Your Brain... Online?
- The Pixies
Jake uploads his mind to Eywa.
Downloading consciousness, or mind uploading,is the idea that people may one day be able to transfer the state of their brainto a digital medium. Popular representations of downloading consciousness touch on aspects of the subject such as immortality, speedup, multiple existence, etc. This is exemplified in Avatar, in which the main character uploads his mind to another body. Downloading consciousness is also touched upon in the television show Dollhouse. In the world of Dollhouse, people are constantly having their minds wiped and rewritten so that they utilize multiple personalities and skillsets.
Although popular fiction takes many liberties with the concept of downloading consciousness, the state of current technology suggests that we are still a ways away from seeing this become a reality. Current research in the field approaches downloading consciousness through several avenues. Projects such as IBM's Blue Brain attempt to model the brain using artificial neural networks. Another avenue is that of brain imaging. Current brain imaging uses scanning technologies to create detailed maps of the brain. Achieving downloaded consciousness will require a much greater level of detail than that provided by today's brain-mapping technology. Lastly, the act of downloading consciousness is believed to require a hypothetitical technology known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). A brain-computer interface would essentially be a direct neural connection between a human brain and a computer.
Despite progress in research, many obstacles remain which prevent downloading consciousness from becoming a daily phenomena. Several of these problems stem from moral quandaries related to the topic. For instance, consider the social implications of having multiple copies of one's self walking around. Other problems are more practical in nature. For example, our technology is not at a point where we can manufacture artificial networks with the same complexity as human brains. Even though downloading consciousness remains a futuristic and still theoretical technology, as research progresses, more and more scientists are affirming the possibility that it will one day become a reality.