With today’s technology the copy of one’s conscious essence would reside in a computer system. This means that mind cloning results in software that thinks of itself as a human being when running on an appropriate computer.
– Martine Rothblatt
Working with the mind and human consciousness is one of the greatest transhumanist ambitions. Creative transformation of the human brain has many advantages – from effective help for victims of various mental disabilities to the ability to create backup copies of our memories or even our whole personalities. This topic was discussed most famously by Austrian robotic scientist and philosopher Hans Moravec (especially in his 1988 book Mind Children); his goal is a so-called “mind upload” into cyberspace and the creation of a complete virtual replica of human neural tissue. Experiments of this kind are already being done – scientists have managed to make several complete 3D scans of the human brain, however we are still unable to make anything close to a functioning virtual replica.
There are many other problems as well. Usually the physical scan consists of cutting a cryogenically frozen human brain into very fine layers (of one-neuron width) and then scanning each layer and transferring the image to a computer. The main disadvantage of this approach is the obvious one: we can apply it only to a dead brain, which might differ in key ways from a living brain, especially when the donor died a long time ago. A noninvasive scan would be far more advantageous. Unfortunately even here we need to conquer several problems such as the duration of the process (a detailed scan can take many hours and the scanned subject is not allowed to move at all). Apart from the technical problems there are many philosophical issues regarding the mind upload. (For example, is the electronic copy the same person as its model? After all, identical twins are genetic replicas of each other but are not the same person.) There are also practical questions, which have been addressed, for example, in an H+ magazine article by virtual transhumanist Extropia da Silva).
Nanotechnology and artificial neural network creation may enable an approach to mind uploading that doesn’t strive to create a virtual copy of a physical person (Hans Moravec called this copy a “mind child”) and tries instead to transfer human consciousness from the physical body to a robotic structure. Here nanotechnology-based neural networks would help very much. Each nanobot would flow through the veins to its respective neuron, study it, turn itself into a copy of it, and replace it.
Even though this sounds highly questionable, the replacement of human neural tissue would have many advantages. First, we would no longer need to gain knowledge by painstaking study and practice – we could simply “download” it in much the same way that we download our computer data. That would put an end to decades spent in school and the tiresome memorizing of facts. Also, we could make backup copies of our minds, which would restore all our knowledge in case of destruction by illness or accident. It would be easy enough to connect such an “artificial” brain to a computer network and realize the ultimate goal of mind-upload enthusiasts – the actual transfer of human consciousness from the physical body to cyberspace.