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Mind Uploading: Digital Immortality

By: Sunny Zhao

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Mind uploading is the theoretical process of scanning one’s mental state, including memories and “self”, and copying it to a computer. The computer can then run a simulation of the brain’s information processing such that it is indistinguishable from the real brain and experiences having a conscious mind. The simulation could reside in a virtual world or it can be connected to a robot or biological body.

What would a world with mind uploading technology entail? This concept is still very much in the realm of science fiction. No technology exists right now that can accurately scan and map out your brain to be simulated in a computer. However, that doesn’t mean people aren’t preparing for a time when mind uploading technology may become available. The startup, Nectome, is doing just that.

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Netcome’s Research Timeline

Nectome’s stated business plan is to help you preserve your brain so that in the future, scientists can scan your brain and turn it into a computer simulation. The catch, Nectome’s process of preserving your brain is 100% fatal. Their embalming procedure needs to begin while the brain is as fresh as possible, ideally while the subject is still alive. Nectome’s plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to machines that will pump the embalming chemicals into the subject’s arteries in their necks while the subject is on general anesthesia. The startup is on thin ice regarding the legality of its service. They’ve had to consult with lawyers familiar with doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients to see how the company would fit into this realm. Indeed, Nectome is not selling their services yet and probably will not for several more years. Despite this, they already have a waiting list of 25 people who’ve all had to pay a $10,000 deposit to get on the list. Judging off the waitlist, there’s obviously a desire for successful mind uploading tech. So one has to wonder, why do people want it? How can this technology affect our lives? For some it means the beginning of the age of digital immortality.

​Digitizing your mind would allow you to transcend the limitations of a physical body and theoretically be “immortal.” Going further, some people have proposed the idea that we could possibly download our minds into new bodies, whether they be robot or organic bodies. This opens up an entirely new realm of issues. With the ability to digitize their minds, people could theoretically begin selling or renting out their bodies for profit while they reside in the digital world. A “homeless mind” becomes a possibility. What if even having a body becomes a commodity like a car, with minds switching between bodies like passengers. The biggest question remains, should we even pursue mind uploading technology?

If so, at what cost does digital immortality come with? For in a world with mind uploading technology, our world ends not with a bang but a click on a keyboard.

If you want to hear more about this topic, I recommend this TED Talk by Sebastian Seung.


Works Cited

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