Re: >H soft incremental uploads

Eric Watt Forste (
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 20:56:26 -0700

At 8:44 AM 8/12/96, Eugene Leitl wrote:
>I think economic pressure will merely tend to pronounce the patients to
>be incurable... Already hitech medicine inflicts a heavy, soon likely to
>grow intolerably high financial drain upon the populace/medical insurance
>of leading industrial countries. As the age histo distribution grows
>increasingly skewed & skeweder, medical costs are bound to explode (and
>they do).

I don't know about other countries, but I know that in the United States,
over 50% of dollars paid to the medical industry are paid by the Federal
government. I suspect this (and certain inefficient regulations) has a
great deal to do with escalating costs.

>Silicon photolitho 2d circuitry is totally insuitable for brain
>augmentation emplants, both in terms of integration density (number of
>neurons substituted) and computational power (since you can't go totally
>maspar because of low physical connectivity).

Techniques for manufacturing new designs of computing hardware that can
instantiate neural and fuzzy computational processes are developing *much*
more rapidly than our understanding of the brain. I expect that by the time
we develop a theoretical understanding of the nonlinear computational
processes evolved within large unsupervised feedback nets, the hardware
basis for cognitive prostheses will likely be in place.

Or perhaps a more rhetorically effective way to put that: I don't see much
reason to think that cognitive science (which is currently stuck in a
technologically fruitful zone which has very little to do with developing a
theoretical understanding of the way the human brain actually computes)
will *overtake* the engineering of fully-parallel computing hardware, which
is currently rocketing along at a merry pace.

And we're going to need both these pieces of the puzzle in place before we
can start doing serious work on soft incremental uploads.

>1) I doubt it will be neural nets, more likely we will see coupling of
> brittle computer algebra packages (Mathematica, MatLab, etc.) first.
> bioNN computational prowess is pretty awesome -- we'll need some time
> to approach this order of magnitude. Complementary skills.

But I suspect we'll need an understanding of the computational processes in
the brain before we can start hooking any *new* functionality into it, and
once we have that understanding, we'll probably use it to build some of the
new functionality. Granted that this understanding is nowhere in sight at
the moment.

>If this fine-grain incremental upload is infeasible, merely beckoning to
>the surviving set of strange attractors constituting your personality
>with virgin circuitry will depend on their evolution-shaped propensity to
>cross over into new territory. Since this never happens in real life (though
>lesion tolerance & recovery is based on semi-dormant, redundant circuitry
>taking over the part of vanquished one), it is not likely to work.

Strange. Your parenthesis, which I fully agree with, seems to completely
contradict your main statement. I don't understand why you don't think that
"semi-dormant, redundant" silicon circuitry could not similarly be
automatically brought into play by the brain as its original tissues fail.
Of course we don't yet understand the processes by which the brain replaces
damaged tissues by bringing new synapses and neurons into play, retraining
them to do the lost functionality, but we certainly do know that it
happens. That sounds like an existence proof to me.

>> "identity" has gradually moved "into" the silicon prostheses, because
>I doubt identity has the properties of a liquid. (If it had, it would be
>extremely nice of the evolution to provide us with it without
>evolutionary fitness requiring such a useful trait).

I doubt that identity has any properties at all that we can firmly identify
at this point. So I counter by saying that I doubt that identity has the
properties of a solid, either. Some facts of the universe are just facts of
the universe, and one of them is that computational processes in a neural
network are generally distributed throughout the whole network, and that
neural networks, as they learn, build computational structures within
whatever hardware they're connected to in the right way. Evolution just
happened to hit upon the trick of neural networks as a solution for
computational problems faced by animals. That solution may have plenty of
properties that aren't selected for, if those properties are inseparable
from the properties that *are* selected for (like being able to make fast
learned nonlinear transformations of complex time-varying stimuli into
complex time-varying motor activity, and learning those transformations
without supervision).

>Alas, I have grown to distrust this Proteus guy (... you never know who he'll
>be next ;). Most neuroscientists I know are highly sceptical about
>unbound malleability of cerebral circuitry.

Cognitive science is a highly interdisciplinary field, and most
psychologists I know who understand anything about computation are firmly
convinced of the plasticity of mind. I said nothing about "unbound". It's
important to distinguish between computational processes and the
instantiating hardware, even though this is devilishly difficult to do in
the case of the human brain, just as it is with the genetic apparatus.

>If incremental soft uploads are
>possible at all, they won't come before Singularity -- and that will be too
>late. Contrary to Vinge's headbands, I doubt we'll see much of it prior to
>Singularity, when every single rule is likely to be broken -- including
>the necessity to rely on headbands (or heads).

I don't understand this kind of thinking at all. Clearly, whatever
technologies we seek to rely on to get what we want are going to have to
evolve gradually. They are not going to magically appear out of an unfunded
void. There are strong incentives for the development of cognitive
prostheses; on the other hand, there's practically *no* economic pressure
for the development of "hard, sudden uploads"... in fact, I can't see any
pressure for this at all outside of the cryonics community. But of course I
want to see research move forward on every front, and I certainly *do* want
to see those patients in suspension restored to health.

Eric Watt Forste <>