Sunday, May 3, 2009

What Are Mindclones?

A mindclone is a software version of your mind. He or she is all of your thoughts, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values, and is experiencing reality from the standpoint of whatever machine their mindware is running on. Mindclones are mindfiles being used and updated by mindware that has been set to be a functionally equivalent replica of one’s mind. A mindclone is your software-based alter ego, doppelganger, or mental twin. If your body died, but you had a mindclone, you would not feel that you personally died, although the body would be missed more sorely than amputees miss their limbs .

We have absolutely no experience with mindclones. Never in history has there been anything like them. Hence, it is natural to find it difficult to understand the concept. From time immemorial we have thought of our identity as being limited to one instantiation, namely that contained within our body. To grasp mindcloning it is necessary to envision identity as being a unique pattern of thinking that can occur in two or more substrates or forms. If you can accept that a mind can be duplicated, with appropriate mindware and a rich enough mindfile, then you have accepted that a single identity can occur at least twice.

Now, it is certainly true that an easy distinction can be drawn between an original identity and that of its mindclone. Simply by virtue of being a copy, the mindclone is not the original, and hence it can be said that the mindclone does not have the same identity as the original. Yet, this is a distinction without significance. It is analogous to claiming that identity changes over time because people grow and acquire new experiences. While there is no doubt that our personality evolves, and our thoughts change, we are still the same person – the same identity.

So, why is it that we feel an uploaded version of our mind knows that it is an upload, and is thus not really us, whereas an aging version of our mind knows it is different from its youth, but is still definitely us? The reason is our deep-felt bias, based upon our entire human experience, that identity is substrate-specific. Some people take this so far as to believe that transplant recipients, especially of hearts, assume some of the identity of the organ donor.

With mindcloning we will have our first experience with the technological possibility of substrate-independent identity. It will take some time for society to adapt. Ultimately, though, most people will understand that just as a person’s voice can be in two places simultaneously via telephone, their identity can be in two places simultaneously via mindcloning.

When I have presented mindcloning in conferences there are usually one or two people who rush to the microphone after my talk. They are insistent that a mindclone cannot be the same person as the original because it is not the same person. The fault in this kind of reasoning is that it is a tautology, a circular form of argument that just restates itself. The “same person” is different from the “same body”, or substrate. While it is true that a mindclone is not the same body as the original person, it is the same mind. Hence, my questioners have difficulty because they think that a person is their body and I insist that a person is their mind.

Sometimes the questioners challenge me as follows: “If you created a mindclone, surely you would not agree to be killed in favor of your mindclone!” My reply is that I like my body quite a bit, and if my mindclone could be given one like mine or better (such as through some future medical technology), then I would not be any worse off, save for the trauma of the killing. The questioners are rarely satisfied; they simply do not accept that identity can remain constant across two or more substrates. Logically, however, they are in error. Assuming a mind can be replicated, such as with mindfiles and mindware, its identity would thereafter have in fact been altered to become a two-substrate version of the original one-substrate identity.

Another question that arises is for how long would a singular identity span two substrates? Each mind – the biological original and the mindclone – will surely have its own thoughts just as each of us has different thoughts from minute to minute. Indeed, this is sometimes used as an argument why mindclones do not share the identity of their original.

I believe a singular identity will always span the mindclone and its original. This is easier to appreciate when you consider that normally each of them will continuously synchronize their common mindfile, using high-speed links. Both parts of the single identity will take note of what the other has done. Perhaps fear of losing control over one’s life to a mindclone will dampen enthusiasm for creating them. As mindware gets ever better at making mindclones that are absolutely faithful psychological replicas this fear will dissipate. In any event, most people do not fail to get married out of fear that another person will have access to a joint bank account. And we will know our mindclones far better than we know our fiancĂ©es.

There will be instances in which the mindclone and the original do not update each other. Instead, the single identity decides, in conversation with itself (we biological originals do talk to ourselves, weighing pros and cons in our heads), to experience life separately. Like being dealt two 8s in a blackjack game, and deciding to split, some people and their mindclones will go separate ways. Even in such cases I believe we are speaking of a single identity. We must remember that both the biological original and the mindclone share a unique psychological profile based upon a mountain of mindfile data. They are the same person. The fact that they subsequently have many unique, perhaps life-changing experiences does not change either of their individual identities, and hence cannot have changed their common identity.

While the original and the mindclone will be very different after years of unique experiences, they will still be the same person. It will be as if you visited a close friend after first living ten years in Ethiopia, and then again after living ten years in China. On the first visit your friend would remark on how the Ethiopian experiences changed you, but would still recognize you as his friend. On the second visit your friend would see yet another version of you, this time changed by life in China. Once again, though, your friend would surely recognize you as the same person who first left for Ethiopia twenty years earlier. This is the power of an established set of mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values. Whatever changes will not be able to entirely mask the starting set of conditions. It is all but impossible to completely crawl out of an established mind.

Perhaps deciding to have a mindclone is analogous to having a child. Once the child is born, you will always be a parent. Similarly, once a mindclone is created, you will always be a dual-substrate identity. Many parents have little or nothing to do with their offspring, but neither the parent nor the offspring can get the parental relationship out of their mind. Their identity has permanently been altered to include the fact that they are part of a (good or bad) parent-offspring relationship. Analogously, even if a mindclone parts ways with their original, neither will ever be able to forget the fact that someone else with their same mind exists. The creation of a cognitive doppelganger is an identity-altering experience.

In summary, a mindclone is a fully functional, software-based copy of your mind, residing on computer substrate. You and your mindclone will think the same thoughts, and feel the same feelings, as well as having unique ones. In most instances the two of you will be wirelessly linked to a common mindfile so there will be a constant synchronization of cognition and experiences. When mindclones arise in the next few years, as a consequence of our burgeoning mindfiles and rapidly developing mindware, we will get used to the idea that identity is replicable. A person will be able to be in two places at the same time.

How will we really know that our mindclone is conscious, actually feeling the same fears, and dreaming the same dreams, as are we? It is easy to imagine a mindclone just doing an amazing job of mimicking our consciousness, like some chatbots today mimic human conversational behavior. Is the mindclone my real life, or a compelling, tear-jerking “movie” of my real life? These questions of consciousness, and of cyberconsciousness, are answered next.


  1. A low-tech variant of a mindclone is represented by thoughts we put on paper - what we write represents us at one point in time only, while the rest of our body continues to evolve and to produce or remember other thoughts.
    Software is dynamic compared to a book, but not as adaptive a human brain - just like once a computer is broken, you need to repair it, while biological tissues possess the ability of self-repair.

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