Six reasons why mind uploading (probably) ain’t gonna happen

Via R U Sirius at the recently-resuscitated H+ Magazine, SyFy*’s Dvice blog lists six reasons that the uploading of human minds in the classic sf-nal civilisational Singularity scenario is extremely unlikely to become a reality.

The sixth is the one most likely to make a good story in its own right, because it’s the one that deals with human nature more than biological or technological restraints:

6. Who Gets Uploaded?

And you thought the lines for iPhone 4 were bad… even if all the above problems were magically solved, there’s still human nature to contend with. War and conflict may not technically be hardwired into our species, but the past 10,000 years of human history are hard to argue with. Unless there’s a way to instantly “teleport” the entirety of humanity into the cloud simultaneously, you can bet your digitized ass that there’ll be fighting over who goes first (or doesn’t, or shouldn’t), how long it takes, what it costs, who pays, how long they get to stay there… you know, all the standard crap that humans have been busting each other’s chops about ever since we could stand upright. I’ll opt out, thanks.

Remember that store worker who was fatally squashed in a Black Friday sales scrum at WalMart back in 2008? Like that, only featuring the whole species. I consider myself something of a transhumanist fellow-traveller, but it’s this end of the problem spectrum (much more so than the technological hurdles) that nudges me ever closer to skepticism.

[ * Every time I read that “revamped” name, it looks more stupid than it did before. ]

8 thoughts on “Six reasons why mind uploading (probably) ain’t gonna happen”

  1. You mean…there are technologies that *everyone* can’t afford/have (never mind ‘want’), on the day they’re invented?

    What a shock…!

  2. The facet of mind uploading that has always sent me through a loop is the concept of a copy-upload. The physical self would remain, but at the moment of creation the copy and the original would be the same information-entity -and of course once the copy runs in whatever digital space is provided it can make unlimited copies of itself, an endless stream of simulacra. The boundaries between two individuals would no longer exist, or they could at least be crossed. Under these circumstances would the concept of self dissolve? Our human biological state with its hormonal desire for food, water, shelter and sex sets the parameters of our psychology. Either these aspects of mind are programed into our digital copies along with some kind of digital scarcity economy or the copies become something completely different from the original. Given this, what would be the point? The only use of uploading to the original that I can imagine would be to create some kind of static shade that preserves a person as they were, an interactive memorial of the former self or of the dead. To respond as the original would, but not capable of growing in any kind of spiritual or psychological sense.

    I don’t wholly discount the idea of ‘uploading’ into some new substrate, but I would give more credence to something like the biological entities in Bear’s ‘Blood Music’. Perhaps something using nanotechnology to merge us with machines, but that seems unlikely given some of the hurdles we’d have to overcome technologically.

    To be completely honest I’m very bothered by the idea of a singularity and the way a lot of people seem to zealously defend it. These people remind me of market fundamentalists, claiming that there is a human construct that is beyond our control and follow some natural law, claiming the results of this force are inevitable. It’s a unhealthy ideology. Don’t worry about the economy, the market will correct itself. Don’t worry about the coming energy crisis or global warming, the singularity will save us. I admit most singularians don’t take such an extreme position, but it’s the logical end of that ideology.

    Who knows? The singularity may come to pass in one form or another, but what’s the point of worrying about it now? We have very immediate problems to focus on now, and dreaming about this new secular eschatology doesn’t help at all. It’s escape from our existential despair packaged in a neat lacquerer case.

  3. All six arguments in the cited article are completely beside the point.

    @Apesofmath: the continuity question is really one mayor philosophical question. Conservative uploaders will probably choose a path where small parts of the brain at a time is replaced by the machine staying connected with the rest of the brain. With this you get rid of the concern that two copies exist and can be assured that personal continuity is ensured.

    Of course the question if you want to copy your simulacrums is entirely up to you, if it bothers you don’t copy yourself. If you want to send one copy light-years away (btw much easier once you are immaterial) you can decide yourself if you want to continue to exist here and now or only stay in backup store if something happens to your copy.

    Personality wouldn’t get diluted at all by this. If you believe in the may world interpretation of quantum mechanics you split all the time in different world-lines and not feel diluted in any of them.

  4. Assuming a non-destructive read-out of the human brain, then you would have an electronic person and a meat person. Who is the “real” person. I would have to say that they are equally real, and thus, you can’t end one or the other, as it would be murder. It’s more of a digital copy of a person, then an ‘uploading’.

  5. @Anthony: Sure both would be”real” persons, but only if you run the non destructively uploaded copy, does it get to diverge on its own experiences. If you just keep it as a backup in case you get overrun by a car tomorrow and dont run it in parallel to you thats different (because its still just a snapshot of you (the wetware copy) in a point of time in the past.

    But in case of the conservative piece by piece replacement of neuron groups (see my comment of yesterday) you wouldn’t end up with two copies.

    BTW: to explore a phyically plausible universe where mind uploading and space “travel” in form of data is practiced, I recommend reading the novels and stories of Greg Egan. Many of them take place in a universe where thats possible (except “Quarantine” I think). But all are a really good read and will blow your mind — guaranteed 😉

  6. I never really saw the point of uploading, even if it were possible. Like any digital file, it doesn’t get transferred, it only gets copied. Sure there might be a perfect copy of your consciousness out there, indistinguishable from you to everyone else, but the original ‘you’ would remain in your own body, and die when it does.

    The reasons listed in the article are all about technological restrictions, and are all pretty silly.

  7. Yeah, I like RU, but his point 6 is silly. There might be a mad rush for iPhones the day they’re released, but six months later you’re giving them to your nephews for Christmas, and two years down the road you can get a cardboard box full of them at any garage sale. So the answer to “OMG humanity is fighting over uploading” is just wait a little bit.

    Technology scarcity will someday be irrelevant anyway – it’s not like it’s volatiles or energy, after all. Just knowledge.

  8. Thank you commenter #6. My thoughts exactly. The fact that a copy exists does not make you less dead when you get hit by a bus.

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