FSCJ Center for eLearning | PHI2010-Mod6-Uploading_Consciousness___Digital_Immortality
Over the past few decades, tremendous advancements have been made in the field of neuroscience,
from mapping the human brain to creating devices that can capture digital images of our thoughts. But
what if we could upload a digital copy of our memories and consciousness to a point that human beings
could actually achieve a sort of digital immortality? This idea has inspired many science fiction movies,
including the upcoming film Transcendence, where one man’s mind is uploaded into a supercomputer
which possesses the collective knowledge of all of humanity. While the film is fiction, the concept behind
it is very real.
It’s also the subject of a new book called Future of the Mind, which is currently number one on The New
York Times best-seller list. The author is renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Earlier today,
Breaking the Set producer Manuel Rapalo caught up with Dr. Kaku and first asked him how far we really
are from achieving a digital upload of consciousness.
Just last year, for the first time in world history, a memory was recorded. We can actually tape-record a
memory and insert it back into an animal. And it remembers. This is amazing.
At Wake Forest University, also in Los Angeles, they took a mouse, trained the mouse to sip water,
recorded the memory in the hippocampus, right here, a small organ that processes memory. The
mouse later forgot that.
Then they shot the memory back into the mouse. And bingo. The mouse got it the first try. Next will be
primates, perhaps a monkey eating a banana. We’ll record that memory and insert back in.
And the short-term goal is to create a brain pacemaker for Alzheimer’s patients. In the future, we’re
going to have millions of people who forget where they live, wander around. Why not have a button?
You push the button and you immediately remember where you live, who you are, who your kids are.
And beyond that, who knows? Maybe we’ll upload the vacation that you never had.
It seems so mind-blowing to me to consider that memory, which is not a static thing, it’s always
changing, it’s evolving depending on our experiences, can be digitized. It’s really mind-blowing. But I
want to ask you about something else that you mentioned in the book, the ability for telepathy. And
you’ve actually said in the past that in the future humans will be able to mentally contact anybody we
want, see whatever image we want. And if we don’t like it, we can just turn it off. Really?
That’s right. In the future, in fact today, we can get so that you walk into a room. You’ll probably on a
headset, such that you can control the lights, turn on the TV, call for your car, tell your car where to go,
type, dictate documents, without ever touching a computer screen. And our children will wonder, how
could you possibly live in a world where you had to touch the screen and you had a mouse and you had
to type? Everybody just thinks and types, makes documents, controls cars.
It’s fascinating where we’re headed. And it seems like it really is inevitable. And I think a lot is taken for
granted over the things that we’re already able to do now. I mean, you were just referring to these
sensors in the brain that can capture images inside the brain. What are some of the other practical
applications that these things could have?
Well, this will replace the internet. It’ll become a brain net. We’ll record emotions, thoughts, patterns,
behavior, and send it on the internet.
Teenagers will love it. Can you imagine Facebook? You send emotions, your first date, your first kiss,
your first senior prom, all on the internet. Teenagers already put little like happy faces on their emails,
right? We’re going to be able to record thoughts.
And the movies are going to be replaced by the brain net. Movies today are a flat screen with sound.
That’s the movies, right? In the future, perhaps emotions and feelings will also be conveyed. This is
called total immersion entertainment.
It’s amazing. And actually, that reminds me of this new movie that’s coming out now, this Johnny Depp
movie called Transcendence, where it kind of takes that premise as well, taking your consciousness
and uploading it digitally. But I wanted to ask you, I mean, you make it sound like it’s going to be a lot of
fun. But also there’s aspects that I think are a little bit terrifying.
And I wanted to ask you about this new pill that’s being developed that can slow down a person’s
perception of time. And what’s being said is that this could be applied to prisoners. And they’ll take a pill.
It’ll slow down the perception of time so that 8 hours could feel like 1,000 years, a 1,000 year sentence.
How would this work? And why does the future sound so terrifying?
Well, we are tinkering with the brain itself. For example, people who have traumatic memories of war
sometimes they’re paralyzed with these horrible memories of a rape, an accident, warfare. We can
create a forgetful drug that actually takes the edge off many of our most violent and oppressive
However the President’s Commission on Bioethics recommended against marketing the forgetful drug,
because they said that even unpleasant memories are useful. We learn from them. But personally, I
think that sometimes some memories are so disastrously awful that they paralyze you. They prevent
you from becoming a normal person. And I think we should allow forgetful drugs to be marketed.
Also, drugs and therapies which can perhaps even increase intelligence are now being talked about.
We’ll have perhaps memories that we can upload into the mind, perhaps memories of a job that we’re
not trained for. Or perhaps a college student will upload a course that they flunked in college. We can
perhaps increase our intelligence.
And now we’re also investigating super-intelligence, photographic memory, people who memorize
everything. They hear a concert. They see a landscape. They can draw the landscape. They can
reproduce the entire concert on one try.
How is it possible that people have that mind? We now believe that the mind records. But the mind also
These people, the forget mechanism is broken. They never forget. They have a photographic memory.
And we think that some great scientists of the past had this ability, the ability to have access to powers
of the mind that we cannot as mortals.
Right. And this is nothing new. This is something that can date back for a very long time, people that
have those photographic memories. And you’ve actually said that right now, the time that we’re living in,
is the golden age for learning about the mind, that we’ve learned more in the last 15 years than in all of
prior human history. What took so long?
Because only recently have we had the physics, the instruments like the MRI scans that are sensitive
enough to see the blood flow of the thinking brain down to like a tenth of a millimeter. And now we have
supercomputers that can actually read these thoughts and control computers by thinking. So by
thinking, we can now control mechanical arms, mechanical legs.
We can type. We can control thermostats, turn on the web, change the channel on a TV set, turn on the
toaster, all of it just mentally. And at the next international soccer games in Brazil, scientists at Duke
University want to take someone who’s totally paralyzed, outfit him with an exoskeleton, and he will
introduce the international soccer games in Brazil.
That’s amazing. And actually one of those things that I’ve always enjoyed about your work is you’re very
gifted in taking these complex theories and making them easier to understand. I wanted to ask you
about this recent discovery about the gravitational waves that are essentially remnants of the Big Bang.
Can you explain why this is such an amazing discovery?
Well, we think that at the inset of the Big Bang, gravity waves, waves that we’ve never seen before,
dominated the Big Bang. And now we see them with our detectors in the South Pole. Einstein predicted
this 98 years ago. And it took 98 years for us to see that at the inset of creation, there were in fact
Now, this is very incredible, because it means that the Big Bang was a quantum event, meaning that
there’s a probability it could happen again and again and again, creating a multiverse of parallel
universes. So our universe may not be the only universe. This result has philosophical, theological
implications. If the Big Bang happened once, that’s a quantum event. It can happen again.
And it’s a subject that’s so almost impossible for the human mind, at least mine, to even fathom. But
you bring up a good point, because another subject that’s very interesting that you discuss is God. You
describe yourself as a pantheist. And I was hoping that for our viewers that don’t know what pantheism
means, you could explain that and how that ties into your work in theoretical physics.
Well, Einstein was asked a question about God. And he said there are really two kinds of God. First is
the personal god, the god that answers your prayers, that smites your enemies and the philistines. But
he didn’t believe in that god. he believed in the god of Spinoza, the god of harmony, beauty, simplicity.
You know, the universe could have been ugly. It could’ve been random. It could’ve been chaotic. And
yet here we are in an orderly universe that obeys very simple laws. You can put all the laws of physics
on one sheet of paper.
That’s simplicity and elegance. And that’s the god of Einstein, the god of Spinoza, the god of harmony.
And that’s the god that I lean toward. That is, the universe itself is so gorgeous and it didn’t have to be
I think that’s something we could all get behind. I’d love to continue to talk about God and the universe
and everything. I want to talk about something a little bit more earthly, something a little bit closer to
home that you’ve been outspoken about as well, which is Fukushima and the nuclear crisis in Japan.
There’s so much disinformation out there. What is the severity of the crisis right now as you see it?
The crisis is much more severe than we’re led to believe. Documents have been coming out over the
last two years showing how the utility and the government deliberately suppressed vital information. Did
you know that even as the accident was progressing and they said, don’t worry, everything’s under
control, they were contemplating evacuating Tokyo, evacuating Tokyo. I mean, it’s mind-boggling. But
that’s how severe the accident was.
Now, right now we have three melted reactors. It’ll take 40 years by their estimate to clean up this
disastrous accident. And it could start again any time soon. A small earthquake could tip it over. And the
accident starts all over again.
I mean, it really is insanity, nuclear insanity, really. Like I said before, though, and as you mentioned,
that sounds like a conservative estimate, 40 years for the clean-up. There are so many conflicting
reports that are coming out.
The seafood’s safe to eat. Oh no, it’s not. The radiation is going to hit the west coast. And other
scientists will disagree. What will be the long term impacts? Is this an everlasting crisis?
It’s not an everlasting crisis. But there are dead zones. Dead zones are on the reactor. That’ll be dead
zones for decades to come.
And all of us have a piece of Fukushima in you. I can take a Geiger counter right to your body and
detect some of the radiation from the reactor. However, it’s minimal. So don’t think that everything is
going to be radioactive here in the United States. It’s not that way.
Food you can eat. However, we have to monitor the food very carefully, because we do know that
radioactive cesium, with a half-life about 30 years, leaked into the ocean. And it’s water-soluble.
And it did get into the fish and sea life around Fukushima. But the government does monitor these
things. And so far as we know, the food supply is safe.
Well, I mean, I hope so. I hope that we can eat this food. And I did want to ask you, given that the crisis,
like you said, another minor earthquake could trigger another meltdown.
Another tipping point.
Exactly. And there’s so many different reactors all over? There’s so many here in the United States. Do
you think that as a result of Fukushima, what we’ve learned from Chernobyl, that in the future we’ll
eventually do away with nuclear energy? Do you see us moving beyond that?
Well, Germany has already thrown in the towel. Germany says, never again. They saw what happened
at Fukushima. A disaster in Germany could literally wipe out Germany as a nation. And so they’re
phasing out nuclear entirely.
Switzerland follows suit. Italy is sort of teetering right now. And even Japan is teetering on the brink.
They have a national debate as to whether or not to go nuclear or not.
See, after World War II, Japan made a Faustian bargain. Faust was a legendary figure who sold his
soul to the devil for unlimited power. That’s the Faustian bargain that Japan made after the war. And
now they’re going to have to re-analyze whether it’s worth it to sell your soul to the devil.
Well, that’s the future of nuclear energy, I suppose. Dr. Michio Kaku, I want to thank you so much for
taking the time to join us. Theoretical physicist, author of The Future of the Mind. It’s number one right
now. Everybody check it out. Thank you so much.
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