RE: Paths to Uploading

Billy Brown (bbrown@conemsco.com)
Tue, 5 Jan 1999 10:36:07 -0600

Bryan Moss wrote:
> Firstly, will
> anyone fund uploading specific research? If not you have to
> be sure your
> technologies have other more mainstream uses.

The key enabling technologies are computers, high-resolution scanning devices and an understanding of how the brain works. All of these areas are the subject of intense research for reasons that have nothing to do with uploading.

> It's possible neurobiology and
> artificial intelligence research could reach a point where a "mind
> abstraction" algorithm, built to create high-level models for
> the purpose of uploading, would become trivial.

Such models would be a logical extension of current work in neurobiology. I expect they will be created by mainstream researchers as soon as it is feasible to do so.

> Added to this is the lack of willingness of scientists
> to treat age-related death as something that needs to be overcome,
> especially in such a radical and mind-bending way.

True enough, but will this still be a problem in 20 years? Major life extension should be far easier than uploading, after all. Once the first big increase materializes, they may become more willing to contemplate the possibilities.

> Secondly, uploading has
> major philosophical ramifications. Although many of us, myself include,
> have thought about it enough to see uploading as a reasonable goal
> it's still the
> hottest subject of dispute on this list besides politics.
<snip>
> It is my opinion that these factors will be more likely to shape
> a feasible scenario than technology.

I agree. However, a hard look at the technology tells you a lot about the social parameters. If dramatic life extension, AI, nanotech, or other radical innovations come before uploading, they will have a substantial impact on the public reaction.

> We're fairly ignorant about the possibilities. For instance,
> I could argue
> that intelligence cannot be increased, that there is a "window of
> intelligence" that results in creatures more intelligent than us being
> increasingly unlikely. You cannot currently refute this claim
> because we don't have a good explanation of what exactly intelligence
> is. Yet such a claim will crush any dreams of super intelligence. It's
> possible that much of the brainís power comes from social interaction and
> physical interaction, making lone 1,000 speed minds impractical. It's
> possible that the mind is a
> very rigid and fragile thing and making it 'see' in four
> dimensions (and so on) is impractical. Again, you can't refute these
> claims and I doubt you could give much evidence against them..

Of course we can't 'prove' anything about the future. However, some methods of prediction work better than others.

If you think uploading is possible, that implies that the mind is a complex information processing system grounded in physical reality. Once you accept that proposition, there is actually quite a lot we can say about what kinds of claims make sense.

Information processing systems are ultimately very fluid things - it is just about impossible for them to exhibit the kinds of rigid limits you propose. A claim like 'no mind can be smarter than a bright human' makes about as much sense as 'any mass of gold more than ten miles in diameter will spontaneously combust'. Neither claim can actually be tested, but it would be amazing if either one were true.

If you want to construct a plausible upload scenario, it makes sense to start by simply projecting current trends into the future based on our current knowledge. Once you've got that baseline, its a lot easier to make meaningful speculations about what a particular unexpected discovery would mean.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I
bbrown@conemsco.com