MIND UPLOADING AND THE ‘PHENOMENAL SELF MODEL’

Why should digital people capable of passing the personality test be considered the endpoint for search engine evolution? Well, I do not believe that this would be the final stage in their development. But, beyond that point AI would very likely enter posthuman development. As I am currently running almost entirely on a pre-singularity meatbrain, it is quite beyond my capacity to speculate on what a post-singularity search engine is like.

But I would like to note that Vernor Vinge made yet another good point when he wrote, “every time we recall some old futurist dream, we should think about how it fits into the world of embedded networks and localizer chips. Some of the old goals are easy to achieve; others are laughably irrelevant”.

What, for instance, would the generations of software tools leading up to digital intermediaries and avatar-mediated communication, and then the generations of increasingly capable Feigenbaum AIs, do for the much-debated impact of robots with artificial general intelligence?

Such technology is often debated as though generally-intelligent robots were to appear in an unprepared society. But, is it not far more likely that they will be introduced to a society that has already gotten used to living with robots? That, step by step through each generation and update, intelligent machines gradually expanded the depth and breadth of their interactions with humans?

If so, this would also imply that the perspective of robots as being anthropomorphic is drastically narrow, to say the least. The future is much more likely to consist of a whole ecology of robots, of which humanoids are only a small part.  Perhaps, we will be surrounded by robots and mostly not recognise them as such, just as today people are surrounded by narrow AI applications yet insist AI never came to anything.

And what of mind uploading and the question of whether a copy is a continuation of the scanned consciousness, or another consciousness entirely? Might this also become “laughably irrelevant”? Vernor Vinge has noted that a human trait which may be unique among animals is outsourcing aspects of cognition. Spreading cognitive abilities to the outside world began with reading and writing (outsourcing memory) and, as we have seen, is now starting to include software and hardware designed around a knowledge of the structure and functions of the brain. This knowledge is revealing flaws in the common conception of self. Traditionally (in the West at least), the self has been attributed to an incorporeal soul, making “I” a fixed essence of identity. But neuroscience is revealing the self as an interplay of cells and chemical processes occurring in the brain — in other words, a transitory dynamic phenomena arising from certain physical processes. There seems to be no particular place in the brain where the feeling of “I” belongs, which leads to the theory that it is a number of networks that creates aspects of self.

German philosopher Thomas Mezinger’s ‘Phenomenal Self Model’ moves away from a notion of “I” as a substance (incorporeal though it may be) and replaces it with representations of the information that is processed in the brain. Lone Frank put it like this: “One state, one self, another state, another self”. The phenomenal self model challenges the ‘fixed essence of identity’ that underlies expressions such as ‘she is no longer herself’. There isn’t any self in that sense; rather (in Lone Frank’s words) “life is not so much about finding yourself but choosing yourself or moulding yourself into the shape you want to be… The neurotechnology of the future will likewise produce the means for transforming the physical self — be it through various cognitive techniques, targeted drugs, or electronic implants…our individual self will simply be a broad range of possible selves”.  Indeed, if you think about it, the mind’s capacity for multiple selves has always been apparent. Immersionists roleplaying in online worlds follow on from a long line of actors, screenwriters, playwrites and authors who have populated imaginary worlds with many different persons.

As well as the incorporeal soul, the idea of the singular self (the notion that there is only one true self per mind) might be attributed to the fact that life did not noticeably change from one generation to the next, for much of human history. A person expected to lead the same life as their grandparents, and that their grandchildren would do likewise, and such expectations were largely fulfilled. A person would perform a single job for life. Surnames like ‘Smith’, ‘Taylor’ and ‘Wright’ all reflect an age when associating a person with the job they did was a good means of identification (‘Wright’ means ‘someone who does mechanical work’ btw).

Old assumptions are changing. Where once lives were constrained by duty, custom and limited horizons, nowadays the notion of a job for life is increasingly obsolete. In ‘Tomorrow’s Children’, Susan Greenfield forsees a future in which ‘job descriptions could become so flexible as to be meaningless… flexibility in learning new skills and adapting to change will be the major requirement’.

In the coming age of just-in-time operatives, geared toward the needs of just-in-time production, the mind’s capacity for personal metamorphosis may be encouraged to flourish as never before. Furthemore, that capacity may well be amplified by participating in the evolution of increasingly vivid virtual worlds; via increasingly intimate mind-machine interfaces between people and telepresence robots.

By the time mind uploading is generally available, people will have long forgotten a time when a singular self was ‘normal’.  They will be used to multiple viewpoints, their brains processing information coming not only from their local surroundings, but also from the remote sensors and cyberspaces they are simultaneously linked to. They will have already become familiar with mental concepts migrating from the brain to spawn digital intermediaries within the clouds of smart dust that surrounds them. Every idea, each inspiration, giving birth to software lifeforms introspecting from many different perspectives before integrating the results of their considerations within the primary consciousness that spawned them. Each and every brain (whether it be a robot’s, human’s or hybrid between the two) will continually send and receive perceptions etc to and from their personal exocortex, operating within the Dust. Since we now understand that the brain is not really a single organ but a collection of interconnected regions, and since computers can already cluster together to create temporary supercomputing platforms,  we can suppose that many exocortices will cluster together to form metacortices within… what? well, that is the big question.

We cannot talk about the evolution of technology without considering the evolution of ourselves. The two are co-dependent. Perhaps the prospect of Google as an AI that contains your entire mind within itself is not what is dizzying about this future, as seen from our lowly perspective. Rather, it is what new forms of consciousness may evolve, as a result of adaptation to the awakened Digital Gaia.