Enrica BrocardoQ: Uploading our mind, are we able to reach a sort of immortality? A: Uploading your mind into any kind of more permanent form would be a kind of immortality. The big questions about this is how much of my mind can I actually upload. Sights, memories, feelings, thoughts, personality, soul...? The memories are like a data base, while the feelings and personality is more like the operating system. But I don't think the operating system is very complicated. So I think that, if we could upload enough memories and (big if) we could build a "human consciousness operating system," then the upload would be a good model of your mind. The feelings and personality are quite closely related to the physical connections and biochemistry of the brain. You might think you'd almost need to make a model of the actual brain. But my guess is that in fact there are only a few basic kinds of personality types, akin to the phlegmatic, sanguine, bilious, and choleric categories of the Middle Ages. So then, you just add a person’s memories to, say, a standard choleric operating system, and they’re back. A lot of what we view as our "self" really just has to do with the brain observing a model of itself observing itself. And this can be emulated. Q: Do you think it will be possible? In this case, when? A: To a limited degree its already possible to upload your ideas to society’s information network --- this is what we do in creating books or paintings. In the next ten years it will be possible for even nonartistic people to record fairly exhaustive memoirs about themselves by using a little device that I call a lifebox. The lifebox is like a cell phone that asks you lots of questions. Q: Which are the most interesting experiments in this field? A: This is a time-relative answer. As of Fall, 2004. Microsoft has conducted an experiment called MyLifeBits http://research.microsoft.com/barc/mediapresence/MyLifeBits.aspx in which a researcher named Gordon Bell has digitally stored all of the paper memoirs accumulated during his life. The cell phone company Nokia is preparing to market a system called Lifeblog http://www.nokia.com/nokia/0,1522,,00.html?orig=/lifeblog in which a person can link and record all of their daily activities by using a cell phone. This is quite similar to what I call a lifebox. A student named Tripp Millican at USC is writing a thesis about an interface for a filmed life blog. http://interactive.usc.edu/members/tripp/ Q: If our mind could be uploaded, what could happen? We could store it forever (but, why?) or transplant it into another body. Or what? A: I like that you ask “why?” Why indeed! There’s enough people anyway! But, still, most people would enjoy being able to talk to some kind of simulacrum of their ancestors. This would be a useful thing for ones sense of personal identity and continuity. And, yes, the ultimate dream is that someone might provide your stored mind with a fresh robot body to use. You’d be back in action then. I think this can happen. I would suggest, however, that machines are going to vanish and that biotechnology will take over, as in my novel Frek and the Elixir. So you would be copying your stored mind not onto a brittle robot, but onto a tank-grown clone of your (or perhaps of someone else's) body. This could happen in about a hundred years. It'll be like getting new clothes. Fashion magazines can market new -body styles. Q: Maybe, could we learn a lot of things just downloading files like a computer? A: I think you’re suggesting that it might be nice to reverse the flow and simply download files directly into the brain without having to laboriously read them. Like the old dream of learning something by putting the book under your pillow. Or by playing a recording of the book while you sleep. Once we understand the biochemical basis of memory it could be possible to implant memories. The bad thing is that some powerful person might become a disease that other people catch. Like, a Republican sneezes on me, and I start thinking I'm George Bush?!?
Interview to Rudy Rucker for Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine. Milano, 11/8/2004