in summary, we delude ourselves that mindclones are in the distant future because our linear minds have great difficulty projecting exponential phenomena.  In fact mindclones are as close to us in time as the birth of punk rock and Apple Computer.  The very same revolution that:

➢  brought cellphones from almost no one’s hands to almost everyone’s hands in under 20 years, and
➢  brought the internet from a military toy to a universal joy in under 15 years,
➢  will bring mindclones from chatbot infancy to human simulacra adulthood in the time it will take to get a kid through school or complete a first professional career.

Not everything sci-fi is far-off.  I have a wristwatch communicator (thanks to SkyTel) and daily videophone conversations (thanks to iChat).  My Oakley sunglasses magically deliver stereo music and phone calls directly to my ears, without wires (thanks to Bluetooth).  My eyes are fixed by lasers, my teeth are cleaned by ultrasound and my food is cooked by microwaves.  Weren’t all these things supposed to be sci-fi?  I don’t see any of them in classic movies or early TV shows.

Nothing in our society is advancing faster than software, and mindclones are simply that:  one part mindfile software and one part mindware software.  True, some good processors are needed to run that software, but Moore’s law is delivering those processors right on schedule.  We need to figure out this mindclone thing right now because this is one part of the future, one aspect of sci-fi, that is banging on the front door.

There is plenty of time to dream about flying cars.  There’s a century to wait for a family trip to Mars.  But mindclones are in a whole different category.  They are riding a wave of exponential information technology that is real, here and now.  Climb outside your linear mind and check out the latest avatars.  If you do so, if you think exponentially, then it is impossible to not see the first, costly mindclones in 10-20 years, and then a mass-market explosion of them in 20-30 years.

Wait, and get caught by surprise, or read on, and be poised for the prize.  The future is an opportunity that benefits the prepared.  These 100 answers will make you mindclone savvy.  So prepped, your mindclone will help make you happy.  What a deal!  Read on

Martine Rothblatt is an IEET Fellow and is author of several books on satellite communications technology, gender freedom, genomics, and xenotransplantation.


It’s interesting to see someone use Kurzweilian projections, as even in the transhumanist community they are often deemed as being on the optimistic side (without being completely rejected either).
How do you compare mindfiles/mindclones to RK’s reverse engineering of the brain and mind uploading? Do you see it as being a step prior, or as being the more realistic achievement?

One thing you don’t consider is that your estimation of Human brain power is wrong. The brain is not a digital computer. Processing occurs not only on the level of the individual neuron, but also as the brain acting as a whole and on every conceivable level in between the two. There’s a lot of processing done on the sub-neuron level aswell, involving neurotransmitters, hormones, and other molecules. Even if you accept Kurzeil’s claim that 1000 computations a second would be enough to simulate a neuron (which I don’t) this doesn’t take into account the massive processing power that occurs both above and below the level of individual neurons.

Knowledge may be unlimited, but hardware ain’t. Physical limitations will eventually slow down and stop the increasing power of computers. We are also nowhere near craking the neural code. We no doubt use mutliple coding techniques, and neural codes are not just unique to every individual but change over the course of a person’s life. If we can’t translate someone’s neural code into machine code, how can we write the software for a mind clone? For these reasons (underestimation of brain power, inevitable failure of moore’s law, and the inability to decipher the Human neural code and thus create mind clone software), I do not believe that mind clones are in the foreseeable future.

The foreseeable future or any future, if you define them as backup copies of yourself.  If they can be successfully created (an enormous if, for reasons that Armand pointed out), they will be distinct entities.

They will be distinct entities in the sense that I am a distinct entity from that toddler who played with cubes.

I think after uploading (like after every significant change), I am still me if and only if both the previous me and the future me are willing to accept the future me as a valid continuation of the
previous me.

After the previous you accepts that you are the future you, will you kill the previous you as redundant?  You’re not a distinct entity from the toddler you were.  You should know better than that, it’s Neurobio 101.  Your brain neurons are almost entirely the same.  If you get dementia or a stroke, you’ll become a distinct entity as well—and you (maybe) and those around you (certainly) will know you are no longer you.

I will not kill the previous me as redundant, for many reasons, the principal being that I would not kill anyone as redundant. After the copy process and as soon as we begin to diverge, of course we will be two different persons in many senses, but also two equally valid continuations of the previous single person.

The toddler. Most brain neurons are the same, so what? The information encoded in the two sets of neurons is very different. I prefer to identify with the current information rather than with the hardware of some decades ago.

Herve—I see minduploading via mindfiles + mindware > mindclone as being much easier than nanobot-based readouts of all the mind’s contents.  We do not have to replicate the neural structure of the brain to recreate a functional equivalent of the human mind.  So yes, prior and easier.

Armand—I agree with you if the challenge is replicating the human brain.  But I don’t think that is necessary in order to replicate the human mind.  The brain is a great way (the only way for now) to get a mind, but I don’t believe it will be the only way for much longer.  Good enough relational databases, with clever enough software that mimics the way people think and feel, will give us a functional equivalent of a human mind.  Hence, I think Kurzweil’s estimations are if anything conservative, as it is not necessary to replicate the processing capability of an entire human brain in order to have the functional equivalent of a human mind.

Athena—The old “you wouldn’t kill your original” thought experiment actually doesn’t work.  My answer is that I’m indifferent to which is killed, although as a pacifist I’d prefer neither be.  Of course anyone would honestly be indifferent because the two are equivalent.  To say “you wouldn’t kill your original” is actually ignoring the argument’s premise, namely, that the original and the mindclone are equivalent.

Athena—It is an interesting question whether a mindclone of myself is part of myself or someone else.  I believe they are not distinct entities, but an evolution of a previously singular entity.  As Max More points out, the crucial factor is continuity.  Because the mindclone is a continuous extension of an original, I would say they are one in the same person, although that same person now has two instantiations.

Giulio—I agree with you, and I believe the Law will end up making it so as well.  When we mindclone ourself, the law will make the actions of one entity the responsibility of both, and the rights of one, the rights of both.  In fact, there will be no “both” identities, as there is just one entity albeit in two instantiations.  This is a hard idea for us to get used to, but so was “London tonight, New York tomorrow.”  Or, “it’s Mom on the phone.”  “How could Mom be on the phone, she’s in Texas?”  People adapt.

When we get into a car, we take a lot more responsibility than our ancestors did when they walked.  If we are distracted for a moment, and run someone over, that is a kind of homicide.  Worse if we are on cell or drinking.  But, each of us makes a decision to drive or not to, and if we drive we must accept the consequences.  So it will be with mindcloning.  Some people will not want to take the risk.  Others will take the risk for the benefits of parallel living.  The Law will recognize mindcloned individuals as one legal entity.  In case of doubt, cyber-psychologist expert witnesses will decide.

Martine: “It is impossible to not see the first, costly mindclones in 10-20 years, and then a mass-market explosion of them in 20-30 years… I see minduploading via mindfiles + mindware > mindclone as being much easier than nanobot-based readouts of all the mind’s contents. We do not have to replicate the neural structure of the brain to recreate a functional equivalent of the human mind. So yes, prior and easier.

In 20-30 years we may well have the hardware and software to run a mindclone at affordable price. What I am more concerned with, is data acquisition. I have my developing mindfile on your CyBeRev project, but I think we need data acquisition rates orders of magnitude higher to develop a workable mindclone (that is, one that could run as sentient software and feel some kind of continuity with the original). Besides the current Q/As, I think we need some high speed, unstructured input channel, for example via the developing commercial neural interface gadgets, with the hope that future software can make sense of this part of the information-

I am unconvinced by the idea of mindclones possibly because I see the mind as symbolic only on the highest levels and I don’t think the high levels work without the lower ones, which I don’t think work without a physical connection to a body.

Also most of what I like to do is physical and involves exercising control over my body.  Sitting around causes me to be unable to think.  In other words, the idea of just a mind clone without a body seems to me to be an illusion.

Those of you who are mindclone adherents seem not to agree whether mindclones are distinct entities or not, and if yes, whether they should be given rights.  Similar arguments apply to biological clones.  In that instance, it’s rather obvious that they are distinct entities.  If you believe that mindclones are as good as the original, then they have to be given rights.  If you believe that they shouldn’t be given rights, you’re implicitly admitting that they’re not as good as the original.

Of course, the entire argument is just armchair woolgathering, since mindclones are far less likely than manticores or werewolves—or falling out of an airplane without a parachute and surviving the fall, except in VR, of course, where all fantasies can come true.

You’re wrong: unlike chess, the state-of-the-art software for the game of go is not even close to the top human level of play.
(Except on restricted, very small boards, usually used only by beginners or for teaching purposes).

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