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Is uploading possible? - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Jun. 30th, 2003

02:30 pm - Is uploading possible?

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A letter to the editor I wrote a long time ago, in response to this article:

Wet Thought
Drawing a line between software and consciousness.
By David Weinberger
July 10, 2001
http://www.darwinmag.com/read/swiftkick/column.html?ArticleID=130

My response:

Is uploading possible?
"Why are we so insistent on believing that thinking is a formal process, a type of information processing that is independent of hardware?"

Why are you so insistent that thinking can only be done with an organized blob of protein, sugar, and water?

Consider this thought experiment: we know that the individual atoms making up your brain and body are continually replaced over time. Our identity therefore, depends not on the individual atoms, but upon the pattern that those atoms make up in our brain.

If we can replace individual atoms, is there something special about microtubules, plasma membranes, and ion pores that would prevent us from replacing them with structures made of other materials? And if you accept that the individual components of neuron can be replaced, why not the neuron itself, say, with a chip that mimics the behavior of the neuron?

And if one neuron, why not them all?

"We live in bodies. We're going to die -- yes, even us Boomers. Deal with it."

Maybe Weinberger is right. Maybe uploading can never happen. Perhaps we will all die eventually. Is the best way to deal with death to resign ourselves to the execution date Mother Nature has set for us? Assuming that I'm in good health, I cannot foresee a time when I would want to die. There is simply too much novelty and beauty in the universe to even begin to explore in a measely 80 years.

Our understanding of human intelligence is evolving at a rapid clip, as are advances in computing, robots, imaging. Given the stakes involved--thousands of years of additional life, maybe more--it seems a little premature to throw up our hands at the putative futility of uploading.

Chris Rasch
July 12, 2001

Comments:

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From:fishsupreme
Date:June 30th, 2003 09:51 pm (UTC)
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I agree entirely. It's awfully premature to declare that consciousness will never be separated from the organic brain when we don't even know how the organic brain produces consciousness yet.

Have you read Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines and/or Hofsteadter's Godel, Escher, Bach? Both very interesting treatments of problems like these.
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From:crasch
Date:June 30th, 2003 09:58 pm (UTC)
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Yes. I don't understand people who are so confident that we will never be able to create thought on other physical substrates.

I've read Godel, Escher, Bach, but Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines is still on my to read list. Though I've read Moravec's Mind Children, and I heard Kurzweil speak at Extro 3, so I suspect that I'm familiar with most of the arguments he makes in the book.
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From:almond_tiger
Date:June 30th, 2003 10:16 pm (UTC)
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It seems to be the stumbling block of many great thinkers that they refuse to accept that there might not be anything divinely unique about the brain... just complicated.
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From:crasch
Date:July 1st, 2003 10:37 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I agree. To me, the brain is marvelous enough, without invoking the supernatural.

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From:denshi
Date:June 30th, 2003 10:32 pm (UTC)
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"We live in bodies. We're going to die -- yes, even us Boomers. Deal with it."

Whoa, Chris, look at the bright side. Don't try to talk the Boomers out of this one.
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From:crasch
Date:July 1st, 2003 10:38 am (UTC)
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Hah! But there's a few Boomers I would like to stick around.

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From:denshi
Date:July 1st, 2003 10:50 am (UTC)
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Okay, I can think of 3 or 4 myself, but for gods' sakes, don't publicize it!
What do you think about generational inertia? I, for one, can't wait for the Great Boomer Die-off. It could be the start of many wonderful changes.
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From:crasch
Date:July 1st, 2003 01:27 pm (UTC)
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I don't think any generation is worse/better than another on a per capita basis. There's lots of Boomers though, and they're in power now, so their foibles are more visible and annoying.
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