As long as people have been alive, they’ve wanted to stay alive. But unlike finding the fountain of youth or becoming a vampire, uploading your brain to a computer or the cloud might actually be possible. Theoretically, we already know how to do it, and Elon Musk is even trying a brain implant with Neuralink. But technically, we have a long way to go. We explain the main technological advancements that we’ll need to make whole brain emulation a reality.
Mind uploading, also known as whole brain emulation (WBE), is the hypothetical futuristic process of scanning a physical structure of the brain accurately enough to create an emulation of the mental state (including long-term memory and “self”) and copying it to a computer in a digital form. The computer would then run a simulation of the brain’s information processing, such that it would respond in essentially the same way as the original brain and experience having a sentient conscious mind.
Substantial mainstream research in related areas is being conducted in animal brain mapping and simulation, development of faster supercomputers, virtual reality, brain–computer interfaces, connectomics, and information extraction from dynamically functioning brains. According to supporters, many of the tools and ideas needed to achieve mind uploading already exist or are currently under active development; however, they will admit that others are, as yet, very speculative, but say they are still in the realm of engineering possibility.
Mind uploading may potentially be accomplished by either of two methods: Copy-and-upload or copy-and-delete by gradual replacement of neurons (which can be considered as a gradual destructive uploading), until the original organic brain no longer exists and a computer program emulating the brain takes control over the body. In the case of the former method, mind uploading would be achieved by scanning and mapping the salient features of a biological brain, and then by storing and copying, that information state into a computer system or another computational device. The biological brain may not survive the copying process or may be deliberately destroyed during it in some variants of uploading. The simulated mind could be within a virtual reality or simulated world, supported by an anatomic 3D body simulation model. Alternatively the simulated mind could reside in a computer inside (or either connected to or remotely controlled) a (not necessarily humanoid) robot or a biological or cybernetic body.
Among some futurists and within the part of transhumanist movement, mind uploading is treated as an important proposed life extension technology. Some believe mind uploading is humanity’s current best option for preserving the identity of the species, as opposed to cryonics. Another aim of mind uploading is to provide a permanent backup to our “mind-file”, to enable interstellar space travels, and a means for human culture to survive a global disaster by making a functional copy of a human society in a computing device. Whole brain emulation is discussed by some futurists as a “logical endpoint” of the topical computational neuroscience and neuroinformatics fields, both about brain simulation for medical research purposes. It is discussed in artificial intelligence research publications as an approach to strong AI (Artificial general intelligence) and to at least weak superintelligence. Another approach is seed AI, which wouldn’t be based on existing brains. Computer-based intelligence such as an upload could think much faster than a biological human even if it were no more intelligent. A large-scale society of uploads might, according to futurists, give rise to a technological singularity, meaning a sudden time constant decrease in the exponential development of technology. Mind uploading is a central conceptual feature of numerous science fiction novels, films, and games.