Non-Destructive Uploading: A Paradox

Transhumanism may well be on the road to victory, at least judging by some indirect measures of social influence, such as the increasing number of celebrities coming out in support for cyronic preservation and future resurrection, or the prevalence of the memeset across media.

If you are advancing into that age at which your annual chance of death is becoming significant, you face an options dilemma.  The dilemma is not so much a choice of what to do now: for at this current moment in time the only real option is vitrification-based cyronics.  If the Brain Preservation Foundation succeeds, we may soon have a second improved option in the form of plastination, but this is besides the point for my dilemma of choice.  The real dilemma is not what to do now, it is what to do in the future.

Which particular method of resurrection would you go with?  Biological immortality in your original body?  Or how about uploading?  Would you rather have your brain destructively scanned or would you prefer a gradual non-destructive process?

Those we preserve today will not have an opportunity to consider their future options or choose a possible method of resurrection, simply because we won’t be able to ask them unless we resurrect them in the first place.

The first option the cyronics community considered is some form of biological immortality.  The idea is at some point in the future we’ll be able to reverse aging, defeat all of these pesky diseases and repair cellular damage, achieving Longevity Escape Velocity.  I find this scenario eventually likely, but only because I find the AI-Singularity itself to be highly likely.  However, there is a huge difference between possible and pragmatic.

By the time biological immortality is possible, there is a good chance it will be far too expensive for most plain humans to afford.  I do not conclude this on the basis of the cost of the technology itself.  Rather I conclude this based on the economic impact of the machine Singularity.

Even if biological humans have any wealth in the future (and that itself is something of a big if), uploading is the more rational choice, for two reasons: it is the only viable route towards truly unlimited, massive intelligence amplification, and it may be the only form of existence that a human can afford.  Living as an upload can be arbitrarily cheap compared to biological existence.  An upload will be able to live in a posthuman paradise for a thousandth, then a millionth, then a billionth of the biological costs of living.  Biological humans will not have any possible hope of competing economically with the quick and the dead.

Thus I find it more likely that most of us will eventually choose some form of uploading.  Or perhaps rather a small or possibly even tiny elite population will choose and be able to upload, and the rest will be left behind.  In consolation, perhaps “The meek shall inherit the Earth”.  Across most of the landscape of futures, I foresee some population of biological humans plodding along, perhaps even living lives similar to those of today, completely oblivious to the vast incomprehensible Singularity Metaverse blossoming right under their noses.

For the uploading options, at this current moment it looks like destructive scanning is on the earlier development track (as per the Whole Brain Emulation Roadmap), but let’s us assume that both destructive and non-destructive technologies become available around the same time.  Which would you choose?

At first glance non-destructive uploading sounds less scary, perhaps it is a safer wager.  You might think that choosing a non-destructive method is an effective hedging strategy.  This may be true if the scanning technology is error prone.  But let’s assume that the technology is mature and exceptionally safe.

A non-destructive method preserves your original biological brain and creates a new copy which then goes onto live as an upload in the Metaverse.  You thus fork into two branches, one of which continues to live as if nothing happened.  Thus a non-destructive method is not significantly better than not uploading at all!  From the probabilistic perspective on the branching problem; this non-destructive scan has only a 50% chance of success (because in one half of your branches you end up staying in your biological brain).  The destructive scanning method, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem as it doesn’t branch and you always end up as the upload.

This apparent paradox reminds me of a biblical saying:

Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. – Luke 17:33 (with numerous parallels)

The apparent paradox is largely a matter of perspective, and much depends on the unfortunate use of the word destructive.  The entire premise of uploading is to save that which matters, to destroy nothing of ultimate importance for conscious identity.  If we accept the premise, then perhaps a better terminology for this type of process is in order: such as mind preservation and transformation.

There Be Critics:

I’ll be one of the first to admit that this whole idea of freezing your brain, slicing it up into millions of microscopically thin slices, scanning them, and then creating an AI software emulation that not only believes itself to be me, but is actually factually correct in that belief, sounds at least somewhat crazy.  It is not something one accepts on faith.

But then again, I am still somewhat amazed every time I fly in a plane.  I am amazed that the wings don’t rip apart due to mechanical stress, amazed every time something so massive lifts itself into the sky. The first airplane pioneers didn’t adopt a belief in flight based on faith, they believed in flight on the basis of a set of observation-based scientific predictions.  Now that the technology is well developed and planes fly us around the world safely everyday, we adopt a well justified faith in flight.  Uploading will probably follow a similar pattern.

In the meantime there will be critics.  Reading through recent articles from the Journal of Evolution and Technology, I stumbled upon this somewhat interesting critique of uploading from Nicholas Agar.  In a nutshell the author attempts to use a “Searle’s Wager’ (based on Pascal’s Wager) type argument to show that uploading has a poor payoff/risk profile, operating under the assumption that biological immortality of some form will be simultaneously practical.

Any paper invoking Searle’s Chinese Room Argument or Pascal’s Wager is probably getting off to a bad start.  Employing both in the same paper will not end well.

Agar invokes Searl without even attempting to defend Searl’s non-argument, and instead employs Searl as an example of ‘philosophical risk’.  Risk analysis is a good thing, but there is a deeper problem with Agar’s notion.

There is no such thing as “philosophical risk’.  Planes do not fail to fly because philosophers fail to believe in them.  “Philosophical failure’ is not an acceptable explanation for an airplane crash.  Likewise, whether uploading will or will not work is purely a technical consideration.  There is only technical risk.

So looking at the author’s wager table, I assign near-zero probability to the column under “Searle is right”.  There is however a very real possibility that uploading fails, and “you are replaced by a machine incapable of conscious thought”; but all of those failure modes are technical, all of them are at least avoidable, and Searle’s ‘argument’ provides no useful information on the matter one way or the other.  It’s just a waste of thought-time.

The second failing, courtesy of Pascal’s flawed Wager, is one of unrealistically focusing on only a few of the possibilities.  In the “Kurzweil is right” scenario, whether uploading or not there are many more possibilities other than “you live”.  Opting to stay biological, you could still die even with the most advanced medical nanotechnology of the far future.  I find it unlikely that mortality to all diseases can be reduced arbitrarily close to zero.  Biology is just too messy and chaotic.  Like Conway’s boardgame, life is not a long-term stable state.  And no matter how advanced nano-medicine becomes, there are always other causes of death.  Eliminating all disease causes, even if possible, would only extend the median lifespan into centuries (without also reducing all other ‘non-natural’ causes of death).

Nor is immortality guaranteed for uploads.  However, the key difference is that uploads will be able to make backups, and that makes for all the difference in the world.

About these ads

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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