My doubts have not gone away. They partly concern overpopulation and unfairness – what a horrible world it would be in which rich old people could have their minds uploaded, taking resources from younger people on an already overcrowded planet. What hubris for anyone to think their brain is worth preserving when everyone else’s is not. But I have much deeper doubts.
What is a mind anyway? We are far more than just brains and stored memories. We are whole embodied humans, deeply embedded in social worlds. Who am I? I am partly a product of my communications with everyone else. If my brain were preserved today and used in a brilliantly natural-seeming artificial body in a year’s time, then I might indeed wake up and go, “Wow, here I am again”, and take up my old friendships, family connections, email habits, website and Facebook page and still feel that I was the same person – just with a bit of a gap in time like being ill or going travelling for a year. But what if this were done a century hence – when the technology matures?
The world is changing ever faster and so are our “selves”. Each of us is connected with large groups of people in ways that were impossible only a few years ago. We rely heavily on external devices to explore the world and tell other people about ourselves, so that who I am is already becoming my output stream and the way it’s taken up and passed on by others – in other words, the memes that make up “me”. If, as philosopher Daniel Dennett suggests, a person is “an ape infested with memes”, then the nature of persons will inevitably change as technology and artificial intelligence evolve ever faster.
My guess is that “I” would wake up in my new, perfect artificial body and think, “Wow, here I am again”, only to realise that I was a completely inadequate “person” in this new world. Everyone else’s minds would be so far expanded beyond their original brains into other devices, implanted and external, that they would see me as a profoundly backward human or some kind of throwback from a primitive world they could hardly imagine. My friends, family and old connections would be gone. No one would understand me and I would not understand them.