I’m not an expert in Singularity, but I think I can talk about the topic of “mind-uploading” from the perspective of philosophy. What prompt me to discuss about this topic is the movie that recently came out called Transcendence. Check out the link here. Basically, at some point in the trailer the protagonist Will gets his mind uploaded to a computer. I think I want to focus on that part of the trailer in this blog post.
I want to start with what exactly we mean by “uploading”. I’m pretty sure that anyone can go online or find a computer science textbook to find out what the term “uploading” means in a technical sense. Usually, when people talk about uploading things, they are talking about uploading data or information. What would constitute data? Well, if one is uploading a digital data, then data just means a sequence of binary codes (0 and 1). If one is uploading a picture, one is essentially uploading a certain sequence of 0’s and 1’s. I’m not a computer scientist, so perhaps what I’m saying about uploading is wrong. Nonetheless, my main point is that when we talk about uploading a data we already have available sources (i.e. computer science text book) that can explain what it means to upload a data.
However, when we talk about uploading a mind, do we understand what it means to upload a mind in a way that is analogous to uploading a data? We understand what a data is, but it is far from obvious we understand what a mind is. I think this is where the problem begins with the concept of “mind uploading”. We are only beginning to understand various facets of the mind from memory to vision. With the recent development of brain scans (i.e. MRI, PET, CAT, etc.) as well as the mapping of neurons (i.e. connectome), we can gather as much information about the brain. However, we still have a long way to understand the brain. There are some aspects of the mind that we are still struggling to understand such as intentionality and consciousness.
So, given that we have so much to learn about the nature of the mind as oppose to data, the term “mind-uploading” seems vacuous. However, to be fair, we do have a decent grasp on understanding brain processes that have to do with our sensory inputs like vision. However, when people talk about “mind-uploading”, they aren’t talking about uploading sub-systems responsible for processing sensory information. Instead, they are talking about what constitutes our personal identity. They are talking about uploading our personal identity or mental aspects of the mind pertinent to personal identity. If this is what people have in mind, then we are in an even deeper philosophical problem, since there is a debate between bodily theorist and psychological theorist about personal identity. Some philosophers think that the brain constitutes our personal identity (this doesn’t mean they are committed to type-identity theory of mental states, since they can argue that for humans what constitutes personal identity is their brain, whereas for a martian their own body constitute their personal identity), but others argue that its psychological continuity that constitutes our personal identity. A bodily theorist might insist that mind-uploading is impossible. So, If one is committed to believing in “mind-uploading”, then one presumably believes in psychological continuity account of personal identity. However, what constitutes our personal identity is still a philosophical problem.
Suppose psychological continuity of personal identity is the true theory of personal identity. Suppose we transferred some of person A’s personality to computer X, but others to computer Y. X and Y would be psychologically continuous with person A, but they are not identical to one another. We would have what is called the fission paradox of personal identity. Mind-uploading may not necessarily guarantee preservation of personal identity. Even if we try to imagine a scenario in which we upload every aspect of person A’s identity to a computer, there is still a problem of what exactly does it mean to upload things like (episodic/semantic) memories, beliefs, desires, intelligence, and such. What these things have in common is that they exhibit intentionality (or “aboutness”), but what does it mean to upload intentional states? Unlike data, we are far from understanding the phenomenon of intentionality. Maybe Mind-uploading can happen, but as for now I think it presumed an enthusiastic understanding of the mind.