Sci-Fi Fans Enthusiastic For Digitizing the Brain

Summary: Researchers report science fiction fans are positive about the potential to upload consciousness, neurotech and digitizing the brain.

Source: University of Helsinki.

“Mind upload is a technology rife with unsolved philosophical questions,” says researcher Michael Laakasuo.

“For example, is the potential for conscious experiences transmitted when the brain is copied? Does the digital brain have the ability to feel pain, and is switching off the emulated brain comparable to homicide? And what might potentially everlasting life be like on a digital platform?”

A positive attitude from science fiction enthusiasts

Such questions can be considered science fiction, but the first breakthroughs in digitising the brain have already been made: for example, the nervous system of the roundworm (C. elegans) has been successfully modelled within a Lego robot capable of independently moving and avoiding obstacles. Recently, the creation of a functional digital copy of the piece of a somatosensory cortex of the rat brain was also successful.

Scientific discoveries in the field of brain digitisation and related questions are given consideration in both science fiction and scientific journals in philosophy. Moralities of Intelligent Machines, a research group working at the University of Helsinki, is investigating the subject also from the perspective of moral psychology, in other words mapping out the tendency of ordinary people to either approve of or condemn the use of such technology.

“In the first sub-project, where data was collected in the United States, it was found that men are more approving of the technology than women. But standardising for interest in science fiction evened out such differences,” explains Laakasuo.

According to Laakasuo, a stronger exposure to science fiction correlated with a more positive outlook on the mind upload technology overall. The study also found that traditional religiousness is linked with negative reactions towards the technology.

Disapproval from those disgust sensitive to sexual matters

Another sub-study, where data was collected in Finland, indicated that people disapproved in general of uploading a human consciousness regardless of the target, be it a chimpanzee, a computer or an android.

In a third project, the researchers observed a positive outlook on and approval of the technology in those troubled by death and disapproving of suicide. In this sub-project, the researchers also found a strong connection between individuals who are disgust sensitive to sexual matters and disapproval of the mind upload technology. This type of disgust sensitive people find, for example, the viewing of pornographic videos and the lovemaking noises of neighbours disgusting. The indications of negative links between sexual disgust sensitivity and disapproval of the mind upload technology are surprising, given that, on the face of it, the technology has no relevant association with procreation and mate choice.

a digital brain
According to Laakasuo, a stronger exposure to science fiction correlated with a more positive outlook on the mind upload technology overall. The study also found that traditional religiousness is linked with negative reactions towards the technology. image is in the public domain.

“However, the inability to biologically procreate with a person who has digitised his or her brain may make the findings seem reasonable. In other words, technology is posing a fundamental challenge to our understanding of human nature,” reasons Laakasuo.

Digital copies of the human brain can reproduce much like an amoeba, by division, which makes sexuality, one of the founding pillars of humanity, obsolete. Against this background, the link between sexual disgust and the condemnation of using the technology in question seems rational.

Funding for research on machine intelligence and robotics

The research projects above were funded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, in addition to which the Moralities of Intelligent Machines project has received €100,000 from the Weisell Foundation (link in Finnish only) for a year of follow-up research. According to Mikko Voipio, the foundation chair, humanism has a great significance to research focused on machine intelligence and robotics.

“The bold advances in artificial intelligence as well as its increasing prevalence in various aspects of life are raising concern about the ethical and humanistic side of technological applications. Are the ethics of the relevant field of application also taken into consideration when developing and training such systems? The Moralities of Intelligent Machines research group is concentrating on this often forgotten factor of applying technology. The board of the Weisell Foundation considers this type of research important right now when artificial intelligence seems to have become a household phrase among politicians. It’s good that the other side of the coin also receives attention.”

According to Michael Laakasuo, funding prospects for research on the moral psychology of robotics and artificial intelligence are currently somewhat hazy, but the Moralities of Intelligent Machines group is grateful to both its funders and Finnish society for their continuous interest and encouragement.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Michael Laakasuo – University of Helsinki
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “What makes people approve or condemn mind upload technology? Untangling the effects of sexual disgust, purity and science fiction familiarity” by Michael Laakasuo, Marianna Drosinou, Mika Koverola, Anton Kunnari, Juho Halonen, Noora Lehtonen & Jussi Palomäki in Nature Palgrave Communications. Published July 10 2018.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of Helsinki”Sci-Fi Fans Enthusiastic For Digitizing the Brain.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 12 July 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of Helsinki(2018, July 12). Sci-Fi Fans Enthusiastic For Digitizing the Brain. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved July 12, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of Helsinki”Sci-Fi Fans Enthusiastic For Digitizing the Brain.” (accessed July 12, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


What makes people approve or condemn mind upload technology? Untangling the effects of sexual disgust, purity and science fiction familiarity

The idea of separating a person’s consciousness and transferring it to another medium—’mind upload’—is being actively discussed in science, philosophy, and science fiction. Mind upload technologies are currently also being developed by private companies in Silicon Valley, and similar technological developments have received significant funding in the EU. Mind upload has important existential and ethical implications, yet little is known about how ordinary people actually feel about it. The current paper aims to provide a thorough moral psychological evaluation about various cognitive factors that explain people’s feelings and reactions towards the use of mind upload technology. In four studies (including pilot) with a total of 952 participants, it was shown that biological and cultural cognitive factors help to determine how strongly people condemn mind upload. Both experimental manipulations in a laboratory and cross-sectional correlative online study designs were employed. The results showed that people who value purity norms and have higher sexual disgust sensitivity are more inclined to condemn mind upload. Furthermore, people who are anxious about death and condemn suicidal acts were more accepting of mind upload. Finally, higher science fiction literacy and/or hobbyism strongly predicted approval of mind upload. Several possible confounding factors were ruled out, including personality, values, individual tendencies towards rationality, and theory of mind capacities. Possible idiosyncrasies in the stimulus materials (whether consciousness is uploaded onto a computer, chimpanzee, artificial brain, or android; and whether the person’s body physically dies during the process) were ruled out. The core findings inform ongoing philosophical discussions on how mind upload could (or should) be used in the future, and imply that mind upload is a much more salient topic for the general population than previously thought.

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