Mind uploading

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Mind uploading, whole brain emulation or mind transfer refers to the hypothetical process of scanning and mapping a biological brain in detail and copying its state into a computer system or another computational device, for example an artificial neural network in hardware. The computer runs a simulation model so faithful to the original that it will behave in essentially the same way as the original brain, or for all practical purposes, indistinguishable.[1].

Whole brain emulation is discussed as a logical endpoint[1] of the topical computational neuroscience and neuroinformatics fields, both about brain simulation for medical research purposes. It is discussed in artificial intelligence research publications[2] as an approach to strong AI. Among futurists and within the transhumanist philosophy it is an important proposed life extension technology, originally suggested in biomedical literature in 1971[3]. It is a central conceptual feature of numerous science fiction novels and films. Whole brain simulation is considered by some scientists as a theoretical and futurustic but possible technology[1]. Substantial mainstream research and development are being done in relevant areas including development of faster computers, animal brain mapping and simulation, and information extraction from dynamically functioning brains [4]


[edit] Overview

The human brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells called neurons, each individually linked to other neurons by way of connectors called axons and dendrites. Signals at the junctures (synapses) of these connections are transmitted by the release and detection of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. It is established neuroscience consensus that the human mind is a largely an emergent property of the information processing of this neural network.

Importantly, many leading neuroscientists have stated they believe important functions performed by the mind, such as learning, memory, and consciousness, are due to purely physical and electrochemical processes in the brain and are governed by applicable laws. For example, Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi wrote in IEEE Spectrum

"Consciousness is part of the natural world. It depends, we believe, only on mathematics and logic and on the imperfectly known laws of physics, chemistry, and biology; it does not arise from some magical or otherworldly quality."[5]

The concept of mind uploading is based on this mechanistic view of the mind, and also relies on certain assumptions about the nature of human consciousness and the philosophy of artificial intelligence. It assumes that strong AI machine intelligence is not only possible, but is very similar to or indistinguishable from human intelligence, and denies the vitalist view of human life and consciousness.

Many eminent computer scientists and neuroscientists have predicted that computers will be capable of thought and even attain consciousness, including Koch and Tononi [6], Douglas Hofstadter [7], Jeff Hawkins [8], Marvin Minsky [9], Randal Koene [10], and Rodolfo Llinas [11]. Such a machine intelligence capability might provide a computational substrate necessary for uploading.

However, even though uploading is dependent upon such a general capability it is conceptually distinct from general forms of AI in that it results from dynamic reanimation of information derived from a specific human mind so that the mind retains a sense of historical identity (other forms are possible but would compromise or eliminate the life-extension feature generally associated with uploading). The transferred and reanimated information would become a form of artificial intelligence, sometimes called an infomorph or "noömorph."

Even if uploading is theoretically possible the amount of storage and computational power required are difficult to predict. Nevertheless, many theorists have presented models of the brain and have established a range of estimates of the amount of computing power needed for partial and complete simulations (citations needed for Boahen, Modha, Izhikevich, Bostrom and Sandberg, others). Using these models, some have estimated that uploading may become possible within decades if trends such as Moore's Law continue.[citation needed]

The prospect of uploading human consciousness in this manner raises many philosophical questions involving identity, individuality and the soul, as well as numerous problems of medical ethics and morality of the process.

[edit] Theoretical benefits

[edit] Immortality/Backup

In theory, if the information and processes of the mind can be disassociated from the biological body, they are no longer tied to the individual limits and lifespan of that body. Furthermore, information within a brain could be partly or wholly copied or transferred to one or more other substrates (including digital storage or another brain), thereby reducing or eliminating mortality risk. This general proposal appears to have been first made in the biomedical literature in 1971 by renowned University of Washington biogerontologist George M. Martin[12]

[edit] Multiple/Parallel Existence

Another concept explored in science fiction is the idea of more than one running "copy" of a human mind existing at once. Such copies could either be full copies, or limited subsets of the complete mentality designed for a particular limited functions. Such copies would allow an "individual" to experience many things at once, and later integrate the experiences of all copies into a central mentality at some point in the future, effectively allowing a single sentient being to "be many places at once" and "do many things at once". Such partial and complete copies of a sentient being raise interesting questions regarding identity and individuality.

[edit] Issues

[edit] Computational issues

Regardless of the techniques used to capture or recreate the function of a human mind, the processing demands are likely to be immense. One key issue is that the structure of a biological neuronal network is massively parallel and analog, and thus fundamentally different from classical serial and digital computing designs. However, non-biological, digital computers do have certain advantages over neurons. One notable advantage is that the speed of each electronic operation in a computer is many orders of magnitude faster than the time scales involved for the firing and transmission of individual nerve impulses.

Henry Markram, lead researcher of the "Blue Brain Project", has stated that "it is not [their] goal to build an intelligent neural network", based solely on the computational demands such a project would have[13].

It will be very difficult because, in the brain, every molecule is a powerful computer and we would need to simulate the structure and function of trillions upon trillions of molecules as well as all the rules that govern how they interact. You would literally need computers that are trillions of times bigger and faster than anything existing today.[14]

Advocates of mind uploading point to Moore's law to support the notion that the necessary computing power may become available within a few decades. The quantum computer may deliver the computational power required to simulating the behavior of quantum systems enabling macroscale protein structure prediction which could be critical to correct emulation of intracellular neural processes.

[edit] Ethical issues

There are many possible ethical issues concerning mind uploading. But since it is unclear what specific technologies will be brought to bear, how they'll work, and what the current social climate will be like at the time, it is difficult to say for certain what these issues might be. Nevertheless, viable mind uploading technology would likely challenge current conceptions of human individuality, mortality, human rights, property rights, and an afterlife. These challenges often cannot be distinguished from those raised by all technologies that extend human technological control over human bodies, e.g. organ transplant.

[edit] Philosophical issues

[edit] Copying vs. moving

Another possible issue with mind uploading is whether an uploaded mind is really the "same" sentience, or simply an exact copy with the same memories and personality. This issue is especially complex if the original remains essentially unchanged by the procedure, thereby resulting in duplication or a copy.

With most projected mind uploading technology it is implicit that copying a consciousness could be as feasible as "moving" it, since these technologies generally involve simulating the human brain in a computer of some sort, and digital files such as computer programs can be copied precisely. It is also possible that the simulation could be created without the need to destroy the original brain, so that the computer-based consciousness would be a copy of the still-living biological person, although some proposed methods such as serial sectioning of the brain would necessarily be destructive. In both cases it is usually assumed that once the two versions are exposed to different sensory inputs, their experiences would begin to diverge, but all their memories up until the moment of the copying would remain the same.

The problem is made even more serious by the possibility of creating a potentially infinite number of initially identical copies of the original person, which would of course all exist simultaneously as distinct beings. The most parsimonious view of this phenomenon is that the two (or more) individuals would share a past identity and memories but from the point of duplication would simply be distinct individuals. Many complex variations are possible.

[edit] Relevant Technologies and Techniques

[edit] Emulation techniques

Since the function of the human mind, and how it might arise from the working of the brain's neural network, are poorly understood issues, many theoretical approaches to mind uploading rely on the idea of emulation. Rather than having to understand the functioning of the human mind, the structure of underlying neural network is captured and simulated with a computer system. The human mind then, theoretically, is generated by the simulated neural network in an identical fashion to it being generated by the biological neural network.

These approaches require only that we understand the nature of neurons and how their connections function, that we can simulate them well enough, that we have the computational power to run such large simulations (and in real time), and that the state of the brain's neural network can be captured with enough fidelity to create an accurate simulation.

[edit] Serial sectioning

A possible method for mind uploading is serial sectioning, in which the brain tissue and perhaps other parts of the nervous system are frozen and then scanned and analyzed layer by layer, thus capturing the structure of the neurons and their interconnections[15]. The exposed surface of frozen nerve tissue would be scanned and recorded, and then the surface layer of tissue removed. While this would be a very slow and labor intensive process, research is currently underway to automate the collection and microscopy of serial sections[16]. The scans would then be analyzed, and a model of the neural net recreated in the system that the mind was being uploaded into.

There are uncertainties with this approach using current microscopy techniques. If it is possible to replicate neuron function from its visible structure alone, then the resolution afforded by a scanning electron microscope would suffice for such a technique[16]. However, as the function of brain tissue is partially determined by molecular events (particularly at synapses, but also at other places on the neuron's cell membrane), this may not suffice for capturing and simulating neuron functions. It may be possible to extend the techniques of serial sectioning and to capture the internal molecular makeup of neurons, through the use of sophisticated immunohistochemistry staining methods which could then be read via confocal laser scanning microscopy[citation needed].

[edit] Nanoscale probing

A more advanced hypothetical technique that would require nanotechnology might involve infiltrating the intact brain with a network of nanoscale machines to "read" the structure and activity of the brain in situ. The data collected from these probes could then be used to build up a simulation of the neural network they were probing, and even check the behavior of the model against the behavior of the biological system in real time.

[edit] Brain imaging

It may also be possible to use advanced neuroimaging technology (such as fMRI, Magnetoencephalography, or combinations of multiple methods) to build a detailed three-dimensional model of the brain using non-invasive and non-destructive methods. Even though current imaging technology lacks the spatial resolution needed to gather the information needed for such a scan, important recent and future developments are predicted to substantially improve both spatial and temporal resolutions of existing technologies. [17]

[edit] Approximation/Recreation

It has also been suggested (for example, in Greg Egan's "jewelhead" stories[18]) that a detailed examination of the brain itself may not be required, that the brain could be treated as a black box instead and effectively duplicated "for all practical purposes" by merely duplicating how it responds to specific external stimuli.

[edit] Current research

An artificial neural network almost half as complex as the brain of a mouse was run on an IBM blue gene supercomputer by a University of Nevada research team in 2007. A simulated time of one second took ten seconds of computer time. The researchers said they had seen "biologically consistent" nerve impulses flowed through the virtual cortex. However, the simulation lacked the structures seen in real mice brains, and they intend to improve the accuracy of the neuron model. [19].

Blue Brain is a project, launched in May 2005 by IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, with the aim to create a computer simulation of a cortical column of mammals including the human brain, down to the molecular level.[20] The project uses a supercomputer based on IBM's Blue Gene design to simulate the electrical behavior of neurons based upon their synaptic connectivity and complement of intrinsic membrane currents. The initial goal of the project, completed in December 2006[21], was the simulation of a rat neocortical column, which can be considered the smallest functional unit of the neocortex (the part of the brain thought to be responsible for higher functions such as conscious thought), containing 10,000 neurons (and 108 synapses). Between 1995 and 2005, Henry Markram mapped the types of neurons and their connections in such a column. In November 2007[22], the project reported the end of the first phase, delivering a data-driven process for creating, validating, and researching the neocortical column. The project seeks to eventually reveal aspects of human cognition and various psychiatric disorders caused by malfunctioning neurons, such as autism, and to understand how pharmacological agents affect network behavior.

[edit] Mind uploading in science fiction

[edit] Mind uploading advocates

Followers of the Raëlian religion advocate mind uploading in the process of human cloning to achieve eternal life. Living inside of a computer is also seen by followers as an eminent possibility.[23]

However, mind uploading is also advocated by a number of secular researchers in neuroscience and artificial intelligence, such as Marvin Minsky. In 1993, Joe Strout created a small web site called the Mind Uploading Home Page, and began advocating the idea in Cryonics circles and elsewhere on the net. That site has not been actively updated in recent years, but it has spawned other sites including www.MindUploading.org, run by Randal A. Koene, Ph.D., who also moderates a mailing list on the topic. These advocates see mind uploading as a medical procedure which could eventually save countless lives.

Many Transhumanists look forward to the development and deployment of mind uploading technology, with many predicting that it will become possible within the 21st century due to technological trends such as Moore's Law. Many view it as the end phase of the Transhumanist project, which might be said to begin with the genetic engineering of biological humans, continue with the cybernetic enhancement of genetically engineered humans, and finally obtain with the replacement of all remaining biological aspects.

The book Beyond Humanity: CyberEvolution and Future Minds by Gregory S. Paul & Earl D. Cox, is about the eventual (and, to the authors, almost inevitable) evolution of computers into sentient beings, but also deals with human mind transfer.

Raymond Kurzweil, a prominent advocate of transhumanism and the likelihood of a technological singularity, has suggested that the easiest path to human-level artificial intelligence may lie in "reverse-engineering the human brain", which he usually uses to refer to the creation of a new intelligence based on the general "principles of operation" of the brain, but he also sometimes uses the term to refer to the notion of uploading individual human minds based on highly detailed scans and simulations. This idea is discussed on pp. 198–203 of his book The Singularity is Near, for example.

Hans Moravec describes and advocates mind uploading in both his 1988 book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence and also his 2000 book Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind. Moravec is referred to by Marvin Minsky in Minsky's essay Will Robots Inherit the Earth?.[24]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c Anders, Sandberg; Nick, Boström (2008), Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap, Technical Report #2008‐3, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University, http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/Reports/2008-3.pdf, retrieved on 5 April 2009, "The basic idea is to take a particular brain, scan its structure in detail, and construct a software model of it that is so faithful to the original that, when run on appropriate hardware, it will behave in essentially the same way as the original brain."  
  2. ^ Goertzel, Ben (Dec 2007). "Human-level artificial general intelligence and the possibility of a technological singularity: a reaction to Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near, and McDermott's critique of Kurzweil". Artificial Intelligence 171 (18, Special Review Issue): 1161-1173. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=sv&lr=&cluster=15189798216526465792. Retrieved on 1 April 2009. 
  3. ^ Martin, George (Winter 1971). "Brief Proposal on Immortality: An Interim Solution". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 14: 339. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5546258. Retrieved on 2009-04-02. 
  4. ^ Kay KN, Naselaris T, Prenger RJ, Gallant JL. Identifying natural images from human brain activity. Nature. 2008 Mar 20;452(7185):352-5. PubMed
  5. ^ Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi. http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jun08/6278
  6. ^ IEEE Spectrum Special Report on the Singularity
  7. ^ IEEE Spectrum Special Report on the Singularity
  8. ^ IEEE Spectrum Special Report on the Singularity
  9. ^ Marvin Minsky, Conscious Machines, in 'Machinery of Consciousness', Proceedings, National Research Council of Canada, 75th Anniversary Symposium on Science in Society, June 1991.
  10. ^ MindUploading.org
  11. ^ Llinas, R (2001). I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. 261-262. 
  12. ^ Martin, George (Winter 1971). "Brief Proposal on Immortality: An Interim Solution". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 14: 339. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5546258. Retrieved on 2009-04-02. 
  13. ^ Blue Brain Project
  14. ^ Blue Brain Project FAQ
  15. ^ Merkle, R., 1989, Large scale analysis of neural structures, CSL-89-10 November 1989, [P89-00173]
  16. ^ a b ATLUM Project
  17. ^ Brunner, D. O., De Zanche, N., Fröhlich, J., Paska, J., Pruessmann, K. P. Nature 457, 994–998 (2009).
  18. ^ Egan, Greg (1995). "Learning to Be Me". Axiomatic. ISBN 1-85798-281-9. 
  19. ^ bbc.co.uk BBC News, April 2007: Mouse brain simulated on computer
  20. ^ Herper, Matthew (June 6, 2005). "IBM Aims To Simulate A Brain". Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/technology/sciences/2005/06/06/cx_mh_0606ibm.html. Retrieved on 2006-05-19. 
  21. ^ "Project Milestones". Blue Brain. http://bluebrain.epfl.ch/Jahia/site/bluebrain/op/edit/pid/19085. Retrieved on 2008-08-11. 
  22. ^ "News and Media information". Blue Brain. http://bluebrain.epfl.ch/page18700.html. Retrieved on 2008-08-11. 
  23. ^ Roos, Dave, Eternal Life Through Cloning, g4tv.com. Retrieved 31 March 2007.
  24. ^ Marvin Minsky: Will Robots Inherit the Earth?

[edit] External links

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