Would you Upload your brain to a Computer?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Uploading our brains to a computer and living a new life in a digital world is a very old trope of science fiction stretching back many decades. From soldiers dying in combat on alien worlds to victims of accidents and then the detectives can figure out how they were murdered. It makes for good stories. There are now companies working on this very issue. They term it as “cyberconsciousness” . It’s exciting. It’s scary and it begs a lot of questions too. Let’s explore.

In Science Fiction stories, downloading our brains and living in a purely digital existence is often considered very much in the singular-person, at most the concept considers immediate family. This is important to the plot line and considering such an issue beyond that would detract from the fun of the story and the objective of the writer, show or movie. But when we start to think about this idea from a cultural and societal perspective, things can get a bit complicated. For those in the transhumanist movement, in the early days they too considered it just a natural thing to do, a normative progression of humanity. Even many transhumanists are looking at brain uploading a little more deeply and broadly these days.

Death anxiety is an almost universal fear across all human societies. How various cultures address this varies greatly. Most commonly there is a belief in our ancestors and a huge variety in how ancestors are created. Such views and beliefs help living folks cope with this universal anxiety. This all of course, has profound impacts on the uploading of our brains, or more precisely, our conscious.

The first thing to know is that while it may become technically possible, perhaps through Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technologies that are being developed by a few companies, Elon Musk Neuralink company, BrainCo and Emotiv among others, it doesn’t mean it will work as desired. These companies are focused more on the here and now and uncovering secrets of the brain through an interface all so we can manage our current lives and do cool things. Nectome is a company that is looking more at brain preservation (but you must first be really, truly, dead.) Currently uploading or downloading, your brain to present storage systems is impossible. Another organisation looking into this is Carboncopies Foundation. They’re have a very holistic approach as well. They’re, like others, located in Silicon Valley. Perhaps that is unsurprising?

We might also consider that we don’t yet know “what” consciousness is exactly. It’s a primary reason that Artificial Intelligence technology is not “aware” and has no consciousness. If we don’t understand what consciousness is, how can we upload it? Will it just upload anyway as part of a brain upload? Then of course, there’s the whole issue with our spirit and soul. Some cultures do not believe such things exist. Others do. We have no evidence either way. Disregarding another culture or religious belief is not being a very good human.

In a number of cultures, when we die, our surviving family will treat us very differently from other cultures. All must of course, be respected in their belief systems. This is the process of how we as humans, view and believe in our ancestors. The making of, belief in and observance of ancestors is a very deep rooted and fundamentally important part of many cultures. In Madagascar, amongst the Bara tribe, the process of transitioning the deceased into the realm of the ancestors is very strict and takes a long time. If it is done wrong, the consequences can be grave indeed. In many cultures, those who die become ancestors over time and part of the living land. This is especially so with Native American societies. It is similar with pagan beliefs, which are seeing a resurgence in Western cultures as the long held bond with Christian faith fades. The Christian notion of the soul is very different from many other cultures. No one belief system is more important or right than another. For atheists, this is of course, of no concern as there is no soul or spirit to begin with. Some people are spiritual but not religious too and would be concerned that they can still connect with a spiritual realm. Humans have many varied ideas and notions about what death is and means and what happens afterwards, ancestors and the making of ancestors. All viewpoints are important.

If and when we can upload our minds and consciousness, the impacts on cultures and societies around the world will be profound. It will be an adaptation with existential, legal, cultural and societal implications.

While it may seem still like a far-off idea and the idle playground of the Silicon Valley elite and ultra wealthy, such technologies are being worked on. Advances are being made. If we can upload our consciousness and we can exist in a digital world (I’m trying to avoid saying metaverse, but oops, there it is) what are our rights there? Will we have any? Will we be required to be productive and earn our keep? Will we want to talk to our great-great-great-great grandkids and will they want to talk to us? What about political movements and systems of government? Property ownership and what is property when it’s just zeroes and ones? What if, there’s one main plug that is plugged into one socket, into one main battery, and someone trips over it and unplugs it?




Digital Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Cymru | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious | UX Strategy

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Cymru | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious | UX Strategy

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