A letter to the editor I wrote a long time ago, in response to this article:
Drawing a line between software and consciousness.
By David Weinberger
July 10, 2001 http://www.darwinmag.com/read/swiftkick/column.html?ArticleID=130
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.
July 12, 2001