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Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed on Transhumanism by Rebecca Savastio of Guardian Liberty Voice

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed on Transhumanism by Rebecca Savastio of Guardian Liberty Voice

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 26, 2014
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Rebecca Savastio of Guardian Liberty Voice has published an excellent interview with me, which mentions Death is Wrong in its introduction and delves into various questions surrounding transhumanism and emerging technologies. In my responses, I also make reference to writings by Ray Kurzweil, Max More, Julian Simon, and Singularity Utopia. Additionally, I cite my 2010 essay, “How Can I Live Forever: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self“.
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I was pleased to be able to advocate in favor of transformative technological progress on multiple fronts.
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Read Ms. Savastio’s article containing the interview: “Gennady Stolyarov on Transhumanism, Google Glass, Kurzweil, and Singularity“.
The Slowly Spreading Realization That Aging Can Be Defeated – Article by Reason

The Slowly Spreading Realization That Aging Can Be Defeated – Article by Reason

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
May 21, 2014
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At some point in the next ten to twenty years the public at large, consisting of people who pay little attention to the ins and outs of progress in medicine, will start to wake up to realize that much longer healthy lives have become a possibility for the near future. The preliminaries to this grand awakening have been underway for a while, gradually, and will continue that way for a while longer. A few people every day in ordinary walks of life notice that, hey, a lot of scientists are talking about greatly extending human life spans these days, and, oh look, large sums of money are floating around to back this aim. There will be a slow dawning of realization, one floating light bulb at a time, as the concept of radical life extension is shifted in another brain from the “science fiction” bucket to the “science fact” bucket.

Some folk will then go back to what they were doing. Others will catch the fever and become advocates. A tiny few will donate funds in support of research or pressure politicians to do the same. Since we live in an age of pervasive communication, we see this process as it occurs. Many people are all to happy to share their realizations on a regular basis, and in this brave new world everyone can be a publisher in their own right.

Here is an example that I stumbled over today; a fellow with a day-to-day focus in a completely unrelated industry took notice and thought enough of what is going on in aging research to talk about it. He is still skeptical, but not to the point of dismissing the current state and prospects for longevity science out of hand: he can see that this is actionable, important knowledge.

What if de Grey and Kurzweil are half right?

Quote:

I think these guys – and the whole movement to conquer aging – is fascinating. I am highly skeptical of the claims, however. Optimism is all well and good, and I have no off-hand holes to poke in their (very) well-articulated arguments. But at the same time, biology is fiendishly complex, the expectations beyond fantastical.

Still though, I have to wonder: What if guys like de Grey and Kurzweil are half right, or even just partially right? What if, 30 years from now, it becomes physically impossible to tell a 30-year-old from a 70-year-old by physical appearance alone? It sounds nutty. But it’s a lot less nuttier, and a lot closer to the realm of possibility, than living to 1,000 – which, again, some very smart people have taken into their heads as an achievable thing.

People who don’t take care of themselves are insane. Ok, not actually “insane.” But seriously, given the potential rewards AND the risks, not taking care of your body and mind – not treating both with the utmost respect and care – seems absolutely nuts. At the poker table I see these young kids whose bodies are already turning to mush, and a part of me just wants to grab them by the shirt collar and say “Dudes! What the hell is WRONG with you!!!”

If it is possible – just realistically possible, mind you – that I could still be kicking ass and taking names at 125 years old, then I want to be working as hard as I can to preserve and maintain my equipment here and now. No matter what miracles medical science will achieve in future, working from the strongest, healthiest base possible will always improve the potential results, perhaps by an order of magnitude. Individuals who go into old age with fit, healthy bodies and sound minds, and longstanding habits to maintain both, may find potential for extended performance at truly high quality of life that was never before imaginable.

As the foundations of rejuvenation biotechnology are assembled and institutions like the SENS Research Foundation continue to win allies in the research community and beyond, the number of people experiencing this sort of epiphany will grow. The more the better and the sooner the better, as widespread support for the cause of defeating aging through medical science is necessary for more rapid progress: large scale funding always arrives late to the game, attracted by popular sentiment. The faster we get to that point, the greater our chances of living to benefit from the first working rejuvenation treatments.

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries. 
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This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.

Guide to Talking about Immortality – Article by Wendy Hou

Guide to Talking about Immortality – Article by Wendy Hou

The New Renaissance Hat
Wendy Hou
April 1, 2014
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Introduction

Wobster’s List of Words to Avoid

A Non-Threatening Script (Faith-Friendly!)

FAQs

Introduction

Death is natural. Death gives life meaning. Nothing would be meaningful if you lived forever. You’ll be bored of living. Immortality comes through what we leave behind. You live on in your children. Immortality would only be available to the wealthy. You’ll cause class warfare. Earth would run out of resources. People would stop having children. You should overcome your fear of death so you can live more fully.

A discussion about potential immortality is among the most frustrating conversations a rationalist will ever have. Nowhere else is the response so uniform, uniformly hostile, and boringly predictable. While a more intelligent or more educated person generally makes for a better discussion, that doesn’t seem to make any difference here.

Meet Generic Gerry. This is an ordinary person with an ordinary upbringing, uploaded with our society’s typical views on death. Here are my tips for talking to Generic Gerry. I hope it will be useful to you, so perhaps you can skip that pointless swirl and have a more fruitful discussion.

Wobster’s List of Words to Avoid

To begin with, here are some words you shouldn’t say.

  1. Immortal / immortality / live forever

This is number 1 for a reason! When you say “immortal”, you’re thinking of reading books and making art and enjoying the company of loved ones. You know what Gerry is thinking? Voldemort. Or perhaps the wicked stepmother in Tangled. Or perhaps the Flying Dutchman. Literature has not been kind. Let’s just skip the part where Gerry calls you selfish and accuses you of sacrificing others for yourself.

  1. Transhumanism

“Oh, like Ray Kurzweil!” Generic Gerry knows exactly one transhumanist, Ray Kurzweil. And (while Mr. Kurzweil is an excellent and inspiring person) Gerry thinks he’s crazy. Unfortunately, Gerry hasn’t actually met Mr. Kurzweil, only heard stories. Secondhand. They’ve become distorted along the way. “He takes 1000 vitamins and wants to bring back his father’s voice in a box!”

  1. Cryonics

Another topic that’s treated unfairly in the media. At best, Gerry thinks cryonics is weird; at worst, a cowardly scam. We don’t need those negative feelings here.

  1. Singularity / AI

Not directly relevant here, and kind of scary to Generic Gerry, who’s not super excited about computers taking over the world.

These are all buzzwords. They are like light switches in a room or buttons in a psyche. The moment you say “immortality”, you are no longer talking to an agent. You are now talking to an NPC. NPCs are all about programming. Their thinking switches off while their programming switches on, and out of their mouths comes a whole culture’s worth of social platitudes, all in one big defensive stream.

That’s why it’s always the same conversation.

A Non-Threatening Script (Faith-Friendly!)

Since talking about “not dying” makes Generic Gerry raise up the defensive shields, I like to talk about “not dying without consent.”

  1. Begin with something anyone can agree with.

“Doesn’t it suck when people die of cancer at the age of 40 with two young kids? Or when they die slowly of Alzheimers?”

  1. Link to aging.

“If we could fix these aging-related problems, people wouldn’t get cancer when they get older anymore. They would stay healthy and active.”

  1. Introduce the vision.

“Instead of dying from cancer before they are ready, they can live out all their dreams and read all the books they want.”

  1. Stick close to the cultural norm.

“Then, when decide they are ready, they can set up their affairs, get their finances in order, and die surrounded by family and friends.”

Of course, there will always be new books to read, and maybe you’d never decide you are ready to die, but you don’t have to say it. Leave Gerry to come to that conclusion.

It works even with the religious who want to be with their god or their eternal family someday. Most would object to never dying, but some do appreciate more control over when and how.

It’s important to remember you won’t change Gerry’s mind overnight. Gerry will have to think about it over weeks and months, maybe even years. Your goal is to crack the gates open. If Gerry rejects immortality, that gate is slammed shut. But if Gerry expresses interest in choosing the timing and circumstances of death, you’ve got your foot in the door! Gerry will not be openly hostile to discussing aging research with you. Perhaps Gerry will even be interested in the research or excited about advances. And for a first conversation, that’s the best you can hope for.

FAQs

I’ve heard every one of these way too many times. In all likelihood, so have you.

  • I want to go to heaven.

It will always be trivially easy to die. You’ll just get to choose when you’re ready. You won’t have to die unexpectedly at the age of 60 wishing you could watch your grandchild grow up.

  • If you’re afraid to die, you’re not really living.

Unfortunately, you are thinking of Voldemort, a character so afraid to die he never truly lived. Voldemort is also fiction. In real life, I’m more like a person who eats healthy to avoid heart disease.

  • Won’t living forever get boring?

Not in the first 1000 years, no. After that, you can choose to die if it’s boring.

  • When people are old, they are ready to die.

Seeing as a 22% of all healthcare costs are incurred in the last year of life, no they aren’t. But even if they were. . . .

When people are old, they are also tired, achy, and frail. Would they still be ready if they were healthy, fit, and active? Perhaps the real age when they’d be ready is 200 or 1000. We don’t know.

  • Would it be available to everyone or just the wealthy?

Short answer: It will be available to everyone.

Long answer: Even today, vaccines aren’t readily available in Africa. But we don’t grab our pitchforks, yelling “Down with vaccines!” In the US, cancer treatments are still limited to those who can afford them. Chemotherapy started with Eva Peron before reaching the rest of Argentina. Life extension will begin with the wealthy, too. One day, it will reach everyone. Those who care can help fund life extension for the poor, or better yet, donate to research to make the life-extension techniques cheaper and better.

  • How will Earth support all those people?

That’s something we’ll have to figure out. Perhaps we could mine asteroids for resources or grow food on space stations. We might need to have fewer children until we can support them. What we don’t do is let the elderly die for resources, not even now.

  • Death is but the next great adventure.

That’s your belief, and you can choose it for yourself, but please don’t choose that path for me.

Wendy Hou is a programmer, mathematics instructor, and life-extension supporter.

Transhumanism and Mind Uploading Are Not the Same – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Transhumanism and Mind Uploading Are Not the Same – Video by G. Stolyarov II

In what is perhaps the most absurd attack on transhumanism to date, Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com equates this broad philosophy and movement with “the entire idea that you can ‘upload your mind to a computer'” and further posits that the only kind of possible mind uploading is the destructive kind, where the original, biological organism ceases to exist. Mr. Stolyarov refutes Adams’s equation of transhumanism with destructive mind uploading and explains that advocacy of mind uploading is neither a necessary nor a sufficient component of transhumanism.

References
– “Transhumanism and Mind Uploading Are Not the Same” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Transhumanism debunked: Why drinking the Kurzweil Kool-Aid will only make you dead, not immortal” – Mike Adams – NaturalNews.com – June 25, 2013
SENS Research Foundation
– “Nanomedicine” – Wikipedia
– “Transhumanism: Towards a Futurist Philosophy” – Essay by Max More
2045 Initiative Website
Bebionic Website
– “How Can I Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Immortality: Bio or Techno?” – Essay by Franco Cortese

We Seek Not to Become Machines, But to Keep Up with Them – Article by Franco Cortese

We Seek Not to Become Machines, But to Keep Up with Them – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
July 14, 2013
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This article attempts to clarify four areas within the movement of Substrate-Independent Minds and the discipline of Whole-Brain Emulation that are particularly ripe for ready-hand misnomers and misconceptions.
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Substrate-Independence 101:

  • Substrate-Independence:
    It is Substrate-Independence for Mind in general, but not any specific mind in particular.
  • The Term “Uploading” Misconstrues More than it Clarifies:
    Once WBE is experimentally-verified, we won’t be using conventional or general-purpose computers like our desktop PCs to emulate real, specific persons.
  • The Computability of the Mind:
    This concept has nothing to do with the brain operating like a computer. The liver is just as computable as the brain; their difference is one of computational intensity, not category.
  • We Don’t Want to Become The Machines – We Want to Keep Up With Them!:
    SIM & WBE are sciences of life-extension first and foremost. It is not out of sheer technophilia, contemptuous “contempt of the flesh”, or wanton want of machinedom that proponents of Uploading support it. It is, for many, because we fear that Recursively Self-Modifying AI will implement an intelligence explosion before Humanity has a chance to come along for the ride. The creation of any one entity superintelligent to the rest constitutes both an existential risk and an antithetical affront to Man, whose sole central and incessant essence is to make himself to an increasingly greater degree, and not to have some artificial god do it for him or tell him how to do it.
Substrate-Independence
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The term “substrate-independence” denotes the philosophical thesis of functionalism – that what is important about the mind and its constitutive sub-systems and processes is their relative function. If such a function could be recreated using an alternate series of component parts or procedural steps, or can be recreated on another substrate entirely, the philosophical thesis of Functionalism holds that it should be the same as the original, experientially speaking.

However, one rather common and ready-at-hand misinterpretation stemming from the term “Substrate-Independence” is the notion that we as personal selves could arbitrarily jump from mental substrate to mental substrate, since mind is software and software can be run on various general-purpose machines. The most common form of this notion is exemplified by scenarios laid out in various Greg Egan novels and stories, wherein a given person sends their mind encoded as a wireless signal to some distant receiver, to be reinstantiated upon arrival.

The term “substrate-independent minds” should denote substrate independence for the minds in general, again, the philosophical thesis of functionalism, and not this second, illegitimate notion. In order to send oneself as such a signal, one would have to put all the processes constituting the mind “on pause” – that is, all causal interaction and thus causal continuity between the software components and processes instantiating our selves would be halted while the software was encoded as a signal, transmitted and subsequently decoded. We could expect this to be equivalent to temporary brain death or to destructive uploading without any sort of gradual replacement, integration, or transfer procedure. Each of these scenarios incurs the ceasing of all causal interaction and causal continuity among the constitutive components and processes instantiating the mind. Yes, we would be instantiated upon reaching our destination, but we can expect this to be as phenomenally discontinuous as brain death or destructive uploading.

There is much talk in the philosophical and futurist circles – where Substrate-Independent Minds are a familiar topic and a common point of discussion – on how the mind is software. This sentiment ultimately derives from functionalism, and the notion that when it comes to mind it is not the material of the brain that matters, but the process(es) emerging therefrom. And due to the fact that almost all software is designed to as to be implemented on general-purpose (i.e., standardized) hardware, that we should likewise be able to transfer the software of the mind into a new physical computational substrate with as much ease as we do software. While we would emerge from such a transfer functionally isomorphic with ourselves prior to the jump from computer to computer, we can expect this to be the phenomenal equivalent of brain death or destructive uploading, again, because all causal interaction and continuity between that software’s constitutive sub-processes has been discontinued. We would have been put on pause in the time between leaving one computer, whether as static signal or static solid-state storage, and arriving at the other.

This is not to say that we couldn’t transfer the physical substrate implementing the “software” of our mind to another body, provided the other body were equipped to receive such a physical substrate. But this doesn’t have quite the same advantage as beaming oneself to the other side of Earth, or Andromeda for that matter, at the speed of light.

But to transfer a given WBE to another mental substrate without incurring phenomenal discontinuity may very well involve a second gradual integration procedure, in addition to the one the WBE initially underwent (assuming it isn’t a product of destructive uploading). And indeed, this would be more properly thought of in the context of a new substrate being gradually integrated with the WBE’s existing substrate, rather than the other way around (i.e., portions of the WBE’s substrate being gradually integrated with an external substrate.) It is likely to be much easier to simply transfer a given physical/mental substrate to another body, or to bypass this need altogether by actuating bodies via tele-operation instead.

In summary, what is sought is substrate-independence for mind in general, and not for a specific mind in particular (at least not without a gradual integration procedure, like the type underlying the notion of gradual uploading, so as to transfer such a mind to a new substrate without causing phenomenal discontinuity).

The Term “Uploading” Misconstrues More Than It Clarifies

The term “Mind Uploading” has some drawbacks and creates common initial misconceptions. It is based off terminology originating from the context of conventional, contemporary computers – which may lead to the initial impression that we are talking about uploading a given mind into a desktop PC, to be run in the manner that Microsoft Word is run. This makes the notion of WBE more fantastic and incredible – and thus improbable – than it actually is. I don’t think anyone seriously speculating about WBE would entertain such a notion.

Another potential misinterpretation particularly likely to result from the term “Mind Uploading” is that we seek to upload a mind into a computer – as though it were nothing more than a simple file transfer. This, again, connotes modern paradigms of computation and communications technology that are unlikely to be used for WBE. It also creates the connotation of putting the mind into a computer – whereas a more accurate connotation, at least as far as gradual uploading as opposed to destructive uploading is concerned, would be bringing the computer gradually into the biological mind.

It is easy to see why the term initially came into use. The notion of destructive uploading was the first embodiment of the concept. The notion of gradual uploading so as to mitigate the philosophical problems pertaining to how much a copy can be considered the same person as the original, especially in contexts where they are both simultaneously existent, came afterward. In the context of destructive uploading, it makes more connotative sense to think of concepts like uploading and file transfer.

But in the notion of gradual uploading, portions of the biological brain – most commonly single neurons, as in Robert A. Freitas’s and Ray Kurzweil’s versions of gradual uploading – are replaced with in-vivo computational substrate, to be placed where the neuron it is replacing was located. Such a computational substrate would be operatively connected to electrical or electrochemical sensors (to translate the biochemical or, more generally, biophysical output of adjacent neurons into computational input that can be used by the computational emulation) and electrical or electrochemical actuators (to likewise translate computational output of the emulation into biophysical input that can be used by adjacent biological neurons). It is possible to have this computational emulation reside in a physical substrate existing outside of the biological brain, connected to in-vivo biophysical sensors and actuators via wireless communication (i.e., communicating via electromagnetic signal), but this simply introduces a potential lag-time that may then have to be overcome by faster sensors, faster actuators, or a faster emulation. It is likely that the lag-time would be negligible, especially if it was located in a convenient module external to the body but “on it” at all times, to minimize transmission delays increasing as one gets farther away from such an external computational device. This would also likely necessitate additional computation to model the necessary changes to transmission speed in response to how far away the person is.  Otherwise, signals that are meant to arrive at a given time could arrive too soon or too late, thereby disrupting functionality. However, placing the computational substrate in vivo obviates these potential logistical obstacles.

This notion is I think not brought into the discussion enough. It is an intuitively obvious notion if you’ve thought a great deal about Substrate-Independen -Minds and frequented discussions on Mind Uploading. But to a newcomer who has heard the term Gradual Uploading for the first time, it is all too easy to think “yes, but then one emulated neuron would exist on a computer, and the original biological neuron would still be in the brain. So once you’ve gradually emulated all these neurons, you have an emulation on a computer, and the original biological brain, still as separate physical entities. Then you have an original and the copy – so where does the gradual in Gradual Uploading come in? How is this any different than destructive uploading? At the end of the day you still have a copy and an original as separate entities.”

This seeming impasse is I think enough to make the notion of Gradual Uploading seem at least intuitively or initially incredible and infeasible before people take the time to read the literature and discover how gradual uploading could actually be achieved (i.e., wherein each emulated neuron is connected to biophysical sensors and actuators to facilitate operational connection and causal interaction with existing in-vivo biological neurons) without fatally tripping upon such seeming logistical impasses, as in the example above. The connotations created by the term I think to some extent make it seem so fantastic (as in the overly simplified misinterpretations considered above) that people write off the possibility before delving deep enough into the literature and discussion to actually ascertain the possibility with any rigor.

The Computability of the Mind

Another common misconception is that the feasibility of Mind Uploading is based upon the notion that the brain is a computer or operates like a computer. The worst version of this misinterpretation that I’ve come across is that proponents and supporters of Mind Uploading are claiming that the mind is similar in operation current and conventional paradigms of computer.

Before I elaborate why this is wrong, I’d like to point out a particularly harmful sentiment that can result from this notion. It makes the concept of Mind Uploading seem dehumanizing, because conventional computers don’t display anything like intelligence or emotion. This makes people conflate the possible behaviors of future computers with the behaviors of current computers. Obviously computers don’t feel happiness or love, and so to say that the brain is like a computer is a farcical claim.

Machines don’t have to be as simple or as un-adaptable and invariant as the are today. The universe itself is a machine. In other words, either everything is a machine or nothing is.

This misunderstanding also makes people think that advocates and supporters of Mind Uploading are claiming that the mind is reducible to basic or simple autonomous operations, like cogs in a machine, which constitutes for many people a seeming affront to our privileged place in the universe as humans, in general, and to our culturally ingrained notions of human dignity being inextricably tied to physical irreducibility, in particular. The intuitive notions of human dignity and the ontologically privileged nature of humanity have yet to catch up with physicalism and scientific materialism (a.k.a. metaphysical naturalism). It is not the proponents of Mind Uploading that are raising these claims, but science itself – and for hundreds of years, I might add. Man’s privileged and physically irreducible ontological status has become more and more undermined throughout history since at least as far back as the Darwin’s theory of Evolution, which brought the notion of the past and future phenotypic evolution of humanity into scientific plausibility for the first time.

It is also seemingly disenfranchising to many people, in that notions of human free will and autonomy seem to be challenged by physical reductionism and determinism – perhaps because many people’s notions of free will are still associated with a non-physical, untouchably metaphysical human soul (i.e., mind-body dualism) which lies outside the purview of physical causality. To compare the brain to a “mindless machine” is still for many people disenfranchising to the extent that it questions the legitimacy of their metaphysically tied notions of free will.

Just because the sheer audacity of experience and the raucous beauty of feeling is ultimately reducible to physical and procedural operations (I hesitate to use the word “mechanisms” for its likewise misconnotative conceptual associations) does not take away from it. If it were the result of some untouchable metaphysical property, a sentiment that mind-body-dualism promulgated for quite some time, then there would be no way for us to understand it, to really appreciate it, and to change it (e.g., improve upon it) in any way. Physicalism and scientific materialism are needed if we are to ever see how it is done and to ever hope to change it for the better. Figuring out how things work is one of Man’s highest merits – and there is no reason Man’s urge to discover and determine the underlying causes of the world should not apply to his own self as well.

Moreover, the fact that experience, feeling, being, and mind result from the convergence of singly simple systems and processes makes the mind’s emergence from such simple convergence all the more astounding, amazing, and rare, not less! If the complexity and unpredictability of mind were the result of complex and unpredictable underlying causes (like the metaphysical notions of mind-body dualism connote), then the fact that mind turned out to be complex and unpredictable wouldn’t be much of a surprise. The simplicity of the mind’s underlying mechanisms makes the mind’s emergence all the more amazing, and should not take away from our human dignity but should instead raise it up to heights yet unheralded.

Now that we have addressed such potentially harmful second-order misinterpretations, we will address their root: the common misinterpretations likely to result from the phrase “the computability of the mind”. Not only does this phrase not say that the mind is similar in basic operation to conventional paradigms of computation – as though a neuron were comparable to a logic gate or transistor – but neither does it necessarily make the more credible claim that the mind is like a computer in general. This makes the notion of Mind-Uploading seem dubious because it conflates two different types of physical systems – computers and the brain.

The kidney is just as computable as the brain. That is to say that the computability of mind denotes the ability to make predictively accurate computational models (i.e., simulations and emulations) of biological systems like the brain, and is not dependent on anything like a fundamental operational similarity between biological brains and digital computers. We can make computational models of a given physical system, feed it some typical inputs, and get a resulting output that approximately matches the real-world (i.e., physical) output of such a system.

The computability of the mind has very little to do with the mind acting as or operating like a computer, and much, much more to do with the fact that we can build predictively accurate computational models of physical systems in general. This also, advantageously, negates and obviates many of the seemingly dehumanizing and indignifying connotations identified above that often result from the claim that the brain is like a machine or like a computer. It is not that the brain is like a computer – it is just that computers are capable of predictively modeling the physical systems of the universe itself.

We Want Not To Become Machines, But To Keep Up With Them!

Too often is uploading portrayed as the means to superhuman speed of thought or to transcending our humanity. It is not that we want to become less human, or to become like a machine. For most Transhumanists and indeed most proponents of Mind Uploading and Substrate-Independent Minds, meat is machinery anyways. In other words there is no real (i.e., legitimate) ontological distinction between human minds and machines to begin with. Too often is uploading seen as the desire for superhuman abilities. Too often is it seen as a bonus, nice but ultimately unnecessary.

I vehemently disagree. Uploading has been from the start for me (and I think for many other proponents and supporters of Mind Uploading) a means of life extension, of deferring and ultimately defeating untimely, involuntary death, as opposed to an ultimately unnecessary means to better powers, a more privileged position relative to the rest of humanity, or to eschewing our humanity in a fit of contempt of the flesh. We do not want to turn ourselves into Artificial Intelligence, which is a somewhat perverse and burlesque caricature that is associated with Mind Uploading far too often.

The notion of gradual uploading is implicitly a means of life extension. Gradual uploading will be significantly harder to accomplish than destructive uploading. It requires a host of technologies and methodologies – brain-scanning, in-vivo locomotive systems such as but not limited to nanotechnology, or else extremely robust biotechnology – and a host of precautions to prevent causing phenomenal discontinuity, such as enabling each non-biological functional replacement time to causally interact with adjacent biological components before the next biological component that it causally interacts with is likewise replaced. Gradual uploading is a much harder feat than destructive uploading, and the only advantage it has over destructive uploading is preserving the phenomenal continuity of a single specific person. In this way it is implicitly a means of life extension, rather than a means to the creation of AGI, because its only benefit is the preservation and continuation of a single, specific human life, and that benefit entails a host of added precautions and additional necessitated technological and methodological infrastructures.

If we didn’t have to fear the creation of recursively self-improving AI, biased towards being likely to recursively self-modify at a rate faster than humans are likely to (or indeed, are able to safely – that is, gradually enough to prevent phenomenal discontinuity), then I would favor biotechnological methods of achieving indefinite lifespans over gradual uploading. But with the way things are, I am an advocate of gradual Mind Uploading first and foremost because I think it may prove necessary to prevent humanity from being left behind by recursively self-modifying superintelligences. I hope that it ultimately will not prove necessary – but at the current time I feel that it is somewhat likely.

Most people who wish to implement or accelerate an intelligence explosion a la I.J. Good, and more recently Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, wish to do so because they feel that such a recursively self-modifying superintelligence (RSMSI) could essentially solve all of humanity’s problems – disease, death, scarcity, existential insecurity. I think that the potential benefits of creating a RSMSI are superseded by the drastic increase in existential risk it would entail in making any one entity superintelligent relative to humanity. The old God of yore is finally going out of fashion, one and a quarter centuries late to his own eulogy. Let’s please not make another one, now with a little reality under his belt this time around.

Intelligence is a far greater source of existential and global catastrophic risk than any technology that could be wielded by such an intelligence (except, of course, for technologies that would allow an intelligence to increase its own intelligence). Intelligence can invent new technologies and conceive of ways to counteract any defense systems we put in place to protect against the destructive potentials of any given technology. A superintelligence is far more dangerous than rogue nanotech (i.e., grey-goo) or bioweapons. When intelligence comes into play, then all bets are off. I think culture exemplifies this prominently enough. Moreover, for the first time in history the technological solutions to these problems – death, disease, scarcity – are on the conceptual horizon. We can fix these problems ourselves, without creating an effective God relative to Man and incurring the extreme potential for complete human extinction that such a relative superintelligence would entail.

Thus uploading constitutes one of the means by which humanity can choose, volitionally, to stay on the leading edge of change, discovery, invention, and novelty, if the creation of a RSMSI is indeed imminent. It is not that we wish to become machines and eschew our humanity – rather the loss of autonomy and freedom inherent in the creation of a relative superintelligence is antithetical to the defining features of humanity. In order to preserve the uniquely human thrust toward greater self-determination in the face of such a RSMSI, or at least be given the choice of doing so, we may require the ability to gradually upload so as to stay on equal footing in terms of speed of thought and general level of intelligence (which is roughly correlative with the capacity to affect change in the world and thus to determine its determining circumstances and conditions as well).

In a perfect world we wouldn’t need to take the chance of phenomenal discontinuity inherent in gradual uploading. In gradual uploading there is always a chance, no matter how small, that we will come out the other side of the procedure as a different (i.e., phenomenally distinct) person. We can seek to minimize the chances of that outcome by extending the degree of graduality with which we gradually replace the material constituents of the mind, and by minimizing the scale at which we gradually replace those material constituents (i.e., gradual substrate replacement one ion-channel at a time would be likelier to ensure the preservation of phenomenal continuity than gradual substrate replacement neuron by neuron would be). But there is always a chance.

This is why biotechnological means of indefinite lifespans have an immediate advantage over uploading, and why if non-human RSMSI were not a worry, I would favor biotechnological methods of indefinite lifespans over Mind Uploading. But this isn’t the case; rogue RSMSI are a potential problem, and so the ability to secure our own autonomy in the face of a rising RSMSI may necessitate advocating Mind Uploading over biotechnological methods of indefinite lifespans.

Mind Uploading has some ancillary benefits over biotechnological means of indefinite lifespans as well, however. If functional equivalence is validated (i.e., if it is validated that the basic approach works), mitigating existing sources of damage becomes categorically easier. In physical embodiment, repairing structural, connectional, or procedural sub-systems in the body requires (1) a means of determining the source of damage and (2) a host of technologies and corresponding methodologies to enter the body and make physical changes to negate or otherwise obviate the structural, connectional, or procedural source of such damages, and then exit the body without damaging or causing dysfunction to other systems in the process. Both of these requirements become much easier in the virtual embodiment of whole-brain emulation.

First, looking toward requirement (2), we do not need to actually design any technologies and methodologies for entering and leaving the system without damage or dysfunction or for actually implementing physical changes leading to the remediation of the sources of damage. In virtual embodiment this requires nothing more than rewriting information. Since in the case of WBE we have the capacity to rewrite information as easily as it was written in the first place, while we would still need to know what changes to make (which is really the hard part in this case), actually implementing those changes is as easy as rewriting a word file. There is no categorical difference, since it is information, and we would already have a means of rewriting information.

Looking toward requirement (1), actually elucidating the structural, connectional or procedural sources of damage and/or dysfunction, we see that virtual embodiment makes this much easier as well. In physical embodiment we would need to make changes to the system in order to determine the source of the damage. In virtual embodiment we could run a section of emulation for a given amount of time, change or eliminate a given informational variable (i.e. structure, component, etc.) and see how this affects the emergent system-state of the emulation instance.

Iteratively doing this to different components and different sequences of components, in trial-and-error fashion, should lead to the elucidation of the structural, connectional or procedural sources of damage and dysfunction. The fact that an emulation can be run faster (thus accelerating this iterative change-and-check procedure) and that we can “rewind” or “play back” an instance of emulation time exactly as it occurred initially means that noise (i.e., sources of error) from natural systemic state-changes would not affect the results of this procedure, whereas in physicality systems and structures are always changing, which constitutes a source of experimental noise. The conditions of the experiment would be exactly the same in every iteration of this change-and-check procedure. Moreover, the ability to arbitrarily speed up and slow down the emulation will aid in our detecting and locating the emergent changes caused by changing or eliminating a given microscale component, structure, or process.

Thus the process of finding the sources of damage correlative with disease and aging (especially insofar as the brain is concerned) could be greatly improved through the process of uploading. Moreover, WBE should accelerate the technological and methodological development of the computational emulation of biological systems in general, meaning that it would be possible to use such procedures to detect the structural, connectional, and procedural sources of age-related damage and systemic dysfunction in the body itself, as opposed to just the brain, as well.

Note that this iterative change-and-check procedure would be just as possible via destructive uploading as it would with gradual uploading. Moreover, in terms of people actually instantiated as whole-brain emulations, actually remediating those structural, connectional, and/or procedural sources of damage as it pertains to WBEs is much easier than physically-embodied humans. Anecdotally, if being able to distinguish among the homeostatic, regulatory, and metabolic structures and processes in the brain from the computational or signal-processing structures and processes in the brain is a requirement for uploading (which I don’t think it necessarily is, although I do think that such a distinction would decrease the ultimate computational intensity and thus computational requirements of uploading, thereby allowing it to be implemented sooner and have wider availability), then this iterative change-and-check procedure could also be used to accelerate the elucidation of such a distinction as well, for the same reasons that it could accelerate the elucidation of structural, connectional, and procedural sources of age-related systemic damage and dysfunction.

Lastly, while uploading (particularly instances in which a single entity or small group of entities is uploaded prior to the rest of humanity – i.e. not a maximally distributed intelligence explosion) itself constitutes a source of existential risk, it also constitutes a means of mitigating existential risk as well. Currently we stand on the surface of the earth, naked to whatever might lurk in the deep night of space. We have not been watching the sky for long enough to know with any certainty that some unforeseen cosmic process could not come along to wipe us out at any time. Uploading would allow at least a small portion of humanity to live virtually on a computational substrate located deep underground, away from the surface of the earth and its inherent dangers, thus preserving the future human heritage should an extinction event befall humanity. Uploading would also prevent the danger of being physically killed by some accident of physicality, like being hit by a bus or struck by lightning.

Uploading is also the most resource-efficient means of life-extension on the table, because virtual embodiment not only essentially negates the need for many physical resources (instead necessitating one, namely energy – and increasing computational price-performance means that just how much a given amount of energy can do is continually increasing).

It also mitigates the most pressing ethical problem of indefinite lifespans – overpopulation. In virtual embodiment, overpopulation ceases to be an issue almost ipso facto. I agree with John Smart’s STEM compression hypothesis – that in the long run the advantages proffered by virtual embodiment will make choosing it over physical embodiment, in the long run at least, an obvious choice for most civilizations, and I think it will be the volitional choice for most future persons. It is safer, more resource-efficient (and thus more ethical, if one thinks that forestalling future births in order to maintain existing life is unethical) and the more advantageous choice. We will not need to say: migrate into virtuality if you want another physically embodied child. Most people will make the choice to go VR themselves simply due to the numerous advantages and the lack of any experiential incomparabilities (i.e., modalities of experience possible in physicality but not possible in VR).

So in summary, yes, Mind Uploading (especially gradual uploading) is more a means of life-extension than a means to arbitrarily greater speed of thought, intelligence or power (i.e., capacity to affect change in the world). We do not seek to become machines, only to retain the capability of choosing to remain on equal footing with them if the creation of RSMSI is indeed imminent. There is no other reason to increase our collective speed of thought, and to do so would be arbitrary – unless we expected to be unable to prevent the physical end of the universe, in which case it would increase the ultimate amount of time and number of lives that could be instantiated in the time we have left.

The fallibility of many of these misconceptions may be glaringly obvious, especially to those readers familiar with Mind Uploading as notion and Substrate-Independent Minds and/or Whole-Brain Emulation as disciplines. I may be to some extent preaching to the choir in these cases. But I find many of these misinterpretations far too predominant and recurrent to be left alone.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

Transhumanism and Mind Uploading Are Not the Same – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Transhumanism and Mind Uploading Are Not the Same – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 10, 2013
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In what is perhaps the most absurd attack on transhumanism to date, Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com equates this broad philosophy and movement with “the entire idea that you can ‘upload your mind to a computer’” and further posits that the only kind of possible mind uploading is the destructive kind, where the original, biological organism ceases to exist. Adams goes so far as calling transhumanism a “death cult much like the infamous Heaven’s Gate cult led by Marshal Applewhite.”

I will not devote this essay to refuting any of Adams’s arguments against destructive mind uploading, because no serious transhumanist thinker of whom I am aware endorses the kind of procedure Adams uses as a straw man. For anyone who wishes to continue existing as an individual, uploading the contents of the mind to a computer and then killing the body is perhaps the most bizarrely counterproductive possible activity, short of old-fashioned suicide. Instead, Adams’s article – all the misrepresentations aside – offers the opportunity to make important distinctions of value to transhumanists.

First, having a positive view of mind uploading is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a transhumanist. Mind uploading has been posited as one of several routes toward indefinite human life extension. Other routes include the periodic repair of the existing biological organism (as outlined in Aubrey de Grey’s SENS project or as entailed in the concept of nanomedicine) and the augmentation of the biological organism with non-biological components (Ray Kurzweil’s actual view, as opposed to the absurd positions Adams attributes to him). Transhumanism, as a philosophy and a movement, embraces the lifting of the present limitations upon the human condition – limitations that arise out of the failures of human biology and unaltered physical nature. Max More, in “Transhumanism: Towards a Futurist Philosophy”, writes that “Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies such as neuroscience and neuropharmacology, life extension, nanotechnology, artificial ultraintelligence, and space habitation, combined with a rational philosophy and value system.” That Adams would take this immensity of interrelated concepts, techniques, and aspirations and equate it to destructive mind uploading is, plainly put, mind-boggling. There is ample room in transhumanism for a variety of approaches toward lifting the limitations of the human condition. Some of these approaches will be more successful than others, and no one approach is obligatory for those wishing to consider themselves transhumanists.

Moreover, Adams greatly misconstrues the positions of those transhumanists who do support mind uploading. For most such transhumanists, a digital existence is not seen as superior to their current biological existences, but as rather a necessary recourse if or when it becomes impossible to continue maintaining a biological existence. Dmitry Itskov’s 2045 Initiative is perhaps the most prominent example of the pursuit of mind uploading today. The aim of the initiative is to achieve cybernetic immortality in a stepwise fashion, through the creation of a sequence of avatars that gives the biological human an increasing amount of control over non-biological components. Avatar B, planned for circa 2020-2025, would involve a human brain controlling an artificial body. If successful, this avatar would prolong the existence of the biological brain when other components of the biological body have become too irreversibly damaged to support it. Avatar C, planned for circa 2030-2035, would involve the transfer of a human mind from a biological to a cybernetic brain, after the biological brain is no longer able to support life processes. There is no destruction intended in the 2045 Avatar Project Milestones, only preservation of some manner of intelligent functioning of a person whom the status quo would instead relegate to becoming food for worms. The choice between decomposition and any kind of avatar is a no-brainer (well, a brainer actually, for those who choose the latter).

Is Itskov’s path toward immortality the best one? I personally prefer SENS, combined with nanomedicine and piecewise artificial augmentations of the sort that are already beginning to occur (witness the amazing bebionic3 prosthetic hand). Itskov’s approach appears to assume that the technology for transferring the human mind to an entirely non-biological body will become available sooner than the technology for incrementally maintaining and fortifying the biological body to enable its indefinite continuation. My estimation is the reverse. Before scientists will be able to reverse-engineer not just the outward functions of a human brain but also its immensely complex and intricate internal structure, we will have within our grasp the ability to conquer an ever greater number of perils that befall the biological body and to repair the body using both biological and non-biological components.

The biggest hurdle for mind uploading to overcome is one that does not arise with the approach of maintaining the existing body and incrementally replacing defective components. This hurdle is the preservation of the individual’s unique and irreplaceable vantage point upon the world – his or her direct sense of being that person and no other. I term this direct vantage point an individual’s “I-ness”.  Franco Cortese, in his immensely rigorous and detailed conceptual writings on the subject, calls it “subjective-continuity” and devotes his attention to techniques that could achieve gradual replacement of biological neurons with artificial neurons in such a way that there is never a temporal or operational disconnect between the biological mind and its later cybernetic instantiation. Could the project of mind uploading pursue directions that would achieve the preservation of the “I-ness” of the biological person? I think this may be possible, but only if the resulting cybernetic mind is structurally analogous to the biological mind and, furthermore, maintains the temporal continuity of processes exhibited by an analog system, as opposed to a digital system’s discrete “on-off” states and the inability to perform multiple exactly simultaneous operations. Furthermore, only by developing the gradual-replacement approaches explored by Cortese could this prospect of continuing the same subjective experience (as opposed to simply creating a copy of the individual) be realized. But Adams, in his screed against mind uploading, seems to ignore all of these distinctions and explorations. Indeed, he appears to be oblivious of the fact that, yes, transhumanists have thought quite a bit about the philosophical questions involved in mind uploading. He seems to think that in mind uploading, you simply “copy the brain and paste it somewhere else” and hope that “somehow magically that other thing becomes ‘you.’” Again, no serious proponent of mind uploading – and, more generally, no serious thinker who has considered the subject – would hold this misconception.

Adams is wrong on a still further level, though. Not only is he wrong to equate transhumanism with mind uploading; not only is he wrong to declare all mind uploading to be destructive – he is also wrong to condemn the type of procedure that would simply make a non-destructive copy of an individual. This type of “backup” creation has indeed been advocated by transhumanists such as Ray Kurzweil. While a pure copy of one’s mind or its contents would not transfer one’s “I-ness” to a digital substrate and would not enable one to continue experiencing existence after a fatal illness or accident, it could definitely help an individual regain his memories in the event of brain damage or amnesia. Furthermore, if the biological individual were to irreversibly perish, such a copy would at least preserve vital information about the biological individual for the benefit of others. Furthermore, it could enable the biological individual’s influence upon the world to be more powerfully actualized by a copy that considers itself to have the biological individual’s memories, background, knowledge, and personality.  If we had with us today copies of the minds of Archimedes, Benjamin Franklin, and Nikola Tesla, we would certainly all benefit greatly from continued outpourings of technological and philosophical innovation.  The original geniuses would not know or care about this, since they would still be dead, but we, in our interactions with minds very much like theirs, would be immensely better off than we are with only their writings and past inventions at our disposal.

Yes, destructive digital copying of a mind would be a bafflingly absurd and morally troubling undertaking – but recognition of this is neither a criticism of transhumanism nor of any genuinely promising projects of mind uploading. Instead, it is simply a matter of common sense, a quality which Mike Adams would do well to acquire.

Transhumanism, Technology, and Science: To Say It’s Impossible Is to Mock History Itself – Article by Franco Cortese

Transhumanism, Technology, and Science: To Say It’s Impossible Is to Mock History Itself – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 30, 2013
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One of the most common arguments made against Transhumanism, Technoprogressivism, and the transformative potentials of emerging, converging, disruptive and transformative technologies may also be the weakest: technical infeasibility. While some thinkers attack the veracity of Transhumanist claims on moral grounds, arguing that we are committing a transgression against human dignity (in turn often based on ontological grounds of a static human nature that shan’t be tampered with) or on grounds of safety, arguing that humanity isn’t responsible enough to wield such technologies without unleashing their destructive capabilities, these categories of counter-argument (efficacy and safety, respectively) are more often than not made by people somewhat more familiar with the community and its common points of rhetoric.
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In other words these are the real salient and significant problems needing to be addressed by Transhumanist and Technoprogressive communities. The good news is that the ones making the most progress in terms of deliberating the possible repercussions of emerging technologies are Transhumanist and Technoprogressive communities. The large majority of thinkers and theoreticians working on Existential Risk and Global Catastrophic Risk, like The Future of Humanity Institute and the Lifeboat Foundation, share Technoprogressive inclinations. Meanwhile, the largest proponents of the need to ensure wide availability of enhancement technologies, as well as the need for provision of personhood rights to non-biologically-substrated persons, are found amidst the ranks of Technoprogressive Think Tanks like the IEET.
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A more frequent Anti-Transhumanist and Anti-Technoprogressive counter-argument, by contrast, and one most often launched by people approaching Transhumanist and Technoprogressive communities from the outside, with little familiarity with their common points of rhetoric, is the claim of technical infeasibility based upon little more than sheer incredulity.

Sometimes a concept or notion simply seems too unprecedented to be possible. But it’s just too easy for us to get stuck in a spacetime rut along the continuum of culture and feel that if something were possible, it would have either already happened or would be in the final stages of completion today. “If something is possible, when why hasn’t anyone done it Shouldn’t the fact that it has yet to be accomplished indicate that it isn’t possible?” This conflates ought with is (which Hume showed us is a fallacy) and ought with can. Ought is not necessarily correlative with either. At the risk of saying the laughably-obvious, something must occur at some point in order for it to occur at all. The Moon landing happened in 1969 because it happened in 1969, and to have argued in 1968 that it simply wasn’t possible solely because it had never been done before would not have been  a valid argument for its technical infeasibility.

If history has shown us anything, it has shown us that history is a fantastically poor indicator of what will and will not become feasible in the future. Statistically speaking, it seems as though the majority of things that were said to be impossible to implement via technology have nonetheless come into being. Likewise, it seems as though the majority of feats it was said to be possible to facilitate via technology have also come into being. The ability to possiblize the seemingly impossible via technological and methodological in(ter)vention has been exemplified throughout the course of human history so prominently that we might as well consider it a statistical law.

We can feel the sheer fallibility of the infeasibility-from-incredulity argument intuitively when we consider how credible it would have seemed a mere 100 years ago to claim that we would soon be able to send sentences into the air, to be routed to a device in your pocket (and only your pocket, not the device in the pocket of the person sitting right beside you). How likely would it have seemed 200 years ago if you claimed that 200 years hence it would be possible to sit comfortably and quietly in a chair in the sky, inside a large tube of metal that fails to fall fatally to the ground?

Simply look around you. An idiosyncratic genus of great ape did this! Consider how remarkably absurd it would seem for the gorilla genus to have coordinated their efforts to build skyscrapers; to engineer devices that took them to the Moon; to be able to send a warning or mating call to the other side of the earth in less time than such a call could actually be made via physical vocal cords. We live in a world of artificial wonder, and act as though it were the most mundane thing in the world. But considered in terms of geological time, the unprecedented feat of culture and artificial artifact just happened. We are still in the fledging infancy of the future, which only began when we began making it ourselves.
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We have no reason whatsoever to doubt the eventual technological feasibility of anything, really, when we consider all the things that were said to be impossible yet happened, all the things that were said to be possible and did happen, and all the things that were unforeseen completely yet happened nonetheless. In light of history, it seems more likely than a given thing would eventually be possible via technology than that it wouldn’t ever be possible. I fully appreciate the grandeur of this claim – but I stand by it nonetheless. To claim that a given ability will probably not be eventually possible to implement via technology is to laugh in the face of history to some extent.

The main exceptions to this claim are abilities wherein you limit or specify the route of implementation. Thus it probably would not be eventually possible to, say, infer the states of all the atoms comprising the Eifel Tower from the state of a single atom in your fingernail: categories of ability where you specify the implementation as the end-ability – as in the case above, the end ability was to infer the state of all the atoms in the Eifel Tower from the state of a single atom.

These exceptions also serve to illustrate the paramount feature allowing technology to possiblize the seemingly improbable: novel means of implementation. Very often there is a bottleneck in the current system we use to accomplish something that limits the scope of tis abilities and prevents certain objectives from being facilitated by it. In such cases a whole new paradigm of approach is what moves progress forward to realizing that objective. If the goal is the reversal and indefinite remediation of the causes and sources of aging, the paradigms of medicine available at the turn of the 20th century would have seemed to be unable to accomplish such a feat.

The new paradigm of biotechnology and genetic engineering was needed to formulate a scientifically plausible route to the reversal of aging-correlated molecular damage – a paradigm somewhat non-inherent in the medical paradigms and practices common at the turn of the 20th Century. It is the notion of a new route to implementation, a wholly novel way of making the changes that could lead to a given desired objective, that constitutes the real ability-actualizing capacity of technology – and one that such cases of specified implementation fail to take account of.

One might think that there are other clear exceptions to this as well: devices or abilities that contradict the laws of physics as we currently understand them – e.g., perpetual-motion machines. Yet even here we see many historical antecedents exemplifying our short-sighted foresight in regard to “the laws of physics”. Our understanding of the physical “laws” of the universe undergo massive upheaval from generation to generation. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions challenged the predominant view that scientific progress occurred by accumulated development and discovery when he argued that scientific progress is instead driven by the rise of new conceptual paradigms categorically dissimilar to those that preceded it (Kuhn, 1962), and which then define the new predominant directions in research, development, and discovery in almost all areas of scientific discovery and conceptualization.

Kuhn’s insight can be seen to be paralleled by the recent rise in popularity of Singularitarianism, which today seems to have lost its strict association with I.J. Good‘s posited type of intelligence explosion created via recursively self-modifying strong AI, and now seems to encompass any vision of a profound transformation of humanity or society through technological growth, and the introduction of truly disruptive emerging and converging (e.g., NBIC) technologies.

This epistemic paradigm holds that the future is less determined by the smooth progression of existing trends and more by the massive impact of specific technologies and occurrences – the revolution of innovation. Kurzweil’s own version of Singularitarianism (Kurzweil, 2005) uses the systemic progression of trends in order to predict a state of affairs created by the convergence of such trends, wherein the predictable progression of trends points to their own destruction in a sense, as the trends culminate in our inability to predict past that point. We can predict that there are factors that will significantly impede our predictive ability thereafter. Kurzweil’s and Kuhn’s thinking are also paralleled by Buckminster Fuller in his notion of ephemeralization (i.e., doing more with less), the post-industrial information economies and socioeconomic paradigms described by Alvin Toffler (Toffler, 1970), John Naisbitt (Naisbitt 1982), and Daniel Bell (Bell, 1973), among others.

It can also partly be seen to be inherent in almost all formulations of technological determinism, especially variants of what I call reciprocal technological determinism (not simply that technology determines or largely constitutes the determining factors of societal states of affairs, not simply that tech affects culture, but rather than culture affects technology which then affects culture which then affects technology) a là Marshall McLuhan (McLuhan, 1964) . This broad epistemic paradigm, wherein the state of progress is more determined by small but radically disruptive changes, innovation, and deviations rather than the continuation or convergence of smooth and slow-changing trends, can be seen to be inherent in variants of technological determinism because technology is ipso facto (or by its very defining attributes) categorically new and paradigmically disruptive, and if culture is affected significantly by technology, then it is also affected by punctuated instances of unintended radical innovation untended by trends.

That being said, as Kurzweil has noted, a given technological paradigm “grows out of” the paradigm preceding it, and so the extents and conditions of a given paradigm will to some extent determine the conditions and allowances of the next paradigm. But that is not to say that they are predictable; they may be inherent while still remaining non-apparent. After all, the increasing trend of mechanical components’ increasing miniaturization could be seen hundreds of years ago (e.g., Babbage knew that the mechanical precision available via the manufacturing paradigms of his time would impede his ability in realizing his Baggage Engine, but that its implementation would one day be possible by the trend of increasingly precise manufacturing standards), but the fact that it could continue to culminate in the ephemeralization of Bucky Fuller (Fuller, 1976) or the mechanosynthesis of K. Eric Drexler (Drexler, 1986).

Moreover, the types of occurrence allowed by a given scientific or methodological paradigm seem at least intuitively to expand, rather than contract, as we move forward through history. This can be seen lucidly in the rise of Quantum Physics in the early 20th Century, which delivered such conceptual affronts to our intuitive notions of the possible as non-locality (i.e., quantum entanglement – and with it quantum information teleportation and even quantum energy teleportation, or in other words faster-than-light causal correlation between spatially separated physical entities), Einstein’s theory of relativity (which implied such counter-intuitive notions as measurement of quantities being relative to the velocity of the observer, e.g., the passing of time as measured by clocks will be different in space than on earth), and the hidden-variable theory of David Bohm (which implied such notions as the velocity of any one particle being determined by the configuration of the entire universe). These notions belligerently contradict what we feel intuitively to be possible. Here we have claims that such strange abilities as informational and energetic teleportation, faster-than-light causality (or at least faster-than-light correlation of physical and/or informational states) and spacetime dilation are natural, non-technological properties and abilities of the physical universe.

Technology is Man’s foremost mediator of change; it is by and large through the use of technology that we expand the parameters of the possible. This is why the fact that these seemingly fantastic feats were claimed to be possible “naturally”, without technological implementation or mediation, is so significant. The notion that they are possible without technology makes them all the more fantastical and intuitively improbable.

We also sometimes forget the even more fantastic claims of what can be done through the use of technology, such as stellar engineering and mega-scale engineering, made by some of big names in science. There is the Dyson Sphere of Freeman Dyson, which details a technological method of harnessing potentially the entire energetic output of a star (Dyson,  1960). One can also find speculation made by Dyson concerning the ability for “life and communication [to] continue for ever, using a finite store of energy” in an open universe by utilizing smaller and smaller amounts of energy to power slower and slower computationally emulated instances of thought (Dyson, 1979).

There is the Tipler Cylinder (also called the Tipler Time Machine) of Frank J. Tipler, which described a dense cylinder of infinite length rotating about its longitudinal axis to create closed timelike curves (Tipler, 1974). While Tipler speculated that a cylinder of finite length could produce the same effect if rotated fast enough, he didn’t provide a mathematical solution for this second claim. There is also speculation by Tipler on the ability to utilize energy harnessed from gravitational shear created by the forced collapse of the universe at different rates and different directions, which he argues would allow the universe’s computational capacity to diverge to infinity, essentially providing computationally emulated humans and civilizations the ability to run for an infinite duration of subjective time (Tipler, 1986, 1997).

We see such feats of technological grandeur paralleled by Kurt Gödel, who produced an exact solution to the Einstein field equations that describes a cosmological model of a rotating universe (Gödel, 1949). While cosmological evidence (e.g., suggesting that our universe is not a rotating one) indicates that his solution doesn’t describe the universe we live in, it nonetheless constitutes a hypothetically possible cosmology in which time-travel (again, via a closed timelike curve) is possible. And because closed timelike curves seem to require large amounts of acceleration – i.e. amounts not attainable without the use of technology – Gödel’s case constitutes a hypothetical cosmological model allowing for technological time-travel (which might be non-obvious, since Gödel’s case doesn’t involve such technological feats as a rotating cylinder of infinite length, rather being a result derived from specific physical and cosmological – i.e., non-technological – constants and properties).

These are large claims made by large names in science (i.e., people who do not make claims frivolously, and in most cases require quantitative indications of their possibility, often in the form of mathematical solutions, as in the cases mentioned above) and all of which are made possible solely through the use of technology. Such technological feats as the computational emulation of the human nervous system and the technological eradication of involuntary death pale in comparison to the sheer grandeur of the claims and conceptualizations outlined above.

We live in a very strange universe, which is easy to forget midst our feigned mundanity. We have no excuse to express incredulity at Transhumanist and Technoprogressive conceptualizations considering how stoically we accept such notions as the existence of sentient matter (i.e., biological intelligence) or the ability of a genus of great ape to stand on extraterrestrial land.

Thus, one of the most common counter-arguments launched at many Transhumanist and Technoprogressive claims and conceptualizations – namely, technical infeasibility based upon nothing more than incredulity and/or the lack of a definitive historical precedent – is one of the most baseless counter-arguments as well. It would be far more credible to argue for the technical infeasibility of a given endeavor within a certain time-frame. Not only do we have little, if any, indication that a given ability or endeavor will fail to eventually become realizable via technology given enough development-time, but we even have historical indication of the very antithesis of this claim, in the form of the many, many instances in which a given endeavor or feat was said to be impossible, only to be realized via technological mediation thereafter.

It is high time we accepted the fallibility of base incredulity and the infeasibility of the technical-infeasibility argument. I remain stoically incredulous at the audacity of fundamental incredulity, for nothing should be incredulous to man, who makes his own credibility in any case, and who is most at home in the necessary superfluous.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

References

Bell, D. (1973). “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting, Daniel Bell.” New York: Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-01281-7.

Dyson, F. (1960) “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation”. Science 131: 1667-1668.

Dyson, F. (1979). “Time without end: Physics and biology in an open universe,” Reviews of Modern Physics 51 (3): 447-460.

Fuller, R.B. (1938). “Nine Chains to the Moon.” Anchor Books pp. 252–59.

Gödel, K. (1949). “An example of a new type of cosmological solution of Einstein’s field equations of gravitation”. Rev. Mod. Phys. 21 (3): 447–450.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962). “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1st ed.).” University of Chicago Press. LCCN 62019621.

Kurzweil, R. (2005). “The Singularity is Near.” Penguin Books.

Mcluhan, M. (1964). “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”. 1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY.

Niasbitt, J. (1982). “Megatrends.” Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. Warner Books.

Tipler, F. (1974) “Rotating Cylinders and Global Causality Violation”. Physical Review D9, 2203-2206.

Tipler, F. (1986). “Cosmological Limits on Computation”, International Journal of Theoretical Physics 25 (6): 617-661.

Tipler, F. (1997). The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-46798-2.

Toffler, A. (1970). “Future shock.” New York: Random House.

Immortality: Bio or Techno? – Article by Franco Cortese

Immortality: Bio or Techno? – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 5, 2013
******************************
This essay is the eleventh and final chapter in Franco Cortese’s forthcoming e-book, I Shall Not Go Quietly Into That Good Night!: My Quest to Cure Death, published by the Center for Transhumanity. The first ten chapters were previously published on The Rational Argumentator under the following titles:
***

I Was a Techno-Immortalist Before I Came of Age

From the preceding chapters in this series, one can see that I recapitulated many notions and conclusions found in normative Whole-Brain Emulation. I realized that functional divergence between a candidate functional-equivalent and its original, through the process of virtual or artificial replication of environmental stimuli so as to coordinate their inputs, provides an experimental methodology for empirically validating the sufficiency and efficacy of different approaches. (Note, however, that such tests could not be performed to determine which NRU-designs or replication-approaches would preserve subjective-continuity, if the premises entertained during later periods of my project—that subjective-continuity may require a sufficient degree of operational “sameness”, and not just a sufficient degree of functional “sameness”—are correct.) I realized that we would only need to replicate in intensive detail and rigor those parts of our brain manifesting our personalities and higher cognitive faculties (i.e., the neocortex), and could get away with replicating at lower functional resolution the parts of the nervous system dealing with perception, actuation, and feedback between perception and actuation.

I read Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation and imported the use of nanotechnology to facilitate both functional-replication (i.e., the technologies and techniques needed to replicate the functional and/or operational modalities of existing biological neurons) and the intensive, precise, and accurate scanning necessitated thereby. This was essentially Ray Kurzweil’s and Robert Freitas’s approach to the technological infrastructure needed for mind-uploading, as I discovered in 2010 via The Singularity is Near.

My project also bears stark similarities with Dmitry Itskov’s Project Avatar. My work on conceptual requirements for transplanting the biological brain into a fully cybernetic body — taking advantage of the technological and methodological infrastructures already in development for use in the separate disciplines of robotics, prosthetics, Brain-Computer Interfaces and sensory-substitution to facilitate the operations of the body — is a prefigurement of his Phase 1. My later work in approaches to functional replication of neurons for the purpose of gradual substrate replacement/transfer and integration also parallel his later phases, in which the brain is gradually replaced with an equivalent computational emulation.

The main difference between the extant Techno-Immortalist approaches, however, is my later inquiries into neglected potential bases for (a) our sense of experiential subjectivity (the feeling of being, what I’ve called immediate subjective-continuity)—and thus the entailed requirements for mental substrates aiming to maintain or attain such immediate subjectivity—and (b) our sense of temporal subjective-continuity (the feeling of being the same person through a process of gradual substrate-replacement—which I take pains to remind the reader already exists in the biological brain via the natural biological process of molecular turnover, which I called metabolic replacement throughout the course of the project), and, likewise, requirements for mental substrates aiming to maintain temporal subjective-continuity through a gradual substrate-replacement/transfer procedure.

In this final chapter, I summarize the main approaches to subjective-continuity thus far considered, including possible physical bases for its current existence and the entailed requirements for NRU designs (that is, for Techno-Immortalist approaches to indefinite-longevity) that maintain such physical bases of subjective-continuity. I will then explore why “Substrate-Independent Minds” is a useful and important term, and try to dispel one particularly common and easy-to-make misconception resulting from it.

Why Should We Worry about SubjectiveContinuity?

This concern marks perhaps the most telling difference between my project and normative Whole-Brain Emulation. Instead of stopping at the presumption that functional equivalence correlates with immediate subjective-continuity and temporal subjective-continuity, I explored several features of neural operation that looked like candidates for providing a basis of both types of subjective-continuity, by looking for those systemic properties and aspects that the biological brain possesses and other physical systems don’t. The physical system underlying the human mind (i.e., the brain) possesses experiential subjectivity; my premise was that we should look for properties not shared by other physical systems to find a possible basis for the property of immediate subjective-continuity. I’m not claiming that any of the aspects and properties considered definitely constitute such a basis; they were merely the avenues I explored throughout my 4-year quest to conquer involuntary death. I do claim, however, that we are forced to conclude that some aspect shared by the individual components (e.g., neurons) of the brain and not shared by other types of physical systems forms such a basis (which doesn’t preclude the possibility of immediate subjective-continuity being a spectrum or gradient rather than a definitive “thing” or process with non-variable parameters), or else that immediate subjective continuity is a normal property of all physical systems, from atoms to rocks.

A phenomenological proof of the non-equivalence of function and subjectivity or subjective-experientiality is the physical irreducibility of qualia – that we could understand in intricate detail the underlying physics of the brain and sense-organs, and nowhere derive or infer the nature of the qualia such underlying physics embodies. To experimentally verify which approaches to replication preserve both functionality and subjectivity would necessitate a science of qualia. This could be conceivably attempted through making measured changes to the operation or inter-component relations of a subject’s mind (or sense organs)—or by integrating new sense organs or neural networks—and recording the resultant changes to his experientiality—that is, to what exactly he feels. Though such recordings would be limited to his descriptive ability, we might be able to make some progress—e.g., he could detect the generation of a new color, and communicate that it is indeed a color that doesn’t match the ones normally available to him, while still failing to communicate to others what the color is like experientially or phenomenologically (i.e., what it is like in terms of qualia). This gets cruder the deeper we delve, however. While we have unchanging names for some “quales” (i.e., green, sweetness, hot, and cold), when it gets into the qualia corresponding with our perception of our own “thoughts” (which will designate all non-normatively perceptual experiential modalities available to the mind—thus, this would include wordless “daydreaming” and exclude autonomic functions like digestion or respiration), we have both far less precision (i.e., fewer words to describe) and less accuracy (i.e., too many words for one thing, which the subject may confuse; the lack of a quantitative definition for words relating to emotions and mental modalities/faculties seems to ensure that errors may be carried forward and increase with each iteration, making precise correlation of operational/structural changes with changes to qualia or experientiality increasingly harder and more unlikely).

Thus whereas the normative movements of Whole-Brain Emulation and Substrate-Independent Minds stopped at functional replication, I explored approaches to functional replication that preserved experientiality (i.e., a subjective sense of anything) and that maintained subjective-continuity (the experiential correlate of feeling like being yourself) through the process of gradual substrate-transfer.

I do not mean to undermine in any way Whole-Brain Emulation and the movement towards Substrate-Independent Minds promoted by such people as Randal Koene via, formerly, his minduploading.org website and, more recently, his Carbon Copies project, Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom through their WBE Roadmap, and various other projects on connectomes. These projects are untellably important, but conceptions of subjective-continuity (not pertaining to its relation to functional equivalence) are beyond their scope.

Whether or not subjective-continuity is possible through a gradual-substrate-replacement/transfer procedure is not under question. That we achieve and maintain subjective-continuity despite our constituent molecules being replaced within a period of 7 years, through what I’ve called “metabolic replacement” but what would more normatively be called “molecular-turnover” in molecular biology, is not under question either. What is under question is (a) what properties biological nervous systems possess that could both provide a potential physical basis for subjective-continuity and that other physical systems do not possess, and (b) what the design requirements are for approaches to gradual substrate replacement/transfer that preserve such postulated sources of subjective-continuity.

Graduality

This was the first postulated basis for preserving temporal subjective-continuity. Our bodily systems’ constituent molecules are all replaced within a span of 7 years, which provides empirical verification for the existence of temporal subjective-continuity through gradual substrate replacement. This is not, however, an actual physical basis for immediate subjective-continuity, like the later avenues of enquiry. It is rather a way to avoid causing externally induced subjective-discontinuity, rather than maintaining the existing biological bases for subjective-discontinuity. We are most likely to avoid negating subjective-continuity through a substrate-replacement procedure if we try to maintain the existing degree of graduality (the molecular-turnover or “metabolic-replacement” rate) that exists in biological neurons.

The reasoning behind concerns of graduality also serves to illustrate a common misconception created by the term “Substrate-Independent Minds”. This term should denote the premise that mind can be instantiated on different types of substrate, in the way that a given computer program can run of different types of computational hardware. It stems from the scientific-materialist (a.k.a metaphysical-naturalist) claim that mind is an emergent process not reducible to its isolated material constituents, while still being instantiated thereby. The first (legitimate) interpretation is a refutation against all claims of metaphysical vitalism or substance dualism. The term should not denote the claim that since mind because is software, we can thus send our minds (say, encoded in a wireless signal) from one substrate to another without subjective-discontinuity. This second meaning would incur the emergent effect of a non-gradual substrate-replacement procedure (that is, the wholesale reconstruction of a duplicate mind without any gradual integration procedure). In such a case one stops all causal interaction between components of the brain—in effect putting it on pause. The brain is now static. This is even different than being in an inoperative state, where at least the components (i.e., neurons) still undergo minor operational fluctuations and are still “on” in an important sense (see “Immediate Subjective-Continuity” below), which is not the case here. Beaming between substrates necessitates that all causal interaction—and thus procedural continuity—between software-components is halted during the interval of time in which the information is encoded, sent wirelessly, and subsequently decoded. It would be reinstantiated upon arrival in the new substrate, yes, but not without being put on pause in the interim. The phrase “Substrate-Independent Minds” is an important and valuable one and should be indeed be championed with righteous vehemence—but only in regard to its first meaning (that mind can be instantiated on various different substrates) and not its second, illegitimate meaning (that we ourselves can switch between mental substrates, without any sort of gradual-integration procedure, and still retain subjective-continuity).

Later lines of thought in this regard consisted of positing several sources of subjective-continuity and then conceptualizing various different approaches or varieties of NRU-design that would maintain these aspects through the gradual-replacement procedure.

Immediate Subjective-Continuity

This line of thought explored whether certain physical properties of biological neurons provide the basis for subjective-continuity, and whether current computational paradigms would need to possess such properties in order to serve as a viable substrate-for-mind—that is, one that maintains subjective-continuity. The biological brain has massive parallelism—that is, separate components are instantiated concurrently in time and space. They actually exist and operate at the same time. By contrast, current paradigms of computation, with a few exceptions, are predominantly serial. They instantiate a given component or process one at a time and jump between components or processes so as to integrate these separate instances and create the illusion of continuity. If such computational paradigms were used to emulate the mind, then only one component (e.g., neuron or ion-channel, depending on the chosen model-scale) would be instantiated at a given time. This line of thought postulates that computers emulating the mind may need to be massively parallel in the same way that as the biological brain is in order to preserve immediate subjective-continuity.

Procedural Continuity

Much like the preceding line of thought, this postulates that a possible basis for temporal subjective-continuity is the resting membrane potential of neurons. While in an inoperative state—i.e., not being impinged by incoming action-potentials, or not being stimulated—it (a) isn’t definitively off, but rather produces a baseline voltage that assures that there is no break (or region of discontinuity) in its operation, and (b) still undergoes minor fluctuations from the baseline value within a small deviation-range, thus showing that causal interaction amongst the components emergently instantiating that resting membrane potential (namely ion-pumps) never halts. Logic gates on the other hand do not produce a continuous voltage when in an inoperative state. This line of thought claims that computational elements used to emulate the mind should exhibit the generation of such a continuous inoperative-state signal (e.g., voltage) in order to maintain subjective-continuity. The claim’s stronger version holds that the continuous inoperative-state signal produced by such computational elements undergo minor fluctuations (i.e., state-transitions) allowed within the range of the larger inoperative-state signal, which maintains causal interaction among lower-level components and thus exhibits the postulated basis for subjective-continuity—namely procedural continuity.

Operational Isomorphism

This line of thought claims that a possible source for subjective-continuity is the baseline components comprising the emergent system instantiating mind. In physicality this isn’t a problem because the higher-scale components (e.g., single neurons, sub-neuron components like ion-channels and ion-pumps, and individual protein complexes forming the sub-components of an ion-channel or pump) are instantiated by the lower-level components. Those lower-level components are more similar in terms of the rules determining behavior and state-changes. At the molecular scale, the features determining state-changes (intra-molecular forces, atomic valences, etc.) are the same. This changes as we go up the scale—most notably at the scale of high-level neural regions/systems. In a software model, however, we have a choice as to what scale we use as our model-scale. This postulated source of subjective-continuity would entail that we choose as our model-scale one in which the components of that scale have a high degree of this property (operational isomorphism—or similarity) and that we not choosing a scale at which the components have a lesser degree of this property.

Operational Continuity

This line of thought explored the possibility that we might introduce operational discontinuity by modeling (i.e., computationally instantiating) not the software instantiated by the physical components of the neuron, but instead those physical components themselves—which for illustrative purposes can be considered as the difference between instantiating software and instantiating physics of the logic gates giving rise to the software. Though the software would necessarily be instantiated as a vicarious result of computationally instantiating its biophysical foundation rather than the software directly, we may be introducing additional operational steps and thus adding an unnecessary dimension of discontinuity that needlessly jeopardizes the likelihood of subjective-continuity.

These concerns are wholly divorced from functionalist concerns. If we disregarded these potential sources of subjective-continuity, we could still functionally-replicate a mind in all empirically-verifiable measures yet nonetheless fail to create minds possessing experiential subjectivity. Moreover, the verification experiments discussed in Part 2 do provide a falsifiable methodology for determining which approaches best satisfy the requirements of functional equivalence. They do not, however, provide a method of determining which postulated sources of subjective-continuity are true—simply because we have no falsifiable measures to determine either immediate or temporal subjective-discontinuity, other than functionality. If functional equivalence failed, it would tell us that subjective-continuity failed to be maintained. If functional-equivalence was achieved, however, it doesn’t necessitate that subjective-continuity was maintained.

Bio or Cyber? Does It Matter?

Biological approaches to indefinite-longevity, such as Aubrey de Grey’s SENS and Michael Rose’s Evolutionary Selection for Longevity, among others, have both comparative advantages and drawbacks. The chances of introducing subjective-discontinuity are virtually nonexistent compared to non-biological (which I will refer to as Techno-Immortalist) approaches. This makes them at once more appealing. However, it remains to be seen whether the advantages of the techno-immortalist approach supersede their comparative dangers in regard to their potential to introduce subjective-discontinuity. If such dangers can be obviated, however, it has certain potentials which Bio-Immortalist projects lack—or which are at least comparatively harder to facilitate using biological approaches.

Perhaps foremost among these potentials is the ability to actively modulate and modify the operations of individual neurons, which, if integrated across scales (that is, the concerted modulation/modification of whole emergent neural networks and regions via operational control over their constituent individual neurons), would allow us to take control over our own experiential and functional modalities (i.e., our mental modes of experience and general abilities/skills), thus increasing our degree of self-determination and the control we exert over the circumstances and determining conditions of our own being. Self-determination is the sole central and incessant essence of man; it is his means of self-overcoming—of self-dissent in a striving towards self-realization—and the ability to increase the extent of such self-control, self-mastery, and self-actualization is indeed a comparative advantage of techno-immortalist approaches.

To modulate and modify biological neurons, on the other hand, necessitates either high-precision genetic engineering, or likely the use of nanotech (i.e., NEMS), because whereas the proposed NRUs already have the ability to controllably vary their operations, biological neurons necessitate an external technological infrastructure for facilitating such active modulation and modification.

Biological approaches to increased longevity also appear to necessitate less technological infrastructure in terms of basic functionality. Techno-immortalist approaches require precise scanning technologies and techniques that neither damage nor distort (i.e., affect to the point of operational and/or functional divergence from their normal in situ state of affairs) the features and properties they are measuring. However, there is a useful distinction to be made between biological approaches to increased longevity, and biological approaches to indefinite longevity. Aubrey de Grey’s notion of Longevity Escape Velocity (LEV) serves to illustrate this distinction. With SENS and most biological approaches, he points out that although remediating certain biological causes of aging will extend our lives, by that time different causes of aging that were superseded (i.e., prevented from making a significant impact on aging) by the higher-impact causes of aging may begin to make a non-negligible impact. Aubrey’s proposed solution is LEV: if we can develop remedies for these approaches within the amount of time gained by the remediation of the first set of causes, then we can stay on the leading edge and continue to prolong our lives. This is in contrast to other biological approaches, like Eric Drexler’s conception of nanotechnological cell-maintenance and cell-repair systems, which by virtue of being able to fix any source of molecular damage or disarray vicariously, not via eliminating the source but via iterative repair and/or replacement of the causes or “symptoms” of the source, will continue to work on any new molecular causes of damage without any new upgrades or innovations to their underlying technological and methodological infrastructures.

These would be more appropriately deemed an indefinite-biological-longevity technology, in contrast to biological-longevity technologies. Techno-immortalist approaches are by and large exclusively of the indefinite-longevity-extension variety, and so have an advantage over certain biological approaches to increased longevity, but such advantages do not apply to biological approaches to indefinite longevity.

A final advantage of techno-immortalist approaches is the independence of external environments it provides us. It also makes death by accident far less likely both by enabling us to have more durable bodies and by providing independence from external environments, which means that certain extremes of temperature, pressure, impact-velocity, atmosphere, etc., will not immediately entail our death.

I do not want to discredit any approaches to immortality discussed in this essay, nor any I haven’t mentioned. Every striving and attempt at immortality is virtuous and righteous, and this sentiment will only become more and apparent, culminating on the day when humanity looks back, and wonders how we could have spent so very much money and effort on the Space Race to the Moon with no perceivable scientific, resource, or monetary gain (though there were some nationalistic and militaristic considerations in terms of America not being superseded on either account by Russia), yet took so long to make a concerted global effort to first demand and then implement well-funded attempts to finally defeat death—that inchoate progenitor of 100,000 unprecedented cataclysms a day. It’s true—the world ends 100,000 times a day, to be lighted upon not once more for all of eternity. Every day. What have you done to stop it?

So What?

Indeed, so what? What does this all mean? After all, I never actually built any systems, or did any physical experimentation. I did, however, do a significant amount of conceptual development and thinking on both the practical consequences (i.e., required technologies and techniques, different implementations contingent upon different premises and possibilities, etc.) and the larger social and philosophical repercussions of immortality prior to finding out about other approaches. And I planned on doing physical experimentation and building physical systems; but I thought that working on it in my youth, until such a time as to be in the position to test and implement these ideas more formally via academia or private industry, would be better for the long-term success of the endeavor.

As noted in Chapter 1, this reifies the naturality and intuitive simplicity of indefinite longevity’s ardent desirability and fervent feasibility, along a large variety of approaches ranging from biotechnology to nanotechnology to computational emulation. It also reifies the naturality and desirability of Transhumanism. I saw one of the virtues of this vision as its potential to make us freer, to increase our degree of self-determination, as giving us the ability to look and feel however we want, and the ability to be—and more importantly to become—anything we so desire. Man is marked most starkly by his urge and effort to make his own self—to formulate the best version of himself he can, and then to actualize it. We are always reaching toward our better selves—striving forward in a fit of unbound becoming toward our newest and thus truest selves; we always have been, and with any courage we always will.

Transhumanism is but the modern embodiment of our ancient striving towards increased self-determination and self-realization—of all we’ve ever been and done. It is the current best contemporary exemplification of what has always been the very best in us—the improvement of self and world. Indeed, the ‘trans’ and the ‘human’ in Transhumanism can only signify each other, for to be human is to strive to become more than human—or to become more so human, depending on which perspective you take.

So come along and long for more with me; the best is e’er yet to be!

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

Bibliography

Koene, R. (2011). What is carboncopies.org? Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.carboncopies.org/

Rose, M. (October 28 2004). Biological Immortality. In B. Klein, The Scientific Conquest of Death (pp. 17-28). Immortality Institute.

Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, N. (2008). Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap, Technical Report #2008-3. Retrieved February 28, 2013 http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/3853/brain-emulation-roadmap-report.pdf

Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, Koene, R. (2011). The Society of Neural Prosthetics and Whole Brain Emulation Science. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.minduploading.org/

de Grey, ADNJ (2004). Escape Velocity: Why the Prospect of Extreme Human Life Extension Matters Now. PLoS Biol 2(6): e187. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020187

Concepts for Functional Replication of Biological Neurons – Article by Franco Cortese

Concepts for Functional Replication of Biological Neurons – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
May 18, 2013
******************************
This essay is the third chapter in Franco Cortese’s forthcoming e-book, I Shall Not Go Quietly Into That Good Night!: My Quest to Cure Death, published by the Center for Transhumanity. The first two chapters were previously published on The Rational Argumentator as “The Moral Imperative and Technical Feasibility of Defeating Death” and “Immortality: Material or Ethereal? Nanotech Does Both!“.
***

The simplest approach to the functional replication of biological neurons I conceived of during this period involved what is normally called a “black-box” model of a neuron. This was already a concept in the wider brain-emulation community, but I was yet to find out about it. This is even simpler than the mathematically weighted Artificial Neurons discussed in the previous chapter. Rather than emulating or simulating the behavior of a neuron, (i.e, using actual computational—or more generally signal—processing) we (1) determine the range of input values that a neuron responds to, (2) stimulate the neuron at each interval (the number of intervals depending on the precision of the stimulus) within that input-range, and (3) record the corresponding range of outputs.

This reduces the neuron to essentially a look-up-table (or, more formally, an associative array). The input ranges I originally considered (in 2007) consisted of a range of electrical potentials, but later (in 2008) were developed to include different cumulative organizations of specific voltage values (i.e., some inputs activated and others not) and finally the chemical input and outputs of neurons. The black-box approach was eventually seen as being applied to the sub-neuron scale—e.g., to sections of the cellular membrane. This creates a greater degree of functional precision, bringing the functional modality of the black-box NRU-class in greater accordance with the functional modality of biological neurons. (I.e., it is closer to biological neurons because they do in fact process multiple inputs separately, rather than singular cumulative sums at once, as in the previous versions of the black-box approach.) We would also have a higher degree of variability for a given quantity of inputs.

I soon chanced upon literature dealing with MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) and NEMS (nano-electro-mechanical systems), which eventually led me to nanotechnology and its use in nanosurgery in particular. I saw nanotechnology as the preferred technological infrastructure regardless of the approach used; its physical nature (i.e., operational and functional modalities) could facilitate the electrical and chemical processes of the neuron if the physicalist-functionalist (i.e., physically embodied or ‘prosthetic’) approach proved either preferable or required, while the computation required for its normative functioning (regardless of its particular application) assured that it could facilitate the informationalist-functionalist (i.e., computational emulation or simulation) of neurons if that approach proved preferable. This was true of MEMS as well, with the sole exception of not being able to directly synthesize neurotransmitters via mechanosynthesis, instead being limited in this regard to the release of pre-synthesized biochemical inventories. Thus I felt that I was able to work on conceptual development of the methodological and technological infrastructure underlying both (or at least variations to the existing operational modalities of MEMS and NEMS so as to make them suitable for their intended use), without having to definitively choose one technological/methodological infrastructure over the other. Moreover, there could be processes that are reducible to computation, yet still fail to be included in a computational emulation due to our simply failing to discover the principles underlying them. The prosthetic approach had the potential of replicating this aspect by integrating such a process, as it exists in the biological environment, into its own physical operation, and perform iterative maintenance or replacement of the biological process, until such a time as to be able to discover the underlying principles of those processes (which is a prerequisite for discovering how they contribute to the emergent computation occurring in the neuron) and thus for their inclusion in the informationalist-functionalist approach.

Also, I had by this time come across the existing approaches to Mind-Uploading and Whole-Brain Emulation (WBE), including Randal Koene’s minduploading.org, and realized that the notion of immortality through gradually replacing biological neurons with functional equivalents wasn’t strictly my own. I hadn’t yet come across Kurzweil’s thinking in regard to gradual uploading described in The Singularity is Near (where he suggests a similarly nanotechnological approach), and so felt that there was a gap in the extant literature in regard to how the emulated neurons or neural networks were to communicate with existing biological neurons (which is an essential requirement of gradual uploading and thus of any approach meant to facilitate subjective-continuity through substrate replacement). Thus my perceived role changed from the father of this concept to filling in the gaps and inconsistencies in the already-extant approach and in further developing it past its present state. This is another aspect informing my choice to work on and further varietize both the computational and physical-prosthetic approach—because this, along with the artificial-biological neural communication problem, was what I perceived as remaining to be done after discovering WBE.

The anticipated use of MEMS and NEMS in emulating the physical processes of the neurons included first simply electrical potentials, but eventually developed to include the chemical aspects of the neuron as well, in tandem with my increasing understanding of neuroscience. I had by this time come across Drexler’s Engines of Creation, which was my first introduction to antecedent proposals for immortality—specifically his notion of iterative cellular upkeep and repair performed by nanobots. I applied his concept of mechanosynthesis to the NRUs to facilitate the artificial synthesis of neurotransmitters. I eventually realized that the use of pre-synthesized chemical stores of neurotransmitters was a simpler approach that could be implemented via MEMS, thus being more inclusive for not necessitating nanotechnology as a required technological infrastructure. I also soon realized that we could eliminate the need for neurotransmitters completely by recording how specific neurotransmitters affect the nature of membrane-depolarization at the post-synaptic membrane and subsequently encoding this into the post-synaptic NRU (i.e., length and degree of depolarization or hyperpolarization, and possibly the diameter of ion-channels or differential opening of ion-channels—that is, some and not others) and assigning a discrete voltage to each possible neurotransmitter (or emergent pattern of neurotransmitters; salient variables include type, quantity and relative location) such that transmitting that voltage makes the post-synaptic NRU’s controlling-circuit implement the membrane-polarization changes (via changing the number of open artificial-ion-channels, or how long they remain open or closed, or their diameter/porosity) corresponding to the changes in biological post-synaptic membrane depolarization normally caused by that neurotransmitter.

In terms of the enhancement/self-modification side of things, I also realized during this period that mental augmentation (particularly the intensive integration of artificial-neural-networks with the existing brain) increases the efficacy of gradual uploading by decreasing the total portion of your brain occupied by the biological region being replaced—thus effectively making that portion’s temporary operational disconnection from the rest of the brain more negligible to concerns of subjective-continuity.

While I was thinking of the societal implications of self-modification and self-modulation in general, I wasn’t really consciously trying to do active conceptual work (e.g., working on designs for pragmatic technologies and methodologies as I was with limitless-longevity) on this side of the project due to seeing the end of death as being a much more pressing moral imperative than increasing our degree of self-determination. The 100,000 unprecedented calamities that befall humanity every day cannot wait; for these dying fires it is now or neverness.

Virtual Verification Experiments

The various alternative approaches to gradual substrate-replacement were meant to be alternative designs contingent upon various premises for what was needed to replicate functionality while retaining subjective-continuity through gradual replacement. I saw the various embodiments as being narrowed down through empirical validation prior to any whole-brain replication experiments. However, I now see that multiple alternative approaches—based, for example, on computational emulation (informationalist-functionalist) and physical replication (physicalist-functionalist) (these are the two main approaches thus far discussed) would have concurrent appeal to different segments of the population. The physicalist-functionalist approach might appeal to wide numbers of people who, for one metaphysical prescription or another, don’t believe enough in the computational reducibility of mind to bet their lives on it.

These experiments originally consisted of applying sensors to a given biological neuron, and constructing NRUs based on a series of variations on the two main approaches, running each and looking for any functional divergence over time. This is essentially the same approach outlined in the WBE Roadmap, which I was yet to discover at this point, that suggests a validation approach involving experiments done on single neurons before moving on to the organismal emulation of increasingly complex species up to and including the human. My thinking in regard to these experiments evolved over the next few years to also include the some novel approaches that I don’t think have yet been discussed in communities interested in brain-emulation.

An equivalent physical or computational simulation of the biological neuron’s environment is required to verify functional equivalence, as otherwise we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between functional divergence due to an insufficient replication-approach/NRU-design and functional divergence due to difference in either input or operation between the model and the original (caused by insufficiently synchronizing the environmental parameters of the NRU and its corresponding original). Isolating these neurons from their organismal environment allows the necessary fidelity (and thus computational intensity) of the simulation to be minimized by reducing the number of environmental variables affecting the biological neuron during the span of the initial experiments. Moreover, even if this doesn’t give us a perfectly reliable model of the efficacy of functional replication given the amount of environmental variables one expects a neuron belonging to a full brain to have, it is a fair approximator. Some NRU designs might fail in a relatively simple neuronal environment and thus testing all NRU designs using a number of environmental variables similar to the biological brain might be unnecessary (and thus economically prohibitive) given its cost-benefit ratio. And since we need to isolate the neuron to perform any early non-whole-organism experiments (i.e., on individual neurons) at all, having precise control over the number and nature of environmental variables would be relatively easy, as this is already an important part of the methodology used for normative biological experimentation anyways—because lack of control over environmental variables makes for an inconsistent methodology and thus for unreliable data.

And as we increase to the whole-network and eventually organismal level, a similar reduction of the computational requirements of the NRU’s environmental simulation is possible by replacing the inputs or sensory mechanisms (from single photocell to whole organs) with VR-modulated input. The required complexity and thus computational intensity of a sensorially mediated environment can be vastly minimized if the normative sensory environment of the organism is supplanted with a much-simplified VR simulation.

Note that the efficacy of this approach in comparison with the first (reducing actual environmental variables) is hypothetically greater because going from simplified VR version to the original sensorial environment is a difference, not of category, but of degree. Thus a potentially fruitful variation on the first experiment (physical reduction of a biological neuron’s environmental variables) would be not the complete elimination of environmental variables, but rather decreasing the range or degree of deviation in each variable, including all the categories and just reducing their degree.

Anecdotally, one novel modification conceived during this period involves distributing sensors (operatively connected to the sensory areas of the CNS) in the brain itself, so that we can viscerally sense ourselves thinking—the notion of metasensation: a sensorial infinite regress caused by having sensors in the sensory modules of the CNS, essentially allowing one to sense oneself sensing oneself sensing.

Another is a seeming refigurement of David Pearce’s Hedonistic Imperative—namely, the use of active NRU modulation to negate the effects of cell (or, more generally, stimulus-response) desensitization—the fact that the more times we experience something, or indeed even think something, the more it decreases in intensity. I felt that this was what made some of us lose interest in our lovers and become bored by things we once enjoyed. If we were able to stop cell desensitization, we wouldn’t have to needlessly lose experiential amplitude for the things we love.

In the next chapter I will describe the work I did in the first months of 2008, during which I worked almost wholly on conceptual varieties of the physically embodied prosthetic (i.e., physical-functionalist) approach (particularly in gradually replacing subsections of individual neurons to increase how gradual the cumulative procedure is) for several reasons:

The original utility of ‘hedging our bets’ as discussed earlier—developing multiple approaches increases evolutionary diversity; thus, if one approach fails, we have other approaches to try.

I felt the computational side was already largely developed in the work done by others in Whole-Brain Emulation, and thus that I would be benefiting the larger objective of indefinite longevity more by focusing on those areas that were then comparatively less developed.

The perceived benefit of a new approach to subjective-continuity through a substrate-replacement procedure aiming to increase the likelihood of gradual uploading’s success by increasing the procedure’s cumulative degree of graduality. The approach was called Iterative Gradual Replacement and consisted of undergoing several gradual-replacement procedures, wherein the class of NRU used becomes progressively less similar to the operational modality of the original, biological neurons with each iteration; the greater the number of iterations used, the less discontinuous each replacement-phase is in relation to its preceding and succeeding phases. The most basic embodiment of this approach would involve gradual replacement with physical-functionalist (prosthetic) NRUs that in turn are then gradually replaced with informational-physicalist (computational/emulatory) NRUs. My qualms with this approach today stem from the observation that the operational modalities of the physically embodied NRUs seem as discontinuous in relation to the operational modalities of the computational NRUs as the operational modalities of the biological neurons does. The problem seems to result from the lack of an intermediary stage between physical embodiment and computational (or second-order) embodiment.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

Bibliography

Embedded Processor. (2013). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/185535/embedded-processor

Jerome, P. (1980). Recording action potentials from cultured neurons with extracellular microcircuit electrodes. Journal or Neuroscience Methods, 2 (1), 19-31.

Wolf, W. & (March 2009). Cyber-physical Systems. In Embedded Computing. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.jiafuwan.net/download/cyber_physical_systems.pdf

Immortality: Material or Ethereal? Nanotech Does Both! – Article by Franco Cortese

Immortality: Material or Ethereal? Nanotech Does Both! – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
May 11, 2013
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This essay is the second chapter in Franco Cortese’s forthcoming e-book, I Shall Not Go Quietly Into That Good Night!: My Quest to Cure Death, published by the Center for Transhumanity. The first chapter was previously published on The Rational Argumentator as “The Moral Imperative and Technical Feasibility of Defeating Death“.

In August 2006 I conceived of the initial cybernetic brain-transplant procedure. It originated from a very simple, even intuitive sentiment: if there were heart and lung machines and prosthetic organs, then why couldn’t these be integrated in combination with modern (and future) robotics to keep the brain alive past the death of its biological body? I saw a possibility, felt its magnitude, and threw myself into realizing it. I couldn’t think of a nobler quest than the final eradication of involuntary death, and felt willing to spend the rest of my life trying to make it happen.

First I collected research on organic brain transplantation, on maintaining the brain’s homeostatic and regulatory mechanisms outside the body (or in this case without the body), on a host of prosthetic and robotic technologies (including sensory prosthesis and substitution), and on the work in Brain-Computer-Interface technologies that would eventually allow a given brain to control its new, non-biological body—essentially collecting the disparate mechanisms and technologies that would collectively converge to facilitate the creation of a fully cybernetic body to house the organic brain and keep it alive past the death of its homeostatic and regulatory organs.

I had by this point come across online literature on Artificial Neurons (ANs) and Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs), which are basically simplified mathematical models of neurons meant to process information in a way coarsely comparable to them. There was no mention in the literature of integrating them with existing neurons or for replacing existing neurons towards the objective of immortality ; their use was merely as an interesting approach to computation particularly optimal to certain situations. While artificial neurons can be run on general-purpose hardware (massively parallel architectures being the most efficient for ANNs, however), I had something more akin to neuromorphic hardware in mind (though I wasn’t aware of that just yet).

At its most fundamental level, Artificial Neurons need not even be physical at all. Their basic definition is a mathematical model roughly based on neuronal operation – and there is nothing precluding that model from existing solely on paper, with no actual computation going on. When I discovered them, I had thought that a given artificial neuron was a physically-embodied entity, rather than a software simulation. – i.e., an electronic device that operates in a way comparable to biological neurons.  Upon learning that they were mathematical models however, and that each AN needn’t be a separate entity from the rest of the ANs in a given AN Network, I saw no problem in designing them so as to be separate physical entities (which they needed to be in order to fit the purposes I had for them – namely, the gradual replacement of biological neurons with prosthetic functional equivalents). Each AN would be a software entity run on a piece of computational substrate, enclosed in a protective casing allowing it to co-exist with the biological neurons already in-place. The mathematical or informational outputs of the simulated neuron would be translated into biophysical, chemical, and electrical output by operatively connecting the simulation to an appropriate series of actuators (which could range from being as simple as producing electric fields or currents, to the release of chemical stores of neurotransmitters) and likewise a series of sensors to translate biophysical, chemical, and electrical properties into the mathematical or informational form they would need to be in to be accepted as input by the simulated AN.

Thus at this point I didn’t make a fundamental distinction between replicating the functions and operations of a neuron via physical embodiment (e.g., via physically embodied electrical, chemical, and/or electromechanical systems) or via virtual embodiment (usefully considered as 2nd-order embodiment, e.g., via a mathematical or computational model, whether simulation or emulation, run on a 1st-order physically embodied computational substrate).

The potential advantages, disadvantages, and categorical differences between these two approaches were still a few months away. When I discovered ANs, still thinking of them as physically embodied electronic devices rather than as mathematical or computational models, I hadn’t yet moved on to ways of preserving the organic brain itself so as to delay its organic death. Their utility in constituting a more permanent, durable, and readily repairable supplement for our biological neurons wasn’t yet apparent.

I initially saw their utility as being intelligence amplification, extension and modification through their integration with the existing biological brain. I realized that they were categorically different than Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) and normative neural prosthesis for being able to become an integral and continuous part of our minds and personalities – or more properly the subjective, experiential parts of our minds. If they communicated with single neurons and interact with them on their own terms—if the two were operationally indistinct—then they could become a continuous part of us in a way that didn’t seem possible for normative BCI due to their fundamental operational dissimilarity with existing biological neural networks. I also collected research on the artificial synthesis and regeneration of biological neurons as an alternative to ANs. This approach would replace an aging or dying neuron with an artificially synthesized but still structurally and operationally biological neuron, so as to maintain the aging or dying neuron’s existing connections and relative location. I saw this procedure (i.e., adding artificial or artificially synthesized but still biological neurons to the existing neurons constituting our brains, not yet for the purposes of gradually replacing the brain but instead for the purpose of mental expansion and amplification) as not only allowing us to extend our existing functional and experiential modalities (e.g., making us smarter through an increase in synaptic density and connectivity, and an increase in the number of neurons in general) but even to create fundamentally new functional and experiential modalities that are categorically unimaginable to us now via the integration of wholly new Artificial Neural Networks embodying such new modalities. Note that I saw this as newly possible with my cybernetic-body approach because additional space could be made for the additional neurons and neural networks, whereas the degree with which we could integrate new, artificial neural networks in a normal biological body would be limited by the available volume of the unmodified skull.

Before I discovered ANs, I speculated in my notes as to whether the “bionic nerves” alluded to in some of the literature I had collected by this point (specifically regarding BCI, neural prosthesis, and the ability to operatively connect a robotic prosthetic extremity – e.g., an arm or a leg – via BCI) could be used to extend the total number of neurons and synaptic connections in the biological brain. This sprang from my knowledge on the operational similarities between neurons and muscle cells, both of the larger class of excitable cells.

Kurzweil’s cyborgification approach (i.e., that we could integrate non-biological systems with our biological brains to such an extent that the biological portions become so small as to be negligible to our subjective-continuity when they succumb to cell-death, thus achieving effective immortality without needing to actually replace any of our existing biological neurons at all) may have been implicit in this concept. I envisioned our brains increasing in size many times over and thus that the majority of our mind would be embodied or instantiated in larger part by the artificial portion than by the biological portions; the fact that the degree with which the loss of a part of our brain will affect our emergent personalities depends on how big (other potential metrics alternative to size include connectivity and the degree with which other systems depend on that potion for their own normative operation) that lost part is in comparison to the total size of the brain, the loss of a lobe being much worse than the loss of a neuron, follows naturally from this initial premise. The lack of any explicit statement of this realization in my notes during this period, however, makes this mere speculation.

It wasn’t until November 11, 2006, that I had the fundamental insight underlying mind-uploading—that the replacement of existing biological neurons with non-biological functional equivalents that maintain the existing relative location and connection of such biological neurons could very well facilitate maintaining the memory and personality embodied therein or instantiated thereby—essentially achieving potential technological immortality, since the approach is based on replacement and iterations of replacement-cycles can be run indefinitely. Moreover, the fact that we would be manufacturing such functional equivalents ourselves means that we could not only diagnose potential eventual dysfunctions easier and with greater speed, but we could manufacture them so as to have readily replaceable parts, thus simplifying the process of physically remediating any such potential dysfunction or operational degradation, even going so far as to include systems for the safe import and export of replacement components or as to make all such components readily detachable, so that we don’t have to cause damage to adjacent structures and systems in the process of removing a given component.

Perhaps it wasn’t so large a conceptual step from knowledge of the existence of computational models of neurons to the realization of using them to replace existing biological neurons towards the aim of immortality. Perhaps I take too much credit for independently conceiving both the underlying conceptual gestalt of mind-uploading, as well as some specific technologies and methodologies for its pragmatic technological implementation. Nonetheless, it was a realization I arrived at on my own, and was one that I felt would allow us to escape the biological death of the brain itself.

While I was aware (after a little more research) that ANNs were mathematical (and thus computational) models of neurons, hereafter referred to as the informationalist-functionalist approach, I felt that a physically embodied (i.e., not computationally emulated or simulated) prosthetic approach, hereafter referred to as the physicalist-functionalist approach, would be a better approach to take. This was because even if the brain were completely reducible to computation, a prosthetic approach would necessarily facilitate the computation underlying the functioning of the neuron (as the physical operations of biological neurons do presently), and if the brain proved to be computationally irreducible, then the prosthetic approach would in such a case presumably preserve whatever salient physical processes were necessary. So the prosthetic approach didn’t necessitate the computational-reducibility premise – but neither did it preclude such a view, thereby allowing me to hedge my bets and increase the cumulative likelihood of maintaining subjective-continuity of consciousness through substrate-replacement in general.

This marks a telling proclivity recurrent throughout my project: the development of mutually exclusive and methodologically and/or technologically alternate systems for a given objective, each based upon alternate premises and contingencies – a sort of possibilizational web unfurling fore and outward. After all, if one approach failed, then we had alternate approaches to try. This seemed like the work-ethic and conceptualizational methodology that would best ensure the eventual success of the project.

I also had less assurance in the sufficiency of the informational-functionalist approach at the time, stemming mainly from a misconception with the premises of normative Whole-Brain Emulation (WBE). When I first discovered ANs, I was more dubious at that point about the computational reducibility of the mind because I thought that it relied on the premise that neurons act in a computational fashion (i.e., like normative computational paradigms) to begin with—thus a conflation of classical computation with neural operation—rather than on the conclusion, drawn from the Church-Turing thesis, that mind is computable because the universe is. It is not that the brain is a computer to begin with, but that we can model any physical process via mathematical/computational emulation and simulation. The latter would be the correct view, and I didn’t really realize that this was the case until after I had discovered the WBE roadmap in 2010. This fundamental misconception allowed me, however, to also independently arrive at the insight underlying the real premise of WBE:  that combining premise A – that we had various mathematical computational models of neuron behavior – with premise B – that we can perform mathematical models on computers – ultimately yields the conclusion C – that we can simply perform the relevant mathematical models on computational substrate, thereby effectively instantiating the mind “embodied” in those neural operations while simultaneously eliminating many logistical and technological challenges to the prosthetic approach. This seemed both likelier than the original assumption—conflating neuronal activity with normative computation, as a special case not applicable to, say, muscle cells or skin cells, which wasn’t the presumption WBE makes at all—because this approach only required the ability to mathematically model anything, rather than relying on a fundamental equivalence between two different types of physical system (neuron and classical computer). The fact that I mistakenly saw it as an approach to emulation that was categorically dissimilar to normative WBE also helped urge me on to continue conceptual development of the various sub-aims of the project after having found that the idea of brain emulation already existed, because I thought that my approach was sufficiently different to warrant my continued effort.

There are other reasons for suspecting that mind may not be computationally reducible using current computational paradigms – reasons that rely on neither vitalism (i.e., the claim that mind is at least partially immaterial and irreducible to physical processes) nor on the invalidity of the Church-Turing thesis. This line of reasoning has nothing to do with functionality and everything to do with possible physical bases for subjective-continuity, both a) immediate subjective-continuity (i.e., how can we be a unified, continuous subjectivity if all our component parts are discrete and separate in space?), which can be considered as the capacity to have subjective experience, also called sentience (as opposed to sapience, which designated the higher cognitive capacities like abstract thinking) and b) temporal subjective-continuity (i.e., how do we survive as continuous subjectivities through a process of gradual substrate replacement?). Thus this argument impacts the possibility of computationally reproducing mind only insofar as the definition of mind is not strictly functional but is made to include a subjective sense of self—or immediate subjective-continuity. Note that subjective-continuity through gradual replacement is not speculative (just the scale and rate required to sufficiently implement it are), but rather has proof of concept in the normal metabolic replacement of the neuron’s constituent molecules. Each of us is a different person materially than we were 7 years ago, and we still claim to retain subjective-continuity. Thus, gradual replacement works; it is just the scale and rate required that are under question.

This is another way in which my approach and project differs from WBE. WBE equates functional equivalence (i.e., the same output via different processes) with subjective equivalence, whereas my approach involved developing variant approaches to neuron-replication-unit design that were each based on a different hypothetical basis for instantive subjective continuity.

 Are Current Computational Paradigms Sufficient?

Biological neurons are both analog and binary. It is useful to consider a 1st tier of analog processes, manifest in the action potentials occurring all over the neuronal soma and terminals, with a 2nd tier of binary processing, in that either the APs’ sum crosses the threshold value needed for the neuron to fire, or it falls short of it and the neuron fails to fire. Thus the analog processes form the basis of the digital ones. Moreover, the neuron is in an analog state even in the absence of membrane depolarization through the generation of the resting-membrane potential (maintained via active ion-transport proteins), which is analog rather than binary for always undergoing minor fluctuations due to it being an active process (ion-pumps) that instantiates it. Thus the neuron at any given time is always in the process of a state-transition (and minor state-transitions still within the variation-range allowed by a given higher-level static state; e.g., resting membrane potential is a single state, yet still undergoes minor fluctuations because the ions and components manifesting it still undergo state-transitions without the resting-membrane potential itself undergoing a state-transition), and thus is never definitively on or off. This brings us to the first potential physical basis for both immediate and temporal subjective-continuity. Analog states are continuous, and the fact that there is never a definitive break in the processes occurring at the lower levels of the neuron represents a potential basis for our subjective sense of immediate and temporal continuity.

Paradigms of digital computation, on the other hand, are at the lowest scale either definitively on or definitively off. While any voltage within a certain range will cause the generation of an output, it is still at base binary because in the absence of input the logic elements are not producing any sort of fluctuating voltage—they are definitively off. In binary computation, the substrates undergo a break (i.e., region of discontinuity) in their processing in the absence of inputs, and are in this way fundamentally dissimilar to the low-level operational modality of biological neurons by virtue of being procedurally discrete rather than procedurally continuous.

If the premise that the analog and procedurally continuous nature of neuron-functioning (including action potentials, resting-membrane potential, and metabolic processes that form a potential basis for immediate and temporal subjective-continuity) holds true, then current digital paradigms of computation may prove insufficient at maintaining subjective-continuity if used as the substrate in a gradual-replacement procedure, while still being sufficient to functionally replicate the mind in all empirically verifiable metrics and measures. This is due to both the operational modality of binary processing (i.e., lack of analog output) and the procedural modality of binary processing (the lack of temporal continuity or lack of producing minor fluctuations in reference to a baseline state when in a resting or inoperative state). A logic element could have a fluctuating resting voltage rather than the absence of any voltage and could thus be procedurally continuous while still being operationally discrete by producing solely binary outputs.

So there are two possibilities here. One is that any physical substrate used to replicate a neuron (whether via 1st-order embodiment a.k.a prosthesis/physical-systems, or via 2nd-order embodiment a.k.a computational emulation or simulation) must not undergo a break in its operation in the absence of input, because biological neurons do not, and this may be a potential basis for instantive subjective-continuity, but rather must produce a continuous or uninterrupted signal when in a “steady-state” (i.e., in the absence of inputs). The second possibility includes all the premises of the first, but adds that such an inoperative-state signal (or “no-inputs”-state signal) undergo minor fluctuations (because then a steady stream of causal interaction is occurring – e.g., producing a steady signal could be as discontinuous as no signal, like “being on pause”.

Thus one reason for developing the physicalist-functionalist (i.e., physically embodied prosthetic) approach to NRU design was a hedging of bets, in the case that a.) current computational substrates fail to replicate a personally continuous mind for the reasons described above, or b.) we fail to discover the principles underlying a given physical process—thus being unable to predictively model it—but still succeed in integrating them with the artificial systems comprising the prosthetic approach until such a time as to be able to discover their underlying principles, or c.) in the event that we find some other, heretofore unanticipated conceptual obstacle to computational reducibility of mind.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

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