Singularity 1 on 1: Randal Koene on the Ethics of Mind Uploading

This is my second interview with Dr. Randal Koene for Singularity 1 on 1.

Dr. Koene is perhaps one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists. He is director of analysis at Halcyon Molecular, co-founder of Carbon Copies and co-founder of and director at the Neural Engineering Corporation of Massachusetts.

Randal’s research objective is whole brain emulation, creating the large-scale high-resolution representations and emulations of activity in neuronal circuitry that are needed in patient-specific neuroprostheses.

During our first interview Dr. Koene argued that Mind Uploading Is Not Science Fiction and gave a general overview of his personal and professional background as well as the challenges in working on whole brain emulation.

This time around I wanted to focus our conversation primarily on the ethics of mind uploading so we cover topics such as: ethical dilemmas in whole brain emulation; legal and ethical frameworks and constrains; access to mind uploading technology; R.J. Sawyer‘s fantastic sci fi book Mindscan; the computing requirements behind whole brain emulation; the brain in a vat scenario; brain prosthesis; personal identity and multiple uploads; intelligence rights.

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.)

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Who is Randal Koene?

Randal A. Koene is heading up Analysis at nanotechnology company Halcyon Molecular in Silicon Valley. Previously, Randal A. Koene, Ph.D., was Director of the Department of Neuroengineering at Tecnalia, third largest private research organization in Europe. He is a former Prof. at the Center for Memory and Brain of Boston University, and co-founder/owner of the Neural Engineering Corporation of Massachusetts. His research objective is whole brain emulation, creating the large-scale high-resolution representations and emulations of activity in neuronal circuitry that are needed in patient-specific neuroprostheses.

Koene has professional expertise in computational neuroscience, psychology, information theory, electrical engineering and physics. He organizes neural engineering efforts to obtain and replicate function and structure information that resides in the neural substrate for use in neuroprostheses and neural interfaces. And based on NETMORPH (netmorph.org), Koene’s computational framework for the simulated morphological development of neuronal circuitry, his lab is creating a Virtual Brain Laboratory to give neuroscientists, neuroengineers and clinicians large-scale high-resolution quantitative tools analogous to the computational tools that have become essential in fields such as genetics, chemistry or the aero-space industry. This effort bridges scales and will help determine how significant functions are encoded robustly in neural ensembles, and how those functions can nevertheless depend in specific ways on the detailed biophysics of particular component physiology.

Koene earned his Ph.D. in Computational Neuroscience at the Department of Psychology at McGill University, and his M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering with a specialization in Information Theory at Delft University of Technology. He is a member of the Oxford working group that convened in 2007 to create a first roadmap toward whole brain emulation (a descriptive term for the technological accomplishment of mind transfer to a different substrate that was first coined by Koene on his MindUploading.org website).

Visit Koene’s personal web site rak.minduploading.org, carboncopies.org, MindUploading.org or watch Koene present and discuss “Scope and Resolution in Neural Prosthetics and Special Concerns for Emulation of a Whole Brain”.

  • http://cmstewartwrite.wordpress.com/ CMStewart

    Great questions, thanks for asking and addressing these issues, Nikola and Dr. Koene.

    Now I have a new nightmare- accidentally having more than 1 copy of me! I don’t think “I” could live with my “selves.”

    Having 2 (or more) copies of your “self” would force a new paradigm of self-identity. “You” (each one of you) would immediately question your continuity of consciousness. One would think “I’m the *actual* continuation,” but the other consciousness copy also feels like the *actual* continuation. That is what continues to trip me up. For example, in a 2 copies of 1 original consciousness scenario, both copies want to continue life as it was before the copying. Sure, beforehand you can decide one copy remains in the home, one copy must find another home, one can stay married to the spouse, one must start a new life single, but which for which? Random “A” versus “B” assignment? Imagine looking at someone who looks exactly like you, and having to give up your life and spouse and home for that person. Of course, keeping your original life would also happen to you. But you- as a single consciousness in one body- don’t experience *both* outcomes. So which outcome would you experience? I need a brain implant to work my way through this perceived paradox!

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    You are so funny Cynthia: “I can’t live my “selves”…. Me too – I would kill my (other) self for he will definitely be too much! ;-)

  • Pauls890

    Of all of your podcasts these 2 are the most relevant to
    me (and could be for everyone). I will never delete Randal Koene :)   I feel he
    has hit upon the formula – a Slow (in-vitro) Transfer to SIM that will keep all
    of us together and exploring for many years to come.  Just like Morevec envisioned..Paul
    Of all of your podcasts these 2 are the most relevant to
    me (and could be for everyone). I will never delete Randal Koene :)   I feel he
    has hit upon the formula – a Slow (in-vitro) Transfer to SIM that will keep all
    of us together and exploring for many years to come.  Just like Morevec envisioned..Paul

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    I am very happy you enjoyed these episodes so much Paul! Hopefully you will find other past or future interviews that will at least equal, and hopefully, improve on them. ;-)

  • Pauls890

    Well they are ALL Great. 
    These are just GGGGGGGreat  :)

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

     OK now you made me laugh so hard I had trouble stopping ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.andersen3 Martin Andersen

    Excellent interview. I think I will look into some of the talks Dr Koene has done, and also the website mentioned.

  • http://twitter.com/jasonahlquist Jason Ahlquist

    Fascinating discussion. Here’s a twist to think about. Instead of uploads fighting over property, how would personal responsibility for crimes be looked at. If Lex Luthor becomes an upload before his original body dies and Superman catches the upload. Does the upload get punished for all of Lex’s past crimes? If so what happens if the upload gets punished, but then the original body Lex comes back to life and its all revealed to be a trick. Does that get original body Lex off the hook? Possibly in our legal system through interpretation of double jeapordy concepts, but what about ethically? SHOULD both Lex Luthor’s be punished? For that matter, what if Hitler’s brain were discovered remarkably in tact in a B-Movie brain jar? I’m sure many would love to “re-boot” him just to punish him for the Holocaust, etc.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Those are some really good interesting and challenging questions Jason! Thanks for your contribution!!

  • CM Stewart

    I agree with Socrates- the ramifications are challenging. I would guess we, as an evolving species, would have to completely transform our justice system. (Though we’ve been needing to do this anyway.) Maybe instead of punishment, brain-invasive (or software-invasive) rehabilitation of the original offender and all the copies . . ? As for Hitler and the like, I vote we destroy those vatted brains.

  • Jason Ahlquist

    “As for Hitler and the like, I vote we destroy those vatted brains.” Hey! I’m posting this from my jar! It’s bad enough this thing used to hold pickles and only gets dial-up without you declaring a brain hunt! ;P

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