I've been thinking a lot recently about artificial brains and mind uploading - that is, the concept of transferring a human consciousness to something other than a human brain. I've been pondering whether I believe this is desirable, or even possible. Proponents of this concept argue that consciousness is the product of the complex neurological structure of the human brain. They theorise, therefore, that a synthetic brain which was of sufficient complexity and which mimicked the structures of the human brain could achieve consciousness. How we would establish that this had actually happened is debatable. If a computer is sufficiently (artificially?) intelligent to behave in such as way as to utterly convince a human that it is conscious, then how do we know whether it is or is not? For that matter, the only human I actually know to be conscious is myself. I have no objective evidence for the consciousness of anybody, or anything, other than the consciousness I can directly observe. Everything outside my own mind has the potential to be an elaborate hoax. My next dilemma is whether something artificial can achieve consciousness. I have no spiritual belief whatsoever, so I don't need to worry about concepts like the soul or the spirit. So, the question is purely about whether something man-made can achieve consciousness. Would a human cloned from another human be conscious? Most biologists, spiritualists and laypeople would agree that it is. How about a real human brain which was grown in a jar, artificially nourished, and with artificial means of communicating and interacting? (i.e. some kind of interface to the outside world). Would this be any different to a human brain which grew inside a skull on top of a person's body? I believe it would not - I believe it would function exactly the same way as any other human brain (albeit with a different developmental trajectory as its experiences would be very different to those of a brain inside a human body (though the perception of those experiences could be fed in artificially to cause the brain to believe it is experiencing childhood experiences such as play and social interaction)). What about a 'brain' made of artificial neurones designed to behave exactly like organic ones and arranged into a structure which physically and functionally resembles a human brain? Or a similar artificial brain which represents a human one functionally but not structurally? What about a software representation of the neural network of a brain? I feel that the more abstracted the idea gets from an organic brain, the harder it is to conceive of it achieving consciousness. A human brain is alive, whereas an artificial one is an object. It is really difficult to understand how an object could be self-aware and have thinking and reasoning skills, or even emotions. But why shouldn't it? As a non-spiritual person I believe that the human brain is just a clump of nerve tissue which has arranged itself slowly and successively to carry out certain functions which we call 'thought' and 'consciousness' and 'language' and 'emotions' and ... . I don't believe there is anything magical about this, so I don't understand why I struggle to conceive that something man-made could achieve the same thing. What I keep coming back to as the stumbling block is two reasons: it's not alive. It's an object. Now, lets assume it's possible to create an artificial brain and transfer a human consciousness into it. Lets also assume that the transferred mind is an exact replica of the original, including all memories, cognitive skills, attitudes, beliefs etc etc. This raises a few issues. The mind would, presumably, be provided with either a form of physical interface with the outside world, or an artificial environment in which to communicate with other uploaded minds, or both. Since the whole point would presumably be to enhance the experience of consciousness and to experience things that are not possible in the 'real world' I would assume that an artificial environment would be provided. Since not all people would want to be uploaded, I would also assume that there would also be an interface to the outside world for communicating with biological people, and also for maintaining the infrastructure which hosts the minds and provides their environment. This brings me to my first issue. Who provides this environment, who decides what goes into it, who provides protection from cyber-attacks, and who controls the whole thing? Of course the same questions could be asked about the physical world - are we really free to live our lives how we want, or are we being controlled (directly or indirectly) by structures and influences beyond our purview? Similar to concerns about natural resources for biological entities, digitally uploaded minds would need be concerned about what happens if a server farm shuts down or if the company that is running it goes under. We're not talking about closing an online store here, or deleting a forum and losing all the posts - in this scenario, loss of digital infrastructure could effectively kill people. Another consideration is what happens to your biological brain. A bit like with the theories on dematerialisation/rematerialisation in Star Trek-like transporter technology, it is possible that you would end up with a duplicate of your mind. Does the original then continue to function as a biological being, knowing that it exists elsewhere in digital form? Or would the biological brain die in the process? Or would your original body be killed? Thinking about this reminds me of a film called 'Advantageous' in which a woman's brain is transferred from her original body to a new (organic) one. It's interesting to see how this affects her relationship with her daughter and what she learns about her original brain. Even having thought about this (a lot), written it all down, and re-read it, I would have to say that given the opportunity I would have my mind uploaded to an artificial environment, but only under a few circumstances: The life of my biological body is coming to an end or I am suffering an illness which will severely debilitate my body or remove my quality of live/dignity or kill me soon anyway I have some control over what I experience within the digital environment I am guaranteed that my digital form will be an exact replica of the consciousness within my meat-brain I have the option at any time to end my digital existence (essentially, purging my mind from the host system, allowing me to die if I choose to) I am able to interface in some way with the outside world so I can continue to communicate with biological people. I don't care about physically being in that environment (i.e. in a temporary surrogate body or android) as I could reproduce the Earth within the digital environment. Discuss!