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WHAT IS WHOLE BRAIN EMULATION? (WBE)
Whole brain emulation (WBE) is the principal method proposed by which to accomplish SIM and many other purposes (e.g. general brain research, research into clinical neural prostheses, research into artificial intelligence, etc.). In academic research, the shorter term “brain emulation” is sometimes used, and terms such as “whole-brain activity mapping” are used to describe data acquisition tools developed and used in closely related fields of neuroscience. Whole brain emulation uses high resolution data about specific brain structure (e.g. the connector) and specific brain activity (e.g. electrophysiology).
HOW CAN WHOLE BRAIN EMULATION BE ACCOMPLISHED?
There are presently 2 proposed approaches:
- Gradually replace each small piece of a brain with a neuroprosthetic device that does the same thing until all parts of that brain have been replaced and the entire brain residing inside the skull is artificial.
- Preserve a biological brain (it is dead at that point), cut it into extremely tiny slivers and image each one of those, reconstruct a working artificial brain from the information in those slices (plus some additional information previously recorded).
The same two approaches are presented at a high level in step-wise fashion in the following diagram panels:
WHAT ARE SUBSTRATE-INDEPENDENT MINDS (SIM)?
Neuroscience research has demonstrated that a mind’s functions are implemented through neurobiological mechanisms of the nervous system. If the same functions are recreated in a different operating substrate (e.g. a special “neuromorphic device”, software executed in a digital computer, etc.) such that they produce the same results as the original mind then it is a substrate-independent mind. The possibility for execution of this process is supported by the strong neuroscientific consensus that behavior and experience, phenomena correlated with what we consider mental processes of the mind, emerge from biophysical functions that are adequately described in terms of classical physics. These information processing functions of mind are computable, so it follows that the mind is computable.
WHAT SIM TECHNOLOGY & RESEARCH IS COMPLETED?
Neuroinformatics investigations that seek to map the detailed “connector” of the human brain are essential for the whole brain emulation (WBE) approach to SIM. Well-known examples of research in this field are the Blue-Brain Project, large-scale brain models created by Eugene Izhikevich and the DARPA Synapse Project. Another important component is scanning technology capable of rapid brain tissue preparation and in-vivo recording, and increased spatial and temporal resolution. Examples are the Automatic Tape-Collecting Lathe Ultramicrotome (ALTUM) developed by Kenneth Hayworth and use of optogenetics and nanotechnology. See the article Fundamentals of Whole Brain Emulation: State, Transition and Update Representations and Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap for an introduction and an overview of projects.
IS SIM RELATED TO IDEAS ABOUT “MIND UPLOADING”?
The popular term “mind uploading” (sometimes called “mind copying” or “mind transfer”) is the hypothetical process of copying mental content (including long-term memory and “self”) from a particular brain substrate to a computational device, such as a digital, analog, quantum-based or artificial neural network. However, “uploading” has very different meanings in the conversations of different communities. In some cases the target medium referred to is intended merely to store the data, while in others it is also intended to carry out the functions, i.e. to emulate the”uploaded mind”.
IN A FUTURE WITH MIND UPLOADING, COULD I HAVE A BODY THAT IS OTHER THAN HUMAN?
Mind uploading to a different type of body would be possible in principle. A change of embodiment should not be imagined as a simple matter, but as a process requiring adjustment and learning.
Imagine if your brain with all of its present experience were transferred into a robot body that is not morphologically identical to your present body, or to something as different as a feline body. Your brain would not be accustomed to that embodiment. A range of automatic translations might be implemented so that your normal leg sensations and motor control for walking and running are translated from and into something that makes sense with the new body. Still, it is likely that a new embodiment would require a period of adjustment and learning, much as someone who receives a new prosthetic leg today needs to grow accustomed to the new artificial limb.
A typical embodiment that is frequently considered for mind uploading includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- A human body cloned from your original DNA.
- A robotic body of a humanoid form.
- A robotic body of a distinctly non-humanoid form, e.g. ‘being’ a spaceship or a robot ‘swarm’.
- A virtual body in a virtual reality.
Many others embodiments are theoretically possible. Human beings already have the ability to learn and to adjust to feeling comfortable in a wide range of body extensions. Consider how natural it comes to feel to drive a car, to virtually ‘sense’ the extents of the vehicle and to perceive precisely which narrow passage or parking spot will fit. Or, consider how an experienced kayaker perceives their kayak as a body of sorts, or a skier feels natural on their skis.
IS THERE A WAY I CAN VOLUNTEER FOR EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES OR CLINICAL TRIALS THAT HELP BRING ABOUT WHOLE BRAIN EMULATION AND MIND UPLOADING?
By law, the process of soliciting volunteer patients and engaging those patients in medical experimental studies or clinical research trials is very tightly controlled by government regulations and ethics boards. Researchers and medical professionals can conduct those experiments only within the clearly described protocols of an approved clinical study or trial and will publish a call for volunteers or directly reach out to patients when such a study is underway.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO ACHIEVE WHOLE BRAIN EMULATION AND TO MAKE MIND UPLOADING AN OPTION FOR ALL?
The total cost is very hard to estimate. To know how much something costs you need to know exactly what needs to be done in terms of resources and labor.
Much of the work on whole brain emulation for mind uploading is scientific research. It involves experiments and evaluating experimental results. Those outcomes are by definition unknown in advance, otherwise, you wouldn’t need to do the experiments.
Instead of looking at it as an engineering project (like building a bridge), look at it as a medical science program (for example, compared with programs that aim to understand and cure various forms of cancer). The first mind uploads will be of small animals. At some later point, human volunteers will have their minds uploaded in a controlled medical research trial. Ultimately, there will be a mature medical process for mind uploading. That process and its outcomes will get better over time. When fully developed, the procedure will also become cheaper.
If you consider the effort needed to be of an order of magnitude that resembles other medical science programs then it is apparent that the total costs involved will almost certainly be in the range of multiple billions of dollars.
That would be the cost to take our medical capabilities and our society to the point where anyone could mind upload as a routine option of our medical care. The expenses of the Carboncopies Foundation are much more modest, with its mission to educate, to connect researchers in new projects, and to curate the roadmap. We are run as a volunteer supported non-profit.