This video does a pretty good job at outlining the idea and stark challenges with mind uploading. (Watching it isn’t necessary to understand this post, unless you’re completely unfamiliar with the idea. It’s 14 minutes long, although the last few minutes are an advertisement.)
I’m in the camp that sees mind uploading, or perhaps more broadly, mind copying, as a viable proposition. It may be that anything like the computing technology we have today is hopelessly insufficient, and new principles will have to be discovered. But if the mind is a system in this universe and operates according to the laws of physics, then there shouldn’t be anything in principle that prevents reproducing it.
That said, I’m not in the singularity camp that expects it in the next twenty years. I think it’s more likely to take a century or two, or possibly longer. Optimists for it happening in our lifetime usually focus on the idea of emulating the brain’s operations, and maybe getting by without having to learn the functional roles of all that activity. But as the video explains, that may take an unrealistic amount of computing power. Although who knows what neuromorphic and quantum computing might enable?
Attitudes toward mind uploading expose people’s philosophy of self. Some say even an atom by atom copy of themselves would not be them. Of course, given quantum no-cloning theorems, such a copy is probably not in the cards. (Although if Everettian physics is reality, such copies are being created all the time.)
It’s interesting to ponder the extremes. Many of us would see an atom by atom copy as us, at least initially. But suppose we had a technology that watched our behavior for years and created a simulation of us based on that? Such a simulation might be conscious and think of itself as us, but most of us wouldn’t regard it as us. It would be missing our most private thoughts and memories.
But now imagine we have a scan of your brain. We don’t have the computing power to emulate its full operation. But say we do know enough to create a simulation of you based on that scan. The simulation wouldn’t work exactly the way your original brain worked. But it would have all your memories and think of itself as you. Your friends and relatives might see some differences, but they might amount to the changes after someone goes through a major life event.
Is such a simulation you? It depends on your philosophy of self. I don’t think there’s a fact of the matter answer. Myself, if I had a chance to have such a simulation created, I’d do it. Although unless there was some mechanism for us to share memories, I’d prefer it not be fired up until after I’m gone.
But maybe I’m missing something?