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What are neural prostheses, whole brain emulation and mind uploading/transfer?

This page has not yet been updated. - May 28, 2014

The concepts behind the terms neural prosthetics, whole brain emulation and mind uploading are related, and in that order their objectives are of increasing complexity. A neural prosthetic is a replacement for or augmentation of a function or component of the nervous system in general, and of the human brain in particular. Currently, a number of neural prosthetics exist that replace or improve specific functions that are most commonly sensory functions. Examples are cochlear(1) and retinal(2) implants, but also implanted electrodes that inhibit seizures(3,4) and research toward the development of a prosthetic hippocampus(5). A neural prosthetic can be implemented as a hardware component, as software in a general computing environment or as a mixture of both. Independent hardware components are ideal for medical purposes, while other forms are useful in neuroscientific research.

In the long term, neural prosthetics that encompass all functions and components of the human brain may enable the emulation of complete human brain function on a different, possibly non-biological substrate. That condition is described by the term whole brain emulation. Emulation strives to equal the original function of an individual brain, while simulations in neuroscience research are attempts to create a constrained set of similar effects.

The transition of the functions and components of a specific human brain to whole brain emulation in another substrate is described as mind uploading. The term uploading, commonly used in information science, implies an operation similar to the transfer of information from one computing system to another.

- Randal A. Koene

 

References:

(1) Eddington, D.K. and Pierschalla, M.L. Cochlear Implants. Restoring Hearing to the Deaf. On the Brain, vol. 3(4), 1994.

(2) Rizzo, J.F. et al. Retinal Prosthesis: An Encouraging First Decade with Major Challenges Ahead. Ophthalmology, vol. 108(1), 2001.

(3) Terry R., Tarver, W.B. and Zabara, J. An implantable neurocybernetic prosthesis system. Epilepsia, vol. 31(suppl.2), pp. S33-S37, 1990.

(4) Brain-implanted Computer Stops Seizures. Technocrat.net, 20 August, 2004.

(5) World's first brain prosthesis revealed. New Scientist, 12 March, 2003.