Mind backup

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Mind backup technology is a hypothetical method to transcribe the most important memories and properties of a human mind as data in a computer. Eventually, this backed-up data could be used to create a self-aware computer program that would become a reasonably accurate copy or replacement of the person whose mind was measured.

Instead of (equally hypothetical) mind uploading methods that would directly scan and then emulate a human brain as a fully detailed software model, mind backup technology would try to reverse-engineer a human mind at a functional level. No attempt would be made to scan the brain's detailed architecture, let alone individual neuron connections. In this sense, it would resemble B.F. Skinner's behaviorist approach, or structuralism. Instead of the "hardware" of the brain's neurons, it would record the "software" of the mind's memories; assuming the two can even be separated. This is presumably easier than full neuronal scanning, but a functional mind copy would be less detailed and accurate than a virtual brain model.[1] Such a project would require an understanding of the design and hierarchy[2] of a human mind.

Like cryonics, mind backup would promise its user a chance to escape death. Their body and brain could still die, but a reasonably accurate copy of their mind could be created before or after their death. This copy could then be considered the continuation of the person whose mind had been measured. No one knows how to do such a thing, or if it is even possible. Mind backup remains a philosophical speculation, though there are already some early startups.

Early criticism

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There are major objections against the possibility of mind backup technology. Like any hypothetical technology, these questions may only be resolvable through experimentation.

Philosophical or computational objections

  • John Searle's Chinese Room argument suggests that a software copy of a mind might be possible, but it would not necessarily be self-aware, even if it claimed it was. This is disputed.
  • Robert Lawrence Kuhn suggested the problem of the human mind's complexity is too great for the human mind to solve, among other objections.[4]

Religious objections

Many religions believe in a spiritual afterlife. If human minds are actually immaterial created spirits, then they may be impossible to measure in this way, and attempting to do so might be offensive to God according to several religions. However, atheists may consider the possibility of technological immortality, no matter how remote, better than nothing.

The problem of identity

It's possible a mind copy would have to be completely accurate in every detail to continue the original mind's awareness. This could be related to the Hard Problem of awareness, which remains unsolved. Ray Kurzweil believes a chain of awareness can continue from brain to software, if a sufficiently integrated information pattern is maintained.[5]

Assuming a mind copy is only activated after the original human mind has passed away, and this copy is fully accurate, and it contains all the mind's memories up to that point; one could still never be certain this copy would be the continuation of the original mind's awareness.

Early research

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Mind backup researchers don't worry about the above problems, considering them problems for the distant future. The practical difficulties that someone would face in attempting to record a reasonable sample of their memories and personality traits are immense. It would clearly be impossible to write down even half the things anyone can remember, though many diarists have left extensive records of their lives. The process could start with an outline of the most important life information. This could even take the form of a biographical article in an encyclopedia with lower notability barriers than Wikipedia (such as Infogalactic), where in theory everyone could have their own encyclopedia article.

Creating such a life overview might itself have some benefits, if only as a way to increase self-awareness or even mindfulness, especially if it focuses more on positive memories. These are also less likely to fade.[6] Next, the user could create highly detailed descriptions of their most important or meaningful memories. This process could require yet-to-be-invented high-level tests that would extract a great deal of mind information in a short time. They could measure many reactions at once in high-resolution, or measure a specific response to a very specific challenge. Such "supertests" might require artificial intelligence to closely observe the subject and adapt the test for each subject. There are already many detailed or simple personality tests, like the Big Five.[7]

Given the unknowns, mind backup research may be no better than pseudoscience, though it has not been proven to be impossible. Such research may also become irrelevant if it becomes practical to scan the full structure of human brains in the not too distant future, as some futurists assert.[8]

Lifebox concept

Mind backup was described in the 1980 novel Software by Rudy Rucker, and also in numerous of his later works, such as "Saucer Wisdom", and "The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul" (2005-2016), where he describes a relatively simple "lifebox" computer program that would contain a text-based simulation of someone's memories and personality structure.[9] Rucker describes such a hyperlinked mind model as a pathway to limited immortality, and also as a possible mind extension.[10]

Early methods

Any attempt to represent the contents of a human mind in a database would be vastly incomplete, but that may not matter. Only a tiny fraction of human memories are preserved. What remains forms a highly biased but personal narrative. Mind backup would try to record as much as possible of this narrative, while ignoring the underlying neuronal or molecular processes.

It might help to start with the most important life data, followed by increasing amounts (but smaller percentages) of life memories at each lower hierarchy. These could be entered in writing or as voice recordings. Methods might include:

  • A chronological timeline of life events.
  • Record the most prominent tasks and activities that are often repeated, in the fullest possible detail.
  • A personal encyclopedia exclusively about one person's life. They could enter anything that seems important. Software might also automatically enter data on the subject's behalf.
  • A first attempt to simulate one important life setting (that may not even have happened exactly that way) in the greatest possible detail. It might be a composite setting or an endless moment simulation.
  • Recording all memories of a certain type, like the earliest memories after the period of childhood amnesia. Many other specific memory types could be added to Mind backup lists, which could be very long.
  • Comparing the subject to other people or to average mind templates, and recording only the differences.
  • There could also be a constant stream of high-resolution automatic recordings of the subject's life and online/multimedia activities, which could be done with a lifelogging device.

Early products and services


This 2014 startup proposes to preserve "its members' thoughts, stories, and memories for eternity". They will create "digital avatars" or alter egos of people, that will resemble them as closely as possible, and continue to exist online after their creators have passed away. Tens of thousands of people are said to have already signed up. They are currently in beta testing, with a select group of early users.[11][12][13]


This Australian startup proposes to create apps that will measure and recreate people's personalities for years prior to their death, to aid in their digital "resurrection" after they are gone.[14][15][16]


Scott Adams wrote that he uses his location tracking app as a tool to record his life in high detail, and specifically hopes this data can help create an accurate simulation of his mind in the future to continue his consciousness.[17]

Autobiographical software

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  • TheBrain was introduced in a GTD presentation by productivity guru David Allen about "Autobiographical Brain" software.[18] It stores and sorts data about Life Themes, Jobs, People, Education, Events, and Future plans, allowing hidden patterns to become clearer.[19]
  • Write Your Autobiography is a 390 page "Personal History Book" to help people type their life story using form templates and 1,870 predefined questions over 13 life stages.[20]
  • Memowhen software lets users make a timeline of their life.[21]


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Since the late twentieth century, some people have been recording their lives and activities in great detail through wearable digital cameras and other sensors. They may also choose to record everything they do while they're online. Special apps or portable devices may be invented for this purpose. At this point, the biggest problem is not gathering and storing this data, but organizing it all.

Social media

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  • As persistent social media have become ubiquitous, millions of people have already created digital records of their activities and thoughts over time. This has taken on (and even replaced) many of the aspects of lifelogging.[22] There is a risk that such technology may allow large organizations to manipulate and control their users, however.[23]
  • Deadsocial is a service that will let "people live on through their social media accounts".[24][25]


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  • In the 1951 novella "Izzard and the Membrane" by Walter M. Miller, Jr., someone's awareness can be copied into a computer merely by describing that person in sufficient detail.
  • Clyde Dsouza's 2013 novel Memories with Maya describes a technique that involves combining all the information a deceased person has left behind (tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, memories of living relatives) to reconstruct their mind, augmented with AI personality software.
  • In the Greg Egan short story "A Kidnapping", a man's wife is recreated as a completely plausible computer simulation, based only upon the man's memories of his wife. In fact the simulation appears more accurate and plausible to him than the living wife herself, who thinks the simulation of herself is inaccurate.
  • In the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back, a husband is killed unexpectedly. His wife then uses a service to digitally recreate him from his recorded communications and social media profiles.
  • The YouTube video "Regret in Heaven" is about the experience of a human mind that has been recreated by a future superintelligence.[26]
  • The science fiction film Marjorie Prime (2017), which was based on a play, features AI holograms that are programmed to duplicate the personality and behavior of deceased persons. They do this by talking to people who knew the subject while they were still alive, slowly becoming more realistic.


  1. KurzweilAI.net, Aug 24, 2011. http://www.kurzweilai.net/achieving-substrate-independent-minds-no-we-cannot-copy-brains
  2. Paul D. MacLean, 1990 book, "The Triune Brain in Evolution"
  3. Roger Penrose - beyond algorithms, retrieved Dec 22 2016, http://www.consciousentities.com/penrose.htm
  4. Robert Lawrence Kuhn (2016) https://www.closertotruth.com/articles/virtual-immortality-robert-lawrence-kuhn
  5. KurzweilAI.net, 2013. http://www.kurzweilai.net/ask-ray-how-can-i-maintain-my-stream-of-personal-identity
  6. BBC news, May 4, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27193607
  7. FAQ for The Big 5 Project. http://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/info/
  8. Techeye.net, Oct 21, 2010. http://www.techeye.net/science/human-beings-can-back-up-their-brains
  9. http://www.rudyrucker.com/lifebox
  10. (2009) http://www.rudyrucker.com/pdf/rucker_marvell_lifebox_immortality.pdf
  11. official website: http://eterni.me
  12. New Yorker magazine, Apr 4, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/how-to-become-virtually-immortal
  13. The Guardian, Apr 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/20/eternime-immortal-chatbots-silicon-valley-startup-can-you-cheat-death
  14. official online accounts: http://www.facebook.com/humaitech and https://twitter.com/humaitech
  15. Techspot, Rob Thubron, Nov 26, 2015. http://www.techspot.com/news/62932-new-startup-aims-transfer-people-consciousness-artificial-bodies.html
  16. Business Insider, Dec, 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/humai-futurist-startup-wants-to-resurrect-people-through-apps-2015-11
  17. Dilbert Blog, Jan 2017 post. http://blog.dilbert.com/post/155953933536/the-plan-for-immortality
  18. 2012 Getting Things Done presentation. http://www.thebrain.com/community/big-thinkers/david-allen/
  19. https://blog.thebrain.com/autobiographical/
  20. Maureen Stewart, Feb 8 2016. http://writeyourautobiography.com/
  21. by "This Life of Mine Limited" (2011) http://memowhen.com
  22. Lifelogging is dead (for now), Mike Elgan opinion column, Apr 4, 2016, http://www.computerworld.com/article/3048497/personal-technology/lifelogging-is-dead-for-now.html
  23. "Digital Tats" by Juan Enriquez, in the Edge Foundation, Inc. essay collection "What should we be worried about?" (2014)
  24. official website: http://www.deadsoci.al
  25. The Guardian, Jun 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/07/web-immortality-social-media-sites-alive-die-digital
  26. Uploaded by exurb1a (Jul 1, 2017)| https://youtu.be/PAjHTno8fbY

External links

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