The Analog Brain: Why You Can’t Download Your Mind Onto a Computer - Part I

brain download

Leading thinkers such as neuroscientist David Eagleman and philosopher Nick Bostrom believe that one day, you will be able to download your mind onto a computer.  A sophisticated brain scanner will record all the connections in your brain and a computer will then recreate them all digitally.  The digital ‘brain’ will then begin to behave exactly like your real brain, which means it will essentially become you, and allow you to live beyond the death of your body in an eternal 'transhuman' existence.

If that sounds too good/bad to be true, that’s because it probably is.  Replicating the trillions of dynamic connections that exist in your brain digitally would be a truly miraculous feat, and one which is definitely beyond us at this time.  Nonetheless, we should never underestimate the future’s potential to wildly exceed our expectations. With our technology and scientific methods steadily improving, one day we will surely have the capacity to create a computer model with comparable complexity to a human brain.  Progress towards this has already begun, with the 2.5-million-neuron SPAUN brain model recently being created, and the Human Connectome Project working diligently to map all the connections of a single human brain.

However, even if we were able to map and model all the connections of a brain, translating this into a personality-download is a whole different ball-game.  Whether or not identity is embodied (i.e. attached to a particular body) will keep philosophers occupied even while the digital-human-brained robots take over civilization.  The problem being that the minute we recreate our minds in another location, that duplicate mind will begin to have its own experiences and perspective, and will therefore necessarily have a different identity to the original.

This problem is perhaps insurmountable.  But for the sake of argument, and because it would be very cool, lets assume that if we created a perfect digital replica of someone’s brain we will have transferred their identity to a computer.  After all, that in itself would still be a mind-bending feat, even if both resulting individuals remained convinced their parallel twin was an impostor.  In this situation, could we ever be confident that the digital version was faithful to the original brain?

In this ‘Analog Brain’ series I will argue that it is impossible to perfectly replicate a brain digitally. And the problem lies in the chaotic nature of complex systems and tiny unassuming things called rounding errors.

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