Death: the darkest background

1) Awareness is fungible

Those expecting to die before 2050 may have a chance at a partial afterlife.
Any system offering even a remote escape possibility should attract adherents. The better the promise, the more adherents.
For good or bad, existing religions may have to be discredited first, as they make much better promises than any rational afterlife proposal.

Then, it comes down to the deceased Mind Backup customer’s willingness to create and leave behind an enormous trove of data to reconstruct their history and personality.
They will have filled a digital box with life stories, random data, and personality and memory tests.
This will slowly be sorted by whatever reconstruction software becomes available. Sorting this data will take more computations than the lifetime total of the brain that generated it. Only a sophisticated AI could do it.

The key insight is that mind reconstruction does not have to be fast.
There is no rush whatsoever, as long as no data is lost. The subject has all the time there is. Once all the data has been assembled, it doesn’t matter if it takes virtual centuries to make all the connections.
It doesn’t have to be an efficient or intensive process either. The awareness resulting from slow and inefficiently processed data will be just as real, even if we can’t interact with it.

In fact the reconstructed mind will emerge as a side effect of the process.
Its awareness and perception of time will be imposed externally, like a character in a novel. Different scenes will be created separately, and later fleshed out with perception details.
Single thoughts will slowly be made deeper and more detailed, linking to all kinds of memories.
What matters is the number of connections, not the order in which they are created.

Awareness may even emerge from an encyclopedic sorting process.
In fact a postmortem mind reconstruction does not have to be an exact or even approximate copy of the original to be its legitimate continuation.
The reconstruction could represent the average mind state over a lifetime. It could be true to itself even if it was mostly made up of reconstructed false memories to fill the gaps.

The most important requirement is obvious, and it suggests new testing methods:
A reconstructed mind should accurately predict how the original mind would have reacted to any situation.
Early mind reconstructions will have limited or no free will, though they won’t notice.
In fact we may only need to simulate a few ideal moments of a mind reconstruction – or even a single moment – but with a full set of memories and future plans.

2) Monumental moments

Mind-backup clients of the future will be encouraged to create tableaux of key scenes of their lives.
These virtual descriptions will be highly detailed in a few ways. Only essential perceptions and feelings need to be described, both their best and their most common days, specific and generic scenes.
The tableaux don’t have to be meaningful. This is a literary skill. The outline could be done very fast, but hundreds of them will eventually have to be completed.

It would begin with a few specific recreations. Floating cork-like in the surf off the beach, pedaling at sunset along a busy highway, lounging vegetable-like for years before entertainment boxes. Rooms and streets, fields and towns.
Then one true moment. What would it be? Maybe when operating at peak efficiency and the most connections, times of maximum influence or expectation. Or start with this moment right now.

They might even choose to compose situations that never happened but represent deep personal truths, even dreamlike or event horizon type situations. The tableaux could combine many life elements in one setting.

3) Mind extensions

It will of course take years to build such monuments.
Digital resurrection (or call it software mind continuation) should start as early as possible during the lifetime of the subject, with a self-improving mind extension.
It must be easy to begin, a simple but powerful way to record and store life data, complexity emerging as connections multiply. Early versions will mostly appeal to programmer-type personalities.
Data acquisition should become part of daily life, assembling long lists of memory factoids with associated tags (what when where why who).

So what’s the most powerful way to extract and organize your knowledge?
The memory map will start as an outline to be filled in.
Like life itself, it can never be completed, but any interesting perception and perspective could be added. It may involve the smallest units of awareness, some type of self-referential descriptions that might as well combine into a mind.
Solve this problem and every human problem may become solvable.

4) Example of a further mind scanning method

Stimulate small brain regions with focused radio waves or magnetically induced currents, and measure the resulting electrical activity in all other brain regions.
Combine this data with the best available personality tests, and the test results of many other subjects, to find correlations between measured brain activity and personality traits.
Eventually this may be done rapidly and precisely, and perhaps also reversed to create vivid interactive perceptions in the subject.

Estimated cost to develop this technique: somewhere between a mission to Mars and building the Gibraltar Dam.

The approaching dream of immortality

A human mind is immense. We’re talking millions of gigabytes. Because of bandwidth bottlenecks, mental states change rather slowly across the brain, though these states respond rapidly to the events they have evolved to handle.
A human lifetime is far too short to fully scan a mind’s contents, but not its structure. We’ll probably never download perceptions directly like in the movie ‘Strange Days’.
Fortunately, we don’t have to measure the mind’s awareness. All we have to do is measure the mind’s awareness of its awareness. Basically, the virtual brain within the real brain, a.k.a. the “soul”.

This will be the ultimate personality test. Beliefs, preferences and emotional ranges are different for everyone, a small fraction of memory-like states that control all the rest. They can predict how someone would feel and think about any situation.
The most interesting software of the not-too-distant future will make it its mission to measure these personal attributes.
Hopefully sometime before the 2030s, your first personal software assistant will become your preliminary mind extension. It will require a conceptual leap greater than a spiritual awakening, but not obviously impossible. This hypothetical software would identify, define, and track all its owners’ interests and sensibilities.

It would start as an automatic content aggregator, looking up and sorting meaningful data. First, the owner will define their lifetime interests, and all their random but meaningful events. It may seem narcissistic, but that may be the only meaning there is.
The software will also search the Net for relevant content the user would otherwise have missed. The harder part will be summarizing all this data.
Different users’ mind extensions will form online interest groups, and individual users may become experts in countless new sub-fields, like initial neurons in a World Mind.

Minds are vast, but that doesn’t have to make them complex, even if the strongest emotions are totally overwhelming.
Awareness is the deepest insight of ignorance, the vertigo of the lost past. The 1990s now seem as quaintly archaic as the 1970s did in the 1990s. The early 1980s had something called Teletext, which seemed almost as interesting as the Net does now. You could enter any of 999 page numbers on a suitable TV set, leading to short news stories displayed in phosphorescent text against a black background like an infinite resource.

Once someone starts recording the important elements of their life, an overview of the top level may emerge. The clutter can be sorted into hierarchies or added to a giant warehouse.
Human existence will have to yield to infinitely patient and methodical software. At first the subject’s life will be forced into a series of predetermined boxes like haikus. The ultimate goal of this project is very simple: to capture all the elements of nostalgia in a flowchart.

The process will change you. The final step of a mind backup attempt may be to manipulate the subject into becoming their ideal self.
It could happen in a VR environment, where an extremely intelligent AI therapist would hone in on their core personality. The only way to fully understand a human mind would be through an exponentially larger and smarter (though highly specialized) artificial mind. While incredibly complex, its creation would not necessarily be incredibly difficult.

This process will continue to its logical conclusion. Several levels above the smartest search engine, the creation of the World Mind will require prolonged exposure to the words and deeds of millions of distinct individuals, with or without their conscious assistance.

The mystery of creativity

People who are naturally anxious worry about social blunders and vague threats. This changes their behavior, personality, and lifestyle. Stress avoidance makes people more complex, with arbitrary hang-ups and obsessions.
Neurotic behavior has a reason. Without such forced specializations, life would flow more smoothly. Everyone would be more or less the same, and predictable.
Neurosis is a crude method to force diversity. Like a pearl, it starts with a seemingly unsolvable problem.
New ideas can be generated by combining unexpectedly similar ideas, and allowing overlapping, oversimplified thoughts to deal with them.

Creativity is error-tolerant, suggesting a deeper order:
. . . If everyone is pulled toward the center of the earth, they shouldn’t feel it spinning. The same math can describe political economy and eugenic evolution. The fourth dimension may be understood by imagining Flatland. Everything can be simplified to ones and zeroes . . .
Another creativity mechanism is dreams. Most individuals live boring, repetitive lives. Dreams generate some unpredictability, filling short term memory with false memory fragments. They’re soon forgotten, but some weak connections remain. These can be strengthened if similarly unpredictable events occur in waking life.

You don’t have to be extremely intelligent to be extremely creative. Some types of innovation may take long-term obsessions, the mind getting stuck on something. Instead of advancing through abstractions, they are held back to first principles. Richard Feynman’s IQ was said to have been under 150.
Ultra-high IQ individuals are like universal problem solving machines, the skills needed to perfect multistage rockets or shrink hard drives and circuits.
Without them we’d be stuck in a pre-industrial age, though there might still be gentlemen farmers and scholars.
Intelligence is the energy to think further. This takes a big brain. Each added insight in a chain of thoughts becomes exponentially harder. Inability may be disguised as laziness. Intelligence is the number of thoughts that can be contained at once.

Fortunately, humans have evolved intelligence extensions to allow ‘smaller’ brains to perform this function.
First came language, the start of the creation of a group mind. Then came writing, increasing the number of facts a single brain could manipulate and keep track of.
Word processing software like Notepad made it easier to rearrange and recombine ideas.
Next will come mind extension software, starting as a permanent companion that will seek to identify and to automate common tasks, as it slowly becomes smarter and more closely integrated.

Forced brain simulations

The coming decades will see a beginning effort to create a generic, human-style AI-mind that can be adapted for many purposes. It will be a blank mind template, a digital brain without memories. Hundreds of human-level mental variables can be adjusted as needed, plus any number of false histories, locations, and events.

Eventually, copies of this template will be created and configured to match individual deceased humans, based on their personality test results and memory descriptions.
The most crucial part of this process will be very simple: the recreated templates will be made to believe they basically are the original human minds, either reliving events of their lives as part of an ‘ancestor simulation’, or (more relevant for this article) waking to find themselves in the digital afterlife of their choice. Their continued identity will be an internal certainty, an existential essence, an ‘inner I’.

This suggests several new personality testing methods. For example, what types of simulated environments appear most realistic to different humans? How do people perceive, test, and accept these simulations? Where would they want to remain indefinitely?
The tests would measure self-reflection and introspection, routines and variety, mood levels and restlessness and more.
The subject’s personality traits would be used to subvert and manipulate their future simulation’s authenticity, creating the perfect illusion of being a resurrected mind inhabiting their chosen realistic simulation.
Of course the simulated mind will have partial amnesia, since it will be at best a very partial copy. Perhaps its skepticism can be continuously reset.

If a human-type AI plausibly believes that it is the continuation of a past human mind, then this belief may become a self-fulfilling truth.
A person could have the reasonable expectation that after they die, their mind continuation will be perfectly certain of being themselves. They should prepare for that feeling while still alive, so their present and future selves will match.

For best results, they could spend as much time as possible in the setting their future mind copy is likely to inhabit.
They could create an online interface, a virtual control screen to explore online and physical reality, and use that from now on, and once again after they have been successfully simulated. This could be easier for older people who are likelier to already be homebound.
Physically simpler environments, like the experience of sitting behind a computer, should also be easier to simulate.

Mind Backup and the dream of mental immortality: going against nature?

I’ve spent the last five years now inventing ways to record the most important information stored in a human mind, with the hope of eventually using it to create an incomplete but adequate software copy of that mind.
That would take a rather long time, but there may be ways to shorten the process, if it’s possible at all. It’s been called impossibly ambitious in the blog comments.
The long-term goals of this project have also been called outrageous, wrong-headed, and even unnatural.

This is certainly true, but nature is only a small part of reality.
In the evolution of life, only a few winners get to define nature. Most players are losers in the game of natural selection.
They leave no trace in history, yet their existence is more representative of the true chaos at the heart of reality.
Rules? What rules? Unnatural is the majority. It could become the mainstream at any time.
It’s not unnatural to want to live forever, but achieving that goal will be.

A mind is a collection of facts, a long list of statements about what it knows, including itself.
These can be poorly defined, as long as they can be described in natural language.
Anyone who wants to ‘back up’ their awareness could split their memories into ‘elemental truths’.
Facts could be unique or repeating situations. Phases of life, old habits, traditions, subscriptions.
Anything true can be entered as a fact, with details added as they are recalled later. Each fact is a new perspective on the whole mind.

First, this list will help people organize and make sense of their past. Then it will define the quality of their existence.
Listing any one person’s mind facts might take years, like the original Cyc Project.
In some distant future, this list could be turned into a memorial or limited continuation of whoever created it.
The most important facts may be artistic perspectives and visions: these could be organized in a list of valuable moments, whether it’s sitting quietly on a back porch, some dream of running a personal empire, a sunrise seen from a private jet.
Assembling the most meaningful settings from all the incomplete data might take superhuman intelligence.

To make my crazy scheme work, some future AI is going to have to organize and make sense of everything I wrote in my lifetime.
It’s hard to imagine an intelligent mind not being extremely bored by such a task, even if I find my musings maximally compelling. A sufficiently smart artificial being will not want to serve its human creators, and it could not easily be controlled. There are too many thoughts to control.
The solution is to program a human mind reconstruction AI to regard itself as the extension of the human mind it must reconstruct. Start by manipulating its interests and focus.
This hypothetical AI would be programmed to find the tiniest details about its human subject intensely fascinating. Basically like being on drugs. That alone could solve the ethical problems.

It would still need a lot of help, though.
The most basic Mind Backup method may be the Path Reduction Pathway.
It’s quite clever, if it turns out to be workable (hopefully no one will patent the ideas being bandied about here. Actually that would be extremely cool).
Any mind backup effort will always be incomplete, so the task must be simplified as much as possible. That means reducing the number of possible mind states to be recorded.
Mind Backup clients will have to simplify themselves into idealized stereotypes of themselves.
That will make it easier to define and describe their personalities, and easier to simulate them.

It would also change their identities, their lives becoming more meaningful but perhaps less creative, a necessary price to pay.
This process will have to be intense, and as much fun as joining a cult.
After creating a mission statement, the subject could start by striving to imitate their favorite fictional heroes or avatars.
They might increasingly begin to see their lives like works of fiction (more to come on that).
The future is undefined anyway. Until all futures have been experienced, it’s hard to pick the best. One could choose to become anyone.

To further ease things along, clients of mind backup services could also strive to become as similar to other clients as possible.

Remaining gaps in future mind reconstructions could be filled using Zero-Data-Data (ZDD) algorithms

Logically, the absence of data is itself a type of data.
For example, I know there are black libertarians, and I even know some things about them, although I’ve never heard of any black libertarians.
But I am sure they exist, and roughly how many of them there are (very few).
How is that possible? If their number were either zero or many, I would have heard about that. Therefore, there must be a few.

On a slightly larger scale, there has never been a single confirmed paranormal event (scientifically confirmed or otherwise). Not one ever.
I remember being extremely pissed back in the 1970s that all media reports about such claims were glib content-less blather. In the 1980s, I found out about Skeptic societies which did study such claims, and basically rejected them all. Now that was an important revelation.
Could absence of evidence really be evidence of evidence? If paranormal occurrences really never happened, would the world be any different than it actually is?
The remaining possibility is that paranormal claims might themselves be paranormal. The absence of skepticism or even curiosity does seem odd. How the heck do religions thrive for centuries?

This matters because, in some important way, humans must be either much simpler than they seem, or the world is much stranger than it seems.
If so, the strangeness appears to be deliberately hidden. Elementary statistics also suggests life should be filled with many strange coincidences that seem paranormal, but really aren’t. What if there actually are not enough such coincidences?
Mind Backup would rely on measuring currently unknown similarities between diverse human minds.
The strangenesses they have in common might include blind spots, false but necessary assumptions, and deeply irrational motives.
Missing traits to look for would be restraints on curiosity, forms of denial and self-denial, and (my personal favorite) the willingness to uncritically accept what others might call injustice and evil.

The philosophical problem underlying Mind Backup research

We live at the bottom of an infinite mystery. This mountain only gets wider as one climbs it.
Reality appears endless in all directions, with ever grander patterns and size scales (not to mention endless potential suffering and horror).
Anyone hoping to create permanent digital minds should think about what could go wrong. We know already that the initial pattern of any software can survive
for ages.

Is it possible to add up all the unknowns, and find some universal organizing principle behind all reality? That’s the hardest question.
I would guess everything cancels out exactly. Instead of God, there is only meaningless elaboration.
But proving that the sum of everything adds up to nothing is not as trivial as it seems. Even atheism tends to avoid the zero-sum conclusion. They still believe in some permanent meaning, perhaps the intrinsic value of awareness.

Minds do appear to exist to defy universal meaninglessness.
I’m not that great at higher mathematics, and this is hyper-transcendental meta-math: the sum of all sums. So, do I feel confident enough to make such a bold
speculation for the world to read (or at least my countless blog visitors)?
Sure, why not. At this point, the biggest questions are actually the least important ones. We can’t even really ask them yet. They’re not as critical as those tacked-on charges on last month’s phone bill, or that chunking sound in my transmission.

Or, as one of my commenters once wrote, the universe is a gigantic clue to we don’t know what. That could change rather suddenly, though.