From Humans to Posthumans – Mind uploading

Tony Czarnecki, Managing Partner, Sustensis, a Think Tank on Civilisational Transition to Coexistence with Superintelligence.

London, 18 June 2023

This is an extract from Tony’s latest book: ‘Prevail or Fail – a Civilisational Shift to the World of Transhumans’ is available on Amazon:

Replicating in a digital form progressively larger part of human cognitive functions will start an evolutionary process, similar to the evolution of homo sapiens. The most critical difference between humans and almost all animals is the presence in humans of a Frontal Lobe (Neocortex). By digitizing brain functions and adding a necessary Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), an additional, artificial digital layer of the brain, called Transcortex, might be created. In hardware terms, it could be an electronic device semi-permanently attached to the scull and detached only when a hardware upgrade is needed. Such a layer may have the thickness of a human skin with all the necessary devises embedded within it. Such a skin, biologically compatible has already been produced in 2023 and will be applied as probably the most powerful ‘wearable device’ substituting smart watches. In the next few years, BCI software will include wireless communications and other applications necessary for communicating with a particular brain region, or a brain function, and externally with an advanced AI system, a prototype of the future Superintelligence. It will enable such Transhumans to browse the Internet wirelessly by thought alone and store some of this information in a small memory store in the Transcortex. That should happen by the end of 2025 and later on should be available to a wider public, under a strict licencing process.

There are several Brain Emulation projects, such as a 10-year Human Brain Project (HBP) funded by the European Union to be completed in 2023, the US Brain Initiative and the UK’s Google Brain. They all aim to build an atlas of the brain by slicing a biological brain to 1micrometer depth and then making the highest resolution 3D scans.

The produced data will then be used to create a digital copy in a silicon chip of ever larger parts of the brain, with all its neurons, and interconnecting axons and synapses. So far, the best progress has been made by the UK Cambridge University, which in March 2023 completed a full 3D scan of a fruit fly, mapping over 3000 neurons and over 500,000 synapses. They are planning to scan the brain of a mouse, then a dog and finally a human brain in the next few years.

By about 2026 we should also have the first digitized copy of a particular brain function embedded in a digital circuit and wirelessly connected to an advanced AI system. So, from that point onward, the communication with a maturing Superintelligence or any advance AI will be via an individualized Brain-Computer-Interface (BCI) channel, supported by digital chips at both ends. It will be similar to a physical Poste Restante box at the Post Office but in this case it will be Transhumans’ digital chip fused wirelessly as a node to the maturing Superintelligence or AI humanoid, so humans may control it like an avatar. They will be like any other node connected to such a giant network of Superintelligence with its immense memory, processing, and decision-making capabilities. These Transhumans may also have some mechanical body parts (like exoskeletons, artificial heart, and other organs).

Even early Transhumans may already be many times more intelligent and faster in decision-making than most purely biological humans. With immediate access to the entire Google repository, they may be able to resolve many problems faster than any current computer. They will have immense intelligence power but as Sir John Dalberg-Acton said in the mid of 19th century, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Therefore, governments may have to find very quickly a working solution to this problem, although my feeling is that it will be extremely difficult. Even if we have an international law banning such brain enhancements for achieving superhuman intelligence, it will happen anyway because people with money, power, and influence, as well as access to this technology (first of all those developing it), may get such implants.

If we think about benevolent Transhumans, such as potentially Elon Musk, for whom saving Humanity is his top goal, we may have no other option but to trust them and use their, soon to come, immense intellectual power and ultra-fast decision-making for the benefit of Humanity. Ideally, however, as soon as such implants become available, they should only be dispensed by an international licencing authority, such as GAICA and later on GAIGA, which would also monitor their continuous use (that may mean a severe restriction of privacy of such people).

At some stage, BCI will be so advanced that if you were the person having it, you might not even be certain who is in charge – your biological brain or a digital brain. This is the time to consider mind uploading.

Neuroscientists, AI researchers, as well as Sci-fi writers usually describe the process of mind uploading as a one-off event when a human body is placed in a special container, which reads all your memories, your likes and dislikes, anything which makes a human who he/she is. However, I consider that method a risky one, for many reasons. The most important one is the problem of being aware and fully associating your identity when you wake up from the procedure. It is a complex psychological problem.

When a person whose brain has been uploaded to a digital chip wakes up he may have a severe psychological shock because our identity is so closely related to our physical body. There are quite a few sci-fil films, including of course ‘Frankenstein’, which illustrate that point. Therefore, uploading a human mind gradually, over many years, using a BCI device, may be the best way. That would allow a human mind to progressively adapt to a shared identity, until a digital identity takes over. That would be my preferred way.

Let me then try to explain this quite complex problem. When your brain’s neurons send a signal as an electromagnetic wave, it activates biological parts of your body, such as hands or generates facial expression. The axons of your neurons are like electric wires, so there is no wireless connection between your brain and your body. Now, try to visualize that your brain is somehow disconnected from your body, and it controls your biological body from a distance. The only difference is that there are no wires between your brain and your body; the communication is wireless.

Finally, imagine that your head is encased in a helmet, which is the most sophisticated BCI device. You are still a biological human but when that BCI device is active you become a Transhuman. Your BCI device has been upgraded over the years, storing more and more memories, visuals, emotions etc. One day, all your brain functions can be read wirelessly and copied to any external digital device. On that day, you decide to copy all the content of your mind to an allocated place within Superintelligence, becoming part of it. Once that happens, there will be two exact copies of your brain – a biological, supported by the brain and a digital copy, which will be continuously updated.

After a few days, you will choose your non-biological (metal plus plastic) avatar. From then on your digital brain will control your mechanical body, like your biological brain controls your biological body. To test that all is OK, you recite a long text, gesturing a lot and immediately your digital brain sends signals to your digital avatar, which will behave exactly in the same way as your biological body. You will have passed the test. Your mind has been fully uploaded and fused with Superintelligence. All sensations in your digital brain will be the same as in your biological brain. You will be experiencing life in an almost exactly the same way as you are now. The only difference will be that you will be doing everything at least 10,000 times faster. Your brain will now be digital.

The final test may involve fully anesthetizing your brain and inducing a vegetative state in your body. If your digital brain and avatar mimic the functioning of your biological self, including full consciousness, then you will have successfully passed the test. However, this is the point where technological limitations may arise, as the crux lies in consciousness.

Neuroscientists like Helané Wahbeh, Dean Radin, Cedric Cannard, and Arnaud Delorme shed light on this issue. According to them, the ‘self’ would not exist without a biological body. [77] If a biological body is a prerequisite for human consciousness, then your avatar, being non-biological, would not possess consciousness. Your awareness would be limited to perceiving your surroundings, much like a cat that remains unaware when it gazes in the mirror, not realizing it is looking at its own reflection.

If consciousness may only arise in a biological body, then Superintelligence may never be conscious, as some AI scientists suggest. Nonetheless, other scientists, particularly those in fundamental physics and philosophy, propose that consciousness might be a property of the universe, thereby capable of existing within any form of the body—be it metal, plastic, or even wood, if it is linked to a digital brain. At present, we lack certainty regarding whether consciousness can manifest itself in a non-biological body. Nevertheless, I personally believe that confining consciousness solely to biological entities would constitute a fundamental flaw in the evolution of the universe. Consequently, I posit that Superintelligence and your future digital replica will possess consciousness.

To complete this hypothetical scenario, let’s assume that when your digital brain connects with your digital avatar, you will experience consciousness similar as in your biological body. If that’s the case, you will face two choices: to continue living with your biological brain and body or to exist as a digital brain and a digital body, essentially becoming a representative of a new species – Posthumans. You would have the freedom to live as long as you desire or until you get bored, always aware that there is at least one copy of your brain. Additionally, you may opt to relocate to Mars, leading dual lives on both Earth and Mars if legally permissible.

This review of a hypothetical scenario supports my belief that a gradual approach to mind uploading, achieved through the advancement of brain-computer interfaces (BCI), is a superior option compared to a one-off mind uploading process. This method enables a human mind to progressively adjust to a shared identity and facilitates the assessment of a digital copy’s consciousness.