Singularity Part 4: Uploading Minds

I have several times encountered an odd notion: won’t we have to to be able to “upload our minds” before the singularity can take place? “Uploading a mind” is frequently taken to mean transferring a person’s unique consciousness into a machine. Moving consciousness into a machine or from one person to another is a common trope of mainstream science fiction, which hasn’t helped the confusion.

More rational science fiction features a more realistic (and coherent) form of “uploading” a mind. Due to the unfortunate connotation of the term “uploading,” I think “copying” is a better term. “Copying” a mind (or brain) means storing detailed brain scans in a computer. Often, but not always, this is followed by running a simulation of the recorded brain state, possibly giving that simulation a virtual body in a simulated environment or in a robot, etc.

Obviously, such a simulation based on your brain would not be “you”. Even if consciousness could be generated by a machine, it is uncertain how comparable it would be to human consciousness. Besides the problem of machine consciousness, such a simulation could exist alongside you. No matter how closely it may resemble your thinking, memory, or emotions, you can’t exist in two places at once.

So you can make a copy of yourself, and that may be fun and useful, and even keep your “mind” and memories and relationships alive after you die, but it will not exactly be you. In other words, shooting yourself after you make a perfect copy of your brain would be a waste. Even if a truly in-depth scan require the destruction of your brain, examining it layer by layer, it would not move your consciousness into a machine.

Finally, I don’t see how the ability to copy or upload our minds is a precondition for the plausibility of the singularity, but it does seem to come up a lot for some reason, so there you go.

Next blog: Looking up at the stars.


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