In the new techno-thriller “Upload,” a young computer scientist with a sketchy past and distrust of society decides to take the ultimate leap forward by scanning his brain and uploading his memories, personality and consciousness into a simulated world of his own making.
The novel by author Mark McClelland is set in the Michigan of 2070 about the time that futurists like Ray Kurzweil predict that “singularity” will be reached, the moment when machine learning will surpass human intelligence. It’s not the first science-fiction tale to explore human-computer hybrids (see “What are Little Girls Made Of” in the first season of the original “Star Trek” series) or even the perils of virtual reality becoming too real (see the “Matrix” triology). But it does posit some questions that real-world researchers are just now tackling.
The European Union, for example, recently announced it was funding a $1.3 billion project to build a human brain on a silicon substrate. That’s about 1 1/2 cents per neuron. Swiss neuroscientist Henry Markham, who is behind the Human Brain Project, has already started work on building a simulated rat brain.
“Are machines getting more and more powerful? Absolutely. It’s been going on since 1940. We are making progress, and for many people it will be a lifesaver. But we are very far from understanding how the brain works.”
“The biggest issue we face right now in modeling human intelligence is the sheer number of computations happening at the same time,” McClelland said. “The scale of interconnected calculation is out of reach today.”
“It depends what you think about death,” Vardi said. “Some people have a hard time with this concept that you don’t exist anymore. This is one more attempt to overcome death. I don’t find it particular useful.”