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.

Could anyone ever be certain they weren’t in a computer simulation?

This was discussed in ‘Infinite Thunder‘ and ‘Anthropic Intelligence‘, where it was concluded we are probably NOT computer simulations, but natural inhabitants of a mathematical universe; the generating mechanism being the laws of physics.

According to these back of the envelope estimates, even the unlikeliest chain of coincidences will happen more often in reality than in all future simulations combined.
However, this argument may break down in certain extreme cases, like if we consider near-future simulations.

As already explained, IF you are a computer simulation, you are most likely to be one of the earliest computer simulations, running on relatively primitive and inefficient hardware (though vastly better than anything available now). In that case, there is an excellent chance ‘Future You’ helped create your own simulation.

Your currently simulated life would merely be a way to make sense of a long list of poorly organized memories, by testing different combinations of events in short simulation runs.
Does reality ever feel strangely unlikely or marginally plausible? It needs to be just barely realistic enough to fool you. That could also explain why it’s rather boring and pointless, for the most part.

This might make it somewhat easier to test the simulation for flaws.
One test would be to make good things happen, by occasionally threatening to disrupt the simulation, or simply refusing to play along (becoming a drop-out if things don’t go your way).
Or you could threaten to otherwise cause interesting disruptions, the kind that are harder to simulate. Something with unpredictable consequences, like starting a new religion.

Could Tristram Shandy talk himself onto a chip?

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.

Brain and mind mysteries

Awareness increases in intensity under the influence of strong emotions or recreational drugs. However, this causes intelligence to plummet.
It seems to be a trade-off: brains can either think or feel – quality or quantity.
Maybe the brain is more organized and cross-correlated during times of strong emotion, but less likely to generate novel and unpredictable patterns then.
Awareness is amplified truth, while thought is searching for truth. Thinking is harder, feeling is more intense.

The highest brain functions generate only limited awareness, when the mind is aimed outward instead of inward. A brilliant insight may seem to arrive out of nowhere.
If the human brain could do both at once, hard work could become pleasurable. Humanity might have colonized the galaxy by now, even without faster than light travel.

Awareness could be directly studied by switching from one state to the other.
This will happen in slightly different ways for everyone. This difference is important.
The essence of identity, the thing that makes someone themselves, is their personal form of self-awareness.
A qualia is a perception that can not be simplified further, like the color red. The ‘qualia of self’ may be preserved for a lifetime, the unique way all personality elements come together.

A personal operating system, with hundreds of memory and preference categories . . .
If that unknown essence could be fully described, it could be reverse engineered.

The Turing Test and intelligent design

The Turing Test is a proposed performance benchmark and long-term challenge for future designers of human-equivalent artificial minds.
Its difficulty lies somewhere between a Mission to Mars and a Niven Ring.

Basically, the challenge is to get a computer program to have a meaningful conversation with a human on any subject the human understands.
To do that, the program would have to be about as smart and know as much as a human. The first part remains impossible.

The test has a strong implication, a transcendental insight: Awareness is real if it feels real to others.
If, after getting to know the program on a personal level, a human feels that the software he is conversing with has awareness, then the human is automatically correct.

This Turing Test Implication rules out the possibility of ‘philosophical zombies‘ a.k.a. ‘zimbos’.
There would even be awareness in a look-up program with a pre-scripted reply for every possible question (I wrote one back in the eighties using GOTO strings, but ran out of memory at 16K).
I would even claim there is awareness in a program that meaningfully answered every question by pure chance.

This brings us to believers in creationism, intelligent design, and even the Holy Ghost.
These individuals are misguided. They can’t explain why they feel that way, and yet they may be right to sense human-level or higher complexity in the universe.

A limited vindication for intelligent design may come if it’s ever discovered that for every Earth-like planet there are billions of worlds filled only with simple bacteria.
The process of evolution could easily be as complex as a mind. It’s merely a collection of physical patterns, but so is a brain.

Even more important is the implied infinite complexity of the omniverse.
The anthropic fine-tuning of the laws of physics implies a massive sorting process across universes.

Most possible configurations of energy would be vastly more complex, and not all of them would be chaotic.
If natural laws can become arbitrarily more elaborate, they may inevitably become aware of the area they control, and of themselves.

Finally there may be something like quantized complexity.
The universe is ‘everything that is the case’. It must contain higher-order patterns that could be described as higher truths. Any number of them in fact.

This post is in no way meant to imply that anything like the human notion of God must exist.
The truth is probably infinitely more complex, but morally neutral.