Mind uploading won’t lead to immortality

Uploading the content of one’s mind, including one’s personality, memories and emotions, into a computer may one day be possible, but it won’t transfer our biological consciousness and won’t make us immortal.

Uploading one’s mind into a computer, a concept popularized by the 2014 movie Transcendence starring Johnny Depp, is likely to become at least partially possible, but won’t lead to immortality. Major objections have been raised regarding the feasibility of mind uploading. Even if we could surpass every technical obstacle and successfully copy the totality of one’s mind, emotions, memories, personality and intellect into a machine, that would be just that: a copy, which itself can be copied again and again on various computers.

It is not possible to transfer our consciousness into a computer, even if (or when) computers achieve consciousness of their own. The best analogy to understand that is cloning. Identical twins are an example of human clones that already live among us. Identical twins share the same DNA, yet nobody would argue that they also share a single consciousness.

Once we understand the brain well enough to reproduce all neural connections electronically, all we will be able to do is run a faithful simulation of our brain on a computer. Even if that simulation happens to have a consciousness of its own, it will never be our own biological consciousness.

It will be easy to prove that hypothesis once the technology becomes available. Unlike Johnny Depp in Transcendance, we don’t have to die to upload our mind to one or several computers. Doing so won’t deprive us of our biological consciousness. It will just be like having a mental clone of ourself, but we will never feel like we are inside the computer, without itaffecting who we are.

Since mind uploading won’t preserve our self-awareness, the feeling that we are ourself and not someone else, it won’t lead to immortality. We’ll still be bound to our bodies, but life expectancy for transhumanists and cybernetic humans will be considerably extended.

Immortality is a confusing term since it implies living forever, which is impossible since nothing is eternal in our universe. At best it can mean greatly extended longevity, living for several hundreds or thousands years, assuming that nothing kills us before. Science will slow down, stop and even reverse the aging process, enabling us to live healthily for a very long time by today’s standards. This is known as negligible senescence. However that has nothing to do with actual immortality. Cybernetic humans with robotic limbs and respirocytes will still die in accidents or wars.


Maciamo Hay is a researcher in genetics, as well as a futurist, philosopher, historian, linguist, and travel writer. He is also deeply interested in neurosciences, psychology, anthropology and cultural studies. He has achieved fluency in six foreign languages.

Maciamo has lived in eight countries and currently resides in Brussels, Belgium.

This article originally appeared on his website on futurism and transhumanism here : http://www.vitamodularis.org/articles/mind_uploading_will_not_lead_to_immortality.shtml

64 Responses

  1. I hink there are two things that I noticed here.
    First of all, mind-uploading could be done to make a robot as humanly and as identical to ourselves as we can.
    Second, how is it that twins can have a single consciousness? Think about this. If you felt your own body, would you be able to feel someone else’s body? No, because the sensory perception is going into their brain, not yours.
    What I was thinking was forming some kind of active sync between two willing participants hooked up to helmets. Each sensation or perception of anything that happens in the brain can be synced onto the other person’s brain, so that the person can be aware of everything that’s going on to the other person. Think of how this could be useful for people who can’t express themselves because they have things like autism and whatnot.
    I say that if you really want to achieve immortality, look at Alcor Life Extnesions.
    I say that mind-uploading, or real-time active sync could also be a replacement for a real-life test in prospective transgender individuals as well. It’d be like augmented reality.

  2. Isn’t it 100% conjecture to say that an uploaded mind is just a copy without the original consciousness? There is so much we don’t know about how consciousness works that it’s ridiculous to make an assumption like that. By the time mind uploading technology exists, however, we’ll have a lot better of an idea – we’re not just going to start uploading the entire human race without any regard for our safety.

  3. Alistair says:

    This is assuming a copy/paste method. Another approch to this problem is slowly taking portions of the brain, and transfering them into digitalized form, replacing the brain slowly over a period of time.
    This ensures that the self remains singular. in other words, migrating the mind to a new location.

    • Bill Snebold says:

      I suspect that our subjective experience of a continuous self is nothing more than our brain monitoring/controlling our physical body coupled with the stream of data from our senses, as well as our short and long term memories. If you take a snapshot of all that at a given time you would have captured a state of the system at that point. You could theoretically copy that state to another being and that being would have a sense of being separate onto itself from the original, but you’re not transferring consciousness itself because consciousness is an activity not a thing. It’s like a relay race. One runner hands off the baton to the next runner but you don’t say that the running itself was passed between them, just the baton.

      If we think of consciousness not as a continuous thing but as a series of moments or conscious states, it’s easy to imagine that one state picks up where the last leaves off. The end of one moment is a kind of death that blends into the birth of the next moment. If that is the case, then immortality through digital transference is just an illusion. But would that illusion be good enough to fool the person being copied?

      When you go to sleep at night your mind goes into a different state of operation. It’s almost like a faint version of death. We wake in the morning and gradually “come online” gathering together memories and using our senses to update our understanding of our environment. What would be the difference if we interrupted things and transferred the last conscious state of our minds into a different host? If the new host was, for all intents and purposes identical to the original, the new host would wake and go through the same routine of “coming online” as the original. The new host has no reason to believe it’s not as valid a self as the original. You could kill off the original or leave it living. Both would share the same memories but would process their own physical systems and be creating new memories, so each would be separate beings.

  4. Troy Anthony Wilkinson Jr. says:

    This is complete bull shit. They’re talking about copying, to upload the mind for immortality they’re not talking about copying the consciousness into the computer or system. They’re talking about moving information from one place to another. We’re talking about taking the brain(The greatest super computer) and transferring all of the data from it to a hard drive that will act as the new brain and hold all of the information. For people that dont understand, they aren’t copy and pasting, they’re cutting and pasting. This article is acting as if they are trying to just copy and paste the info instead of move it from one place to another which would in fact move your “soul” with it. If a “soul” exists, it is some where in the mind with the rest of the information that needs to be moved. Basically, this theory is completely possible and absolutely realistic, it’s just going to take people that know the difference between copying consciousness and transferring it. I’ll do my own research on it to better understand how to do it, but this entire article is bogus. As Howard Stark said (I don’t care that he isn’t real, he is actually correct) everything is possible through technology. There is no such thing as impossible if you have the right materials for the right job with the right knowledge.

  5. Luboš Náhlovský says:

    Who cares if it is “just a copy”. There is no soul, only pattern. This is a philosophical problem, personally I wouldn´t care much as long as my original biological self ceased to exist in moment of creating this copy self (and that is not mandatory, it´s only that I would feel sorry for my biological self who would remain mortal and destined to rot).
    It wouldn´t be different from going to bed and waking up in the morning, but instead of traveling in time, I would travel between substrates. No big deal in my mind :). In time I´d imagine there would be multiple copies of “myself” anyway, perhaps networked together, sharing ideas, so analogy to biological twins is a bad one (you can´t network them – wtih the exeption of cojoined twins, I guess).
    If it would make someone feel better, he/she could use atoms from his original body and build a new one, eventually, I suppose. But this sentiment is useless.

    • No you don’t understand. It would not be nothing like going to bed and waking up in the morning. You would never wake up, because you would be dead. That is it. You cant save yourself from death by copying your consciousness. The same way that if one of twins dies, he is no longer alive. Your copy would have your memories, but you would be dead as a person the same way that you would be without cloning yourself. I don’t even know why would one do such a thing, because no one is worthy of being copied over and over again… even Einstein.

      • SD says:

        Actually you don’t understand. The twins each have their own consciousness so that does not serve as an analogy to somebody cutting their individual consciousness and pasting it somewhere else.

  6. Stanislav says:

    And what about “multiple personalities” – this means not the same as an original term, I mean that me uploaded is existing in a multiple “copies” somehow connected to a single “Prime center” through a very powerful (maybe quantum) computing environment – maybe “distributed consciousness” is a more precise term. So at the moment I “can be present in a different locations”, please also note that my “processing abilities” is reinforced by many orders – and so my mind is no more vulnerable to a huge information streams coming from “senses”. Hannu Rajaniemi described it in “Quantum Thief” series speaking about the Sobornost Founders.

  7. Please note that I have updated and expanded the original article a few days ago to address some of the objections voiced here.


  8. Anon989 says:

    Everyone is saying that the article is “trolling” or incorrect however it’s exactly right if you think about it. You will not extend your existing consciousness by creating an additional version of yourself, therefore that isnot “you” but a copy of “you”. HOWEVER, if it was possible to create some sort of neural link where you were able to exist simultaneously in multiple beings (like daisy chaining hard drives) where the mind inside the body of the alternate you is nothing more of an extension of the mind you have in your current body THEN if one body died then your consciousness would not die, it would simply lose that extension. You wouldn’t even necessarily lose the memories in the neurons in the brain that died assuming that you “backed then up” in another brain not currently active in a being but stored elsewhere. I love stuff like this!

  9. Rainer von Ammon says:

    The brain is not the only “location” where humans have neurons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enteric_nervous_system. Then a human has more foreign cells as microorganisms than own cells and the cooperation or communication between all of them is responsible for a human existence and perception.

    According to the New Biology or Epigenetics in the last years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics the “intelligence” is based on the cell membrane with its receptors and effectors which “process” the different event types from your senses (limited to 5 as a human, allegedly). The effectors trigger a metabolism which makes a human alive and construct a reality, driven via a human hormon system (e.g., see one of the threads on such questions http://forum.complexevents.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=268)

    Furthermore we distinguish between a individual consciousness, a group consciousness, and a cosmic consciousness. “We are all connected…” Carl Sagan, deGrasse Tyson, Nye, et.al.

    And then we have the Quantum Theorists, Schrödinger, David Bohm, David Deutsch, …

    And the Quantum Information Theorists, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, …

    They all are serious scientists, it’s not esoteric. It’s not so simple actually, as some of the transhumanists see the “universe” or only a simple transhuman and the Singularity 😉

    We must always first define on which level we discuss what. For instance, this is a recent announcement of a typical workshop program in the field of Cognitive Systems and Robotics http://www.icub.org/other/icra2014-workshop.html, where we can see, on which level we are still investigating such questions.

  10. Nicholas says:

    Also, remember data is a physical thing too. All those 1s and 0s represent physical changes to the transistors within the computer. Computer programs are still physical alterations to the world. Neither consciousness (the biological or digital one) is immaterial. Both are separate physical things.

  11. Nicholas says:

    Here is another way to look at it, you aren’t conscious. Apply the logic behind a digital consciousness with a biological one. Your brain is a computer running complex AI software advanced enough to comprehend its own existence. The mind and body are a singular thing. There is no consciousness working independent of the machinery it is the machinery. If I create a digital simulation, an emulator, of a machine I have not transferred it into the computer I’m simply emulating it. Yes it will work exactly the same, but thats why you cant transfer it.

    The proof that its just the sum of its parts is proven by the fact you can digitize it. There is nothing to transfer. You just made a functionally identical machine, that while identical is still a separate entity. Its like sending a fax, you didn’t transport the document you just had a machine replicate it.

    Your consciousness is your brain, the only way to move it is to physically put it somewhere new. You are not a nebulous free will attached to a body that can move to a new one. You are the body.

  12. DanDare says:

    If you can replace a single neuron with an artificial one then you can replace another and another until your whole brain, even your whole nervous system, is artificial. There is no reason to suspect your consciousness will “go away” at any time during this process.

    And if you can do that you can also add extensions that connect to extra, artificial, sense organs and some extended network. The neurons can be replaceable and so can the body housing it all.

  13. Rainer von Ammon says:

    Has somebody attended this week?

    I’m following the discussion since some years, especially:


    PLENARY 3 – Consciousness and the Laws of Physics
    Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:10 am to 12:30 pm
    Sir Roger Penrose

    John Searle, The Problem of Consciousness After Twenty Years

    Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi,
    The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness: Here, There But Not Everywhere

    George Mashour, Consciousness and the Dying Brain

    Susan Blackmore, Dying All The Time

    Stuart Hameroff, Quantum Vibrations In Microtubules – ‘Orch Or’ – 20 Years On

    • Susan Blackmore’s “dying all the time” will refer to the fact that there is no persisting self (assuming materialism) which I talked about on my blog and which resolves any problem of identity with uploading ones mind, or indeed with teleporting.

      As she puts it at the end of her book “Dying to live”:

      “We are biological organisms, evolved in fascinating ways for no purpose at all and with no end in any mind. We are simply here and this is how it is. I have no self and ‘I’ own nothing. There is no one to die. There is just this moment, and now this and now this”.

  14. Rainer von Ammon says:

    Finally an article against transhumanistic immortality inside the Humanity+ community.

    But – as we see from the comments once more – actually it’s always the same problem: there is a difference between brain, mind and consciousness and there is no definition what a consciousness is, how it works and where it is, what means immortality… So, it’s always the same senseless discussion based on undefined terms. Some thoughts, e.g.:

    • Bill Snebold says:

      Thanks for all the links Mr. Ammon. I have to disagree with you that this discussion is pointless. Yes, of course there’s a difference between mind, brain and consciousness, but only to a point. When it comes down to it, we know that what we call consciousness and mind are all simply activity in the brain. Where else would it be? When the brain dies we cease being conscious. Where people get confused is when they talk about a soul, when what they really mean is consciousness.

      • “we know that what we call consciousness and mind are all simply activity in the brain. Where else would it be? When the brain dies we cease being conscious. Where people get confused is when they talk about a soul, when what they really mean is consciousness”.

        We certainly don’t know that “what we call consciousness and mind are all simply activity in the brain”. Indeed I would argue that this is transparently false. Or do you mean the former causes, or at least elicits, the latter?

        Again we don’t know that when the brain dies we cease to become conscious. How could you possibly know that?

        Finally consciousness is quite distinct from a self and/or a soul

        • Bill Snebold says:

          Do we not lose consciousness when we sleep? It’s reasonable to assume that we are not conscious when we die.

          • During the deepest part of sleep yes, unless we simply forget.

            Of course this gives us reason to suppose consciousness ceases to exist when we die. Nevertheless it is false to suppose this constitutes *proof*.

            If we were to imagine that the self survives the death of our brains, then we could say the self or soul, whilst it operates through the brain, will be affected by the brain’s activity.

            Of course that invites the question of why one wouldn’t just prefer the more straightforward hypothesis? It’s because:

            a) There’s a great deal of evidence suggesting we survive. The evidence is confusing, sometimes contradictory etc, but in totality it suggests that we are somewhat more mysterious than the materialists would have us believe.

            b) It is difficult to reconcile commonsensical notions as a causally efficacious will and a persistent self under a materialist based understanding of human beings.

            You might find an article I’ve wrote of some interest:


    • There is no problem here whatsoever. Any uploaded mind (or a physical replica), will be you. Assuming some sort of materialism that is. There’s no problem here.

  15. The author doesn’t understand the implications of materialism, namely that there can be no persisting self. Read my blog entry from the 4th paragraph onwards:


    Never heard of this movie Transcendence. Is it any good?

    • Your entry is wrong.
      You are escaping in a false soul/body dichotomy. You think that your approach is material but it isn’t.

      If I save my progress in a video game, the data in my save file is just a recording of some conditions that were taking place in the game world at the moment i saved it. If i reboot my computer the world created is no longer the same file that was in my flash memory a moment ago.

      We do agree that there is no such thing as a soul. And that you ARE your body. If you merely create a copy of yourself and die. You will still loose your consciousness and your copy will remain just that…a copy.

  16. Sally Morem says:

    I still think the way we will work uploading is with brain augments. They augment and interact with our various mental faculties, linking with more and more of them, taking over more of the load, until we are essentially them. And then we can link into any computer system. We could live in the cloud if we want, in endless nodes of VR.

  17. Nicholas says:

    Living forever isn’t he same as never dying. Let me use an actual practice to compare. If a book is digitized than the physical book doesn’t get transferred. Its still there and if I burned it then it is destroyed forever. Now it still exists since the digital copy does which can even be copied back into physical form. But that form before being digitized is still there and will still be destroyed.

    Those that support uploading always view themselves as the uploaded consciousness, but as someone else posted put yourself in the place of your biological self. Uploaded your mind into a robot and are now looking at it. Is your honest reaction going to be “I am now immortal”? More over will you then kill yourself so the uploaded mind can assume your life?

    • Bill Snebold says:

      Nicholas, I think the idea of “self” will go through a transformation once we have the ability to upload our mind to a computer. We think of “self” as being a continuity of consciousness, but when we go to sleep at night we break that continuity willingly because we trust that once we wake in the morning we will pick up where we left off with all our memories, etc. in tack. The continuity itself is an illusion because in reality each moment is a self-contained event, separate in time. We string these events together using memories we have stored in our brains. But if we were to copy all our memories and the entire contents of our minds to a computer capable of perfectly modeling our human brains, then why would we notice any difference? (yes, there would surely be some differences, but for the sake of argument I’m keeping it simple). Yes, if one was to not kill off our biological self upon copying our mind to a computer, then there would be two conscious beings with the exact same memories, but they would be separate, and therefore the biological one would still face death ion the future.

      We could think of it in the same way as cell division, in which the 2nd cell includes the same DNA as the first. The difference in this case is that the newer copy is more like a super cell that is freed from the physical limitations of biology.

      In practice, I think the process of transcendence we be more gradual. Instead of a wholesale “upload” of our minds, it’s more likely that it will be a gradual “off load”, in the sense that we will gradually integrate more and more computer tech into our minds are entirely non-biological.

      • Nicholas says:

        You are mistaken in your assumption on how I view the digitized self. I view it as a sentient being afforded all the rights that such a title carries that it is still “you”. What I am saying is the original you hasn’t been “transferred”. The original you is still there. To use your own comparison of cells dividing. Both are equally a new line from the original. Lets call the pre-split A with the new cells B and C. The moment they separate they cease to be the same line and are now two different living things. Cell A didn’t transfer into cell B nor C, it split. Likewise if I destroy cell B it is now dead, the fact cell C continues doesn’t change that.

        What I am saying is, and my biggest issue with the idea of uploading is it cheapens death. Not inherently either but too often the supporters think nothing of the biological consciousness dying simply because a digital copy exists. Remember how I started my comment, living forever doesn’t mean not dying. Uploading will not keep you from dying, it will just make sure you continue living even when you do die.

  18. Rick says:

    Who assumes biological consciousness has any “continuity” with itself? It’s a parlor trick. I don’t want to delve into some jargony philosophical hellscape, but anybody who’s seriously contemplated the nature of transporters on “Star Trek” seems much-better equipped to discourse about this issue than the author here.

    • HS says:

      Too true!

      Persistent consciousness is a lie. The entity of the “self” is the sum of multiple parts.

      But that still doesn’t count out the chance we have of being able to successfully transplant the parts and their sum.

  19. Greg says:

    I agree and also disagree. As the last comment by HS said: “If the uploaded entity is indeed just a copy, then the source has not been uploaded”. There will be ways to get around that for the continuity of consciousness. It may be neccessary initially to have the synthetic substrate tuned to the same limitations of the carbon biological substrate so that the person feels like he is in the first body before transfer and also having the initial body hibernated or even killed. Maybe it wont be neccessary to kill the biological body at least for a while but have its brain in very connected communication with the synthetic brain which initially will be compatible. The close communication of the biological brain to synthetic would assist its tuning. It would be one way for a start: biological to synthetic then later both ways. The dual brained person would feel like one. then the biological body and brain would be hibernated maybe through cooling to a low temperature, while the synthetic was unblocked gradually to full potential. This way I think the persons conscience would be transfered.

  20. someone132 says:

    Once again, this piece ignores a far simpler subset of mind uploading: replacing elements of your brain with cybernetics piece by piece (or maybe even neuron cluster by neuron cluster, since silicon neurons already exist), until you finally end up with 100% mechanical brain that would be separated from the physical body. In this way the process would be so gradual that there would be no copies involved.

    It’s like the Theseus ship question: if a ship has been repaired so often that not a single piece of original wood remains, is it still the same ship?

    “Common sense” leaps to NO, but we now know from our own bodies that the answer is YES. On average, all the cells in our body are replaced every 10 years, and this even includes the brain cells (old mantra that brain cells don’t regenerate has been confined to the dustbin).

    Yet, we are still the same people, just older: no-one seriously claims that our personality dies every 10 years. It will be same when brain regions get gradually replaced by cybernetics.

  21. Dan says:

    There are many possible ways a consciousness could be “uploaded” and have it be basically you looking out at the other end.

    Here is one. If we get to the point that we can keep your brain alive with machines, then we build a mechanical body and transplant your brain ( critically injured people would be good candidates). At that stage if you want to push boundaries, assuming we are at a stage in development where science has mastered the brain, you could slowly replace parts of the brain with synthetic parts. Your brain also replaces itself over time, but it is still you because there is continuity of memory. Unless there is some magical connection between brain matter and something like a soul (which I think is bs), then eventually replacing the entire biological brain with a synthetic one, doing so one part at a time, will result in your consciousness seeing out of the artificial eyes in your artificial body. The brain itself would not have to be replaced, but the synthetic option would likely extend life for as long as possible.

  22. Considered says:

    What we’re talking about is continuity of experience. I accept that I am me, even though at least some cells in my brain have gradually replaced the ones I was born with. If I were to gradually replace my entire brain a few cells at a time with a sufficient non-organic analog, would I no longer be what I perceive as me? I have no reason to think I wouldn’t be.

    Of course, the ‘strangeness’ of it is illustrated often in paradoxes like the Ship of Theseus or Grandfather’s Axe.

  23. Turner says:

    I would submit that we are all already copies. Your body is constantly replacing the cells that make up “you” throughout your life. It is very likely that there are no original cells left by the time you die.

  24. HS says:

    This is a pretty poor piece that I did not expect to see on H+. I suspect it is written in case people who saw the Transcendence film begin looking at transhumanism for the first time and end up here.

    And as the other comments have noted, this is a very tired debate conducted in a lacking scope that does not befit the “spirit” of transhumanism.

    If the uploaded entity is indeed just a copy, then the source has not been uploaded.

    But thinking like that (I see the disgusting word “impossible” used in a H+ piece!!) is nothing less than the same attitude that once said that it was impossible to land on the moon, etc.

    I’m confident that there will be a way to upload “ourselves.” You say we can’t, but I say we will.

    • I disagree that mind uploading necessarily requires to leave one’s biological body. Uploading means copying. When I upload a file on the Internet, it doesn’t get deleted at the source. It’s just a copy. That is the real problem.

      If you don’t leave your biologically body (i.e. “die”) when transferring mind and consciousness, it would basically mean that you will feel that your conscious being is in two places at the same time: in your body and in the computer. That is problematic. I don’t see how that could be possible since the very essence of consciousness is a feeling of indivisible unity.

      If we want to avoid this problem of dividing the sense of self, we must indeed find a way to transfer the consciousness from the body to the computer. But that assumes that consciousness is merely some data that can be transferred. We don’t know that yet. It could be tied to our neurons or to very specific atoms in some neurons. If that was the case, destroying the neurons would destroy the consciousness.

      Even assuming that we found a way to transfer the consciousness from the brain to a computer, how could we avoid consciousness being copied to other computers, recreating the philosophical problem of splitting the self. That would actually be much worse since a computerized consciousness could be copied endless times. How would you then feel a sense of unified consciousness ?

      • HS says:

        You’re making a whole lot of baseless assumptions.

        Both the second and third paragraphs in your reply are useless because of this. You sound as if you already know how to upload a mind and that it definitely has these consequences of copying and death.

        As to your last paragraph, we SHOULDN’T avoid consciousnesses being copied after the fact of a successful non-death/copy upload. A digital intelligence would have the right to allow such copying, and it’d be doubtful you could prevent every instance of an attempted copy being made without your consent.

        To continue on this point, if there are copies of an uploaded intelligence, the original entity wouldn’t be split apart, unless the process corrupts it. “You” would remain, with copies elsewhere doing whatever they want.

        If you have a problem of other “you’s” out there, then don’t upload yourself to risk that. But if I can successfully upload without dying, then I’ll tolerate copies about as much as I tolerate sharing files online; no problem.

  25. YeahOK says:

    Oh, and there is one thing you can do that will guarantee that you will not attain any form of immortality:

    Die without backing yourself up (having kids doesn’t really count).

  26. Vance Wilson says:

    Are you sure you have thought that through? When does one stop being conscious (or human): when the first neuron is synthetically replaced, or when the last one is replaced? If this happens over time then one simply would never notice a difference. In time, we will easily “be” online and be very much aware, much more in fact, than we are now (Meta-aware). Sorta disappointed in H+… what were you people thinking???

  27. Kane says:

    Ok. Think of this. How do we know that our consciencesness doesn’t “die” every time we sleep only to be “rebooted” when we wake? In other words there really is no such thing as the “subconscious”. Only the physical state of our brains as sculpted through life and given animation through electrochemical processes? Then dreams are basically just that process sculpting the previous period of consciousness onto the physical brain. If that’s the case, then our physical brain is pretty much inseparable from what we perceive as us. I suppose you could replace/augment parts of your brain with computer components little by little until the entire brain was fully computerized… Maybe then it would feel like being you? Anyway you choose to look at it, it’s going to be interesting.

  28. Stephen says:

    In AI there has long been the following thought experiment. What happens to “you” if we replace one of your neurons with an artificial neuron? What if we then replace one more? Then ten more? What if we continue slowly until each of your neurons has been replaced with an artificial neuron? At the end we’d hopefully have a brain that is completely artificial yet still have all your thoughts and memories.

    Now imagine a super fast connection between your brain and a computer where these neurons exist. We could slowly “turn-off” portions of the biological brain while at the same time turning on replacement neurons in the computer. As we continue to learn more about neural plasticity (the thing that makes people able to recover massive brain injuries) we may figure out that the replacement neurons don’t even have to be copies of the neurons being replaced – simply make the raw, artificial neurons available and give the system time to “heal”. Again, replace a small portion of the brain at a time until completely replaced.

    A few other variations to this approach proceed along similar lines. Imagine again a super fast brain-computer connection. Slowly bring “online” additional artificial neurons. Allow the biological brain to integrate the use of these neurons into its system. If you repeat enough times, you can get to the point where you have a 50/50 split between original biological neurons and the artificial ones. We haven’t turned off any biological neurons so “you” are clearly still there plus some more. What happens as we continue to bring more and more artificial neurons online. What about when “you” is 90% artificial neurons and 10% original? What about when the 10% dies? Humans have had 10% of their brain die and survive.

    Finally, imagine a perhaps distant future where we have fast and wireless connections between our brains and artificial neurons in the cloud. Imagine these connections are installed at a very early age, perhaps as an infant. In this way, the artificial neurons would grow and mature alongside the biological ones. And again, we could end up with many more neurons in the cloud than in our brains.

    • Sceptic says:

      What would happen if you replaced each neuron in your brain with an artificial one one at a time is that you would gradually (or possibly suddenly) lose brain function, lapse into unconsciousness, and eventually die.

  29. With nanotechnology we’ll be able to replace neuron by neuron our biological (slow and mortal) cells with fast and immortal artificial equivalents… At what point do we stop becoming us… No clone or copy of our brain ever exists… and our transformed brains will be almost infinitely extensible…

  30. Dr. Thomas says:

    I disagree completely.

    I pondered about this issue as a child, every single night before going to sleep I use to think about the “copy” problem.

    I will now do my best to explain it to you, and who ever is reading this. When we are born, we are a blank slate(we have the hardware, “biological brain”) but the “software”(mind, or the information patter which our brain represents) is yet to be determined by our upbringing, life experiences, location,culture, occurrences, people we meet etc…

    So we grow and we develop an Identity (we acquire software that makes us an individual). As a 10 year old child you no longer have any(or hardly any) of the atoms that made up you and your biological brain. It is not the atoms where our software(minds,identity) reside in, it is in the information pattern which is being expressed through the hardware… The hardware can change, but what must remain constant is the information pattern, that is us, that is your identity, its not the biological brain, its not your atoms, it’s not your flesh and blood, but the informatoin pattern that all of that hardware represents.

    Look at it this way. How is a human brain and a 3 pound rock different(they are nearly made out of the same elements), the information pattern is what separates the two.

    What is the difference between music and noise? They are both waves in the air, but while one set of waves is organized waves makes music, the other set of unorganized set of waves makes noise.

    If we are able to scan the “system”,”information pattern”, “software”, moving it into another set of more capable hardware will not make it into a clone… It will literately be true you… some people are afraid of this, and you can actually go through this process gradually, where nano technology would scan your brain, and slowly(with out you ever loosing consciousness) transform your biological body\brain into a different medium(more capable hardware) , so you would never even loose consciousness, but your biological brain would be transformed into a more powerful processing unit, while maintaining our information pattern, and at the same time enhancing it.

  31. Strange says:

    I think if you were to slowly replace parts of your brain with artificial components, you might be able to achieve a full transfer of consciousness.

    Imagine that all but one final bit of your brain had been replaced with a perfect artificial analogue. So long as the artificial parts were still operating when the last biological piece is removed, so that there is no moment when your consciousness is not present I think that you would be able to make the transfer.

    I am aware of the Ship of Theseus paradox but in this situation I would consider the physical brain as being a ship and your consciousness as being a passenger. If you were to be aboard the Ship of Theseus as its parts were being replaced, you could be able to move to different parts of the ship as they were being swapped out and in the end you would be on a brand new ship without ever having to get off of the boat.

    I am not saying that this is a foolproof method and that future neuroscientists should come to me for advice on consciousness transfer surgeries or anything, but I do think that there may be possibilities that are not obvious to us at this time. To state, as this author does, that mind uploading is impossible is jumping the gun if you ask me.

    Maybe I am naive and uninformed, but the way that the author asserts their prediction as fact is a bit naive as well.

  32. Bill Snebold says:

    Many people are uncomfortable with the concept of transferring your consciousness to a computer because they like to believe that consciousness is something that is separate from the activity that takes place in the brain. I think self awareness comes from the fact that our brains are deeply involved in the processes that keep our internal organs functioning, as well as acting as the gathering point for all our senses.

    I don’t think it’s too far fetched to expect that if you gave a computer the ability to monitor and control its vital functions such as sensing the hum of electricity flowing into its CPU and be able to direct that flow to various components as wanted, in addition to having various types of sensors, it would develop some version of what we call self awareness.

    I think the author is correct in suggesting that cloning a human does not give each clone the same consciousness, but the analogy is flawed because each clone would have its own life experiences. A better analogy would be what happen when we go into a deep sleep where we aren’t dreaming. When we sleep, we don’t have consciousness (or at least it severely limited). When we wake up, the only reason we have a concept of who we are as an individual is our sensory input and our brain’s involvement in our body’s internal functions. Beyond that, the reason we understand that we are a particular person (Mike Smith as opposed to John Doe) is because we have memories of that person. If we woke up with the memories of a different person we would believe we were that person instead (though, we would probably feel very strange being in a different body). It would be similar if our minds were uploaded into a computer. If the computer was powerful enough to emulate the human brain and had sensory inputs to monitor the outside world, it might be an experience similar to that of a person who’s paralyzed.

  33. YeahOK says:

    I see lots of broad assertions of special knowledge in this article regarding the nature of consciousness, but very little evidence. In reality, you have absolutely no idea what will happen when an exact replica of a human brain is created inside a computer.

    Perhaps such a perfect replica of you would *just* be a clone with its own individual conscious perspective (although we don’t know this to be true). But even if it were just an exact duplicate of you, it would STILL BE YOU up until the point where it was created and began having different experiences from you. It would have all of the same memories, thoughts, feelings, and experiences up until that point that you had. In a way, this would still be a kind of immortality. Perhaps not for *you* in the traditional sense, but for your personality. Maybe we could call it personality immortality? I like the sound of that.

  34. brim says:

    WOW….so what your saying is….and let me get this straight.

    Because the world is flat…if i sail to far off the edge we will be swallowed by rainbow unicorns.

    And we cant upload a soul or have consciousness digitally?

    Man, the next thing you will be telling is that GOD is not real! whew , because we know thats not true!

    Massive troll article…..good job

  35. Nothing says:

    If you were to enhance your body piece by piece, eventually replacing all of the biological parts with superior computer-nanobot technology, what would you have? I didn’t write this, in fact, you can’t even prove that I’m alive.

  36. John Doeee says:

    I disagree as well. What happens if you slowly over time replace one neuron in your brain at a time with an electronic one until all neurons in your brain are replaced? At what point do you lose your sub-conscious because eventually your entire brain will be replaced by a machine!

  37. Samantha Atkins says:

    This old chestnut is a bit boring the 400th (so it seems) time you have seen it declared one way or another, with one conclusion or another. If my essential brain content is loaded to a new substrate then that is a being just like me at that point in time in essential brain state. It, the upload, will feel like “I” have been transported to a new state of being. I don’t see how that is any less me than is the case after a Star Trek style teleport. Surely simply not being biological is not enough to say it is not me but me after a teleport is “me”.

  38. This is an old and never ending philosophical argument. When faced with your robotic copy, your evolved fear of dying doesn’t just go away. To make uploading work, the original must be killed secretly. You see people go in for a procedure and come out younger, stronger, healthier, happier, and smarter.

  39. Tycho zirch says:

    I respectfully disagree. Once the tech arrives whereby an entire connectome can be downloaded (atomic level, baby!) we will have achieved the ability to live on. Eternal? Hard to say since it will be in a digital universe but how different would that be from the idea of our universe as a holographic projection?

    Unless you’re referring to a soul. Then this conversation derails ….

    • connect2reality says:

      Even if you can virtually simulate and duplicate every aspect of the brain down to subatomic particles, it’s still just a duplicate of that information. The only way to upload yourself to a computer would be to remove the brain, wire it to a computer, and stick in a vat.

    • Clinton Weir says:

      No need to invoke a ‘soul’. As the article says, imagine you make an exact copy of your mind. So there’s two copies – one is in your biological body and one is in a robot body. Which one is “you”? The biological body one, of course.

      From my (or any other third person’s) perspective it will make no difference, since the copies will be identical. But from your own perspective, you will continue to be the one in the meat-bag and you will recognize the copy in the robot body as a foreign entity. Not only that, but assuming the robot copy has working neurology, you and the copy will gradually turn into completely different people.

      A technology like this would be useful for various purposes – for example, a family could preserve the knowledge and memories of a loved one and a corporation could preserve the expertise of a valuable worker. But if YOU want to live forever, making a copy of your mind is not the way to do it, because you will continue to experience life from the meat bag. Without physically transferring the brain and nervous system to the robot, there’s probably no way to transfer the consciousness so that you experience continued existence in the new body.

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