Uploading Your Mind…Part 1

uploading

Mind uploading or whole brain emulation (sometimes called mind transfer) is the hypothetical process of scanning and mapping a biological brain in detail and copying its state into a computer system or another computational device. The computer would have to run a simulation model so faithful to the original that it would behave in essentially the same way as the original brain, or for all practical purposes, indistinguishably ( p., 24).

Mind uploading is deemed as a logical endpoint for many of those in the in transhumanist and life extension circles. The term was originally suggested in biomedical literature in 1971, so the concept has been around a few decades but still abstract to many. Substantial mainstream research and development are however being done in relevant areas including development of faster super computers, virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces, animal brain mapping and simulation, and information extraction from dynamically functioning brains (p., 24).

The question of mind uploading is highly debated by philosophers, and contradicts the dualist of the human mind that is common in many religions, but then again religion has no place in reality.

The concept of mind uploading is based on the mechanistic view of the mind, and denies the vitalist view of human life and consciousness. “Consciousness is part of the natural world. It depends, we believe only on mathematics and logic and on the imperfectly known laws of physics, chemistry, and biology; it does not arise from some magical or otherworldly quality” (p., 25). Even though we do acknowledge that consciousness is not just confined within the biological parameters of the brain and human anatomy, it is in our best interest to emulate as much of the physical properties of the mind as possible in attempting to creating a mind, or copying a mind to a computational substrate. Converging science disciplines will allow the mechanistic and vitalist research to become collaborative in nature and allows the possibility of mind uploading that much more plausible, and perhaps in the near future, even practical.

The amount of storage and computational power required for mind uploading is quite astounding and at the current time is difficult to predict, but several theoretical scientists have presented models describing how much would be needed based on their own calculations. Using these particular models, some of them have estimated that mind uploading may become possible within decades if trends such as Moore’s Law continues. Although Moore’s Law has been fairly accurate on the exponential change of computer transistors and computational processing power, Moore’s Law does not extend beyond these types of computing. Quantum computing will allow us to get much closer to actual mind uploading due to the nature of its potential hardware not running from transistors, but the quantum energy that exists all around us, and allows for much more complexity and depth of models and simulations, with the possibility of mind uploading included.

Benefits of Mind Uploading

GMM

If the information and processes of the mind can be disassociated from the biological body, then they are no longer tied to the individual limits and lifespan of that body. Information within a brain could be partly or wholly. Opined or transferred to one or more other substrates, including digital storage or another brain, thereby reducing or eliminating mortality risk. This general proposal was first made in 1971by renowned University of Washington bio gerontologist George M. Martin. For transhumanists, this is just one possibly method of becoming post human, living on in a different form of yourself via a computational substrate.

A possible benefit of mind uploading is the possibility of running more than one copy of a human mind existing at once. Such copies could potentially allow an individual to experience many things at once. And later integrate the experiences of all copies into a central mentality at some point in the future, effectively allowing a single sentient being to be many places at once, and do many things at once; this concept has been explored in fiction. Such partial and complete copies of a sentiment being raise interesting questions regarding identity and individuality (p., 26).

Issues of Mind Uploading

The Bekenstein bound is an upper limit on information that can be contained within a given finite region of space, which has finite amount of energy, or conversely, the maximum amount of information required to perfectly describe a given physical system down to the quantum level. I won’t get into the theoretical and physics math involved, but just know that it represents the maximum information needed to perfectly recreate the average human brain down to the quantum level, and will list further reading resources at the end of this article.

No matter the techniques used to capture or recreate the all of the functions of a human brain , the demands of a computational process are immense, directly related to the huge number of neurons within the human brain and the innate complexity of each one of those neurons in completing human movement and thought.  Henry Markram,lead researcher of the Blue Brain Project has this to say:

“It will be very difficult because, in the brain, every molecule is a powerful computer and we would need to simulate the structure and function of trillions upon trillions of molecules as well as all the rules that govern how they interact. You would literally need computers that are trillions of times bigger and faster than anything existing today” (p., 27).

mind-uploading

Those whom are advocating and supporting the possibility, and advancement of research and development of mind uploading point to Moore’s Law, that the neccessary computing will become available in the coming decades.  We need more people in the STEM fields dedicated to the advancement of computing power, and many nations across the world are recognizing the increasingly demanding need for people dedicated to STEM, which are vital converging technologies.

Part 2 of this article will discuss:

Philosophical issues, including copying v moving

Legal and economic issues

Relevant technologies and techniques

Current Research

Criticisms of mind-uploading

The next article will obviously be much lengthier, so it will take longer to write, but hopefully this article has sparked some interest.  Below are some further reading suggestions:

http://www.minduploading.org/

http://www.carboncopies.org/

http://bluebrain.epfl.ch/

http://www.benbest.com/philo/doubles.html

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Brain-Computer-Interfaces…Controlling With Your Thoughts

brain-computer.interface

BCI, or what is commonly known as Brain-Computer Interface is an emerging group of technologies which can also be presented as brain-machine interfaces (BMI), or mind-machine interfaces (MMI). In the recently published book of research, Introduction to Neural Engineering for Motor Rehabilitation (2013) by Dario Farina, Winnie Jensen and Metin Akay, the summary on the chapter covering BCI’s provides an excellent definition of BCI’s and the current applications they are being used in.

“A BCI monitors the user’s brain activity, extracts specific features from the brain signals that reflect the intent of the subject, and translates them into action. BCI Technology offers a natural way to augment human capabilities by providing a new interaction link with the outside world and, thus it is particularly relevant as an aid for patients with severe neuromuscular disabilities.” (Millan, p. 237).

A BCI used on a patient may monitor quite a few different signals which can include, electrical, magnetic and metabolic. It is important for those studying the effectiveness of BCI’s to have the varying levels of these signals available at all times. Magnetic fields within the brain can be recorded with (MEG), or what is also known as magnetoencephalography while brain metabolic activity, which are measured by changes in blood flow to the brain can be witnessed with positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and near-infared spectroscopy (NIRS). (Millan, p., 239). However, electrical brain activity can be measured more accurately and using both invasive and non-invasive procedures.
History of BCI Research
The notion of brain-computer interaction did not become a full-fledged research focus and the object of grants until 1973 at UCLA. That research headed by Jacques J. Vidal and pursued by DARPA, ushered in a new era of technology for humans: linking human brains with the interfaces and operating systems of computers.

In a recent article , “Researchers at the University at Buffalo and elsewhere are helping to advance technology that allows people to control robots with their minds. UB isn’t focused on world domination, but rather applying these brain-computer interface (BCI) devices to manufacturing, medicine and other fields.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-11-mind-controlled-robots-medicine-video.html

BCI technologies have so many possibilities with each advancing year, and it comes to show that our thoughts really can control objects, computers, robots, among other things that we may want to control with our thoughts. You are thinking expensive right? Well, the sticker shock is not as rough as one might think. The device used in the article referenced above, retails for $750 and fits on your head pretty much like a normal cap. Personalized BCI interfaces such as this will become more commonplace by the end of this decade. There are a total of 14 sensors that are connected to help the software recognize your thought patterns. This has come quite a ways, even from the mid 1990’s when BCI interfaces were quite bulky, much more expensive and essentially were not available for retail purchase. Each succeeding year will see decreases in price, decreases in the number of and surface area of sensors, increases in sensitivity and more robust interactive software and hardware. The potential uses are profound:

Coevolution_brain_machine_interface

“For example, it could help paraplegic patients to control assistive devices, or it could help factory workers perform advanced manufacturing tasks”. The device begins to learn your synapse patterns within a few days and can complete simple tasks, such as demonstrated by the graduate student in the video from the link above. BCI technologies also have the potential to remove repetitious and tedious tasks, while we control a robot through BCI to complete that task for us, the future of multitasking!

“The devices can also leverage the worker’s decision-making skills, such as identifying a faulty part in an automated assembly line, while also improving workers safety and productivity.” It is just a matter of time until BCI technologies become widely available especially with the converging sciences of nanotechnology, biotechnology, cognitive science, information technology and synthetic biology.

Near-Future Thoughts:

Currently, with BCI, the feedback to the software of the computer is the only direction in which the input goes.  The next stage of research the rest of this decade will be focusing on is getting feedback to go both directions.  For example, say you think of an action for the robot to complete and when you visually see it happen, the movement is not as smooth as you would’ve liked.  In near-future BCI the robot, or artificial intelligence will help direct you to think in a manner to get the exact moment you are seeking and the speed of which it can learn complex actions and behaviors will decrease.  Essentially, it will aid in manifesting your subconscious.  Multi-tasking indeed!

The more our brains get intertwined with computers the more ‘uploaded’ we essentially are.  This leads to the next article.

Ethics of Human Enhancement 101…

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While society at large considers the notion of “human enhancement” generally with human genetic engineering, the term usually refers to the “general applications of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science to improve human performance” (p., 113).  Since the 1990’s there has been growing advocacy particularly in the academic fields, but more importantly the rise of these ideas slowly into the general public.  The individuals who work for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies have become some of the most potent activists for ethical human enhancement.

Medical-Nanotechnology

“Advocacy of the case for human enhancement is increasingly becoming synonymous with ‘transhumanism'(which this blog obviously is in favor of!), an ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens to either maintain or modify their own minds and bodies; so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children” (p., 113).

Many of the critics of transhumanism, or human enhancement for that matter, identify this with eugenic overtones.  This is due to the possibility through the improvement
of human hereditary traits to “attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity” (p., 113).  Some people take this as a negative notion, although there still will be plenty of diversity and neurodiversity.  This will continue to occur because there will not be a “standard” by which humans will adapt themselves through enhancement.  That’s the beauty of transhumanism= you can enhance and augment yourself anyway you see fit, as long as in the process there is no harm to others, that in itself will entail a variety of bio and neurodiversity.  It just happens to be that some of these enhancements seem so alien to us now, that our initial reactions are negative.  With this, human enhancement particularly those deemed self-evidently good, such as “fewer diseases” and slowing the aging process are beneficial to everyone.

The most common criticism of human enhancement, is that it will be practiced and used to such an extent, recklessly and selfishly and the movement will not consider the long-term consequences of those enhanced individuals and the rest of society.  One example of this is the fear among those whom we called “Bio-Luddites”.  They believe that there will be some enhancements which will “create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the ‘haves’ and have-nots” (p., 114).  What they fail to understand, that this “gulf” is already occuring, but will slow down with the increase of personalized 3D Printing and personalized, regenerative medicine (via, nanotechnology; one of the converging technologies state above).  These technologies are going to converge whether people want this to happen or not.

Further Reading:

Enhancement Technologies Group: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucbtdag/bioethics/

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: http://www.ieet.org/

Humanity+ : http://humanityplus.org/

Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo): http://ethics.calpoly.edu/

Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers: http://ethics.calpoly.edu/NSF_report.pdf