Sun, Oct 27, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Imagine your mind living forever on the Internet

It might be some way off, but mind uploading, the digital duplication of your mental essence, could expand human experience into a virtual afterlife

By Michael Graziano  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Constance Chou

Imagine that a person’s brain could be scanned in great detail and recreated in a computer simulation. The person’s mind and memories, emotions, and personality would be duplicated. In effect, a new and equally valid version of that person would exist, in a potentially immortal, digital form.

This futuristic possibility is called mind uploading. The science of the brain and of consciousness increasingly suggests that mind uploading is possible — there are no laws of physics to prevent it.

The technology is likely to be far in our future; it might be centuries before the details are fully worked out — and yet given how much interest and effort is being directed toward the goal, mind uploading seems inevitable.

Of course, we cannot be certain how it might affect our culture, but as the technology of simulation and artificial neural networks shapes up, we can guess what that mind uploading future might be like.

Suppose that one day you go into an uploading clinic to have your brain scanned. We will be generous and pretend the technology works perfectly.

It has been tested and debugged. It captures all your synapses in sufficient detail to recreate your unique mind. It gives that mind a standard-issue, virtual body that is reasonably comfortable, with your face and voice attached, in a virtual environment like a high-quality video game. We will pretend all of this has come true.

Who is that second you?

The first you — we will call it the biological you — has paid a fortune for the procedure and yet you walk out of the clinic just as mortal as when you walked in. You are still a biological being, and eventually you would die. As you drive home, you think: “Well, that was a waste of money.”

At the same time, the simulated you wakes up in a virtual apartment and feels like the same old you. It has a continuity of experience. It remembers walking into the clinic, swiping a credit card, signing a waiver and lying on the table. It feels as though it was anesthetized and then woke up again somewhere else. It has your memories, your personality, your thought patterns and your emotional quirks. It sits up in a new bed and says: “I can’t believe it worked — definitely worth the cost.”

I will not call it an “it” anymore, because that mind is a version of you. We will call it the simulated you. This “Sim You” decides to explore. You step out of your apartment into the sunlight of a perfect day and find a virtual version of New York City. Sounds, smells, sights, people, the feel of the sidewalk underfoot — everything is present, but with less garbage, and the rats are entirely sanitary and put in for local color.

You chat up strangers in a way you would never do in the real New York City, where you would be worried that an impatient pedestrian might punch you in the teeth. Here, you cannot be injured because your virtual body cannot break.

You stop at a cafe and sip a latte. It does not taste right. It does not feel like anything is going into your stomach — and nothing is. The food is not real and you do not have a stomach. It is all a simulation.

The visual detail on the table is imperfect. There is no grittiness to the rust. Your fingers do not have fingerprints — they are smooth, to save memory on fine detail. Breathing does not feel the same. If you hold your breath, you do not get dizzy, because there is no such thing as oxygen in this virtual world.

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