Hardware for Uploading

Much debate has been generated recently over what sort of hardware will be required to support an uploaded person. Will any (Turing-machine equivalent) computer do, or are specialized devices necessary? The issue is more important than it may first appear, because it places constraints on the conditions under which uploaded people may operate. For example, Moravec has proposed that uploads may be able to function in computers constructed on the surface of neutron stars, and other exotic environments; clearly, if the mind requires certain properties in its supporting hardware, then many such scenarios become impossible.

The "strong" uploading position is that the mind is simply an information processor, equivalent to a Turing machine in principle (though highly parallel). If this is true, then any computer with sufficient speed and capacity can implement the mind of an uploaded person. Of course, the speed and capacity of current hardware is far below what is required, and typically more exotic components (optical or molecular) are imagined. Nonetheless, in principle even a personal computer (or a Turing machine made of tissue paper!) could support an upload if it is given sufficient storage capacity, and if one is sufficiently patient.

The "weak" uploader asserts merely that the mind can be supported by an aritificial device, but makes no assertions about the nature of that device. It may, for example, require quantum interactions and nonlocal effects which cannot be implemented in a Turing-equivalent machine. The device may have to be geometrically similar to a real brain, or have components which respond to magnetic fields, or whatever. Robert Ettinger gives a commentary on this issue in which he argues that such nonsymbolic processes are necessary for generating our subjective consciousness.

In either case, no one actually supposes that an upload would be implemented on anything resembling today's computers. The speed and storage capacity required are simply too vast. Some developments which may prove relevant include:

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hardware.html . . . . . . . . 1/27/97 . . . . . . . Joe Strout