• Oshin Mittal

Do you know: Can We Upload Our Brains to a Computer?

We live in an age where technology rules us. Our day begins with tech and ends with another tech. We have technology that incorporates us, humans, as well. We have fingerprint scanning, we even retina scanning. But can our brain be scanned? Can our mind be interpreted using technology?

The concept of uploading the entire human brain which includes thoughts, feelings, memories and the whole shebang and running it on a computer is called Whole Brain Emulation (WBE). There are three main areas of technology that needs to be advance for this to be possible, namely:

1. Scanning

2. Processing power and memory

3. Environment

The first thing, to begin with, is the connectome. It is a complete map of the brain. Brains are wildly complex. Scientists have only been able to map the complete connectome of only one creature- nematode. A nematode's brain has about 302 neurons whereas a human brain has 86 billion (86,000,000,000) neurons and not to mention the 10,000 or so connections each neuron makes with the other neurons. Our current brain scanning tech like MRI just isn't good enough to map them all out. There are other methods that could show us a clearer picture but they tend to be destructive.

For living brains, the most promising scanning technology we're looking at is electrodes with thousands of recording sites on them. These electrodes when placed on precise areas of the brain have the potential to show us thousands of neurons at a time because every single site can record from multiple neurons and identify which neuron it is based on the specific shape of the action response. Whichever way the tech has to be capable of scanning and recording massive amounts of data. By massive we mean zetas of pieces of information and we don't even know everything we are looking for yet. Many neurotransmitters have yet to be discovered, very necessary pieces of the connectome puzzle. So even if we have all the information, if we don't know what we are looking at, then it’s like a story that's written in a book but if nobody is reading it and nobody is understanding the words then it’s just black stuff on the white stuff. Right now, each scanned neuron has to be interpreted by humans in real-time. Zetas of information slowly sorted by hand. If we even want to begin to read the connectome, advance machine learning and data mining are going to be pivotal because otherwise, we end up with systems where the learning, the training of that model or just tuning parameter takes forever, literally forever. More time than there is in the universe just because of how exponentially that grows.

Computer processing power has also shown smooth exponential growth over the past century or so. Similar can be said about computer memory. If the pattern continues, we'll likely reach the necessary processing requirements fairly soon but experts worry we could be reaching the end of Moore's law. This law once predicted that computer power doubles every 18 months and in recent decades these advances have slowed so if they come to a halt, our computers may never be fast enough to sort through the data. Once we get past that, then we just might be able to get an emulated brain running. One of these WBEs is called a sim or substrate independent mind. The sim would be an exact digital replica of the mind it was emulated from and we are actually pretty close to memory requirements so we should have no problem storing sims once we're able to create them but where they will be stored is a little bit different than where they will live and we do mean live. A sim would be conscious that means if a sim is conscious, it will need to exist in a place and interact with things. To experience virtual reality in the way that humans experience actual reality, sims would need high fidelity sensors and systems to sense the world around them. Graphics, at least, are constantly improving, thanks to the speed and the size of the video game industry. It's the rest of the senses that will need major work. Everything from tasting a coke to feeling the pain of a burn, the bandwidth and the signal complexity needed for this shouldn't be underestimated and while virtual reality isn't the only option for a sim, actual reality would still require a few upgrades. First, they need a robot avatar. Virtual reality offers human experience and more. In a digital world, sim could fly or teleport, a distinctively non-human experience. So, once we figure out the technical side of whole brain emulation.

There's still the philosophical part of the equation, would that emulation, still be you? The simple answer is that we are not quite sure of it. Philosopher and scientists have debated and defined and re-defined the concept of "you" for centuries and they are still doing it. But the question this technology arises is of privacy. Will this technology cage our minds? Will the line between reality and virtual be washed off? Well, this has many dangling ends to be winded off. But one thing is sure that we have come a long way in terms of technology.