Mind uploading, vitology, and crystal minds

In A Window of Opportunity, Dr. Randal A. Koene says that the long term future will either not involve us or will demand that we become vastly more adaptable. “Ultimately, that is where the solution to adaptability lies, in the ability to move functions of the mind to many different types of substrates — to be substrate independent minds (SIM)… Almost every religion attempts to address the problem of Being, and most espouse some form of adaptable existence whereby experience can be carried on in another substrate,” he says. I agree, and I think our ultimate cosmic destiny is to leave biology behind and become cyber angels.

Why we should upload our minds

Over at H+ Magazine, Eugen Spierer  thinks that we should upload our minds. “The first and foremost challenge we should “put our minds to” is mind uploading. Once we have severed the link between our consciousness and the cruel joke someone has played on us by enclosing it in a mortal body, can we begin to really appreciate the beauty of the world around us,” he says.

I share his enthusiasm for creating human personalities based on computer hardware, but I don’t share his contempt for “the miserable excuse we have for a wetware body.” I think our bodies are wonderful biological machines, developed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and I don’t consider them as “a cruel joke.” But I think we will soon be able to build, and move our thoughts to, better machines. Our biological bodies are good, but our technological bodies will be better.

Spierer concludes: “Just think of the possibilities! Eternal life. Easy and accessible space travel and colonization. Plenty of time for all human beings to grow and develop. Far less strain the planet’s limited resources. No more disease. No more suffering. No more death. A better understanding of the world around us, free of the constraints which currently bind us to a meager existence and a short life span.”

Spirer has earned a transhumanist badge of honor with his H+ Magazine article: he has been flamed by Dale Carrico himself, no less, who asks “What if the possibility of suffering is sufficiently inherent in the very possibility of experience as such that to circumvent the one is to eliminate the other, and hence render the proposal of a total elimination of suffering self-defeating?” I must confess that I feel inclined to agree with Carrico on this point. I don’t think the forthcoming age of uploading will eliminate suffering, no more than growing up and becoming adult does, and I don’t believe it will eliminate disease. It will eliminate biological diseases because we will not drive biological bodies, but I guess that there will be other kinds of disease.

I suspect that Carrico understands, as well as I do, that someday we will leave our meat bodies behind and become cyber angels. The difference is that he doesn’t like the idea, and I do. I don’t think mind uploading technology will be operational in time for me to upload (I am 54 — if you are less than 25, perhaps it will be available in time for you), but this is not a big issue.

I don’t fear personal death, because I have some weird hope to be resurrected by future beings with god-like powers, and some even weirder hunch that perhaps every “I am” is the same (I first encountered this concept in Rudy Rucker’s Infinity and the Mind). So I am not a uploading enthusiast for fear of personal death but rather because I am persuaded that this is the future of our species and our “manifest destiny“. I agree with Spierer that there will be plenty of time for all human beings to grow and develop, and colonize the universe as uploaded minds.

See my cyber angels post for a beautiful quote of Sir Arthur C. Clarke — who else? — and Lincoln’ critique in the comments: “In my opinion, the greatest hurdle to sharing these ideas is the unnecessary assumption that “plastic” or “metal” will be the substrate for our digital spirits. We want and will have warmer and more beautiful substrates than those words imply.” I think “crystal minds” is a better metaphor for alternative substrates, because crystal is beautiful. We will become cyber angels with crystal minds, and move to the stars and beyond.

Martine Rothblatt has coined the beautiful word “vitology” for a new and broader definition of life, not (necessarily) related to biological life but open to new material substrates for life. A staunch advocate of space colonization and the founder of Terasem, Rothblatt says: “Vitology includes biological life as well as cybernetic life, while excluding non-teleological biology (such as organelles within a cell) as well as non-teleological non-biological entities (such as a memory chip).  The science of vitology includes the study of all entities that demonstrate Autonomy, Coopetency, and Transcendence (ACT) — things that are alive.

 Divisions of vitology could include biovitology (entities like homo sapiens which demonstrate ACT and are organized according to organic cellular chemistry), cybervitology (entities like intelligent computers or futuristic robots which demonstrate ACT and are organized according to inorganic circuit chemistry) and infovitology (entities like “virtual personalities” which demonstrate ACT and are organized according to software logic).


In a recent poll IEET readers were asked: Would you prefer to be cryonically preserved and resurrected in an enhanced young body, or to have your mind uploaded to a non-biological medium? 28% of participants answered that they would prefer uploading, and 24% said that either is fine. This is more than 50% support for uploading to a non biological medium, an idea whose time has come.

Concept schematic of Micro-Neuro-Interface circuit technology within a bio-compatible casing

A Mind Uploading roadmap

Back to Randal’s article, he believes “we have what it takes to get to the next stage [of post-biological life],” and here is the beef: a concrete roadmap to SIM based on the requirements for system identification.

After a discussion of the state of the art, Randal introduces a relatively novel approach: a microscopic hierarchical system for in-vivo measurements, where the basic component is an agent built in familiar IC technology.

“A chip the size of a red blood cell can contain more transistors than the original Intel i4004 microprocessor. Power can be delivered in a number of ways, from magnetic induction to glucose fuel cells, but most easily through light. There is a wavelength of infrared light between 800 and 1000 nm at which tissue is essentially transparent.

Recording of activity can be done either by detecting voltages over a capacitor or by optical means when operated in combination with voltage sensitive proteins that are used to show activity in neurons.

To conduct brain-wide measurements and to deliver data to the outside, large numbers of microscopic agents need to collaborate, each carrying out specialized roles. They would form a team or a secondary network of computation within and side-by-side with the brain.

Measurements made by agents can be collected, multiplexed and converted into signals that are more readily identified by external imaging methods. Locations of measurements can be obtained by combining direct detection of larger hubs with a protocol for relative triangulated distances between agents.”

A secondary network of computation within and side-by-side with the brain would be a brain co-processor, or brain implant, an artificial processing network that co-resides and operates concurrently with the neuronal network of the brain. Though Randal is proposing it only (!) as a brain measurement system, I can see this technology leading to general purpose brain implants that would work together with the biological brain for years, or decades, absorbing memories and taking over more and more of the processing functions of the brain. When your biological brain dies, it is no big deal… because you are already in the implant, and the information stored in the implant (aka you) is retrievable by design.

This is one of the conceptual strategies for mind uploading that I prefer, especially if the cloud of microscopic computers can be easily implanted (say, swallowed in a pill). It is similar to the “stack” in Richard K. Morgan’s fictional universe, but even better because it is easier to install and retrieve. Morgan writes science fiction, but reality is catching up fast: On April 12, 2011, nearly 15 years after she became paralyzed and unable to speak, a woman controlled a robotic arm by thinking about moving her arm and hand to lift a bottle of coffee to her mouth and take a drink, using the BrainGate neural interface system.

In Substrate-Independent Minds, Randal says: “In past years, I have made it my responsibility to seek out and bring together the pioneers, the investigators, and to identify the technologies. With, I put together, maintain and update road maps for WBE and SIM. An essential task has been to spot key pieces of the puzzle that require urgent attention. Now, we are directly involved with and provide objective oriented coordination and communication between projects, insuring that results will meet the requirements and will come together to achieve substrate-independent minds.”

I am very happy to see that our understanding of the brain is advancing fast, and preliminary technologies for mind uploading are being developed, but I still think that our generation will not live long enough to upload. But with cryonics everyone can buy a ticket to a future with uploading technology, and from there to the stars. A very promising alternative to “traditional” (!) cryonics is being developed by the Brain Preservation Foundation: “Can the standard chemical fixation and plastic embedding technique used for electron microscopic investigation of brain circuitry be adapted to preserve the synaptic connectivity of an entire human brain?” There are promising indications that the answer to his question is yes. If this is the case, in only a few years there will be simple and affordable medical procedure to preserve our brains for the future. Instead of “chemical fixation and plastic embedding,” which does not sound emotionally appealing (see Lincoln’s objections), I propose to refer to preserved brains as crystal minds.

(Crystal mind image credit: Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia Commons)