code and the oracular

An Introduction to the Concept of Soft Mind Upload

leave a comment »

With particular reference to my memory sharing site prototype

The usual kind of mind upload we hear about from sci-fi devotees like Transhumanists and Singularitarians needs good scanning technologies. Imagine a very high resolution PET or NMR scanner which can make a 3d picture of your brain down to the molecular level. This might be around in roughly 20-30 years, conservatively. This image of maybe several exabytes in size would not be a human readable resource. It would need a computer to run it that had enough knowledge implicit within itself. That knowledge would be a mass of physical, chemical, biological and neurological principles to enable the snapshot to come to life. At first it might run significantly slower than a real brain, but with progress speeds would rise. The output of this computation would be an interface allowing users to know and interact with a simulated mind.

This is a huge scientific problem that I don’t want to get into here. My interest is in what I would call “soft mind upload” which would mean using human style methods to gain enough of a biographical profile of a person to enable a less than complete emulation of their personality. This also involves scanning but it is a scanning that uses the social interfaces between people and systems rather than the blunt instrument of the physical measuring device.

As humans we seek to know and scan each other. You can talk, or if you are a shaolin monk you will want to fight. This monk may feel that he can only understand another fully after a fight has taken place. If you are a psychoanalyst you will probe from your couchside chair. A drunk will gabble at you and seek enough information to know whether he can mark you for the next drink. A sports coach will put you through your paces on the track. An examiner will examine. A lover will gaze. All these methods provide data for the partial emulation of another within our own personal wetware.

If we take a sketchy overview of the skill of biography writing, and its notable subset autobiography writing, we will have a good starting point to feel our way into some of the techniques of soft mind upload. Tipler proposed in The Physics of Immortality that all possible signals conveying data about conscious entities in the deep past may be able to be intercepted by some godlike future technology. This is a refiguring of some idea of an “ultimate biography on steroids”, but what can we do here and now?

Intelligent question and answer processes seem like a possibility, and indeed they are already being implemented widely. The taking of personality profiling tests is a popular thing in the online world. What if we could mash the data from multiple personality test results into one synthesis ? Maybe this would be a good candidate for a soft upload scenario. There are also embryonic “Online resume” tools that gather many aspects of your online life and mash them into a “who am I?” profile. People have a need to share personal data with each other, and with this idea we extend social networking deeper into the inner regions. But people are willing, and thus users do a lot of the real work.

But consider: what an ethical nightmare this kind of rich profile might be in the hands of advertisers (who needs focus groups now?) or intelligence agents who might use a simulation to predict an enemy’s next move. Profiling like this that runs in an expert’s brain is of course as old as the hills but what new things could be done with computers ?

Such knowledge might also form part of a new generation of believable social robots, game characters or virtual agents. After all the more we understand what a personality is, the better we can emulate one. These implications for better social agents are potentially a huge market development, a medical bot that was lovable, a helper for autistic kids or the elderly that you could really trust.

The oracle at Delphi once urged a querent “Know thyself”. The goal of ai to construct a machine in man’s image is a refiguring of this quest too. If you can take a thing to pieces and put it back together do you not have a good understanding of it ? Moreover in our experiments with memory capture we have seen that the very process of trying to enter psychological data into a computer can result in new personal insights and self-understanding. There’s another market too: the neurotic stressed population is desperate for this kind of understanding, proffered so incompletely and fallibly by the usual spiritual or self-help gurus. Just recording memories, experiences , feelings and thoughts feels helpful once you try it. And if you need external help then a counsellor or therapist will have so much more to work on.

People also want greater connection and empathy with others as well as themselves, and the small experiment in memory capture and sharing we performed holds lessons for this. Who can you afford to trust … what should you share… and what new horizons open up when you start to know anothers very thoughts with a familiarity level closer to how they themselves know the material. The writing of Philip K Dick seems so prophetic now on this subject, as reproduced in hit films like Total Recall, Minority Report and Inception. Maybe nightmares do indeed also await us if we invite others into our most intimate spaces, as well as the enhanced feelings of love we nearly all hope for from this kind of connection.

The intricate examination of psychological processes of a Proust or a Joyce might then be seen as a forerunner of a greater arena and vibe of self understanding that becomes common currency. Much is made of our greater understanding of science and engineering but the domains of the self are still very shrouded from us. Psychologists driven to understand the mind, and geeks who love data may find many shared goals in this enterprise. Conflict resolution might be easier if we see the people we are angry with as richly faceted humans rather than stereotyped enemies (and isn’t that so needed right now ?) In examining my memory sharing database I am struck by a feeling that I can now see my users in a level of detail finer and richer than ever before. It is like observing a great painting, or having a personal breakthrough that enriches and complexifies the texture of your world. And with this comes greater fellow feeling, again a phenomenon so badly required in our modern world.

So I am pleased to have glimpsed this new frontier and will share my upcoming further enquiries. More to be added soon.


Written by Luke Dunn

December 5, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Posted in transhumanism

Tagged with ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: