Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Uploading a cat


Something that pops up in science fiction a lot is people uploading their consciousness to a computer.  Currently there seems to be an overly optimistic camp who think we’ll be able to do this in the next five years, and an overly pessimistic camp who think our brains are too complex to ever run on a computer.  I believe that we may have a 5% chance to pull it off in the next century, but in the long run it will be a near certainty.  In fact, I think the only thing that would actually stop us from eventually uploading our consciousnesses would be our extinction. 

But the point of this blog is that this won’t be something we figure out overnight.  There will be intermediate steps, such as uploading the consciousness of a lower animal, like a cat or dog.  Would there be a benefit to doing such a thing?  Yeah.  If you can upload a cat, you could also build some sort of interface.  Now, if you ask your living cat “Why do you have to be in my way?” you may get an odd look and a “Mrow.” But with an interface, you could get an answer from your virtual cat.  It wouldn’t be “Because I, Grithnar the Magnificent take pleasure from your discomfort,” but something more akin to a series of computer code of the “If this situation, take this action” type.  We can get a feel for some of these codes from observation of the living cat, but an interface could give us an actual view of the evolutionary programming code at the core of behavior. 

And once we know such animals work, there’s a chance we could change them.  We could run simulations to see what training methods would actually work.  Initially, the uploading process might be destructive, meaning we could only apply it to other animals.  But as the technique improved, it’s likely your cat or dog would survive and you could take what you learned from the uploaded version and apply it to the living version. 

But if we can upload from a dog to a computer, it’s possible we could download from the computer into the dog.  Give it a sort of obedience patch.  Imagine getting a puppy and housebreaking it with a few keystrokes.  And in a few years you could get the patch to make it a “quivering, snarling, white-hot ball of canine terror” at the snap of a finger.

Which makes you wonder, what will they do once we can upload humans?

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