Monday, October 11, 2010

Mind "uploading" or Substrates for Independent Minds...

Is it possible to transfer a complete human brain into a computer?  Can a working model be made of the entire human brain?  Some respected scientists think so and are actively working towards this goal. 

Think of it!  What would be the benefits to being able to transfer the mind to another body, machine or perhaps to store it for future use.  This has amazing implications for both biology, psychology and religion.

Mind emerges from classical biophysical processes...those processes are computable by the Turing machine.  Thus the mind is computable.  Our brains are machines, complex, but, nevertheless machines.   Church-Turing implies that that one Turing machine can implement another. Randal Koene, 2010

SO what does this mean? Does it mean immortality?  For as long as man has existed he has believed that life goes on after the body dies.  This is known today as vitalism.  Is the soul, if you believe in such things, does it reside in the brain? So what is it that goes on after the brain is gone if you were able to transfer its "essence" to a storage medium for future delivery to another host?  Of course modern science makes no assertion about the existence of a soul.  They generally have a mechanistic view of the mind.  It merely describes biological-chemical-electrical processes inside the brain.  It is these processes that they intend to duplicate and store in an electronic medium.

What are the origins of this idea?  Well like neuroscience, it is made up of different sub-specialties, such as chemistry, biology, engineering, neuroscience, medicine, computer science, physical sciences and mathematics.  The man who first coined "mind uploading" was Joe Strout in 1993.  He apparently, no longer works in the field, but started a web page which still continue related research until today.  It does a lot of reporting and research on neural prosthesis, which it describes "a replacement for or augmentation of a function or component of the nervous system in general, and of the human brain in particular."  Another proponent of this idea is Dr. Randal A. Koene, who has modified the term "mind uploading" because of its vagueness to "substrate independent mind."  Dr. Koene has since formed a website called  Which has at its ultimate goal the "whole brain emulation."  By this Dr. Koene means that the entire brain of an individual will be able to be stored and duplicated like we would any other computer file.  Sounds amazing but in theory, it is conceivable.  This would create a "digital immortality."   If you think this is all fantasy, we would point you to this fact, the National Science Foundation has awarded Central Florida at Orlando, Illinois University at Chicago $500,000 to explore how researchers might use AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) archiving and computer imaging to create digital versions of real people.  In other words, virtual immortality.  Here is a quote from Patrick Tucker from the University of Illinois at Chicago:

For centuries, humans have been trying to beat mortality through technology, employing such fanciful (if chilling) methods as cryonics, or the freezing of cadavers in the hope that science might one day stumble upon a cure for all ills. Now, the National Science Foundation has awarded a half-million-dollar grant to the universities of Central Florida at Orlando and Illinois at Chicago to explore how researchers might use artificial intelligence, archiving, and computer imaging to create convincing, digital versions of real people, a possible first step toward virtual immortality.
The way by which proponents of this study hope to accomplish this is called Neuroinformatics.  Neuroinformatics is the field os study which tries to construct computer models of the brain and the nervous system.  These models would become ever more accurate as compared to a real human brain and nervous system until there would be no practical distinction made between the two.

The next step would be to develop tools and computer databases for the management and sharing of neuroscience among its specialists.  So Neuroinformatics stands at the crossroads of neruroscience and information science.  IBM recently made an announcement of the formulation of the most complete map of the brain they had made.  In 2009, IBM themselves produced a "brain simulator."  IBM is convinced that a model of the human brain which has 20 billion neurons connected to 200,000,000,000,000 (200 trillion) synapses could be reached by 2019.    The article goes on to say that "Dawn" one of the most powerful and power-efficient computers in the world takes 500 seconds for it to simulate 5 seconds of brain activity, consuming 1.4 MW (megawatt) of power.  With today's computers then it to simulate a human brain would require the computer to have a dedicated nuclear power plant to energize it.  Another limitation of our computers is that they seperate memory from processing.  The brain has no such imitation.  Its "circuits" are reconfigurable, specialized and fault tolerant.  This makes us better at driving a car and recognizing faces than the greatest supercomputer.  DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects) is very interested in this brain simulation.   A quote from this article is astounding:
Real brains are so impressive to computer scientists,” says Jim Olds, a neuroscientist who directs George Mason University’s Krasnow Institute. “Instead of banging our heads against Moore’s Law, why not build computers more like the brain and get them to solve problems the way the brain does?” Right now, Roadrunner, the supercomputer that comes closest to replicating a human’s ability to drive in rush-hour traffic, weighs 227 metric tons and requires a diet of about 3 megawatts. By contrast, the brain regularly handles rush-hour driving on 20 watts (comparable to the power consumption of a Nintendo Wii), and its 1.5 kilograms fit neatly into a handbag. 

Blue Brain

The most exciting project going is happening at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in France.  We will do a separate blog on this in the near future.  It is the most formidable attempt to model a brain.  Watch this video:

OR this...

The Critics of Substrate Independent Minds
Some, like Tim Tyler have objected that it is waste of time to spend the research and effort to map the human mind when Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will advance much faster.  They say that there will be no need to explore the brain like this. 
The brain's design is awful. Tell a telephone engineer that he must connect callers directly to each other with point-to-point cable connections, and he will laugh at you and tell you that such a system would never scale - and that you should read up on how voice over IP works.  Humans like to enslave their machines. If machines are people, how is that going to work? It isn't. Who is going to buy a toilet-cleaning robot that says that its ambition is to emigrate to Australia and become a TV star? No one is.  Humans seem unlikely to stomach the idea of machines being people initially. They will not allow them equal rights and opportunities under law - and they will not allow them to vote. Rather there will probably be an apartheid situation. The machines and robots will be second-class citizens - and the humans will eventually come to act like parasites upon them. Such a situation is likely to prolong the viability of humans - thus allowing for a smoother transition where there is a reduced chance of important things being lost. ***
But the question remains if these machines advance at such a prodigious rate will we not have to in some way integrate with them?  The path is still the same.  We must somehow merge our minds with a machine if we are to survive and be relevant to future technological advancements.

You can watch an in-depth interview with Charlie Rose and Ray Kurzweil.

Dr. George Martin a world famous biogerentologist wrote in 1971:
We shall assume that developments in neurobiology, bioengineering and related disciplines… will ultimately provide suitable techniques of 'read-out' of the stored information from cryobiologically preserved brains into nth generation computers capable of vastly outdoing the dynamic patterning of operation of our cerebral neurones. We would then join a family of humanoid 'post-somatic' bio-electrical hybrids capable of contributing to cultural evolution at rates far exceeding anything now imaginable. ***
Do YOU think this will happen?  Let us know.  Answer the survey. 


Steve From Virginia said...

Short answer is .. no.

Most computer/IT companies will be bankrupt in 4 or 5 years if not sooner. The cost 'platform' is a classic economy of scale/manufacturing model that requires a lot of disposable income.

Worldwide disposable income is shrinking fast due to rising energy costs - a cost rise that computer/IT companies bear a large responsibility for.

PlusUltraTech said...

Thanks for your comment! In your opinion then, if computer companies go out of business, what will happen to computers? I am curious to hear your answer.

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