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TOPIC: Universe of Possibilities: Backing-Up Your Brain [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Mar. 9, 2009 @ 06:16 GMT
Image courtesy Melanie Swan
Given the chance, would you back-up your “mind-files” on a computer, to keep your memories in pristine condition? Or agree to become a computer hybrid to enhance your experience of life? Those were some of the questions posed by science and technology futurist Melanie Swan at Sunday’s brainstorming session entitled “What Can Technology Ultimately Make Possible and What are the Ultimate Possibilities for Life?”

At the moment, the best computer (IBM’s Roadrunner) still only processes information at 5% of the rate of the human brain. But while the human brain has taken hundreds of thousands of years to evolve, Moore’s Law tells us that the capacity of computers doubles every 18 months or so. Futurist Ray Kurzweil goes as far as to suggest that by 2018, a supercomputer will be able to emulate a human brain, Swan told us.

So, she asked, will people soon be backing-up their brains? Would you want to back-up your brain? (I voted “no.” This could take identity theft to a whole new level.)

Biotechnology speeds up faster than Moore’s Law, said Swan (12 months versus 18 months) and could lead to the promise of learning how to fight disease, perhaps one day giving us the potential for eternal life. (“We could live forever, but only if the machines will let us,” commented MIT’s Seth Lloyd.)

Swan envisages a much less confrontational future between humans and machines, not so much a Terminator-style rise of the machine, more a melding of the two entities. “Life and technology are thought of as separate, but they could come together,” said Swan. She spoke of “trans-humans“--human-machine hybrids that are far more advanced than current humans--and “post-humans,” who have developed so far beyond our current capabilities that they must be considered a different species. (There are more details in Swan’s presentation slides, here.)

Melding with machines may sound like sci-fi, but Swan pointed out that “we’re already cyborgs,” that is, 10% of people in the US have inorganic implants, such as hip replacements.

Cosmologist Andrei Linde was quite taken with the idea, imagining a future where he could outsource tasks so that he could enjoy life experiences he otherwise wouldn’t have time for. “I could outsource them and have the signal of happiness sent back to my brain.”

“The only price you’d have to pay would be to view ads from Google--which by now would be played _inside_ your brain,” quipped Lloyd.

Also looking to the future, Frank Wilczek expanded on his ideas from the start of the conference that physics and its applications need to be more biology-like.

Frank Wilczek (photo by Andrei Linde)
Wilczek pointed out that in biology, geography often drives speciation as organisms adapt to new climates. “I think there’s a vast region of space to which we’re poorly adapted, but man-machine hybrids--in some sense our children--might feel at home there.”

Wojciech Zurek took Wilczek’s idea a step further and asked whether physical laws are really set in stone, or whether physicists should take the lead from biology and think more in terms of evolving laws. “The multiverse and the string theory landscape lend themselves to the language of biology,” he said.

Bruce McWilliams, chairman of Tessera Technologies, looked at how the work done by humans has evolved over the centuries. In the 1800s, 90% of work was on the farm. With industrialization, the workforce moved into factories. By 2000, most jobs were in the service and information industry, as machines have been developed to carry out most of the heavy-lifting. But even now, we’re seeing machines taking over a lot of the simplest service jobs, allowing us to check-in at airports, for instance.

“As technology improves, what will everyone do?” he asked. “I guess everyone will have to become theoretical physicists!”

Referring back to Wilczek and Swan’s ideas about machine’s becoming more human-like, he added: “I’m not a big fan of making computers more like humans. I want computers to do what people don’t want to do. It’s not clear to me that we need more people. We already have 6.7 billion and they aren’t doing much good!”

Lloyd was sceptical that we will see such huge advances in computing, to the point that computers could become a threat. “Remember, we built a computer that could beat the world chess champion before we built a machine that could vacuum a room. We thought vacuuming was a simple task, but it turned out to be complex. Computers are a million times more advanced, but they aren’t a million times more useful; Windows takes longer to boot!”

Lloyd closed the discussion by running through the current state of quantum computing. He then turned to its future. Its very very distant future. Thanks to dark energy, which is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate, the future will be quite lonely for our galaxy, as other galaxies are pulled far beyond us, leaving us largely isolated.

In such a scenario, Lloyd wondered what would happen to life, assuming that life (although perhaps not human life) would last forever. A quick calculation showed that a quantum computer could keep processing information in the galaxy (as long as it didn’t dissipate its energy over time, in correcting for errors) pretty much forever. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what that showed--I think that it showed any life forms out there cursed to live forever won’t get bored, perhaps. (Perhaps Seth Lloyd can tell me what he meant.)

Image source: www.hetemeel.com/einsteinform.php and Melanie Swan


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Cristi Stoica wrote on Jul. 10, 2009 @ 16:37 GMT
Strange, but inevitable consequences of human simulations

Sooner or later there will run on computers human simulations so realistic made, that cannot be distinguished from humans. Then, I think that some developments will follow inevitably.

Stage 1: human simulations

- Some humans will believe that the human simulations are functionally identical to real human...

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Maria Odete Madeira wrote on Mar. 6, 2010 @ 10:09 GMT
...The identity of the organism does not depend upon the organism’s memories. Even if an organism “loses” its memories, that organism is still an irreducible referent as presence and existence in the world.

About the download of memories… it is important to remember that a memory incorporates, always, cognitive syntheses in which protoconscious and conscious processes intervene.

Also, any conscious process is constituted, in its formative basis, by emotions and feelings. The emulation of a brain, postulated by the transhumanist business, does not capture the nature of human cognition. The brain is not the key, but the whole system.

Concepts are being used as catchphrases for selling technological products.

Transhumanism is a badly thought out word… human transcendence does not mean a change of nature, it means to go beyond the human limits without the negation of the human…, in the human, still human.

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