Friday, October 23, 2009


"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, Samuel Langhorn Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, in a May, 1897 note to the New York Journal, which had reported news of the fatal illness of Twain’s cousin, James Ross Clemens, as that of Twain. New York Observer, June 2, 1897. (In fact, Twain died the day after the 1910 perihelion of Halley’s Comet, having been born two weeks after its 1835 perihelion, leading him to immortally observe “now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”)

Cyberconsciousness implies techno-immortality. Immortality means living forever. This has never happened in the real world, so we think of immortality as a spiritual existence (as in heaven) or as a non-personal existence (as in ‘Bach’s music will live forever’). With cyberconsciousness it will be possible, for the first time, for a person to live forever in the real world. This unique, technologically empowered form of living forever is called techno-immortality.

Mindclones are the key to techno-immortality. Imagine that before a person’s body dies he or she creates a mindclone. After bodily death is declared the person will insist that he or she is still alive, albeit as a mindclone in cyberspace. The surviving mindclone will think, feel and act just as did the deceased original. While the mindclone will be stuck in cyberspace, he or she will still be able to read online books, watch streaming movies, and participate in virtual social networks. It will seem no more right to declare the mindclone dead than it would be to declare someone dead upon becoming a paraplegic. Practically speaking the mindclone’s original achieved techno-immortality.

A semantic purest may argue that “immortal” means “forever”, and since we have no way to know how long the mindclones will last they cannot be deemed immortal. This is a fair point, but it should be recognized that mindclones last far longer than the hardware they run on at any particular time. Mindclones, just as people, are really sets of information patterns. In the same way that the information patterns of great books and works of art are copied through the ages in new media after new media, so will be the case with mindclones. We are continuing to copy and interact with human texts that are thousands of years old, originally written in stone, and now stored digitally. Mindclones, being conscious beings with a desire to survive, can be expected to last even longer.

Therefore, by techno-immortal, we do not literally mean living until the sun explodes and the stars disappear. Such eschatological timeframes are beyond our consideration. Techno-immortality means living so long that death (other than by suicide) is not thought of as a factor in one’s life. This uber-revolutionary development in human affairs is the inevitable consequence of mindfiles, mindware and mindclones. Our souls will now be able to outlast our bodies -- not only in religion, but also on earth.

Techno-immortality need not imply an eternity of life in a box. Broadband connectivity to audio and video, and to tactile, taste and scent enabled future websites, will make life much more enjoyable than the ‘in a box’ phrase suggests. The outputs of our fingertips, taste buds and olfactory nerves are electronic signals that can be interpreted by software in the same manner as are sound waves and light signals. Nevertheless, it is hard to beat a real flesh body for mind-blowing experiences. Within a few score years for an optimist, and not more than a few centuries for a pessimist, current rates of technology development will result in replacement bodies grown outside of a womb. Such spare bodies, or “sleeves” as novelist Richard Morgan calls them , will be compatibly matched with mindclones. To make the sleeve be the same person as the mindclone either:

(a) the sleeve’s neural patterns will need to be grown ectogenetically to reflect those of the mindclone’s software patterns; or
(b) the sleeve’s naturally grown neural patterns will need to be interfaced and subordinated to a very small computer implanted in the cranium that contains a copy of the mindclone’s software.

Once these feats of neuro-technology are accomplished, techno-immortality will then also extend into the walkabout world of swimming in real water and skiing on real snow. In addition, mechanical bodies, including ones with flesh-like skin, are rapidly being developed to enable robotic help with elder care in countries like Japan (where the ratio of young to old people is getting too small). Such robot bodies will also be outfitted with mindclone minds to provide for escapes from virtual reality.

Techno-immortality triggers a philosophical quandary about identity. The gist of it is that people say ‘you cannot be dead and alive at the same time.’ This is related to another objection to mindclones – that they can’t really be ‘me’ or ‘you’ because we can’t be two different things, or in two different places, at the same time. All of these objections flow from the inability of the philosopher to accept that identity is not necessarily body-specific. In other words, a person’s identity is more like a fuzzy cloud that encompasses, to a greater or lesser extent, whatever loci contain their mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values.

It is hard for us to feel comfortable with this view of identity because we have had no experience with it. Throughout history the only locus for our mind was the brain atop our head and shoulders. Hence, it is natural for us to believe that identity is singular to one bodily form. In a similar way, before Einstein, it was natural to believe that the speed of light depends upon how fast the source of light is traveling. All of our experience was that a rock thrown from a moving train must have the combined speed of the train’s motion and the rock’s pitch. When Einstein showed us how to think about something outside of our experience, we were able to logically deduce that the speed of light must be invariant. Similarly, when you think about a computer that runs mindware on a mindfile that is equivalent to your mind, then you must logically deduce that identity is not limited to one locus. Identity follows its constituents – mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values – wherever those components may reside.

We are all familiar with the associative law of mathematics: if a = b, and b = c, then a = c. In our case a = our identity as defined by b, the key memories and characteristic thought patterns stored in our brain’s neural connections. With the advent of mindfiles and mindware it is possible to recreate those key memories and characteristic thought patterns in c, a mindclone. Since our original identity, a, derives from our cognitive status, b, and since the cognitive status from a brain, ba, is no different than the cognitive status from a mindclone, bc, it follows logically that our mindclone identity, c, is the same as our brain identity, a. Furthermore, this proof demonstrates that identity is not limited to a single body or “instantiation” such as a or c. Ergo, with the rise of mindclones has come the demise of inevitable death. While unmodified bodies do inevitably die, software-based patterns of identity information do not.

There is a great inclination to argue that unless every aspect of the a-based identity is also present in the c-based identity, then ba is not the same thing as bc and hence a is not really equal to and c. This argument is based on a false premise that our identity is invariant. In fact, nobody maintains “every aspect” of identity from day to day, and certainly not from year to year. We remember but a small fraction of yesterday’s interactions today, and will remember still less tomorrow. Yet we all treat each other, and our selves, as people of a constant identity.

Even in the extreme cases of amnesia or dementia, we do not doubt that the patient has a constant identity. Only in the final stages of Alzheimer’s does our confidence in the sufferer’s identity begin to waver. Therefore, a perfect one-to-one correspondence between ba and bc is not necessary in order for them to be equivalent. Instead, if suitably trained psychologists attest to a continuity of identity between ab and cb, which would tend to track with the perceptions of laypeople as well as of the original and their mindclone, then it must be accepted that the psychological fuzz of identity has cloned itself onto a new substrate. The individual’s cloud identity is now instantiated in both a brain and a mindclone.

Techo-immortality is possible because it will be soon possible to replicate the constituents of your identity – and hence your identity – in multiple, highly survivable loci, namely in software on different servers. It is irrelevant that these copies are not identical to the original. Perfect copies of anything are a physical impossibility, both in space as well as in time. Mindclones that are cognitively and emotionally equivalent to their originals, and practically accepted as their original identities, must be techno-immortal continuations of the original beings.

This question reminds me of the amazing story about how a young student, Aaron Lansky, saved Yiddish literature from disappearing. By the late 20th century, virtually all of the native speakers of Yiddish were elderly. After they died, their Yiddish books were being thrown away – almost no one understood a need to preserve this literature. Perhaps 5%-10% of the entire literature was literally disappearing each year. Lansky took it upon himself, with the help of a small group of friends, to collect all of the Yiddish books in the world before they ended up in dumpsters. After a decade his team had collected over a million volumes, had reignited interest in the language and had created a global Yiddish book exchange system. However, because the books were so frail (Yiddish was mostly read by poor Jews, and thus printed on cheap early 20th century paper to keep prices down) they were disintegrating before they could be shared. Consequently, Lansky then raised the money and signed contracts to digitize the entire collection. Indeed, the first literature completely digitized was Yiddish. Thereafter, those who wished any particular book simply selected the title from an online catalog and a print-to-order new copy was sent to them, on nice acid-free paper.

Did digitizing Yiddish literature save it from death by oblivion via dumpsters? Absolutely. Were the digitized texts the exact same as the handworn books? No. Did it matter? Absolutely not. The culture, what might be called the Yiddish soul, was exactly the same in the reprinted books of hundreds of authors, poets and playwrights.

Lingering objections to mindclones based upon inexactitude simply misunderstand the nature of identity. Identity is a property of continuity. This means that a person’s identity can exist to a greater or lesser extent depending upon the presence or absence of its constituents. We believe that we have the same identity as we grow from teenagers to adults because to a great extent our mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values have been continually present over those years. Of course we have changed, but the changes are on top of bedrock constancy. For the same reason it is not necessary for our mindclone to share every memory with its biological original to have the same identity as that original. Similarly, Yiddish literature is alive even if only 98% rather than 100% of Yiddish literature has been digitized. To love your mother you need not remember all that she has done for you. A continuity of strong positive and emotive orientations toward her, as well as the remembered highlights of your life with her, are plenty adequate.

In summary, techno-immortality is the ability to live practically forever through the downloading of your identity to a mindclone. Identity exists wherever its cognitive and emotional patterns exist, which can be in more than one place, in flesh as well as in software, and in varying degrees of completeness. While humans have never before experienced out-of-body identity, that is about to change with mindcloning. Along with this change will come something else new to humanity – techno-immortality.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


One way to know that something exists is to measure it. A common perspective is that consciousness is immeasurable, because it is subjective. However, even subjective phenomena may be measured through approximations, and hence a science of consciousness is quite possible.

Expressed symbolically, a Consciousness Product (CP) along the continuum of consciousness can be defined as A*E, where A = Autonomy and E = Empathy. In other words, each of Autonomy and of Empathy are necessary, to at least some small degree, but neither is sufficient alone, to establish consciousness. Hence, neither an animal that appears self-aware but purely instinctual, nor a software routine that appears to reason but lack sentience, is at all conscious. The former lacks the potential for Autonomy, and the latter lacks the potential for Empathy. But grant the instinctual animal some measure of independent thought -- idiosyncratic choosing among instinctual options -- and Autonomy creeps in (idios "one's own" and syn-krasis "mixture"). Or provide future software with understanding of people’s feelings, via words or graphics, and via software settings for happiness or sadness, and Empathy slips in as well. Such consciousness can arise from human action either directly (by writing code for it) or indirectly (by emerging from sufficiently complex pattern association code). In either event, consciousness will arrive on the combined backs of Autonomy and Empathy.

Were the average human Consciousness Product (CP) arbitrarily set at something like 100, as are IQ scores, with equal contributions of Autonomy and Empathy, then someone like Martin Luther King would have a score higher than that because he was more conscious than average. He empathized with others more than most people do, and his moral judgments were more fine-tuned. The net result of his and Gandhi’s consciousness was an adamant insistence on non-violence. The average military recruit, or passively supportive citizen, can rationalize nationally organized killing. On the other hand, a household pet might have a CP equal to half or less than the human average. This does not make the pet non-conscious, just less conscious. How far down the CP scale can one go before there is no consciousness? It disappears when there is not even a fraction of a percent of typical human autonomy or not even a fraction of a percent of typical human empathy.

A brilliant machine with no ability to ever feel another’s pain or joy would be considered soul-less; without consciousness. A snuggly life form that feels every human emotion but can do nothing else would be considered mind-less; without consciousness. Between mindless and soulless is a vast continuum of possible expressions of consciousness. Hence, consciousness is widespread, as advocates of a simple self-awareness definition usually insist. However, some beings are more conscious than others, as humanists have always claimed.

The earliest hints of consciousness arose from genetic mutations that directed neurons to be connected (or grown) in a way that empowered self-awareness. In other words, inanimate molecules are ordered by DNA to assemble into conscious-trending clumps of neurons. It would not seem less improbable that inanimate lines of code can be ordered by human intelligence to assemble into conscious-trending clumps of software programs.

Nobody knows what the minimum number, and arrangement, of neural connections or lines of software code are for various levels of consciousness to arise. What must be the case, barring mystical explanations, is that consciousness is an epiphenomena of a good enough relational database. “Good enough” means not only multi-dimensional arrays of associations, but also sophisticated capabilities for running persistent series of associations – stories, emotions, scenarios, simulations, conversations, personalities -- through the database, with outputs and inputs occurring in near real-time. Each person’s idiosyncratic pattern of activating and maintaining groups of associations, coupled with their unique relational database, is their self, their consciousness. The strengths of the neural connections that form the relational database patterns have been firmed-up over a life such that we are familiar to ourselves (and to others) at (almost) every moment of our wakefulness.

Brains are awesome relational databases, and human brains are the best of the best, with complex patterns of association-sequencing worthy of the term “mindware.” But brains need not be made solely of flesh. There are other ways to flexibly connect billions of pieces of information together. Software brains, designed to run on powerful processors, are in hot pursuit. These software brains will not necessarily arrive with a typical CP of 100, but neither do humans. The continuity of consciousness paradigm makes room for a range of autonomous and empathetic beings, human and non-human. The closer these souls think like us, and feel like us, the closer their consciousness will be like ours. But so long as they reason and feel at all, there is a conscious mind at play. This means that there is a characteristic pattern of association sequencing that tries to maintain a coherent mental structure of the world (autonomy), with the being at the center, other relevant beings not far off, and conceptions of those other beings’ feelings of significant concern (empathy).

There are two main reasons we think consciousness is such a big deal. First, consciousness makes us vulnerable to psychic harm and thus triggers the Golden Rule – we must be aware of other people’s consciousness because we want others to be aware of our own. This underlies the great importance attached to respecting the dignity of others. To the extent someone or some thing is conscious, we need to respect its dignity, for we expect to be similarly respected. Therefore, determining the existence and extent of consciousness is crucial to our social system. Second, consciousness is itself a shared thing, a kind of social property. Each of our minds is full of thoughts and feelings placed there by other people . When a mindclone claims to be conscious, they are attaching themselves to this social grid. They are claiming at least some of the rights, obligations and privileges that attach to humanity. Naturally, applications to membership in so important a club will be viewed cautiously.

Consciousness is Like Pornography

So, if consciousness can be created solely with software, how will we recognize it? How will mindclones’ CPs be correlated with those of their human originals?
We’ll recognize conscious software by evidence of the telltale signs of autonomy and empathy. If an electronic toy, or customer service computer, or software package seems to us to have some fraction of human independence, and some aspect of human caring, then it has some portion of human consciousness. Some consciousness, even a little, is still consciousness.

The toy, computer or software will have a fraction of autonomy if it shows a unique, idiosyncratic approach to problem solving. Every person approaches problems with an individualized blend of innate skill and experience. For many problems, such as getting from New York to Washington, there are limited options from which almost everyone will select one or the other of the obvious choices. However, for maintaining a conversation or describing one’s goals, the options are much greater. Consequently, these are good tasks through which to assess the consciousness of software beings. If the toy, computer or software talks about half as sensibly as a human adult, or expresses personal goals that make about half as much sense as those of most adults, then they have demonstrated an Autonomy value in the CP equation of about 5 out of a possible 10.

In a similar vein, if the toy, computer or software demonstrates about half the empathy of a typical human adult, then it would a 5 out of 10 on the Empathy Axis as well. Its total CP would be 25 (CP = A*E), meaning it has about one fourth the consciousness of a human. This is still consciousness; it is just not what we’d recognize as human consciousness. How would a piece of software demonstrate empathy? One way would be to make gestures and sounds that mimic human emotions such as happiness and sadness when sensory data indicates that a person defined as a friend is emoting either happiness or sadness. It is not fair to say “well, that’s not real empathy, that’s just programming or mimicry,” because humans are no less programmed and mimickers in that regard – just without lines of software code.

Ultimately this becomes a philosophical issue between Essentialists and Materialists. The former believe emotion can only arise from a human (or perhaps biological) brain, whereas the latter believe that “emotion is as emotion does.” Susan Blackmore summarizes the Materialist view as: “There is no dividing line between as if and real consciousness. Being able to sympathize with others and respond to their emotions is one part of what we mean by consciousness.”

Another insight into the question “how do we know consciousness when we see it” is to recall the long-running judicial conundrum of “how do we know if something is pornographic?” In a landmark Supreme Court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart concluded that pornography was hard to define but “I know it when I see it.” Consciousness is similarly hard to define, but most people feel they “know it when they see it.” Of course the reason pornography is a judicial conundrum is because different people perceive it differently; one man’s pornography is another man’s work of art. Similarly, one woman’s conscious mindclone will be another woman’s inanimate chatbot.

Ultimately the Supreme Court pioneered a rational path by adopting some standards (analogous to our empathy and autonomy thresholds) and recognizing that the same film or photograph could be pornographic in one community but artistic in another. In other words, pornography was largely in the eyes of the beholder. This is like our recognition earlier that it is other people who determine our consciousness. To make determinations more predictable – which are important when faced with a possible plethora of allegedly conscious mindclones – let’s now expand on the CP concept, offering a more specific approach to quantification of consciousness.

Quantifying Consciousness

We can be much more precise about the existence and value of a CP by agreeing upon some standard measures. For example, there are psychological tests of human consciousness that have repeatability values on the order of 80%. These tests measure many facets of autonomy and empathy. They do not rank the test-takers as more or less conscious, but they do quantify them in terms of the unique features of their consciousness. A similar test could be developed that was intended to measure autonomy and empathy. After the test was given to a large enough sample of people (cross-culturally would be better), there would be a normal distribution of scores for each of autonomy and empathy. The peak of these distributions could be associated with CP component scores of 10 for each of Empathy and Autonomy. Thereafter, mindclones who scored higher or lower than the averages would be said to have higher or lower than average CP scores.

By way of example, suppose we have a CP test question “Do you choose your own friends?” Choices might range from “Always” (value 1), “Usually” (value 0.75), “Sometimes” (value 0.5), “Rarely” (value 0.25) to “Never” (value 0.0). If the value most often selected by people is the “Sometimes” value of 0.5, then twenty such questions would comprise each of the Autonomy and Empathy prongs of the CP test, since that would result in an average CP score of 100.

At least two challenges may be anticipated. First, it can be argued that a CP score is no more a measure of consciousness than an IQ score is a measure of intelligence. A second criticism is that even if consciousness is being measured, it is only human consciousness being assessed, which is irrelevant to software consciousness.

As to the first objection, the test of complex phenomena is never the same thing as the phenomena. Even the numerical measure of a length of wood is not the same thing as the actual length of that wood due to inconsistencies in the accuracy of rulers. The point of the CP scale is to give objectivity to the continuum of consciousness paradigm; to take what is abstract theory and render it subject to empirical research. While scores along the CP scale will always be fuzzy, an argument as to whether a piece of software has a CP score of, say 10 or 20, reveals a more important truth – that the software is very likely conscious, but does not constitute a mindclone since people have far higher CPs.

The second objection is that the test is human-centric, whereas consciousness is something that transcends species. This criticism ignores the fact that it is our intention to measure degrees of human consciousness. It is possible that there will be modes of consciousness missed by this test, but it is also likely that non-human modes of consciousness will be captured by the test. By “consciousness” most people mean “human consciousness.” Hence, a test for the emergence of consciousness in mindclones must measure human consciousness in order to be accepted by the human community.

The following 1908 quotation from the famous deaf-and-blind celebrity pioneer, Helen Keller, is poignant in how clearly it implies human consciousness builds on human language skills:

“Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness….Since I had no power of thought, I did not compare one mental state with another.”

Similar reports can be found in the literature on feral children. Higher-order languages, such as human languages, can be thought of as a kind of enzyme for making synaptic connections. While some mental conceptualizations are possible without this enzyme, abstract meanings proceed with great viscosity, if at all. Hence, it would wholly appropriate for beings lacking such language skills to receive much lower CP scores. This is not so much a matter of human-centricity, but of abstract-centricity, and it is in the realm of abstractions that consciousness dwells.

Mindclones will have human consciousness because they will have the full panoply of human language skills, the full pattern-association capability of mindware, and the full synchronization of their thoughts, personalities and emotions to those of their biological original. A mindclone should test, repeatedly, to have the same CP as their biological original. This is measurable and hence scientific proof that mindclone consciousness really exists, at least to the same extent that our own consciousness measurably exists.