Musk early adopters of “digital immortality”? The path to consciousness is obstructive and long

“The body function is debugged; the nervous system circuit is loading; the brain data is being reproduced; the host consciousness is being uploaded; the system function binding is completed;” 

Having experienced the baptism of many novels, games, and film and television works, I believe you are no stranger to such expressions. The fictional colors of literary works are so bizarre that when we were still immersed in them, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was already willing to be a “guinea pig”. 

Musk recently said he had uploaded his brain to the cloud and talked to a virtual version of himself . It is reported that this was mentioned by Musk in response to a question from Dogecoin co-founder Billy Marcus on Twitter. “It has already been done,” he said. 

Musk early adopters of "digital immortality"? The path to consciousness is obstructive and long

What does “brain upload to the cloud” mean? Is Musk “talking about” or is there really a breakthrough? 

Before that, we must clarify two terms—brain-computer interface and consciousness upload, two overlapping but different concepts. 

Digital immortality is not just around the corner, and the path to consciousness is blocked and long

Brain-computer interface refers to the establishment of a direct communication bridge between the human or animal brain and external devices. With this bridge, users can realize two-way interaction with external devices, directly convert ideas into action instructions from external devices, or accept electrical, magnetic, sound, and light stimuli input from external devices to the brain to regulate the activity of the central nervous system in the brain. 

Conscious uploading is to upload all the things in the human brain (including consciousness, spirit, thought, memory) to computing devices (such as computers, quantum computers, artificial neural networks). 

The focus of the two is different. The brain-computer interface aims to restart the physical body or find a carrier to replace the physical body. The upload of consciousness does not matter whether the physical body exists or not. 

It can be understood in this way that the application scenario of the brain-computer interface is that when the physical body becomes the shackles of consciousness, we regain the mobility with the help of external hardware. But in the real world, all life has an end, and consciousness will eventually die with the physical body. Before that, by uploading consciousness and storing it, it will be reborn in the digital world, and finally “digital immortality” will be realized.

Brain-computer interfaces are more inclined to solve real-life ailments and have a wide range of applications, such as paralysis, aphasia, and rehabilitation of patients with mental and neurological diseases. With the gradual maturity of the technology, its application will be popularized in the life of healthy people, covering the fields of game entertainment, learning and education, smart home, etc., and the potential directions are extremely rich. 

Musk early adopters of "digital immortality"? The path to consciousness is obstructive and long

(Image source: Proceedings of the Chinese Academy of Engineering Deep brain stimulation equipment electrodes are often used to treat Parkinson’s disease)

Second, the implementation difficulty of the two is different. 

After entering the 21st century, the field of brain-computer interface has made considerable progress under the background of the rapid development of machine learning algorithms and EEG signal processing technology, and a large number of diversified paradigms have emerged, such as visual BCI, language BCI, emotion recognition, etc. 

With the continuous improvement of the underlying technology, the brain-computer interface has entered the clinical stage, and the “storage container” required for consciousness uploading is still in the research and development stage.

This “container” can’t just be a large U-disk, but a virtual human brain, which can not only store memory, but also “think” like a human brain. Autonomy and cognitive abilities. 

At present, the memory chip with the performance closest to the brain is developed by the Samsung Advanced Technology Research Institute. Samsung’s research team claims that the accuracy rate of the chip in writing and number classification has reached 98%, and the accuracy rate in face detection has reached 93%. However, Dr. Seung chul Jung, the core staff member of the study, admitted, “There is still a considerable gap between the calculations currently performed by MRAM chips and the calculations performed by the brain.” 

What is the container used by Musk to “upload the brain to the cloud”? What is the uploaded content? We don’t know anything about it now, and the authenticity of its “consciousness upload” will undoubtedly be marked with a big question mark.

Brain-computer interface—from scientific research to clinical

From the perspective of the underlying technology, consciousness uploading and digital immortality are too far away. From a practical point of view, the brain-computer interface directly hits the pain point. Therefore , the brain-computer interface is the current research focus, and has moved from scientific research to clinical practice.

Musk’s brain-computer interface equipment company is Neuralink. Judging from Neuralink’s current progress, the company has not achieved a leading edge. 

Neuralink installed 1,024 needle-shaped flexible electrodes on the latest generation of coin-sized wireless brain-computer interface devices that penetrate the cerebral cortex to record and manipulate neural activity. In a 2020 showcase, the device already enabled monkeys to play a simple game of pinball. But the company still needs to conduct human trials, and experiments similar to implanting chips into human brains are still awaiting FDA approval. 

On the other hand, Synchron, an Australian start-up company, has completed overtaking and completed the first human implantation operation in the United States on July 6. Prior to this, Synchron implanted brain-computer interface devices into the bodies of 4 Australian patients .

From the results, the success rate is as high as 100%. So far, 4 patients have experienced no side effects and have successfully achieved their initial goal of installing the device — they can text, shop online, and more. 

Domestic research on brain-computer interface is also making progress . On June 25, the first domestic interventional brain-computer interface independently developed by China successfully completed animal testing in Beijing. 

The interventional brain-computer interface of this experiment was led by the team of Professor Duan Feng from the School of Artificial Intelligence of Nankai University, and jointly developed with Shanghai Xinwei Medical Technology Co., Ltd. 

Musk early adopters of "digital immortality"? The path to consciousness is obstructive and long

(Photo courtesy of Nankai University, my country’s first implementation of an interventional brain-computer interface in a sheep brain)

Domestic enterprises have also sprung up with innovative technologies and targeted solutions, including Brain Tiger Technology, which has unique silk protein materials and MEMS process technology in the invasive field; focuses on dual-target DBS technology, and independently develops the first domestic technology. Jingyu Medical, a neuromodulation chip. In addition, companies in the non-invasive field, such as BrainCo, Brilliance, Zhentai Intelligence, and Brainlu Technology, have unique advantages in the subdivision field. 

There are even a number of game companies that have invested in brain-computer interface research early, including Mihayou and Century Huatong. The former established the Ruijin Mihayou Joint Laboratory, and the latter jointly established the Zhejiang University Legend Innovation Research Center with Zhejiang University. The related results of the regulation mechanism of brain diseases have been published in the journal Nature. 


For digital immortality, there is still a debate about whether it is achievable: the thinking process is like a black box, from input to output, it will be affected by various information. When a person at the biological level dies, can a digital neural network really take over human consciousness and continue the essence of human beings?

The world’s first “cyborg” – British scientist Peter Scott-Morgan transformed himself into a “half-human, half-machine” through multiple surgeries, and used eye tracking, voice With the help of technologies such as synthesis and virtual avatars, it has evolved into “Peter 2.0”. His lover has expressed similar concerns to him: Are you expressing yourself using AI?

The vortex formed by such problems cannot be broken free for the time being, and the underlying technology has not yet been laid. It can be said that consciousness uploading and digital immortality are still an ethereal dream. At this moment, you might as well set your sights on brain-computer interfaces that are easier to implement. After all, human implanted brain-computer interface devices have been implemented, haven’t they? 

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