It may be some way off, but mind uploading, the digital duplication of your mental essence, could expand human experience into a virtual afterlife
Imagine that a person’s brain could be scanned in great detail and recreated in a computer simulation. The person’s mind and memories, emotions and personality would be duplicated. In effect, a new and equally valid version of that person would now exist, in a potentially immortal, digital form. This futuristic possibility is called mind uploading. The science of the brain and of consciousness increasingly suggests that mind uploading is possible – there are no laws of physics to prevent it. The technology is likely to be far in our future; it may be centuries before the details are fully worked out – and yet given how much interest and effort is already directed towards that goal, mind uploading seems inevitable. Of course we can’t be certain how it might affect our culture but as the technology of simulation and artificial neural networks shapes up, we can guess what that mind uploading future might be like.
Suppose one day you go into an uploading clinic to have your brain scanned. Let’s be generous and pretend the technology works perfectly. It’s been tested and debugged. It captures all your synapses in sufficient detail to recreate your unique mind. It gives that mind a standard-issue, virtual body that’s reasonably comfortable, with your face and voice attached, in a virtual environment like a high-quality video game. Let’s pretend all of this has come true.
Who is that second you?
The first you, let’s call it the biological you, has paid a fortune for the procedure. And yet you walk out of the clinic just as mortal as when you walked in. You’re still a biological being, and eventually you’ll die. As you drive home, you think: “Well, that was a waste of money.”
At the same time, the simulated you wakes up in a virtual apartment and feels like the same old you. It has a continuity of experience. It remembers walking into the clinic, swiping a credit card, signing a waiver, lying on the table. It feels as though it was anaesthetised and then woke up again somewhere else. It has your memories, your personality, your thought patterns and emotional quirks. It sits up in a new bed and says: “I can’t believe it worked! Definitely worth the cost.”
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