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Why Uploading Will Not Work - Patrick Hopkins - H+ Summit @ Harvard


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Transhumanists tend to have a commitment to materialism and naturalism but nonetheless pursue goals traditionally associated with religious ideologies, such as the quest for immortality. Often, they hope to achieve immortality through the application of a technology whereby the brain is scanned and the person "uploaded" to a computer. This process is typically described as "transferring" one's mind to a computer. I argue that, while the technology may be feasible, uploading will not succeed because it in fact does not "transfer" a mind at all and will not preserve personal identity. Transhumanist hopes for such transfer ironically rely on treating the mind dualistically-and inconsistently with materialism-as the functional equivalent of a soul, as is evidenced by a carefully examination of the language used to describe and defend uploading. In this sense, transhumanist thought unwittingly contains remnants of dualistic and religious categories.

Patrick D. Hopkins is a philosopher and ethicist who specializes in ethical theory and in applied ethical issues in science, medicine, and technology. He has a B.A. from the University of Mississippi in Experimental Psychology, worked in neuroscience research for several years at a major medical school and a primate research center, received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, and is currently Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. He has published numerous articles on biomedical ethics, science and technology studies, gender studies, and religious studies and has edited a book on the relationship between gender and technology.

Published in: Education, Technology, Spiritual
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Why Uploading Will Not Work - Patrick Hopkins - H+ Summit @ Harvard

  1. 1. Why  Uploading  Will  Not  Work How  Ghosts  Haunt  Transhumanism Patrick  D.  Hopkins H+  2010
  2. 2. Transhumanist  Tendencies Naturalism Religious  Analogs • Materialism • Transcendence • Empiricism • Enlightenment • TransubstanGaGon • Singularity • Universal  consciousness • Immortality
  3. 3. Immortality  and  Uploading • The  language  of  uploading – Uploading  is  the  transfer  of  the  brain’s  mindpa6ern  onto  a   different  substrate  (such  as  an  advanced  computer)  which  be6er   facilitates  said  en=ty’s  ends.  Uploading  is  a  central  concept  in  our   vision  of  technological  ascension….  (Kadmon,  2003)   – In  transhumanism  and  science  fic=on,  mind  transfer…refers  to  the   hypothe=cal  transfer  of  a  human  mind  either  into  a  computer  or   other  non-­‐human  receptacle,  or  from  one  human  body  to   another.  (Knowledgerush,  2009) – Mind  uploading  is  a  radical  form  of  human  enhancement,   whereby  the  human  mind  is  transferred  from  the  vulnerable   organic  medium  of  the  brain  to  a  computer  system  of  some  kind.     (Human  Enhancement  and  Biopoli=cs,  2009)
  4. 4. Immortality  and  Uploading • The  language  of  uploading – In  transhumanism  and  science  fic=on,  mind  transfer…refers  to  the   hypothe=cal  transfer  of  a  human  mind,  body  and  environment  to  an   ar=ficial  substrate.    (Fact-­‐,  2005) – Mind  uploading,  some=mes  called  whole  brain  emula=on,  refers  to  the   hypothe=cal  transfer  of  a  human  mind  to  a  substrate  different  from  a   biological  brain,  such  as  a  detailed  computer  simula=on  of  an  individual   human  brain.  (Sen=ent  Developments,  2009) – Involving  the  transference  of  a  mind  from  biological  brain  to  computer   hardware—or,  for  that  ma6er,  any  other  substrate…mind  uploading  is  a   tenet  of  transhumanist  hopes  and  science  fic=on.    (Keim,  2009) – The  last  stage,  mind  uploading,  leads  as  logically  on  from  brain  emula=on   as  brain  emula=on  does  from  neuroprosthe=cs.  Once  it  is  possible  to   emulate  a  brain,  it  should  be  possible  to  transfer  the  mind  within  that   brain  from  one  set  of  hardware  to  another.    (Virtual  Worldlets  Network,   2006)
  5. 5. Metaphor  and  Language • SomeGmes  obvious • SomeGmes  subtle • SomeGme  hidden   literaliGes
  6. 6. Metaphor  and  Language Argument  and  War ConversaGon  and  Conduit • Win  an  argument • Got  the  idea  across • Weak  points  in  the  posiGon • Put  ideas  into  words • CriGcisms  on  target • Full  of  meaning
  7. 7. Language  of  Uploading The  Language The  Metaphors • Loca=on – The  mind  is  “in”  or  “within”  a   brain  and  can  be  put  “into”  a   computer • “Transfer  the  mind  from  the   • Mo=on brain  to  a  computer” – The  mind  can  be  “moved”  or   “transferred”  or  “put”  into  a   computer • Substance – The  mind  is  a  thing  that  can  be   moved  from  one  “receptacle”  to   another
  8. 8. Problems • Is  the  mind  an  an  object   • Not  according  to  most   that  is  housed  “inside”  a   materialist,  naturalist,   brain  and  through   versions  of  mind  that   technology  can  be   inform  transhumanism “moved”  from  one   “receptacle”  to  another?  
  9. 9. Problems • If  we  look  for  posi=ons  that  have  held  the  view   that  minds  or  consciousnesses  are  actually   substan=al  objects  that  have  loca=on  and  can  be   moved  from  one  body  to  the  next,  we  do  not  have   far  to  look—only  so  far  as  popular  religion. • Souls,  spirits,  ghosts • Uploading  advocates  have  fallen  prey  to  using  the   language  of  dualism,  with  its  transmigratory  souls   and  displaceable  ghosts    
  10. 10. Making  Too  Much  of  the  Language? ObjecGon Response • Something  very  important   depends  on  metaphors  of  loca=on   and  mo=on • Specific  minds  are  “transferred” • Just  a  metaphor,  uploading   • Preserva=on  of  iden=ty  treated  as   proponents  are  not  taking   unproblema=c  because  of  moving   this  literally a  singular  object • The  mind  “in”  the  computer  is  the   same  mind  as  the  one  “in”  in  the   brain • Not  the  same  type,  not  a  copy,   but  the  same  one
  11. 11. Problem  of  IdenGty • If  minds  are  not  literally   • When  an  object  is  simply   movable  substances,  the   moved  from  one   preservaGon  of  idenGty   locaGon  to  another,   is  sGll  a  problem,  even   preservaGon  of  idenGty   though  the  language   is  easy hides  it • But  if  the  mind  is  not   • The  word  “transfer”   literally  “moved”  or   includes  preservaGon  of   “transferred”,  then  how   idenGty is  idenGty  preserved?
  12. 12. Transferring  &  Copying • proponents  of  uploading   do  not  believe  that  a  mind   is  literally  being  carried   from  one  place  to  another   • “transference”  is  supposed   to  be  accomplished  by   emula8on,  simula8on,  or   replica8on—all  terms  that   boil  down  to  the  concept   of  copying  
  13. 13. Copying  =  Transferring? Method Consequences • Example:    Moravec’s   • Though  you  have  not  lost  consciousness,  or   even  your  train  of  thought,  your  mind  has   “Transmigra=on” been  removed  from  the  brain  and  transferred   to  a  machine  (110).   • robot  brain  surgeon   • Ul8mately  your  brain  would  die  and  your  mind   microscopically  scans  the  layers   would  find  itself  en8rely  in  the  computer   (112). of  your  brain,  constructs  a  3-­‐D   • You  may  choose  to  move  your  mind  from  one   computer  to  another  that  is  more  technically   chemical  map,  writes  a   advanced…(112). program  modeling  the  neural   • The  program  can  also  be  copied  to  a  future   equivalent  of  magne8c  tape.    Then,  if  the   =ssue’s  behavior,  and  then   machine  you  inhabit  is  fatally  clobbered,  the   tape  can  be  read  into  a  blank  computer… installs  and  ac=vates  the   (112). • As  a  computer  program,  your  mind  can  travel  
  14. 14. Metaphysics  of  Copying • Does  copying  “move”   something? • For  example,  copying  a   page  from  a  book  (even   if  you  slowly  destroy  the   original  page)  does  not   “move”  the  page
  15. 15. Metaphysics  of  Copying • Does  the  copying  of   • Moravec  says  yes,   personal  idenGty  work   because  “pa^ern-­‐ by  different  rules? idenGty”  not  “body-­‐ idenGty”  is  key  to  the   mind
  16. 16. Metaphysics  of  Copying • Moravec:    “PaMern-­‐ • Lets  grant  it  is  correct  to   iden8ty,  conversely,   say  that  the  process  (of   defines  the  essence  of  a   cogniGon)  is  what   person,  say  myself,  as  the   paMern  and  the  process   defines  an  individual going  on  in  my  head  and   • The  problem  is  in   body,  not  the  machinery   thinking  that  copying  the   suppor8ng  that  process.    If   process  “preserves”  the   the  process  is  preserved,  I   am  preserved.    The  rest  is   process mere  jelly  (116-­‐117).  “
  17. 17. Metaphysics  of  Copying • We  must  be  aware  of  the   • “Iden8ty” very  strong  sense  of  the   – Not  simply  exactly  similar,   terms  needed  for  this   but  the  very  same  thing;  A   topic is  iden=cal  to  B  only  if  A   and  B  are  the  very  same   • Moravec  says  that  copying   one  thing preserves  iden8ty  because   the  copy  is   • “Preserve” indis8nguishable  and   – To  maintain  iden=ty  over  a   because  copying  simply   process;  e.g.,   transfers  a  paMern • “Indis8nguishable” – There  are  no  proper=es  A   has  that  B  has
  18. 18. Metaphysics  of  Copying • Does  copying  preserve   idenGty? • No • It  makes  a  new  thing   that  is  exactly   structurally  and   behaviorally  similar,  but   that’s  not  good  enough
  19. 19. Why? • DisGnguishability • Pa^ern  IdenGty • Understanding  Thought   Experiments
  20. 20. Why? DisGnguishability • The  copied  mind  is  a  process   produced  by  different  ma^er   in  a  different  place  with  a   different  history • The  relaGonship  between   the  original  and  the  copy  is   not  nearly  as  strong  as  the   “relaGonship”  between  the   original  and  itself
  21. 21. Why? Pa^ern  IdenGty • PaMern  “iden8ty”  in  the  strong  sense  is   not  preserved  either • PaMerns  are  not  abstracted  things  (that   are  then  treated  as  concrete  things) • There  is  no  “paMern”  above  and  beyond   the  actual  maMer.    Take  away  the  maMer   and  you  have  no  paMern  leT. • PaMerns  are  not  real.    “They”  are  just   nouns  that  we  use  to  talk  about  the  fact   that  material  systems  are  organized  in   par8cular  ways.   • Exactly  similar  organiza8ons  of  maMer   produce  exactly  similar  processes,  but   there  is  no  “paMern”  that  is  “moved”  any   more  than  there  is  a  mind  that  is   “moved” • Thinking  of  paMerns  as  movable  things  is   trea8ng  them  like  souls
  22. 22. Why? Thought  Experiments • But  imagine  this.     • Photocopying  example • Gun  to  your  head  example – Material  ink  organized  in   exactly  similar  ways • Just  Kidding  variaGon • You  are  in  exactly  the  same   relaGonship  to  the  copy  as  you   • Moravec’s  destrucGve   would  have  been  had  you  been   uploading killed.  
  23. 23. Conclusion • Uploading  sounds  at  first  like  a  wondrous  marvel  of   technology  that  promises  immortality,  but  on  closer   inspec8on  it  depends  on  vague,  inaccurate,  and  faulty   assump8ons  that  are  holdovers  from  supernaturalism   and  dualism. • Trea8ng  minds  and  paMerns  as  objec8ve  moveable   substances  or  proper8es  is  just  as  mysterious  as  beliefs   about  ghosts  and  souls  and  vital  spirits.     • The  discourse  on  uploading  has  inherited  a  language   that  tricks  us  into  thinking  minds  work  much  the  same   way  as  souls.