Recalling and describing most of the data in a human mind could take a human lifetime. The core of the challenge is the immense amount of memories to be processed.
The human subject would have to be motivated to keep talking. They would need special software to enter and sort the data for them.
It could also run tests, questionnaires, and quizzes, and should make it easy to enter any random memory or personality facet.
The subject could describe their dreams in detail, complete with background settings.
Close analysis could reveal repeated blunders and learning difficulties through the years, subconscious behavior patterns, long-term trends, hidden biases and subtle personality attributes.
The best mind extraction method would use supreme intelligence and intuition; a prolonged, probing psychiatric interview conducted by Hannibal Lecter.
The first mind scanning programs will keep it simple however.
They will ask incisive, revealing, and absurd questions invented by human experts, and have the subject answer on multiple choice checksheets.
The program should allow the user to assign a degree of importance to every statement they make, to establish their priorities, and perhaps the command structure of their mind.
Eventually, the program will learn to sort incoming data into categories. It will be a non-aware but personable avatar, a simple AI program resembling a therapist or a guru that will ask tens of thousands of questions in a lifelong monitoring and observation process.
The easiest mind backup method would be to briefly outline the subject’s life, starting with a top level description, using only the broadest brush strokes.
This could literally be done in half an hour. Everyone should do it. This method would divide a lifetime into a few periods split into sub-periods. Each added detail makes the rest more valuable.
This is not a standard autobiography. It would bring artificial order to random circumstances.
Anyone could define and describe hundreds of distinct colorcoded timespans. Life eras (marriages, jobs, schools, homes) would be described separately as they overlap.
Detailed life lists would become highly personal and abstract. Common thought patterns would be described with a special markup language like VRML.
Organizing their past would make people reconsider their self-image. Identifying flaws and gaps, they might decide to invent a more consistent persona, and feel the urge to impose a plot and a deeper meaning to their existence. Maybe even turn their life into a kind of meta-fictional narrative, with an implied payoff in a hazy future as obscure as the Dark Tower series.
Another early shortcut would be to get other people to describe the subject’s personality, perhaps revealing deeper truths.
Dreams about the dead may contain aspects they never knew about themselves.
Everyone who knows the subject could describe some portion of their personality, including online acquaintances. Better still if this process was reciprocal.
Perceptions of other individuals should be compared with their test results.
People could also make lists of things they know the subject would never do, a description of who they are not.
Hofstadter argues that social persons have extended personalities.
Fragments of someone’s personality exist in other persons, most clearly in identical twins and married couples.
Another solution is a premium service for millionaires. I’m working on that now. Most users will need something cheaper though.
Someone trying to digitally back up their mind would basically be making a high resolution Sim of themselves, a major programming challenge.
The locations of their life would have to be rendered, mental drives identified and measured, lists of beliefs and biases added one by one.
Users could create virtual dollhouses representing phases of their lives. Recollected events and people could be depicted in stylized ways, rivals’ bad traits exaggerated.
Metaphors matter less than detail. To others it would appear boring.
Most importantly, the Sim would have to keep going of its own volition.
Compared to real life it could be a crappy simulation, but some portions would be as elaborate as real human motivation, control, and action networks. Awareness is a top level function based on repeating behaviors.
This may be how the first instance of machine perception will be generated.
Eventually, the most dedicated users will want to inhabit their simulations. The final quarter of their lifetime memories will be virtual.
They may live in a trailer, surrounded by something like magic treadmills or thought-controlled wheelchairs, playing an ultra-high resolution video game that never stops.
VR could be more comfortable than physical reality if the present doesn’t offer much to live for anymore. Mind Backup may be an old man’s game. Women may also be drawn to it when they start feeling their mortality. Perhaps female ‘nerds’ will bring valuable perspectives.
It will still take a miracle
Future mind backup software will have to extract the most abstract mental data.
Fortunately, natural language already contains vast amounts of presorted knowledge, both social and personal.
The mind backup interviewer will get to know its subject intimately. It will probably be their own mind extension program.
It will be hard to identify the high-order patterns forming a soul. This problem will emerge as human-level AIs are being evolved.
The solution won’t be anything as spectacular as nanobots or direct brain scanners.
The miracle I have in mind is the World Mind.
The sum of all interfaces, the network of networks, it will become what the internet was hyped to be, half a century later.
At some point, online networks will become advanced enough to start improving themselves. They will form links and entirely new connections.
Eventually the Net itself may develop a vast if vague awareness, like the brilliant mindless aliens in ‘Blindsight‘.
Among other things, the World Mind will have the power to keep track of everyone, whether they like that or not. It will try to identify everyone’s personality type by comparing them to everyone else.
Digital immortality will be a group effort.
The first individual to have their mind reverse-engineered may only do so by surrendering all their privacy.