Immortality has been the holy grail for most humans, but it is elusive and nearly impossible to achieve. While we can’t make our bodies live forever, some believe the same can’t be said for the human mind. Mind transfer, whole brain emulation (WBE), and mind copying are just some of the terms associated with mind uploading. The concept involves the process of scanning one’s entire brain structure and uploading or copying it to a computer to simulate how it works. That would allow the machine to function as close as possible to the brain uploaded to it.
Since mind uploading may still be unknown to many, we answered five of the most frequently asked questions about it in this post.
1. Can you upload your mind?
For those who believe in transhumanism or the process of evolving human life beyond its current capabilities, mind uploading is possible. That’s because the human brain functions on a computational basis, which means its processes can be mimicked by observing its neural activities. Silicon chips or neural networks can copy how the brain works by following neural processes but for a price.
According to transhumanist and philosopher Susan Schneider, mind uploading would mean the death of the original person’s brain. What remains would only be an illusion of its owner. Schneider believes that it is impossible to take out consciousness and transfer it to a different location. At best, uploading the mind means only creating a copy of original thoughts without the awareness that humans have.
2. How close are we to downloading the human brain?
Tons of research dived into reconstructing the human brain and somehow mimicking its functionalities. Admittedly, this area of human brain research still has a long way to go before we can move to downloading consciousness into a machine. Why? Simply because the human mind has complex processes. The human brain has over 100 billion neurons that function simultaneously. That means it goes through hundreds of trillions of synapses at one time, all fine-tuned by life experiences.
Downloading these processes into a machine means each connection must undergo digital scanning, mapping, and reconstruction. If you think about it, we aren’t closer to scanning the entire brain, let alone test the theory of consciousness.
3. Will your uploaded mind still be you?
Mind uploading has been widely celebrated in films. In reality, however, it is entirely different. The idea of mind transfer means uploading an exact copy of your brain to a computer. For example, in the movie Tron, when a person goes inside the digital realm, his/her physical self becomes non-existent and only reappears when he/she leaves the digital world. That means that only one “self” is present at any given time. In Matrix, the person plugged in would have one mind that can experience both the physical and simulated worlds.
In reality, however, this question has yet to be answered. As long as researchers can’t duplicate the mind’s consciousness, it would be hard to tell whether the uploaded self would still be the original person.
4. What makes people condemn mind uploading?
The idea of mind uploading or transfer has been widely discussed by philosophers, scientists, researchers, and even tech enthusiasts. Most of those who disapprove have ethical concerns, particularly since successfully uploading the mind would mean facilitating the death of a human body.
Nectome, a U.S.-based startup working to preserve the brain via digital immortality through embalming and uploading to the cloud, admits that it is complicated. The procedure can only be done on a living brain. Using a “dead” brain is unacceptable because it already has irreparable damage. So, those who want to go through mind uploading means they would essentially commit suicide. Another caveat is that the company has yet to figure out how to “revive” the uploaded brain once it’s in the cloud, which may not be possible and so make the person’s death useless.
5. What happens to an uploaded mind?
Suppose you can really upload your mind to the cloud, what happens to it? The idea is to preserve the human brain, including its memories. However, the dream of still having a simulated father joining you at the dinner table via video conferencing would remain a dream. In reality, the uploaded mind would become an illusion of another person. But for some, it’s like human-made heaven that is better than nothing.
The human body slows down, gets sick, and eventually dies. Often, the only way to preserve a person’s existence is by creating an exact copy of his/her mind and uploading it to the cloud. Given all mind uploading’s intricacies, we still have a long way to go. And given ethical considerations and the fact that we’re not even sure if it’s possible, should we even go through with it?