Randal Koene on Substrate-Indipendent Minds via H+ Magazine


H+ Magazine has got some very interesting articles. One of which I liked in particular since I’m keen on the advances in Substrate-Indipendent Minds, aka mind uploading. Read this extremely informative interview with Randal Koene led by Ben Goertzel. I’d like to just highlight the quote, which is an outline of researchers who are now working in the field of Substrate-Indipendent Minds:

  • Ken Hayworth and Jeff Lichtman (Harvard) are the guiding forces behind the development of the ATLUM, and of course Jeff also has developed the useful Brainbow technique.
  • Winfried Denk (Max-Planck) and Sebastian Seung (MIT) popularized the search for the human connectome and continue to push its acquisition, representation and simulations based on reconstructions forward, including recent publications in Science.
  • Ed Boyden (MIT) is one of the pioneers of optogenetics, a driver of tool development in neural engineering, including novel recording arrays and a strong proponent of brain emulation.
  • George Church (Harvard), previously best known for his work in genomics, has entered the field of brain science with a keen interest in developing high-resolution large-scale neural recording and interfacing technology. Based on recent conversation, it is my belief that he and his lab will soon become important innovators in the field.
  • Peter Passaro (Sussex) is a driven researcher with the personal goal to achieve whole brain emulation. He is doing so by developing means for functional recording and representation that are in influenced by the work of Chris Eliasmith (Waterloo).
  • Yoonsuck Choe (Texas A&M) and Todd Huffman (3Scan) continue to improve the Knife-Edge Scanning Microscope (KESM), which was developed by the late Bruce McCormick with the specific aim of acquiring structural data from whole brains. The technology operates at a lower resolution than the ATLUM, but is presently able to handle acquisition at the scale of a whole embedded mouse brain.
  • Henry Markram (EPFL) has publicly stated his aim of constructing a functional simulation of a whole cortex, using his Blue Brain approach that is based on statistical reconstruction based on data obtained from studies conducted in many different (mostly rat) brains. Without a tool such as the ATLUM, the Blue Brain Project will not develop a whole brain emulation in the truest sense, but the representational capabilities, functional verification and functional simulations that the project produces can be valuable contributions towards substrate-independent minds.
  • Ted Berger (USC) is the first to develop a cognitive neural prosthetic. His prosthetic hippocampal CA3 replacement is small and has many limitations, but the work forces researchers to confront the actual challenges of functional interfacing within core circuitry of the brain.
  • David Dalrymple (MIT/Harvard) is commencing a project to reconstruct the functional and subject-specific neural networks of the nematode C. Elegans. He is doing so to test a very specific hypothesis relevant to SIM, namely whether data acquisition and reimplementation can be successful without needing to go to the molecular level.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Randal Koene on Substrate-Indipendent Minds via H+ Magazine

  1. Pingback: Randal Koene on Substrate-Indipendent Minds via H+ Magazine (via Maria Konovalenko) | Business, Technology and the Future

  2. Mitchell Porter

    I stopped believing that mind is substrate-independent computation long ago. From a physics perspective, “computational states” are highly approximate descriptions of some ultimate physical reality (a configuration of fields in space, or something less familiar). A transistor is really an atomic lattice with mobile electrons pooled at one end, but as an element in a computation we just treat it as a black box with two states, 0 and 1. And that is fine if all we care about is the behavior of a device – getting the right outputs. But consciousness isn’t just someone else’s model of the causes of your behavior; it’s a definite reality that you experience from inside.

    For any complex physical system, there are many levels of computational approximation possible – different ways to neglect some of the details and still have a model which behaves in the same way. But evidently consciousness corresponds to a very special causal substructure of the brain; special enough to have an inside. It just makes much more sense to me to suppose that the “physical/causal/computational correlate” of mental states is the *fundamental* physical state of something, rather than one of the many incomplete models which employ “black boxes”. I am therefore led to consider hypotheses like: there is a coherent quantum condensate in some part of the brain, perhaps made of mobile electrons and/or molecular phonons, and its states are the states of consciousness. It’s an exotic idea, but it gives the reality of consciousness its due respect.

    Just to be specific, let me continue to talk in terms of a coherent electron condensate. It will have an intricate quantum state, and that state is one’s state of mind, described as a physical object rather than a subjective experience… One may still think in terms of “migration to another physical substrate”, but it’s rather different to the usual simulationist approach, which thinks in terms of programs or perhaps circuits. By functionalist criteria, simply simulating the dynamics of that condensate on a computer will be sufficient to reproduce the individual consciousness. But by “physicalist” criteria, it has to be another condensate that is doing the simulating. Even better if the original condensate has been migrated to a new environment (a new molecular matrix that sustains its existence) without any interruption to its existence; if the world really works like this, that is probably the only procedure of “mind uploading” or “substrate migration” which actually corresponds to personal survival. Simulation on a different condensate would be a copy of the original consciousness, and simulation on something other than a condensate would be an unconscious simulation, with “nobody home”.

  3. This may well be the case. I mean the electron condensate or another quantum system that describes the mind – its state and dynamics of its functions. I don’t see the problem in describing this quantum system and accomplishing “substrate migration” other than that it’s very complicated. Do you see any fundamental problems?

    • Mitchell Porter

      Not problems that make it impossible – obviously there would need to be fundamental scientific, conceptual, and technological advances. But I just want to emphasize that this is an alternative conception of what’s involved in substrate migration, and in fact it is scientifically a different hypothesis about the nature of consciousness.

      Clearly most of the computation occurring in the brain is unconscious, and for this unconscious neuro-computation, I see no problem in replacing it with a computational prosthesis of arbitrary physical composition. These brain parts are unconscious co-processors for the conscious mind, and for them, functional behavior is all that matters. But Randal, like the majority of transhumanists, thinks that this also applies to the conscious part of the mind, that consciousness itself is also “just” a computation, and that the physical medium or substrate in which it occurs is not relevant to whether consciousness is also occurring. That’s where I disagree, and where I think we are still to have a really big scientific paradigm shift regarding the physical basis of consciousness. The nature of this next step is heavily clouded by reams of nonsense written about quantum minds, and it won’t be biologically credible until someone really does find evidence of quantum field theory being relevant to the description of living matter. Perhaps, if the implications for mind uploading are to be distilled into a slogan, the thesis is that the only sort of computer you could possibly be uploaded into would be a quantum computer. On this view, classical computers are only appropriate as a neuroprosthesis for unconscious neurocomputing functions (e.g. a lot of what the cerebellum does).

      So, don’t worry, cyborgs still have a bright future ahead of them, but they just need a few hundred quantum chips in their processor core to genuinely be conscious beings. 🙂

      • I see. Do you know anybody doing fundamental research on the nature of consciousness? I know just one really bright scientist, Konstantin Anokhin, but he is simply studying it without any particular purpose, like self-preservation. I would be very interested in learning about people working on studying our consciousness and their hypotheses. I find this breathtakingly interesting.

        • Mitchell Porter

          There are so many people working on physiological and technological aspects of consciousness… I think surely Anokhin could tell you about others. But the conceptual understanding of consciousness is also important. In Moscow, hardproblem.ru might be good for that.

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