Mind uploading has been a recurring theme in science fiction since the mid 1950’s. The concept has featured in popular TV programmes like Black Mirror (Brooker, Jones & Reisz, 2011-) and Years and Years (Cellan Jones & Shindler, 2019) as well as Netflix's Altered Carbon (Lenic, 2018 -) and Amazon's Upload (Daniels & Klein, 2020-).
However, while it is not yet science fact, breakthroughs such as new tools for mapping neuronal connections, high resolution imaging and growth in nanoscience and computing, as well as advances in neuro prosthetics and Brain: Computer Interfaces (BCI) means that mind augmentation and uploading may be possible one day.
Millions of pounds of funding are invested in mapping and modelling the brain with the aim of reverse engineering it via whole brain emulation (WBE). If WBE is achieved, it might hypothetically be possible to create a brain - and some believe a mind - on a different processing platform such as a computer. My industry partner - The Carboncopies Foundation – is active in this field and working to facilitate peer networks and projects for scientists working on challenges in WBE.
However, while the philosophical and scientific challenges of WBE and mind uploading are hotly debated, there is little research exploring the public’s understanding of and attitudes towards these concepts.
At the heart of my PhD is public awareness and attitudes and I am looking to explore the public’s potential journey to mind uploading (or not). The topics are conceptual and futuristic (and hence challenging to research) so I have used novel, creative approaches to ensure my research is relevant, resonant, and meaningful.
The foundation of my research with the public is an Online Longitudinal Panel. This comprises 12 individuals, ranging in age from 18 to over 80, who are based around the world. We have been working together since 2020 allowing us time to explore complex concepts and changing beliefs or attitudes. We have already explored past memories and future/predicted memories using a range of qualitative research methods. The participants have also engaged with AI driven apps and BCI technology to further explore brain and mind.
The final stage for my panellists will be to engage with a novel story telling website – ‘Afterlives’ – where they will experience a future world in which mind uploading is a reality. In this world both utopian and dystopian futures will be explored. As well as collecting data on attitudes to mind uploading I am also evaluating the story telling website as a method. This looks at measures such as transportation, engagement, and identification with the characters. Panellists’ self-report assessments of emotional response, imagination and attentional focus will be precursors to physiological measures of such parameters.
My research will provide unique insight into the public’s perception of and reaction to mind uploading and contribute to literature on novel methods for exploring future technology.
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Public Science Lecture (December 2022) on whole brain emulation and mind uploading.
Pint of Science 2023 - Creative Reactions where art is inspired by science. A musical interpretation of mind uploading
Pint of Science 2023 - Public Talk
Press Releases for British Science Festival 2023
5 minute segment on Notts TV (I’m on from 5:47).
Article in The Conversation