28 Jan 2009

Nick Bostrom & Anders Sandberg: Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) (Mental Uploading / Mental Downloading) Part 1, Section 7, "WBE Assumptions"

by Corry Shores
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[My more developed Deleuzean critique of mental uploading can be found here. The following summarizes Nick Bostrom's & Anders Sandberg's new study on whole brain emulation. My commentary is in brackets.]

Nick Bostrom & Anders Sandberg
"Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap"

Part I: The Concept of Brain Emulation

Section VII: "WBE Assumptions"

Bostrom & Sandberg categorize the assumptions underlying their roadmap for developing the technology for computer emulations of human minds.

Philosophical Assumptions


1) Physics can explain the basis of all phenomena, mental or otherwise. So no matter what mental experience we are trying to simulate, it always corresponds to some physical event. To say that everything has a physical basis means the same as saying "everything supervenes on the physical."

2) This technology aims to create a digital mind-emulation that has subjective experiences. Humans are organic life forms. We may explain our subjective phenomena in terms of our biological 'machinery.' But if a computer experiences pain, then this subjective sensation must be made real by some non-organic means. In other words, these technological advances assume that there are multiple ways for subjective phenomena to be realized. This is called multiple realizability: "the same mental property, state, or event can be implemented by different physical properties, states, and events" (14d).

Computational Assumptions

One possibility is that the brain can perform mental operations that even the most advanced computers imaginable could not accomplish. But, it is also possible that such "uncomputable" activities have no effect on the overall functioning of the brain.
Because brain emulation would be performed by digital computers, we must assume that either
1) the brain only performs mental tasks that computers can replicate, or
2) any possible uncomputable brain-activities need not be simulated anyway, because they have no effect on the way our minds think.

We do not need to know every aspect of the brain's workings, because some of them might not contribute to consciousness or intelligence.

There are different levels of scale in the brain's functioning. We will simulate primarily one important level in the middle. We assume that there exists an intermediate level that when simulated
1) automatically replicates all the levels lower than it, and
2) brings about the emergence of the higher levels of organization.

Component tractability:
We also assume that the components of this level we select are understandable enough that we can accurately simulate them.

Simulation tractability:
And, we assume that our simulation of this level can be carried out by some existing or forthcoming computer.

Neuroscience Assumptions

We are interested in emulating the brain's functioning. This might require we also reproduce some parts of the body's operation. However, we will not need to simulate the entire body's functioning.

Our efforts to develop whole brain emulation will also serve to test the validity of these assumptions.

Sandberg, A. & Bostrom, N. (2008): Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap, Technical Report #2008‐3, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University.
Available online at:

Nick Bostrom's page, with other publications:

Anders Sandberg's page, also with other publications:

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