Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Our Futures in Mind Uploading: Public Perceptions and Narratives

  Angela Thornton (2019 cohort)

Advances in neurotechnology, have immense potential but also pose significant ethical challenges since they implicate fundamental human capacities such as identity, agency, and autonomy. Hence the development of neurotechnology is being prioritised by intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The aim is to ensure neurotechnology development is grounded in principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and is responsive to all stakeholders.

While the public is a key stakeholder, research, and engagement with this audience is understudied. To address this gap, I implemented a multistage, multi-method, research programme which was informed by an e-Delphi study with multidisciplinary experts. My research used mind uploading as an exemplar for hypothetical future neurotechnology and contributes new data to an understudied field.

To encourage participants to connect with mind uploading, I designed a novel data collection tool and method - a website that told the stories of two fictional mind uploaded characters. This method was effective in facilitating narrative transportation, engagement and character identification and illustrated important ethical themes such as personal identity, subjective experience, immortality, and embodiment. My results showed that while awareness of mind uploading has remained relatively static over the last few years, favourability towards the concept has significantly increased, reflected in an increasing number of people who would upload if their physical body was dying and search for meaning in this new afterlife. However, despite the increasing use of Virtual Reality (VR) an afterlife as an avatar was unappealing and participants wanted a physical body the form of which was important. Reactions to the concepts of life extension and immortality indicated that an extended life span, which is potentially becoming more feasible, would be positively received, immortality less so.

However, while the public could identify several benefits for mind uploading,  primarily a continued connection to loved ones, they were clearly concerned how neurotechnology, particularly that which would augment our existing capabilities, might develop. Public concerns reflected those of policymakers and scientists including data protection, privacy, and security although public priorities sometimes differed. Participants confirmed the need for regulation to ensure neurotechnology is not discriminatory  and does not create an even greater divide between the privileged and disadvantaged. There were clear indications of the public’s interest in mind uploading as an example of future neurotechnology which signposts future opportunities in public research and public science.

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Public Science Lecture (December 2022) on whole brain emulation and mind uploading.

Public Science Lecture

Pint of Science 2023 - Creative Reactions where art is inspired by science. A musical interpretation of mind uploading

Creative Reactions 2023

Pint of Science 2023 - Public Talk

Pint of Science

Press Releases for British Science Festival 2023 

University of Nottingham Press Release

British Science Festival Website

5 minute segment on Notts TV  (I’m on from 5:47). 

Notts TV

Article in The Conversation

The Conversation

Interview in Dazed