Virtual afterlives will transform humanity

Michael Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, writes about mind uploading in an article on Aeon Magazine. Is uploading possible? “Yes, almost certainly,” thinks Graziano. I find it awesome that more and more mainstream neuroscientists think that uploading is feasible in principle.

“I am a neuroscientist. I study the brain,” says Graziano. “For nearly 30 years, I’ve studied how sensory information gets taken in and processed, how movements are controlled and, lately, how networks of neurons might compute the spooky property of awareness. I find myself asking, given what we know about the brain, whether we really could upload someone’s mind to a computer. And my best guess is: yes, almost certainly. That raises a host of further questions, not least: what will this technology do to us psychologically and culturally?”

“It will utterly transform humanity, probably in ways that are more disturbing than helpful. It will change us far more than the internet did, though perhaps in a similar direction. Even if the chances of all this coming to pass were slim, the implications are so dramatic that it would be wise to think them through seriously. But I’m not sure the chances are slim. In fact, the more I think about this possible future, the more it seems inevitable.”

“It seems a no-brainer (excuse the pun) that we will be able to scan, map, and store the data on every neuronal connection within a person’s head. It is only a matter of time, and a timescale of five to 10 decades seems about right.”

Graziano is not persuaded that uploading will lead to a better world, and he says that he is happy he won’t be around, but he sees it coming: “This will be a new phase of human existence that is just as messy and difficult as any other phase has been, one as alien to us now as the internet age would have been to a Roman citizen 2,000 years ago… Such is progress. We always manage to live more-or-less comfortably in a world that would have frightened and offended the previous generations.”

In his most recent book, Consciousness and the Social Brain (2013), Graziano writes:

“I consider it a technological inevitability that information will, some day, be scannable directly from the brain and transferrable directly into computers. As embarrassingly sci-fi as that sounds, no theoretical reason stands against it. If the attention schema theory is correct, then human consciousness is information processed in a specific manner. Don’t want to die? Download your consciousness onto a central server and live in a simulated world with all the other downloaded souls. When your body dies, the copy of your mind will persist. You need not know the difference.”

“If the simulation is good, you should feel as though you are in a realistic universe. You can possess what seems to be a human body and can walk and live and eat and sleep on the familiar Earth, all simulated, all in the form of information manipulated on computer hardware. At the rate technology is advancing, give it a few centuries.”