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An Ecosystem for Emulated Minds

A Topic Article by Michael Ulrich

Human evolution has been directed by environmental conditions of Earth. As human beings, we need essential things from our environment to live such as breathable air, food and water, Earth-normal gravity and Earth-normal atmospheric pressure. These are things that all biological humans need to survive. However, if humanity merges with machines, our biological needs will become less relevant. If human beings are no longer biological creatures, and instead have minds with emulated brains residing in an artificial substrate, what does this mean for our environmental essentials for survival? With the emergence of a human society that contains brain emulation on the horizon, a change in the definition of an "essential ecosystem for humans" is inevitable.

The bare environmental essentials for an emulated society

Traditional human beings with animal bodies may be fragile and vulnerable compared to persons with emulated brains that store secure backups; yet even a world of digital people needs essential resources from the environment to survive. In comparing an emulated person residing in an artificial substrate to a software program on a computer, it could be rationally claimed that emulated people need electricity, hardware fabrication materials, and atmospheric pressures less than those that would crush a computer chip, and with temperatures lower than that whose which would melt a computer chip. Technology can be developed to protect these "chip people" to an extent; yet this will require more fabrication material and power.

Taking a broader perspective, the essentials for a society of "chip people" to survive can be analogous to the essentials for a network of computers to collaborate and persist over spans of time greater than the time since the first gargantuan computers (e.g. Colossus in 1943) to today. Obviously, persons with emulated brains will want to communicate with each other to some degree. Assuming that there is still individual consciousness in this hypothetical world, rather than a single massive hive mind with no separable identities, emulated persons will likely benefit from collaboration with one another to keep their emulated brains in top shape and without decay. Communication may be important if emulated persons will be responsible for helping biological persons to join the emulated population. An emulated ecology may need to be able to support communication between distinguishable emulated minds if communication results in some needed collaboration effort. Electricity and signal transmission are essential.

Comparing the bare essentials for the survival and thriving of a society based on humans with emulated brains with those for biological human societies, it is clear that environmental limitations imposed on biological humans are far more restrictive than those imposed on humans with emulated brains.

A Cambrian Explosion-like evolutionary divergence

It is clear that a list of bare essential ecological conditions are needed to sustain a society of people with emulated brains. The complete list of essentials for a given people with emulated brains, however, depends on the societal organizational structure defined by new path of evolutionary pressures a given group has taken. Perhaps, an emulated society has become totally digital versions of their minds. They exist in virtual environments and minimally influencing the physical world around their artificial substrates housing their minds. This kind of ecology might have minimal reasons to construct ways to control the natural environmental processes, whether that be a future Earth environment, the vacuum of space, or another planet. Their main ecological concern would be the conditions necessary to sustain their substrates. Alternatively, an emulated society may have kept their abilities to interact with the physical world freely by housing their emulated consciousnesses in engineered bodies with sensory inputs, robotic limbs, and mobility. Such a society of "mechanical people" would likely have additional ecological concerns compared to the example society of completely digital people living in virtual worlds. The environmentally influencing people would need ecological conditions capable of sustaining an infrastructure and the means to sustain their mechanical engineered bodies.

These examples of future emulated societies are only two out of infinite possible outcomes for what human beings will become in the future. In a recording of the Carboncopies 2019 Winter Workshop Event, Dr. Ken Hayworth and Dr. Randal Koene discuss several possible outcomes for human evolution divergent paths with the introduction to realized Whole Brain Emulation. It is likely that many possible paths for humanity to take will happen at the same time, like a second Cambrian explosion of evolution. The likely groups of post-emulation societies could range from groups of pure biological humans avoiding emulation, to groups of humans who discarded their individual consciousnesses to merge with other emulated humans to become one massive singular consciousnesses.

It is not illogical to predict some kind of conflicting living standards among the post-emulation human groups. While the mechanical individuals may want electricity for equipment to build roads, the singular mind might rather use the electricity resources to expand it's computing power. In any case, the future, and the vastness of the universe, could likely hold several different emulated societal ecosystems coexisting around each other.

How about biological existence in a world with uploading?

There is a possibility that the emulated societies of the future will live alongside other human beings still catering to their biological way of life. A continuing population of biological human beings may persist for a variety of reasons. An important reason is free choice or preference. It is also possible that this situation might exist for some period of time due to delays in the availability of whole brain emulation technology, depending on factors such as local regulations, financial accessibility, or dissemination of knowledge, though we would hope that such imbalances would be minimized as much as possible in the process of the wide-spread introduction of the technology. Still, the emulated society will not let their advancements be held back by any restrictions that may be affected by the group of non-emulated peoples.. In some ways, biological human populations may find themselves at a disadvantage compared with their uploaded kin, even if uploaded society is more than happy to engage with, entertain and support their biological cousins. For instance, emulated people do not need to spend time and resources to produce food and water, they do not need breathable air, and they can survive in the vacuum of space. The group of biological humans remaining will still need to be concerned about these ecological essentials, in regards to sustainability, if they rely on their continuation to support these essentials. People with emulated brains will still need to acquire resources that are essential for their survival, such as energy and construction materials. In a practical outcome, the emulated society would develop methods for resource gathering that does not conflict with groups with fewer advantages. For instance, resources of materials can be gathered from asteroid mining and energy from solar arrays as opposed to destructive methods that would cause harm to the Earth’s environment.

In his comment on the ecology for mind uploading, Joe Strout mentions the future possibility of emulated people maintaining habitable environments for people who are still biological. With the technological aid of the emulated group, containment structures for environments with ecological essentials that biological humans need such as air, food and water, Earth-like gravity and atmospheric pressure, would allow the remaining biological human race to keep on living in the scenario of the Earth becoming otherwise inhabitable by overheating or contamination.

What this means for humanity's relationship with Earth after emulation is realized

Environmental preservation is prevalent in mainstream discussion. There is a real growing threat to the preservation of essential ecological conditions of Earth for the long-term survival of humanity. In the far future (millions of years), the environment of the earth will become more and more inhospitable to biological human beings. Aside from environmental hazards caused by industry, astrophysical phenomenon will cause Earth's atmosphere to be more hostile to the natural ecosystems. Further into the future from this point, whether by overheating or the sun ending it's main sequence cycle, the Earth will not be able to sustain life at all in the natural sense that humans have thus far depended on for ages. At this point, humanity will have expanded their ecosystems into space.

Given this far future certainty, the emulated populations will have greater chances at survival compared to biological humans. This is because their ecological essential requirements are more able to cope with the environmental changes that the Earth' will impose. The ecological systems of emulated societies will likely adapt with to the changing environment of Earth. As the atmosphere becomes too hot to sustain moisture, having the ability to not need water or breathable air will give emulated humans an advantage in survival. Furthermore, human expansion will likely have reached places far beyond the Earth such as other Earth-like planets in our galaxy, asteroids, and space stations orbiting the sun.

With the introduction of Whole Brain Emulation, humanity's ecological requirements will change drastically. No longer will humans need essential environmental conditions to survive that their organic bodies demanded. This opens opportunities to explore further and survive longer in a changing ecological future.

For further reading, please see the reference sources:

Ecology of the Future by Dr. Joe Strout

Carboncopies Foundation Winter Workshop of 2019: AI Safety and Whole Brain Emulation