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Transcendence Going Interstellar: How the Singularity Might Revolutionize Interstellar Travel

Andreas Hein, who has appeared in these pages before on the subject of worldships, here speculates about a much different kind of traveling: The uploading of consciousness. Andreas is Deputy Director of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS), as well as Director of its Technical Research Committee. He founded and leads Icarus Interstellar’s Project Hyperion: A design study on manned interstellar flight. Andreas received his master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Technical University of Munich and is now working on a PhD there in the area of space systems engineering, having conducted part of his research at MIT. He spent a semester abroad at the Institut Superieur de l’Aeronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, working on the numerical simulation of the hypervelocity impact of space dust on spacecraft antennas, and also worked at the European Space Agency Strategy and Architecture Office on stakeholder analysis for future manned space exploration. Today’s essay is drawn from his chapter in the upcoming book Beyond the Boundary, to be published by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies.

by Andreas Hein

Hein_official_LRT_picture_v2

In the movie “Transcendence”, Dr. Will Caster’s consciousness, played by Johnny Depp, is “uploaded” into a quantum computer. This feat unleashes a cascade of rapidly accelerating technological changes, culminating into a “technological singularity”. It is probably the first time that the technological singularity plays a central role in a Hollywood blockbuster. However, the hypothetical concept of uploading one’s consciousness into a computer, also called “mind uploading” or “whole brain emulation”, has been a topic in science fiction for decades. Seemingly far-fetched, mind uploading might be actually not very far from reality. Recently, the European Union’s Human Brain Project has formulated its objective to simulate the human brain. With an anticipated budget of over one billion Euros, it is the largest project of this kind ever conducted. Although the Human Brain Project’s objective is to simulate the human brain, it has spurred discussions about the prospects of mind uploading. Mind uploading might have truly transformative consequences for our civilization. Among them are the potential for digital immortality and the creation of emulated minds which might transform knowledge work, as they can be copied and used on-demand for intellectually demanding tasks (Hanson, 2008a & 2008b).

Mind uploading also opens up exciting opportunities for interstellar flight.

Image 1

Image: Part of a poster for the movie “Transcendence.” Credit: Alcon Entertainment / DMG Entertainment / Straight Up Films.

In this article, I will try to give a brief overview of existing concepts for using mind uploading for interstellar travel, as well as proposing novel concepts, which might radically change the way humans would travel to the stars. Furthermore, potential mission architectures are presented, having profound consequences on the way such a mission accomplishes its objectives.

First of all, I clarify what is meant by “mind uploading” in this article. “Mind uploading” is understood here as the transfer of mental content, for example long term memory, or consciousness, from the brain substrate into an artificial device, a digital, analog, or quantum artificial neural network (Sandberg & Bostrom, 2008). Once uploaded, the mental content can be “run” on the device as a simulation or simply stored. Analogously, “mind downloading” is defined as the transfer of mental content from an artificial device to brain substrate. Mind downloading goes hand in hand with the recreation of the human body in its entirety. Otherwise, mind downloading would not make a lot of sense for interstellar travel. If the whole body is up- and downloaded, this can be termed “human uploading” or “whole body emulation”. In this article, the boundaries between “mind uploading” and “human uploading” are often blurred. They are therefore considered to be exchangeable.

The main objective of manned interstellar travel is transporting humans to another star system and starting a new civilization there. The basic idea of using mind uploading for interstellar travel is to upload the human mind and/or body and to recreate it at the target destination. To jump-start a new, thriving civilization at the target destination requires the transfer of knowledge for performing all necessary activities. Transporting humans in digital form has huge benefits for interstellar travel: Firstly, it leads to extreme mass savings. No longer are large habitats and complex life-supporting systems needed. At the same time it offers the capability to “resurrect” living humans at the target destination, including their knowledge and thus culture, thus greatly facilitating the start of a new civilization. Knowledge and technology is transferred from the emulated brains at the target destination, either by education or “hard-wiring” emulations into biological brains.

Of course, one could speculate about the radical possibility of the complete replacement of biological life by artificial life. In this scenario, the spacecraft would be rather the “seed” for a non-biological civilization (Kurzweil, 2005).

Interstellar colonization concepts based on mind uploading can be categorized as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Colonization tasks mapped to interstellar colonization concepts based on mind uploading

FunctionConcept 1 Concept 2Concept 3Concept 4Concept 5
Transport HumansHardware static storageBrain emulationsHybrid: genetic material + emulationsElectromagnetic wavesTransmit electromagnetic waves / nano spacecraft via wormholes
Construct colonyMacroscopic replicatorsMicro / nano replicators
Establish civilizationEmulations + biological humansCyborgsEmulations + biological humansEmulation cities (Hanson, 2008a, 2008b)Matrioshka brain (Bradbury, 2001)

In order to transport humans as emulations, they need to be uploaded. Uploading might be accomplished by some advanced form of scanning. Hans Moravec was one of the first to envision a form of brain scanning, by which the human brain would be incrementally uploaded in a destructive way (Moravec, 1988). Kurzweil and others envisioned non-destructive ways of uploading, for example by using nano-scale robots that scan the brain from within (Kurzweil, 2005, p.145).

Creating a copy of the brain is a daunting task. It is far more than copying just the structure of the brain, but also the structure of individual neurons and their linkages to other neurons. What is further needed is to copy the behavior of individual neurons and larger structures in the brain. This is similar to a technical system. The understanding of how the parts of a car are related to each other does not prescribe how they work together to perform the desired function of transporting passengers. It can only be inferred by painstakingly assessing how individual components and larger groups of components perform subfunctions. These subfunctions together perform the top-level function. This reverse engineering method is called a bottom-up approach. As an alternative, one can analyze functions top-down, by first decomposing the top-level functions into subfunctions. Similar reverse engineering approaches were proposed for creating brain emulations (Sandberg & Bostrom, 2008).

After an emulation has been created, it could be switched, copied, run, and also switched off as desired (Hanson, 2008a & 2008b). For an interstellar mission, emulations could be stored and first activated at the target destination. This would save energy for running emulations during flight. Having arrived at the target destination, one can imagine how activated emulations first assess the environment within the target star system and determine the best strategy for beginning colonization. Maybe a whole population of emulations is activated, which debates possible strategies and analyzes their potential outcomes. Robin Hanson imagines various types of emulations which also form hierarchies, depending on their simulation speed. Such emulation cities on Earth would consume a huge amount of power to sustain the emulations and their virtual environment in which they exist. Manipulations of the physical world are performed by various types of manipulators and robots (Hanson, 2008a & 2008b). A strategy for an interstellar mission would be the reactivation of an initial small population of emulations which make the initial decisions of how to proceed with colonization. Then, resources would be mined and processed, in order to increase computational capability and to create a larger number of emulations, which then create biological humans along with their habitats. Another option is the simultaneous transportation of zygotes and emulations.

A more advanced version of such a mission is the initial creation of an infrastructure within the target star system by using replicators and the construction of a receiver for electromagnetic signals, for example a laser beam. Once established, data for objects could be transmitted with light speed. This is the concept of teleportation. Teleportation was often deemed infeasible, as the amount of information to be transmitted for assembling a human body molecule by molecule would be prohibitive. For example, Roberts et al. argue that a total of 2.6*1042 bits are necessary for recreating the human brain (Roberts et al., 2012). The data for recreating the rest of the human body is insignificant compared to that number (1.2*1010 bits). With a data rate of about 3.0*1019 bits per second, it would take 4.85 trillion years to transmit a human. However, a close look into the assumptions made in the paper reveals that the so-called Bekenstein bound was used for calculating the data required to recreate the brain (Bekenstein, 73), (Lokhorst, 00). The Bekenstein bound describes the maximum information that is required to recreate a physical system down to the quantum level. It is doubtful that such an extremely detailed description is necessary. Current estimates for describing the brain down to a molecular level are rather in the range between 1022 – 1027 bits (Sandberg, 2008, p.80). This amount of data could be transmitted within an hour to ten years, assuming the same data rate of 3,0*1019 bits per second. Thus, teleportation might not be as far-off as suggested by the current literature. A mission architecture based on teleportation is shown in Figure 3.

One of the more speculative approaches to enable manned interstellar travel with almost no travel time is to use some form of faster-than-light approach. There is a whole plethora of conjectured faster-than light approaches (Davis et al., 2009). Sending pure data or nano probes through shortcuts in space-time is far easier than doing so with large manned spacecraft. Kurzweil speculates how microscopic wormholes might enable the transmission of data or nano probes to another place in the Universe (Kurzweil, 2005, p.354-355). A mission architecture based on this concept is shown in Figure 4.

Mission architectures

Digital interstellar missions open up a space of interesting mission architectures. Depending on the available technologies, various architectures are feasible, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Digital mission architectures and their enabling technologies

TechnologiesABCD
Replicator technical systemsrequiredrequiredrequiredrequired
Replicator / Grow biological systemsrequiredrequiredrequiredrequired
Brain emulationrequiredrequiredrequiredrequired
Teleportationrequiredrequired
Wormholesrequired

Architectures A to D can be seen in the figures below, along with their mission sequence.

Architecture A

1. Send replicator + emulator / storage spacecraft
2. Create colony and resurrection infrastructure
3. Create population

Figure 1

Fig. 1: Single spacecraft mission with digital and replicator payload. This so-called “bat chart” shows the mission sequence from left to right. The inclination of the arrows indicates how fast the spacecraft arrives at the target. The steeper, the faster.

This is the simplest mission architecture for an emulation interstellar mission. The spacecraft consists of the emulator payload and a replicator payload which bootstraps local resources to manufacture the initial space colony. The emulations are subsequently downloaded and human bodies are created.

Architecture B

1. Send replicator
2. Create colony and resurrection infrastructure
3. Send emulator / storage spacecraft
4. Create population

Figure 2

Fig. 2: Split mission with separate replicator and digital payload

Architecture B is based on two spacecraft. The replicator spacecraft is launched first, in order to initiate colony construction way before the emulator spacecraft arrives. This architecture makes sense if colony construction takes decades or centuries. The main advantage is the reduction of risk from a failure to construct the initial colony. The emulator spacecraft could be launched only if the colony is operational. Another advantage is the use of a different propulsion system for the emulator ship, allowing for a shorter trip duration than the replicator ship. A shorter trip duration reduces the risk of failures of on-board systems, which is more critical for the emulator ship as it has in principle a human payload on-board.

Architecture C

1. Send replicator spacecraft
2. Create receiver dishes in target star system
3. Receive data for creating technical systems & humans

Figure 3

Fig. 3: Replicator mission which builds up a receiver for technologies and humans to be created within the star system

In order to teleport data, a receiver has to be constructed within the target star system first. This is done by the replicator spacecraft’s payload. Apart from the receiver, a molecular assembly facility or universal 3D-printer has to be constructed, which then recreates the original objects. The main advantage of this architecture is the travel duration for the objects transferred, as the data is transmitted is the speed of light.

Architecture D

1. Send replicator spacecraft
2. Build receiver
3. Use wormholes to transmit information to receiver
4. Create technological systems & humans

Figure 4

Fig. 4: Using a worm hole for transmitting data for technologies and humans with faster than light speeds

After the construction of a receiver and molecular assembly facility, data is transferred almost instantly through a worm hole or other exotic means.

Conclusions

The concept of brain emulation is often associated with the occurrence of the so-called technological singularity, which is often associated with the emergence of general artificial intelligence and its exponentially increasing capabilities. Whether or not it is reasonable to expect such a singularity to happen is the matter of intense debate among scholars (Sandberg, 2010), (Sandberg & Bostrom, 2011), (Goertzel, 2007). Personal conversations with a range of brain researchers have rather revealed a skeptical outlook on progress in creating brain emulations in the near future. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that progress is being made. Brain emulation and general artificial intelligence should not be discarded on the grounds of current or near-future infeasibility, as we are dealing with timeframes of decades to centuries until interstellar missions are conducted.

As a final remark, Launius & McCurdy point out that a posthuman civilization does not necessarily possess the motivation to conduct an interstellar mission (Launius & McCurdy, 2008, pp.218-219). Thus, one has to keep in mind that changing the human condition so profoundly will certainly have consequences for its behavior as well.

Although the prospects of mind uploading are controversial, its realization within the 21st century should not be deemed infeasible. It is even imperative to think about possible implications of this technology, as its realization would drastically change our civilization as well as it would revolutionize interstellar travel. How would it then feel to travel to the stars? After being scanned, would we suddenly wake up in a new body on an exoplanet? Would we instead pass our time in a virtual world crossing the space between the stars, finally transforming into a biological existence again? Fascinating but also somewhat chilling thoughts…

References

Bekenstein, J. D. (1973). Black holes and entropy. Physical Review D, 7(8), 2333.

Davis, E. W., & Millis, M. G. (2009). Frontiers of propulsion science. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Goertzel, B. (2007). Human-level artificial general intelligence and the possibility of a technological singularity: A reaction to Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, and McDermott’s critique of Kurzweil. Artificial Intelligence, 171(18), 1161-1173.

Hanson, R. (2001). Economic growth given machine intelligence. Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research.

Hanson, R. (2008a). Economics of brain emulations. In Tomorrow’s people – proceedings of the james martin institute’s first world forum: EarthScan.

Hanson, R. (2008b). Economics of the singularity. Spectrum, IEEE, 45(6), 45-50.

Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Penguin Books.

Launius, R. D. (2008). Robots in space: technology, evolution, and interplanetary travel. JHU Press.

Lokhorst, G. J. (2000, May). Why I am not a super-Turing machine. In Hypercomputation Workshop, University College, London (Vol. 24).

Moravec, H. (1988). Mind children. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, N. (2008). Whole brain emulation: A roadmap. Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University. Available at: http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/brain-emulation-roadmap-report.pdf Accessed July, 3, 2010.

Sandberg, A. (2010). An overview of models of technological singularity. In Roadmaps to AGI and the future of AGI workshop, Lugano, Switzerland, Mar. 8th. http://agiconf. org/2010/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/agi10singmodels2. pdf.

Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, N. (2011). Machine intelligence survey. Technical Report, 2011-1. Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford. www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/reports/2011-1. pdf.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alex Tolley June 13, 2014, 14:34

    Does a brain emulation really require 10^22-10^27 bits? If we assume 10^11 neurons and 10^4 connections per neuron, plus 1 bye per connection weight, that is ~ 10^16 bits. You could squirt a lot of brains through the transmitter at 10^19 b/s. Obviously a simpler, robotic brain would be even easier.

    Does transmission even make sense? If the storage of the brain requires 10^22-10^27 bits, you are talking 0.001 – 100 kg/brain as diamond storage. Copies are infinite. Therefore creating a civilization e.g. 1000 ly away would make more sense starting with copies and then replicating new post-humans” than waiting for another 1000 years to receive the new transmitted brains. It would make sense for subsequent travel throughout the galaxy.

    I see little value in downloading to a human meat body as that will restrict the target worlds to colonize. It only makes sense if the target is an O’Neill constructed for humans. Living worlds might be off limits (Planetary Protection/Prime Directive) and barren worlds will take thousands of years to terraform. Machine bodies, in contrast, could live almost anywhere, adapted to local conditions.

    My guess is that AI will come before brain emulation, uploading and downloading. If so, all the article points could be adapted to robots that much sooner, perhaps creating suitable worlds as destinations when humans can travel to the stars, using a suitable technique.

  • Michael June 13, 2014, 15:59

    Uploading is normally a process in which data or a program is transferred to a more powerful machine from a weaker one. So in the context of the article the in-organic machine would be more powerful than the organic one (brain).

    Now if we look at the brain it is not just made up of water molecules but rather proteins that ‘store’ information organically. Proteins are much larger than water molecules and so their number is smaller but with huge variances. Further there are many organic features in the brain that are required for organic formation of memories and keeping it alive, in in-organic matter they could be removed simplifying the structure further. Now our brains use about 200 watts of energy, most is not needed in thoughts but is used to keep the braining working as a unit, a thought or collection of thoughts may consume a lot less energy<< 1 watt

    As f0r mapping the brain we would need to map where each protein/structure is, their type, configuration (connections) and as importantly the switched state they are in at the time, which can change very fast!

    We might be able to scan where all the proteins are etc., but would we know their precise states, proteins shapes play a very important part in how they work and therefore can have multiple 'states', i.e. they may require more than one impulse and from different directions to initiate a response for example or even need a hormone molecule to deform the protein so it will act differently when impulse. the variation is staggering!

    Now the function where the in-organic minds could be used is in the scanning of the minds of scientists, engineers who are dedicated to space, not everyone would be an ideal candidate and installed into many small low mass robotic probes with limbs and send them out together to set up a base.

    A possible method of detecting if the in-organic mind construction of a scientist is 'alive' would be to ask it if it recognised 'itself', the same organic scientist whose mind it is! would that not be the ultimate test? Now a problem could appear if the mirrored-self thinks it will die, how would it respond! hunt its creators down? I think this was in a movie once 'Star Trek'.

    Just think about it yourself, you fall asleep and wake up around another star with metal limbs and with some instructions…most men don't even read the instructions! how would I feel?

  • CharlesJQuarra June 13, 2014, 18:19

    I’m not yet convinced that the required bandwidth to transmit a whole human brain would require less energy than transporting an equivalent mass storage system. It could be, but it is a calculation that I have not seen made explicitly. Messerschmitt work puts some hard tradeoff constraints between bandwidth and energy
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.4684

  • Ross Turner June 13, 2014, 20:03

    If we can accomplish such a feat as brain emulation, uploading, downloading to bodies, robots, or maybe more simply sending AI out there, where do we draw the line on colonization?

    All this talk about going out and colonizing other planets is great, but do we just go ahead and take over an already existing environment if humans can live in it without adjustments, meaning we are landing ourselves on a world with life on it, and then taking over? What if we find an equivalent environment to the one on earth between the dinosaur and human ages, where only small mammals exist on land areas, do we “colonize” that one?

    Do we colonize a barren world in a system already with a life bearing planet?

    Do we look for systems with only barren worlds and terraform/colonize only those systems.

    Why would we colonize more planets at all? If we ever get that advanced, why not create movable space colonies of whatever size we need, with artificial gravity, to suit all our needs, gathering more easily reached resources in the outer reaches of the solar system, not harming anything, getting out of the way of danger, exploring wherever we want without intruding or interfering on any other life, rather than sending ourselves into another deep gravity well, setting ourselves up on another immovable target, and potentially disturbing or halting the evolution already taking place in that well, on that planet.

    Aren’t these questions we need to ask along with the topic “let’s rush out and colonize something as soon as possible, as soon as we have the technology to send or upload/download ourselves, to ensure the survival of the human race”? Do we need to ask these question when it comes sending humans to mars, and other potentially habitable locations in our own solar system, or is it too late and am I too naïve to think any kind of reasoning will stop us from just going ahead and doing it to mars and everywhere else. Is that who we are and what we do?

  • Brett Bellmore June 13, 2014, 20:09

    Assuming molecular nanotechnology, the boundary between biology and machinery gets kind of vague; A collection of nanotech that has the capacity to replicate itself can be regarded as simply a different form of life, perhaps with a much wider environmental range.

    Or, with more conventional biology, there’s no particular reason the minds need to be downloaded into a body identical to an Earth human, rather than some new biology adapted to local circumstances.

    Anyway, one advantage of uploading and downloading the colonists, is that you can send the same people to multiple destinations. Join the colonization program, end up colonizing twenty planets for the price of one uploading!

  • David W June 13, 2014, 21:35

    I don’t even know where to begin . There was a recent rat experiment that used light to weaken a synaptic connection and the rat forgot something . The synapse was somehow restored and the rat remembered ..so the connections have something to do with memory but don’t seem to be the whole story And that folks is about as far as we are in biology . We have better microscopes and MRIs but we just keep rediscovering Penfield
    Brain downloading is so far off …and that is just our knowledge of memory and Consciousness well…………and the public will not like this . I can prove that one . This movies is close to bomb of the year Can we get back to real stuff like light sails. There was some good stuff here on that not so long ago

  • Anthony Mugan June 14, 2014, 7:00

    Ross makes an interesting point about the relative interest planets or lower gravity environments may have for an arbitrarily advanced civilisation.
    Forgive my scepticism on mind downloading. The hard question of consciousness is well named.
    This potentially gets into topics well beyond the scope of this blog. An interesting recent paper by Radin on consciousness and the double slit experiment makes challenging but interesting reading, and provides empirical evidence to support Von Neumann’s and Stapp’s (etc) view of the quantum measurement problem. That is the tip of a large body of peer reviewed data that may have significant implications for our understanding of the nature of consciousness. Unfortunately much if that is seen as outside the current paradigm. Hence I am sceptical of significant progress on the hard problem in the forseable future.

  • Alex Tolley June 14, 2014, 9:20

    @Ross Turner. I empathize with your doubts over colonization of living worlds. However consider that our plains ape ancestors wouldn’t have left e. Africa if they shared that sensibility. Where would the US be if it hadn’t colonized N. America displacing the natives, however shameful the process? Even today, US corporations are impacting natives in S. America (e.g. Chevron). Every contemporary “justified” military action is having impacts, often -ve, on populations around the globe.

    I suspect that spreading our species and culture will override any non-interference concerns. Of course it is this idea that generates the foundation for the Fermi Paradox. Take away the expansive nature of a species, and the “paradox” almost disappears.

  • Alex Tolley June 14, 2014, 9:31

    @CharlesQuorra – energy isn’t the only criterion for choosing beaming. Beaming is going to be the fastest way to travel in a non-FTL universe once the transmitter and receiver systems are set up. One can certainly imagine an extensive network operating like a physical transport network. Beaming might be like taking the plane rather than the train.

  • Jim Early June 14, 2014, 10:52

    Since one needs both a payload and a propulsion system, there is very little advantage in having one system with much less mass than the other. These technologies should have a very low required payload mass. This will make low propulsion mass systems such as anti-matter or beamed energy systems look much more attractive. These propulsion technologies also have better potential for higher velocities ( v > 0.5c ). Most colony ship concepts are looking at velocities around 0.1c or less.

    The longer acceptable ranges for flights will also allow humanity to be much more selective in the choice of target systems.

  • Michael June 14, 2014, 12:25

    @David W June 13, 2014 at 21:35

    ‘I don’t even know where to begin.’

    Step one, remove the reins on our imaginations.

    ‘Brain downloading is so far off …and that is just our knowledge of memory and Consciousness well…………and the public will not like this.

    These are good starting points,

    http://www.human-memory.net/brain.html

    http://www.human-memory.net/brain_neurons.html

    http://www.human-memory.net/processes_encoding.html

    http://www.human-memory.net/processes_consolidation.html

    ‘Can we get back to real stuff like light sails.’

    And not long ago were light sails not thought of in the same manner? it has been over 400 years since they were first imagined?

    Johannes Kepler, In a letter to Galileo in 1610, he wrote, “Provide ships or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will brave even that void.”

    ‘There was some good stuff here on that not so long ago’

    Each ideas or concept is in itself an evolution, 400 years latter from here it might well be possible to up and download complex information.

    @Anthony Mugan June 14, 2014 at 7:00

    ‘Forgive my scepticism on mind downloading. The hard question of consciousness is well named.’

    Consciousness, is it not the lack of memory? when we sleep the memory formation process may be switched off by certain chemicals been present that are needed to trigger the memory formation process. Bad dreams may be the effect of that process been interrupted.

  • william June 14, 2014, 22:12

    This is certainly been one of the more interesting Centauri Dreams entries in quite a while – it at some very, very difficult questions that are not easily answered.

    I specifically find the suggestion concerning the ‘compression’ if you will of the human brain by going ahead and removing the water component leaving the substance of the proteins in a semi dry state and then going ahead transmitting the information behind their particular shapes, sizes, electronic states etc. to be a very good idea

    I’d like to add to that discussion the idea that in dealing with sending the content of an engineer’s are scientists brain long distance to a another star system where it will be reconstituted into a wetware state encased in some type of machine does not have to be a mind jarring experience for the newly reconstituted mind. For example, if we are that advanced such that we can do such miracles as transport the mind then I submit be possible remove fear and anxiety from such a mind such that shocks occur to it when awakened. It may be argued that stripping some emotion from a mind might cause it to be less than human but that seems something that research the best determine.

  • Sara June 14, 2014, 22:32

    I thought that all of these questions about whether or not it’s better to be human than a machine were long since addressed on TV shows, going back to the 1950s series “Science Fiction Theater” and ‘Twilight Zone’, further in the 1960s with ‘Star Trek’, ‘Outer Limits’, and on into the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with ‘Star Wars’, ‘Star Trek: Next Gen’, et cetera. Even in ‘Dune’, Frank Herbert emphasized the need to discover whether or not Paul Mu’ad Dib was actually human, or something less.

    There is no manmade structure to date that does not decay and fall into disrepair without human interference. A proposal for a thousand-year ship is fine, but it fails to take into account that the so-far unexplored perils of deep space will have obstacles that will ravage the structure of such a ship, and who will be there to make repairs if all it carries is a cargo of data banks loaded with information? Over time, those data banks will be affected by things as yet unforeseen.

    The difference between living creatures — humans, in this case — is that we’re uneven. Machines are not. Machines run on repetitive cycles. Humans do not. Downloading consciousness to a machine will leave nothing behind but an empty shell, and what is the difference between that empty shell and someone with senile dementia or Alzheimer’s? Nothing.

    And if, as is indicated, the human cargo is ‘uploaded’ to data banks to await transfer at a destination, the cargo will be nothing at its most basic level but binary codes. If even one line of binary code is corrupted by the tiniest event or flaw in programming – anything at all – when this ship arrives at its destination, it will download puddles of goo, not human beings.

    How are you going to fix that?

    Thanks for the idea, but I have no interest in becoming one of the BORG.

  • Horatio Trobinson June 15, 2014, 1:08

    Since there is no actually-existing working technology or science behind the notion of an AI Singularity, it should be treated as a belief or fiction at best.

    My issue with this is we still don’t even know if “the singularity” is even a computable problem within this universe, much less present it as some sort of well-established fact.

    Of course, most of us here love to speculate with things that may or may not happen in the distant future. We love to ponder about possible ways we can build gigantic interstellar vessels, faster-than-light travel, and other near-magic technology.
    However there is a very important difference between the extent of our ignorance in some matters -like say, Alcubierre Drive- and the far, far, far bigger extent of our ignorance in AI and brain physiology. Let alone “the singularity”.
    The difference is at least Alcubierre’s work is based at least in part on the state of the art of our scientific knowledge of the universe. Alcubierre may be wrong about Alcubierre drive, but he’s very likely not wrong about General Relativity. At least some of the building blocks have been developed for a hundred years.

    There is no General Relativity theory of singularity. There is no quantum mechanics of singularity, there is no biology or molecular chemistry of singularity. There’s optimism, belief and ingenuity -which are great things to have- but those things alone aren’t science or technology.
    It’s a belief system, with a group of believers.

    I, on the other hand, am a believer of the cult of Occam’s Razor, which tells me that people who have subscribed to the Singulitarian faith are most commonly found in of one or more of the following groups:

    1) People who have accrued massive political/financial power. There is only so much power one can accumulate. Once you have unthinkable power at your disposal, the best you can do is to try to hold on to power, in perpetuity. Eternally.

    2) People who haven’t experienced a broad range of experiences in their lives, feel they are constrained by their bodily limitations, or just don’t “feel at home” in the bodies they inhabit, with an acute sense of inadequacy in their relationship with humans.

    One additional point:

    There is little use for human culture without humans to experience and build upon it. Just a polished orbiting monolith emitting a text string in a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum from LF to EHF:
    “This species found an evolutionary dead end. They could have done more, but chose to do otherwise”.

  • Rob Henry June 15, 2014, 3:13

    Michael says, “Now if we look at the brain it is not just made up of water molecules but rather proteins that ‘store’ information organically” and that is a huge call.

    There has been evidence that proteins play a role in memory formation, and that proteins certainly can store information. Also prion proteins are typically in neurons which is suggestive, nevertheless, I am unaware of any evidence that directly links exact protein state to memory formation.

    He goes on to write “we would need to map where each protein/structure is, their type, configuration (connections) and as importantly the switched state they are in at the time, which can change very fast!”. That alludes to an even bigger call. As far as I know, only the Russians seemed to have taken seriously that these rapid fluctuations may be important to see through a whole cell at just one moment. I am pretty sure that everyone else thinks they will just average out unless worked on by a synchronising agent (such as potential difference or ligand concentration).

    If work on either of those two problems has been done recently in an English language journal, I would certainly like to see reference to it (a strong possibility, as I haven’t followed it much in the last two years, despite knowing much work has been done).

  • Human June 15, 2014, 5:16

    If you have a consciousness, then you know that you cannot have two consciousness’es. You might transmitt a blueprint of yourself, but that would not in any way relate to your consciousness. You would not become aware of the destination location just because there’s a copy of you around there. Consciousness is subjective, not an object.

  • Adam June 15, 2014, 6:54

    Greg Egan’s “Diaspora” is the best fictionalisation of this concept I have ever read – BUT another good treatment is by Sean Williams & Shane Dix in their “Orphans of Earth” trilogy. Has a very relevant reminder that Uploading is fraught with unknowns and the Uploads might not be as invulnerable as they might appear. I won’t give away any spoilers, aside from the opening in which a main character has downloaded into an android body to avoid going psychotic as an Upload emulation.

    Another Greg Egan story of relevance is here: Riding the Crocodile
    The Pan-Galactic society described seamlessly transitions between embodied and disembodied states as needed. They also use the beam-transmission concept and use nano-tech spores to build new receivers in new systems, though they can build starships when a more physical presence is needed.

  • Ankur Chauhan June 15, 2014, 7:15

    Really a thought provoking article. Thanks. In terms of architecture I am standing between option B and C. Option A seems to be overly positive and option D has huge dependency on ability to use wormholes. I understand all these options and high level theories and time scales of implementation will take few to several centuries. I’m glad we are considering these alternate theories rather than just relying on physical human travel. Ethical issues aside, brain uploading has numerous risks which have to considered, brain scan theft, broadcast, cloning at earth which can create questions in who’s the real me and what to do with others. This is however, I think, out of scope of this article

  • James D. Stilwell June 15, 2014, 13:55

    Transcendence Going Interstellar: How the Singularity Might Revolutionize Interstellar Travel
    An excellent post…
    Star Trek’s “Q” might empower such wishful thinking…
    It’s 16.73 light years to Altair IV…16.73 years getting info back…
    That’s a long wait to see if Iraq is still a united nation…
    Haven’t read much here about the Bell theorem…
    Spooky action at a distance, if it exists…
    Now that’s really going out on a limb…
    Subspace radio nets a Nobel Prize…

  • David W June 15, 2014, 17:33

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/06/02/318104637/bursts-of-light-create-memories-then-take-them-away
    And Bring them back Which means synaptic connections are part of it but since the memories return …it cant be the only thing Now leave the rats alone until you have some hypothesis of where those memories go…any way very encouraging for Alzheimers and PTSD I don’t see how you down load something you cant find though. Rob is right on past protein theories and I almost wrote what Horatio said but held my tongue.
    s to consciousness I always recommend Thomas Nagels “What is it like to be a Bat?” for a very clear look at the hard problem (and animal consciousness)
    I have a question for the SF buffs here . I just saw a creepy old Six Million Dollar Man that involved a scientist who injected cells from recently dead guys brain to get his memories .Its theme was be careful what you do. BUT I recall using my memory a really creepy sci fi move from that same era where they hooked up the living and corpses to “visualize” their memories Then corpses were disintegrated except for elites who were frozen including Henry Kissinger . Anyway it seemed to glorify this stuff . I never saw it again or for that matter any of the actors. Anyone else recall it?

  • Michael June 16, 2014, 14:50

    @Rob Henry June 15, 2014 at 3:13

    ‘There has been evidence that proteins play a role in memory formation, and that proteins certainly can store information. Also prion proteins are typically in neurons which is suggestive, nevertheless, I am unaware of any evidence that directly links exact protein state to memory formation.’

    ‘Small G-protein Signaling in Neuronal Plasticity and Memory Formation: the Specific Role of Ras Family Proteins’

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3008420/

    Heavy reading, you have been warned!

    Prions are the same proteins but are in a misfolded ‘state’, there are a huge number of states that these proteins can be in as the formation process is critical, we would need to know that when copying them. Prions are also involved in memories but they need controlling, if we get that wrong the folding and joining possibly to other proteins will become uncontrolled and damaging.

    -For example, a polypeptide of 100 residues will have 99 peptide bonds, and therefore 198 different phi and psi bond angles. If each of these bond angles can be in one of three stable conformations, the protein may misfold into a maximum of 3 to the power of 198 different conformations (including any possible folding redundancy).-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levinthal_paradox

    ‘Protein Folding: From the Levinthal Paradox to Structure Prediction’

    http://www.cise.ufl.edu/class/cap5515sp12/paper/PS_honig_survey.pdf

    ‘He goes on to write “we would need to map where each protein/structure is, their type, configuration (connections) and as importantly the switched state they are in at the time, which can change very fast!”.’

    Protein folding time scales of milliseconds are the norm and the very fastest known protein folding reactions are complete within a few microseconds or they can take hours. The synchronising requirements of all these processes would be incredible high. It might be a better process of mimicking the organic processes in in-organic materials.

  • Rob Henry June 16, 2014, 21:41

    Michael, thank you for that reference as it helps me see where your coming from. I think you may have noticed the details are so massively confusing that it allows many places in which protein can genuinely store information themselves. Notice that nowhere in that scheme is it implied that it does ONLY that proteins help synaptic connection and transmissions. Cascades are massively complex, but that article never implies that their effect goes beyond signal amplification and a sort of quorum taking devise.

    Having said that, it has been known for about half a century that some single celled animals can ‘learn’ from experience. Thus single cells really can do elaborate data processing on their own, BUT this has never been shown to be the case form neurons (other than is inherent in their gross structural connection to other neurons). I believe the contrary opinion an extreme minority view at this time.

    This speaks to a brain information content very close to that given by Alex Tolley. If I have missed some phrase or sentence that says otherwise in my quick read-through, please bring it to my attention.

  • Alex Tolley June 17, 2014, 10:20

    @Rob Henry – I think there was a recent suggestion that neurons can do some signal processing (computation) too. My sense is that much of this extra signal processing just modulates the neuron firing, rather than has any impact on memories per se. It is often forgotten that artificial neural networks could use different input/output activation functions and constant synaptic weights, rather than the same function for all neurons and different weights. One of my interests is using binary weights for synapses, and using many more neurons to mimic more granular synapse weights. Lastly, within limits, the activation function needn’t simply aggregate inputs but rather tune its responses to specific input patterns (a truth table of inputs vs outputs).

    Single cell organisms can certainly be considered as simple information processors, using the network of protein interactions to “learn” the stimulus-response mapping. There have also been some very interesting experiments to create simple logic gates in cells with modified genes and transcription factors.

    Bottom line is that I tend to side with those who argue than much of the messy biology of brains can be abstracted away to a simpler, software/hardware architecture. As we offload much of our cognitive load to the environment that includes our tools, I wonder how much that changes how our brains operate and in consequence, the impact on emulation.

  • tim gueguen June 17, 2014, 10:44

    Even if the techniques presented here are possible it would be an incredibly hard sell to the bulk of people who would have to pay for them. Most folks aren’t going to be interested in a form of interstellar travel that doesn’t involve them, in their original body, getting on a spaceship and flying off to wherever, with travel times measured in a “reasonable” number of months or years. A digital duplicate of their mind going off and doing cool stuff, while the original remains on Earth, and has no way of experiencing that duplicate’s activities in real time, won’t have much appeal.

  • Michael June 17, 2014, 14:59

    @Rob Henry June 16, 2014 at 21:41

    ‘I think you may have noticed the details are so massively confusing that it allows many places in which protein can genuinely store information themselves.’

    Any structure that stores energy can also act as an information storage device, proteins are quite well adapted to do this. For example a ligand site could be used to distort the protein molecule making possible other interactions in response to a stimuli molecule or even electrical fields can do this. I used this electric field concept to control the proton gradient of the ATPase molecule and therefore its rotation rate to drive a Nano-pump in my nanotechnology course of my university degree. They are very versatile molecules, no wonder the immune system responses with alarm to them.

    ‘Cascades are massively complex, but that article never implies that their effect goes beyond signal amplification and a sort of quorum taking devise.’

    They state that the small proteins are extensively used in cellular processes, there is no reason to suggest either way but they are very useful molecules, life likes versatility and it is certainly possible.

    ‘Thus single cells really can do elaborate data processing on their own, BUT this has never been shown to be the case form neurons (other than is inherent in their gross structural connection to other neurons). I believe the contrary opinion an extreme minority view at this time.’

    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/123485-mit-discovers-the-location-of-memories-individual-neurons

    ‘This speaks to a brain information content very close to that given by Alex Tolley. If I have missed some phrase or sentence that says otherwise in my quick read-through, please bring it to my attention.’

    We may have pinned down how many neurons and branches there are in a human brain but there is much more to the nervous system than just cell numbers, their contents and arrangement are just as important.

    I as you do find the subject fascinating and a very complex area to delve into, it will show promise but in an up/download process there are enormous problems. If we could build and send a probe to another star I believe it would arrive long before we have constructed the first mirror-brain on earth.

    @Alex Tolley June 17, 2014 at 10:20

    ‘Bottom line is that I tend to side with those who argue than much of the messy biology of brains can be abstracted away to a simpler, software/hardware architecture.’

    I agree there may be many components that could be removed and/or replaced with synthetic components or simplified once we know what they do exactly.

  • Sara June 19, 2014, 11:20

    While this discussion is useful, Hein’s suggestions for colonization and the subsequent comments ignore one very important factor.

    Extrasolar planetary colonization is not about exploring space and settling other worlds, or even about which worlds to choose and how to get there.

    It’s about reducing the population on THIS planet, which has reached a total of 7 billion individual humans, and growing. We are reaching a population density that may no longer support us. We are running out of arable land, using up deep aquifers, overfishing the oceans, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ad nauseum. I will not refer to climate change, CO2 levels, ecosystems destruction, emerging diseases or any of the rest of that stuff.

    At some point, this planet of ours will no longer support us and we will have to choose to move elsewhere as my Puritan and Cornish and Scottish and French ancestors did, or engage in a population-reducing and massively destructive war, just to survive. We have an aggressively territorial nature. Chimpanzees have the same thing. They make war on each other to expand their range, as do we.

    The first Mars colony is already in planning stages. It’s start is planned for 2027. They are NOT coming back to Earth. We should have already built lunar bases instead of sitting on our thumbs. The minute the first Mars colony is built, and is up and running, there will be others following in short order. If 400,000 people applied to be part of that venture, they did so because they weren’t just looking for space adventures.

    You can rely on this: the very moment that a nearby real twin for Earth is found, a rush will get underway to build starships to get there, and people will go whether the possibility of actually reaching that distant world plays out or not. By ‘real twin for Earth’, I mean same essential atmospheric chemistry, same essentially rocky world, same or close to the same gravitational mass, same water signature (70%H2O), essentially same distance from a Sol-type star.

    Lest you think this is an impractical idea, because the ‘colonists’ will have no idea what faces them when they get there – giant cockroaches, for instance – the early settlers who came to this continent (North America) had no idea what they were facing until they got here, e.g., hostile indigenous tribes, nasty wildlife, any more than the settlers at the penal colony known as Botany Bay did.

    But they came, anyway, to find a place to live and try to prosper. It’s what we do, because we are humans, not machines.

    Since evaluating distant worlds is becoming more and more refined, I think that day is not too far off.

  • ljk June 19, 2014, 11:28

    How many singularities are near and how will they disrupt human history?

    Christopher L. Magee a,⁎, Tessaleno C. Devezas b

    a Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Building E38-450, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA

    b Faculty of Engineering, University of Beira Interior, 6200-001 Covilhã, Portugal

    This paper reviews a large number of approaches that have been used for considering
    technologically driven profound societal change. We agree with Vinge’s suggestion for naming
    events that are “capable of rupturing the fabric of human history” (or leading to profound societal
    changes) as a “singularity”. This is a useful terminology especially since a mathematically rigorous
    singularity seems impossible for technological and related societal change. The overview of
    previous work is done within the context of a broader look at the role of technological change
    within human history. The review shows that a wide variety of methods have been used and
    almost all point to singularities in the present century particularly in the middle of the century. The
    diversity of the methods is reassuring about the potential robustness of these predictions.
    However, the subjectivity of labeling events as singularities (even well studied past events) is a
    concern about all of the methods and thus one must carefully pause when relying in any

    http://web.mit.edu/cmagee/www/documents/29-singularitysdarticle.pdf

  • Michael June 19, 2014, 15:07

    @Sara June 19, 2014 at 11:20

    ‘…or engage in a population-reducing and massively destructive war, just to survive. We have an aggressively territorial nature. Chimpanzees have the same thing. They make war on each other to expand their range, as do we.’

    As ever man always chooses the simplest route, but it does have one advantage, technology surges. There is always money to ‘wage’ war and build better mouse traps!

    ‘The first Mars colony is already in planning stages. It’s start is planned for 2027. They are NOT coming back to Earth. We should have already built lunar bases instead of sitting on our thumbs. The minute the first Mars colony is built, and is up and running, there will be others following in short order. If 400,000 people applied to be part of that venture, they did so because they weren’t just looking for space adventures.’

    The problem here is the energy and resources to launch them.

    ‘You can rely on this: the very moment that a nearby real twin for Earth is found, a rush will get underway to build starships to get there, and people will go whether the possibility of actually reaching that distant world plays out or not. By ‘real twin for Earth’, I mean same essential atmospheric chemistry, same essentially rocky world, same or close to the same gravitational mass, same water signature (70%H2O), essentially same distance from a Sol-type star.’

    The problem here is that it would most likely be inhabited already, if we move there we may wage war on a different level. We may come in peace but our bacterial ‘baggage’ may have other ideas, they are not to be trusted!

  • ljk June 19, 2014, 15:13

    Replying to Sara:

    I am certainly not opposed to space colonization but as for alleviating the human overpopulation pressures on Earth, it would take a rather massive space exodus to solve that problem. Unless manned spaceflight becomes quite cheap and the technology relatively easy to produce, I do not see colonization reducing the number of people on this planet any time soon.

    Overpopulation is definitely a problem and Earth is a finite realm with finite resources. Population control had better start now while we still have some control of the situation, or “culling the herd” will be done both by nature and desperate governments.

    Regarding an alien twin of Earth as a place to migrate to, we should consider that a planet like ours is going to be similar to Earth with respect to life forms, too. What if there are intelligent beings on that world? Do you think they will want company? How would humanity respond to an alien colony ship showing up and asking if they could move in?

    I have noticed a trend that the goal of seeking out exoplanets is to find another Earth, which will supposedly spark an interstellar colonization effort and seldom seems to take into account if anyone is already home there.

  • Cathedral Ship June 20, 2014, 4:36

    I strongly believe that our experiences on this planet have taught us that it is better to actively expand our territories, rather than passively habituate ourselves in hopes of staying out of the way of other expansive species. Alex Tolley and Michael both raised interesting points on the Fermi Paradox and also our symbiotic relationship with our close microbial buddies.

    Not only do we carry a slew of highly contagious and infectious (albeit deadly) diseases that we have earned immunity to through successful (and competitive) sexual reproduction, but we also have acquired technology, rituals and practices that could unintentionally eliminate life elsewhere if it exists on a similar, microscopic plain as our buddies we sometimes wash away when we choose to vaccinate, groom or bathe ourselves.

    I think we have to come to terms with the fact that we are a high-risk, warring life-form and that it is OK to be as such. The very intelligence we have gained to even fathom ideals, like all of the above, derives directly from the ability to adapt to and manipulate the violence we undertake each breathing moment in our environment/planet/star system/galaxy/universe/dimension(s) etc.

    Everything else should either move out of the way, or have what it takes to put up a good enough fight (which of whom, like us, probably will; purposefully or not) to get rid of us. Better them than us; as they say. However, peace does/can exist… Interstellar diplomacy doesn’t seem too hard for differing species, given the evidence present within our own hybridized lineages on Earth. Our relationships with domesticated animals (however sad the situation may be for them [and maybe us, too]) also shows that differing species can co-exist without vying for blood; granted the end is able to justify the means. In a sense, we even “domesticate” our young into the generally obedient, programmed and cooperative members of society we see before us (more often, than not).

    I’m sure a politically and historically savvy individual could argue otherwise, drawing our “diplomacy” and “cooperation” as a simple balancing act of fear and hubris, but I would just ask one to pay attention to the concept of “generally.”

    These types of discussions inevitably lead to the beholding of the fact that we (of the star traveler/space colonization camp) have developed an insatiable desire to live out a mythological, pantheonic pathos of overthrowing the old gods and becoming the new ones, creating an epic battle for a free reign of the cosmos. And we are now at the proving grounds… We can imagine it, but the fun won’t begin until we have proved to ourselves that we can exist independent of our home world. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy we have woven: naming celestial bodies after our natural competitors, gods, goddesses and heroes; at one time wishing upon them and now strategically planning to subdue them and shape them into our own image.

    That being said; expecting your own motives is probably advice worth taking when imagining ‘others’… somewhere out there. We still are the victims of (might I say, questionable?) ‘metaphysically originating’ god-king cults within our own species, so let that marinate as food for thought.

  • ljk June 20, 2014, 10:28

    Cathedral Ship said on June 20, 2014 at 4:36:

    “I think we have to come to terms with the fact that we are a high-risk, warring life-form and that it is OK to be as such. The very intelligence we have gained to even fathom ideals, like all of the above, derives directly from the ability to adapt to and manipulate the violence we undertake each breathing moment in our environment/planet/star system/galaxy/universe/dimension(s) etc.”

    You may be particularly interested in this theory about what one species might do with another on a galactic scale:

    http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/aliens.php#id–The_Fermi_Paradox–The_Killing_Star

    Are aliens truly alien, or are they similar to us assuming they are biological entities who had to evolve to get where they are? I honestly do not know sometimes which is the more concerning scenario. Or that just might be my primitive tribal primate brain talking, the one that has yet to see beyond certain territories on this one planet.

  • Sara June 20, 2014, 16:34

    Michael and ljk: The answer to questions like ‘will a native population want us there’ lies in our own history. The Celts didn’t want the Romans living in their space, but the Romans came anyway. The Greeks and Persians didn’t want each other, but they invaded each other’s space, anyway. The indigenous people in Japan, Australia and North/South America didn’t want invading Europeans, but they came anyway.

    We as a species have engaged in land grabs through our history, and whether or not a native planetary population exists, it may face both our invading selves and our invading microbes along with us. Smallpox did not exist in the New World until Europeans brought it with them.

    You may dismiss science fiction, but it is speculation about what we will do and is based on what we have done, and given our aggressive nature, is most likely to continue. Legislation won’t hold up if 400,000 people are determined to find a new place to call home.

    We absolutely do live in a finite environment with finite resources. If you think an overpopulated planet can’t reduce its numbers through disapora, you fail to take into account that people will go where they think there is room for them, and leave everything else behind, in large numbers.

    Energy sources to get to a destination? If there’s a will, there’s a way. In space, everything is always falling. We know that, and we take advantage of it. People will build their own means to get to another world, just as they now build their own airplanes from kits. If you think that’s impractical, then go to the EAA fly-in and take a hard look around you. People will fly if they have the means to do so, and if they are driven to build their own means of flying, they will do so.

    Dismissing space travel in home-built or group-built ships is naive. It will happen. I trust you are aware that SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are commercial companies in the BUSINESS of expanding into space? SpaceX is sending supply ships to the SpaceLab now. There are several places where spaceports are under construction for commerecial space traffic. I believe that one of them is in New Mexico.

    Do you really think that no one will contract with SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to set up an independent colony on Mars? Or a lunar base? Or do you think everything has to come from the government?

    And how is an energy source a barrier if a platform for propulsion and the warp bubble drive are already under experimentation at NASA?

    You can dismiss what I said as impracticalities, if you like, but I’ll give you a little history lesson. The one-cylinder kerosene-fueled horseless carriage was seen as impractical because it scared the crap out of horses. It was shortly followed by the 12-cylinder gas-powered Duesenberg. Somewhere, I have a photograph of my mother standing next to her Pierce Arrow convertible in 1928.

    The Wright brothers’ flyer was dismissed as a toy in 1903. 43 years later, in 1946, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Between 1903 and 1946, people built and flew their own aircraft and went hedgehopping.

    You can choose to ignore or dismiss our own history and the progress that we can make in doing something when we are driven to do so, if you like, but the computer that you use to write comments is a descendant of INIAC and UNIVAC, two machines that took up entire rooms, required experienced switchboard operators to move the phone jacks around to accommodate calculations, and could barely do anything more complicated than basic arithmetic at the time they were built. And I do remember in 1989, when Alan Wang at Bell Labs finally got his optical computer to work properly, while people were laughing at him about how he was going to store information. The CD and DVD followed very shortly.
    The microwave oven that you take for granted as an appliance comes from the discovery that radar / microwaves don’t just bounce off of objects; they also heat things up.
    Your digital camera? The ancestors of the sensors in your camera are now leaving the solar system, housed in the two Voyager probes that were supplied with them.
    95% of the technology that you take for granted now, like your smartphone, is a descendant of the byproducts of the US space program from the 1906s and 1970s.

    All I’m saying is that you can choose to ignore our own history of expansion as well as our history of ingenuity, or you can accept that at some point, people will just plain leave for other worlds and will find a way to get there, period.

    And they will go in droves, and they will invade and settle in, even if native populations don’t want them there or can’t communicate with the invaders to tell them to go away.

    However harsh that may be, it is who and what we are.

  • ljk June 20, 2014, 19:06

    Sara,

    As a historian among other things, I am certainly not discounting our history of conquests, invasions, genocides, and basically moving in with all our stuff. I also have my concerns that some ETI may also be so inclined, especially since we will not even be of the same species and therefore one may not see the other as an equal or at least compatible/worthy of respect.

    However, I am hoping for the following:

    Unlike the Romans, Europeans, and just about every culture in human history up to date, our descendants who will expand into the Milky Way galaxy will have all this history to learn from. My hope is that they will at least try to be truly civilized when encountering other life forms, intelligent and otherwise.

    Also unlike every previous group on Earth, they will be VERY far from home, having only their ship and themselves for help and protection. My hope is that they will realize they are up against an entire planet of intelligent beings who may have many resources at hand should they become miffed. And as we have seen in our own history, they do not have to possess advanced weaponry to take out an otherwise more sophisticated force if they have the numbers on their side.

    Unlike with Earth, there is an ENTIRE GALAXY of 400 billion star systems to choose from – and 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe as well. I would hope at least a few worlds are suitable which also lack smart natives. Or they could terraform an otherwise lifeless world. Or maybe they will just stay aboard their ship and only leave to gather resources. Most if not all star systems should have a few planetoid and comet belts available.

    While this does not mean that an Avatar type situation could still not arise, settling the galaxy will not be quite the same as sailing from one terrestrial continent to another.

    Regarding NASA’s supposed warp drive project, this is exactly why I was concerned that they were showing those computer graphics of that starship.

    There is NO starship being built by NASA, warp drive capable or otherwise. A fellow has written a white paper on the subject. He is conducting some kind of mild experiment. We are very far from having any kind of actual warp drive due to a lack of several things, including the propulsion fuel proposed (negative matter) and a really low working budget.

    There are plenty of other methods which are far more plausible and could happen now if we started working on them, such as Orion. They may not get us to Alpha Centauri in two weeks, but if we do not start with something then the nearest stars will remain millennia away in space and time.

  • Cathedral Ship June 22, 2014, 5:11

    ljk said onJune 20, 2014 at 10:28:

    “Are aliens truly alien, or are they similar to us assuming they are biological entities who had to evolve to get where they are?”

    I sometimes (if not always) wonder the same thing. How we have had so little time to struggle to acquire all we know about such a vast existence is mind boggling. We could probably spend an eternity imagining different ways life could exist, but the only sure way to know is to actually get out there and start looking, while we are still able to do so. Of course, that eternity (if we could actually live it) might allow the actual question to be answered before our eyes. Who knows, maybe in two million years another animal will have adequately responded to the environmental impacts of humanity and out-compete us for control of the planet, developing naturally organic, complex systems of space travel far beyond anything we are currently capable of with (our) technology. Taking it a step further, maybe even a life form will evolve in the next one billion years in response to the sun’s expansion and the wretchedly feared heat increase our planet is in store for, attaining a level of heat and radiation resistance unknown in our current times, ultimately being able to evolve into fully independent, outer-space adaptable beings, well prepared for their journey through the hard vacuum, teaching us that patience may be equally as effective as racing to space with tools (or at least trying to race to space, by the looks of things at the moment…)

    If the universe is capable of developing consciousness, intelligence and self-awareness, then perhaps it is the nature of life to immortalize itself, in as much of the sense as the “stuff” [matter and energy] that led to its being. Perhaps the information each quantum state holds is a building block of a master design, or grander consciousness we have yet to fully comprehend. I recently ran across an article that touches on the topic; the abstract reads as follows:
    “Today’s ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) concept is rooted in the distinction of nineteenth century philosopher William Clifford between ‘objects’ that can be directly perceived, and ‘ejects,’ such as the mind of another person, which are inferred from one’s subjective knowledge of one’s own mind. A founder, with Charles Darwin, of the discipline of comparative psychology, George Romanes considered the minds of animals as ejects, an idea that could be generalized to ‘society as eject’ and, ultimately, ‘the world as an eject’ – mind in the universe. Romanes agreed with Clifford that mind would, somehow, be a property of two fundamental entities of which the universe was composed: matter and motion (energy). Unlike Clifford, he thought mind was not necessarily confined to living organisms; matter and motion in the universe had the potential to form mind. Yet, like most of their Victorian contemporaries, Romanes and Clifford only vaguely connected mind with the abstraction we call ‘information,’ which needs ‘a vehicle of symbols’ – a material transporting medium. However, the ex-sheep-farmer, artist, and satirist, Samuel Butler, was able to address, in informational terms depleted of theological trappings, both organic evolution and mind in the universe. This view harmonizes with insights arising from modern DNA research, the relative immortality of ‘selfish’ genes, and some startling recent developments in brain research.” (Donald R. Forsdyke)

    http://arxiv.org/abs/1406.1391

    The paper has a philosophical feel to it, but it is a good read, nonetheless.

    An interesting film on human psychology, evolutionary competitiveness and [SPOILER ALERT]

    alien encounters is ‘The Human Race’
    https://www.facebook.com/TheHumanRaceMovie/timeline

    For being a low budget film, the ending really makes the movie and I think it touches on the broader question of if alien life is out there and decides to contact us, what might they’re intentions be and how might they test our strengths and weaknesses. The clever religious tie-in also gives the film an extra element for the viewer to think about.

    Unlike you, ljk, I don’t hope for just our descendants, but us too; to be able to live out what we lust for every day, accomplishing what we have worked so hard to see materialize. I will never know happiness until I can touch down on another world without a space suit or meet an extraterrestrial, and I am willing to do ANYTHING for those experiences, even if it means forgetting the six or so millennia of our written history. ^^

  • Cathedral Ship June 22, 2014, 10:33

    A supplement to Professor Forsdyke’s paper can be found on his vimeo. The most recent videos give a more visual and aural representation of his rather old-fashioned method of historically approaching the content.
    http://vimeo.com/forsdyke

  • Eniac June 22, 2014, 23:25

    It is worth thinking a bit more about the relationship between AI and uploading.

    As someone here has said, AI is likely to arrive much earlier. It will have nothing to do with brains, cells, or proteins. AI is based on abstract concepts like thoughts, memories, and emotions. So is the mind, if you think about it. The relevant bio-science for AI is psychology, not neuroscience. Studying the brain is not going to teach us about the mind. No more than disassembling an iPad teaches us how Angry Birds fly. The key is to focus on the software, to disassemble the code.

    And uploading? The easiest way to create an AI is to model its thought processes and memories on those of an existing mind. We are already equipped to externalize thoughts and memories: The closest thing to uploading that exists today is the writing of a book. A good writer can dump a considerable fraction of their mind onto the printed page. Substitute a dynamic AI substrate for the static text, and you have a pretty good form of uploading right there.

    Perhaps, literature study will have a role in AI greater than neuroscience. Finally, what we have all been waiting for: The ascent of the english major!

  • Alex Tolley June 23, 2014, 11:29

    Eniac – the problem with your AI solution is that literature is an emergent property, so you are effectively trying to reverse engineer a brain from these potentially infinite outputs. That could really be a “big data” machine learning problem. Others (Facebook?) however are not going that far, but rather using the output to mimic interaction, a much more limited idea.

  • ljk June 23, 2014, 11:52

    Dear Cathedral Ship – Cool name, by the way. Were you inspired by the Spaceship of the Imagination from the original Cosmos television series with Carl Sagan, which rather looked like a cathedral on the inside:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96kgU6BtWWA

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-M5zGZ6uA7jU/UwReSylgZXI/AAAAAAAAAoU/jKHxwY-C0UU/s1600/saga+spaceship+of+the+imagination.jpg

    Onward. Regarding your June 20 comments about an inorganic universe spawning conscious life, have you ever heard of a Boltzmann Brain?

    Sean Carroll has his doubts, but read on:

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2014/05/05/squelching-boltzmann-brains-and-maybe-eternal-inflation/

    He is the same guy who pretty much said no to that warp drive starship CGI not really being made by NASA. Carroll’s comment about it not being impossible has had Trekkers clinging to those words by the tips of their fingers:

    http://jalopnik.com/the-painful-truth-about-nasas-warp-drive-spaceship-from-1590330763

    http://blog.seattlepi.com/bigscience/2014/06/16/physicist-warp-drive-unlikely-not-necessarily-impossible/#24331101=0

    I had not heard of The Human Race before now. At the risk of not having yet seen it, the plot sounds like a combination of The Hunger Games, Cube, and Predators. Whether that is good or bad is up to the viewer. Though for my two cents if I want to watch a bunch of people cut each other down to survive and win something transient I will just watch/read the news.

    In your last paragraph, you said, and I quote:

    “Unlike you, ljk, I don’t hope for just our descendants, but us too; to be able to live out what we lust for every day, accomplishing what we have worked so hard to see materialize. I will never know happiness until I can touch down on another world without a space suit or meet an extraterrestrial, and I am willing to do ANYTHING for those experiences, even if it means forgetting the six or so millennia of our written history.”

    I think and hope you know that unless something resembling a miracle happens, that the scenario you mention will very, very likely (maybe I should just say “not at all” to avoid slim hangings on to hope) not happen in our lifetimes. Now maybe you know someone or can make this happen yourself, but the organizations who usually handle such things are not working on them as far as I know. I even question if NASA can get humans to Mars in the 2030s as they just promised, let alone dance around on the Red Planet sans protective suits.

    So that is why I do hope our descendants will not only have the ability to make such things possible but also act truly civilized as they enter into the wider galaxy. And also have the means and honesty to protect themselves should they encounter others who are not so well behaved or considerate of their celestial neighbors.

    Of course as with interstellar vessels, I would like to see us start working on these things NOW so they can happen at all some day. I would like to visit space and have humanity discover ETI in my lifetime, too, but I will settle for making sure our children get the opportunity at least.

  • Eniac June 23, 2014, 22:59

    Alex: My point is that you do NOT need to engineer (reverse or otherwise) a brain. Rather, a piece of software that can carry on the dynamics of thoughts, memories, and feelings that make up a mind. The type of thing psychologists grapple with. Literature does not help much in this engineering task, but it can serve as a a convenient source of content.

  • Eniac June 23, 2014, 23:10

    Oh, and I do not think literature is “emergent” in any sense. Whatever is written down was already there in the writer’s mind. The mind is emergent of the brain, if you will (personally I don’t think the term is very meaningful), but the book is just an incomplete data dump of it.

  • Eniac June 23, 2014, 23:15

    Data dump of the mind, that is, not the brain. The two are as dissimilar as those Angry Birds are from that iPad, and what we want is the mind, not the brain.

  • Alex Tolley June 24, 2014, 10:59

    @Eniac – the written corpus of one’s mind is not going to be enough to build very much. Just consider the wriings of OGH, Paul Gilster. Could you reasonably build a useful AI from this website? I very much doubt it. One may be able to use his social graph to infer more about him than is evident in his writings, but that might be quite dubious.

    Reverse engineering a mind from the output of even the most prolific writers, e.g. Isaac Asimov. is not going to be enough.

    What about combining literature to create a composite AI? That might work to a point, but it would likely build in contradictions that would result in so-called multiple personality disorder.

    At best I think you might be able to build a simple device that could respond to some questions, but defer on many others outside of it’s literature corpus.

  • Paul Gilster June 24, 2014, 12:20

    Not even my social graph would offer much help, as it turns out. I usually use social media to point to Centauri Dreams articles, although I suppose there are a few personal items out there. The thought of building an AI from this website gives me a chuckle, and I agree with Alex about it.

  • ljk June 24, 2014, 15:38

    I wonder if you could recreate Gandhi’s mind? Apparently he had staff who spent their time recording everything he said out loud all day long.

    http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/gandhi.htm

    For those of you who have seen the film Her about a man who has a relationship with an Artilect, the machine intelligence has an interaction with other Artilects who have simulated the mind of British philosopher Alan Watts. My question is not can it be done, but how detailed do you have to be to become another person?

    http://www.herthemovie.com/

    Tying this in with Artilects running a starship, maybe we can create a simulation smart enough to act like a person and therefore be able to run an interstellar mission without having to be some supersmart entity.

  • Eniac June 24, 2014, 22:45

    I agree with both Alex and Paul that someone’s writing would not allow us to reconstruct a mind completely, or even approximately. I don’t think I have actually claimed that at any point.

    What I do claim is that writing is the closest to mind uploading that we have today, and that it is going at least part of the way. A deep autobiography surely will go further than an outstanding interstellar web-log. However, I hardly dare estimate how far: 3%? 30%? less? more?

    And then, how much do we need? Experience with brain injury tells us that something above 80% is likely sufficient to allow the copy a claim to the original’s identity, simply because we do not deny victims of a 20% brain injury their own identity. Some rather serious brain injuries can leave personality and mental abilities mostly intact. Even without injury, every passing year, we lose a good chunk of our memories and, to a lesser degree, personality traits. All the while gaining new ones, of course, to make up the balance.

    We also know that lack of vision, lack of hearing, or lack of any other physical faculties are not grounds for denial of identity. Consequently, a faithful reconstruction of a body, or even any body at all, do not appear necessary to maintain the mind’s I. The only thing that really seems necessary is some form of verbal communication channel.

    Presumably, actual mind uploading would involve much more than collecting someone’s writing. Intensive interviews, perhaps, personality tests, instrumentarium of a future psychology that we cannot yet imagine. But I remain convinced that it is psychology that will provide the means, not so much neuroscience. Nobody has yet commented on this, what I consider my most important point. Any takers?

  • Eniac June 24, 2014, 23:14

    LJK’s speculation about Ghandi is interesting. I could imagine that the way AI begins to make its way into our world is in the form of increasingly sophisticated chat-bots, used for entertainment and educational purposes. Imagine debating for hours and hours with Ghandi, George Washington, or Socrates. Reasonably accurate reconstructions of their minds, that is…

    That, and customer support representatives with an endless supply of time and patience. Oh, the horror!

  • Michael June 25, 2014, 13:37

    Perhaps recording the individual neuron interactions while someone is writing a book may give an idea as to where the memories or imagination processing parts of the brain are located. This would give a better description of how the brain processes information and perhaps an idea of how the mind works.

  • Rob Henry June 25, 2014, 23:36

    I agree with Michael’s sentiment that probing the interface between memory and crystallising its recollection may be key to a persons mind. Today, psychology must be a leading candidate for the poorest and least mature of the sciences, yet it has already proved sufficient to show us how deep our delusions run, and how essential they are to our being. We even have snippets of how some are even common to the human species as a whole, such as how we seem to have a higher susceptibility to fail the Monty Hall problem than many other species. Other characteristics we share fascinate me.

    Good management is skill with potential to add value to any society, yet we almost universally prise leadership the more highly. What value do we imagine that pre-empting a collective decision has exactly? An even greater mystery when you consider how poorly leadership correlates with intelligence.
    http://www.ionilies.com/SIOP03/Files/Leader_meta.pdf

    Of cause, our more personal delusions are easier to spot by others, so currently more of interest to us, but both common and shared ones may be vital to our reconstruction IMHO.

  • Alex Tolley June 26, 2014, 11:15

    I suspect that when life-logging becomes mainstream, the “big data” collected may give sufficient information for a reasonable simulation, as there will be an abundance of interactions to work with.
    I this sense, psychology is as irrelevant to mind simulations as linguistics is to statistical language translation. Brute force, but it works. If chat bots can fool people in certain domains (online romance), this should provide an even better illusion of mind.

  • Cathedral Ship June 29, 2014, 3:49

    @ljk

    “Dear Cathedral Ship – Cool name, by the way. Were you inspired by the Spaceship of the Imagination from the original Cosmos television series with Carl Sagan, which rather looked like a cathedral on the inside:”

    I am aware of the Imagination, and no, that isn’t what inspired this specific name I chose to pen these particular postings with (I can see where you’re going with it, considering it’s basilica-like interior– but that isn’t what first came to my mind when seeing it, especially in comparison to real life cathedrals, full of religious symbols, iconography and historical effigies… being that the Imagination was designed as a vehicle to observe the vast outward majesty of the cosmos, rather than as a vehicle for esoteric fervor).

    My inspiration comes from the Old Republic era in Star Wars,

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Cathedral_ship

    combined with a planetary consciousness thwarted into an imaginary space from the Ps2 role-playing game, Xenosaga.
    http://xenosaga.wikia.com/wiki/Cathedral_Ship
    http://xenosaga.wikia.com/wiki/Ariadne
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariadne%27s_thread_(logic)
    http://xenosaga.wikia.com/wiki/Gnosis
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosis

    “Onward. Regarding your June 20 comments about an inorganic universe spawning conscious life, have you ever heard of a Boltzmann Brain?”

    Yes. And I appreciate those interesting links you’ve provided. It’s always a fun ride reading your prolific comments on Centauri Dreams. Thanks. Although, I’m not sure on what you’re trying to infer? We are conscious and self-aware life forms, arisen from the seemingly unconscious, unaware 7.6 percentile main-sequence G-type Sol, are we not? Also, the concept of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amplituhedron gives me more hope in a broad observation of a structural universe, based on some type of mathematical surety that there may be more thinkers out there, somewhere far, far away; along with the fact that there are over two million formally known species currently residing on our planet (out of about 30 million estimated, not counting the extinct ones). Of course, these all come from the same stuff, mutating from reactions to our star. I think we can expect the same things to be happening elsewhere– the universe is all made of the same stuff, so it’d be silly to think there isn’t a high probability of it occurring more than once with so much time and so many star systems. At least that’s my opinion.

    “I had not heard of The Human Race before now. At the risk of not having yet seen it, the plot sounds like a combination of The Hunger Games, Cube, and Predators. Whether that is good or bad is up to the viewer. Though for my two cents if I want to watch a bunch of people cut each other down to survive and win something transient I will just watch/read the news.”

    I encourage you to do the opposite; stop watching/reading the news and start playing video games and watching more movies (including the one(s) I recommended). I believe that film and games are the best medium for observing that subjective and ejective terrain of consciousness and mind. Rather, the more you can get inside of someone else’s mind and live in their imagination, the more your own mind and imagination can grow and understand a broader, perhaps, collective thought, moving in a unified direction toward a better understanding of what all, or any of what we experience means. Plainly, virtual reality gives me hope in our ability to bring what is inside our minds to the outside; and the more people you can influence by sharing these ideas, the more likely you are to see what has been imagined come to fruition. If you throw down one seed there is a single chance of growth, if you throw down a hundred… well, you get the picture.

    “I think and hope you know that unless something resembling a miracle happens[…]”

    I personally am not one who believes in miracles per se, but when I was a child just a few years ago I would have thought that the level of technology on our cellular phones and computers nowadays as something miraculous, all of which came about through a progressive boom in less than a span of two centuries. So I’m not exactly sure of what you’re trying to infer. I don’t know how old you are, but I guess that you would know better than to say something as reckless, arrogant, and presumptuous as that. :)

    “[…]but also act truly civilized as they enter into the wider galaxy.”

    I am completely against the idea of controlling or suggesting the way in which a species decides to conduct itself in relation to its environment. Whatever helps them survive, thrive, and prosper, I’m all for it, no matter if it is considered ‘civilized’ or ‘savage’. I am simply sharing my own view on what would make me happy.

    I am optimistic about our desire to beat, or reverse biological death. Some edgy films on that feat (specifically focused on ‘mind’) I find interesting are:

    http://www.magpictures.com/mrnobody/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fountain
    http://vanishingwavesfilm.com/
    http://thecongress-movie.com/