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April 24, 2012

Seven Positive Reasons For Mind Uploading

 Mind Uploading
The Singularity Institute's Media Director, Michael Anissimov writes at H+ Magazine that mind uploading will become available some time in the future and that it will bring about massive economic growth, intelligence enhancement, and environmental recovery among other benefits.
At H+ Magazine, Michael Anissimov has written about the benefits of mind uploading. Anissimov is Media Director for the Singularity Institute and Co-Organizer of the Singularity Summit, an annual conference that focuses on emerging technologies like nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence.

According to Anissimov, he technology of mind uploading will eventually become universally adopted by all who can afford it, similar to the adoption of modern agriculture, hygiene, and our shedding of a nomadic lifestyle. 

Dr. Randal Koene is a promoter of substrate independent mind technologies and has been influential on the Russian 2045 Avatar project that is working to bring about mind uploading.

The concept of mind uploading involve simulating a human brain in a computer in enough detail that the “simulation” becomes, for all practical purposes, a perfect copy and experiences consciousness, just like protein-based human minds. If functionalism is true, as many cognitive scientists and philosophers believe, then all the features of human consciousness that we know and love — including all our memories, personality, and sexual quirks — would be preserved through the transition.

Anissimov argues that by simultaneously disassembling the protein brain, or connectome as the upload into a digital mind is created, only one implementation of the person in question would exist at any one time, eliminating any unnecessary philosophical confusion.  That is a simplistic outlook, as it effectively calls for suicide of the physical self.

The debate over the implementation of mind uploading aside, Anissimov hypothesizes seven positive reasons for the technology to be pursued and used in the future:
1) Massive economic growth. By allowing human minds to run on computing substrates that will be a million to a billion times faster than biological brains, as well as the possibility of spinning off non-conscious “daemons” to accomplish rote tasks, economic growth — at least insofar as it can be magnified by the intelligence and the robotics of 2050 as a starting point — will accelerate greatly. Instead of relying upon 1% per year population growth rates, humans might copy themselves or (more conducive to societal diversity) spin off already-mature progeny as quickly as available computing power allows. This could lead to growth rates in human capital of 1,000% per year or far more. More economic growth might ensue in the first year (or month) after uploading than in the entire 250,000 years between the evolution of H. sapiens and the invention of uploading. The first country that widely adopts the technology might be able to solve global poverty by donating only 0.1% of its annual GDP.
 2) Intelligence enhancement. Faster does not necessarily mean smarter. “Weak superintelligence” is a term sometimes used to describe accelerated intelligence that is not qualitatively enhanced, in contrast with “strong superintelligence”, which denotes qualitatively superior intelligence, like human intelligence is qualitatively more capable than that of chimps. There is significant evidence that the road from weak to strong superintelligence would likely be very short. By observing information flows in uploaded human brains, many of the details of human cognition would be elucidated and could be enhanced. Running standard compression algorithms alone over such minds might make them more efficient than blind natural selection could manage, and this extra space could be used to introduce new information-processing modules with additional features. Collectively, these new modules could give rise to qualitatively better intelligence. At the very least, rapid trial-and-error experimentation without the risk of injury would become possible, eventually revealing paths to qualitative enhancements. A “science of cognitive enhancement” could be developed and implemented. 
 3) Greater subjective well-being. Like most other human traits, our happiness set points fall in a normal distribution. No matter what happens to us, be it losing our home or winning the lottery, there is a tendency for our innate happiness level to revert back to our natural set point. Some lucky people are innately really happy. Some unlucky people have chronic depression. With uploading, we will be able to see exactly which neural features (“happiness centers”) correspond to high happiness set points and which don’t, combining prior knowledge with direct experimentation and investigation. This will make it possible for people to reprogram their own brains to raise their happiness set points in a way that biotechnological intervention might find difficult or dangerous. Depression could be cured for those who wish to live without it. Experimental data and simple observation has shown that high happiness set-point people today don’t have any mysterious handicaps, like inability to recognize when their body is in pain, or inappropriate social behavior. They still experience sadness, it’s just that their happiness returns to a higher level after the sad experience is over. Perennial tropes justifying the value of suffering will lose their appeal when anyone can be happier without any negative side effects. 
 4) Complete environmental recovery. By spending most of our time as programs running on a worldwide network, we will consume far less space and use less energy and natural resources than we would in a conventional human body. Because our “food” would be delicious virtual-but-viscerally-experienced cuisines generated only by electron patterns, we could avoid all the environmental destruction caused by clear-cutting land for farming and the associated chain of negative effects. Many folks imagine dystopian futures to involving a lot of homogeneity… well, we’re already there as far as our agriculture is concerned. Land that once had diverse flora and fauna now consists of a few dozen agricultural staples — wheat, corn, oats, cattle pastures, factory farms. Boring. By transitioning from a proteinaceous to a digital substrate, we’ll do more for our environment than any amount of conservation ever could. We could still experience this environment by inputting live-updating feeds of the biosphere into a corner of our expansive virtual worlds or even interacting directly with the real world with a footstep light enough to preserve the environment. It’s the best of both worlds, literally — virtual and natural in harmony. 
 5) Escape from subjective limitations caused by the laws of physics. Though this benefit sounds more abstract or philosophical, if we were to directly experience it, the visceral nature of it would become immediately clear. In a virtual environment, the programmer is the complete master of everything he or she has editing rights to. A personal virtual sandbox could become one’s canvas for creating the fantasy world of their choice. Today, this can be done in a very limited fashion in virtual worlds such as SecondLife. (A trend which will continue to the fulfillment of everyone’s most escapist fantasies, even if uploading is impossible.) Worlds like SecondLife are still limited by their system-wide operating rules and their low resolution and bandwidth. Any civilization that develops uploading would by necessity have the technology to develop virtual environments of great complexity and sophistication. Anything that can be conceived of in the imagination and described in bits will become possible. People will be able to experience simulations of the past, “travel” to far-off stars and planets, and experience entirely novel worldscapes, all within the flickering data of the worldwide network. 
 6) Closer connections with other human beings. Our interactions with other people today is limited by the very low bandwidth (relatively speaking) of human speech and facial expressions. By offering partial readouts of our cognitive state to others, we could engage in a deeper exchange of ideas and emotions. I predict that “talking” as communication will become passe — we’ll engage in much deeper forms of informational and emotional exchange that will make the talking and facial expressions of today seem downright empty and soulless. Spiritualists often talk a lot about connecting closer to one another — are they aware that the best way they can go about that would be to contribute to researching neural scanning or brain-computer interfacing technology? Probably not. 
 7) Last but not least, indefinite lifespans. Software can have backups which can be restored. This would make uploads effectively immortal.
These benefits make mind uploading a worthy human pursuit writes Anissimov,
...as the number of new minds leading worthwhile lives that could be created using the technology would be astronomical. The number of digital minds we could create using the matter on Earth alone would likely be over a quadrillion, more than 2,500 people for every star in the 400 billion star Milky Way. We could make a “Galactic Civilization”, right here on Earth in the late 21st or 22nd century. I can scarcely imagine such a thing, but I can imagine that we’ll be guffawing heartily as how unambitious most human goals were in the year 2012.
In response to Anissimov's piece, Robin Hanson, at Overcoming Bias has written about seven potential downsides to mind uploading:

  1. With faster growth, older generations overlap more with new generations. Humans can more quickly lose their importance and influence, and still be alive to see descendants reject things they hold dear.
  2. Em cognition might be changed to emphasize work over leisure capacities.
  3. Em cognition might also be changed to take more happiness from work, and to accept more inequality and workplace domination.
  4. An astronomical number of new minds may take more total resources than humans do now, and take less care to protect nature, as nature’s death won’t threaten their death as it does for us.
  5. Ems may spend less time in leisure than we, and less in fantasy VR than we do TV and video games.
  6. Employers and police may use direct access to cognitive states to test effort and loyalty, and to enforce rules.
  7. Only a small minority may be able to afford indefinite lifespans. Many em lives might be very short restarts from a standard trained start.
 The debate continues.  Let us know what you think!

SOURCE  H+ Magazine

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