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91 MIN READ TIME

Uploading Your Mind Does Not Compute

BY PETER KASSAN

THE NOTION OF UPLOADING YOUR MIND TO a computer has been trending lately, from movies like Transcendence to websites of neurophysiologists and computer scientists (Google “uploading the brain” for many websites and videos). The only thing you can actually upload to a computer is, well, a computer file—something that’s designed to be uploaded—something in machine-readable format, such as a photograph in JPEG format or a music track in MPEG format or a text file in ASCII format. The mind isn’t a computer file, so the idea of uploading your mind must refer to a different idea.

In the good old days of artificial intelligence, some people thought we could discover (or maybe invent) a “language of thought,” something that looked like a natural language (such as English), but one that could be manipulated by computers in the same the way computers manipulate statements in so-called computer languages (although statements in a computer language are actually more like instructions in a recipe). At first, attempts were made to use classic symbolic logic (“A implies B and B implies C, so A implies C.”). These attempts failed because people don’t use words in the same way symbols are used in symbolic logic. So the researchers invented something they called “non-monotonic” logic, which didn’t work very well, either. These notions have been largely if not completely abandoned.

Even if there really were a language of thought in which your mind’s contents were recorded, there would still be the problem of downloading it from your brain before we could upload it anywhere. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), there’s no computer interface to your mind—no USB port, or that thing at the base of your skull in The Matrix. Since there’s no interface to your mind, the notion of uploading it actually imagines something else—uploading your brain to a computer. Since we know that your brain produces your mind somehow, if we just copy your brain that should do the trick.

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