Upload Update

Like the narrator of William Gibson’s short story “The Winter Market”, I don’t think that mind uploads are the person whose brain they destroy. I’m not even sure that a living brain is the same person each day, or from moment to moment, but reassembling a similar pattern on the same substrate at least looks like continuity. Whether the Ship Of Theseus is the ship that Theseus’s sailed or not, a copy built next to it all in one go probably isn’t. But if the Ship Of Theseus burns, that copy is more like it than anything else that exists. Where the resemblance is many billions of bits strong, and there is no stronger resemblance extant, that’s a form of continuity of identity. Hopefully that of a portrait that captures the sitter’s personality rather than a vampire child.

The only fully uploaded neural connectome is that of the tiny C. elegans nematode worm. Not any particular worm, the worm as an organism. So there is no single identity for the upload to continue or to not continue. The connectome been downloaded into wheeled robots, where it bumbles around in a wormy manner. I’m working on using it to control the pen in a version of draw-something. It’s a different kind of neural art. Nematodes probably don’t have subjectivity, so hopefully this isn’t cruel. I don’t want to be the worm-torturing version of Roko’s Basilisk.

What if we are the worms in someone else’s art project, though? If the universe isn’t a simulation but rather an artwork this would render conceptual art nomination a priori correct and give human suffering the moral quality of crimes committed in the name of making art that do not pay for themselves with the resultant aesthetic achievement.

Neal Stephenson’s mind uploading novel “Fall, Or Dodge In Hell” deals in the ethics and aesthetics of mind uploading and its worlds. Less simulation, more simulacra. Reading it and encountering an uptick in transhumanist themes online and in meatspace has encouraged me to revisit my low-resolution “Uploads” project to make it very slightly higher resolution. I’m porting it to Kinect 2, improving its performance, and looking at better EEG options.

Following the themes of “Fall”, the uploads need a world to live in. At present they implicitly live through, but not on, Twitter. Maybe they can inhabit a simple VR environment. They also need to communicate with each other. Sad and other predetermined emotional reacts only, though. As local disk-based blobs of data they are in danger of being ephemeral. Content-addressable storage (IPFS) can help with that.

Blockchain security and permanence can evocatively address all of this as well – there are blockchain VR environments, communication systems, and data storage systems. There’s a fear of loss behind both mind uploading and blockchain systems. Finn Brunton’s excellent book “Digital Cash” draws out some more direct historical connections between the two.

But that’s another story.


A “bit” is a basic unit of information entropy. It’s binary, either on or off, present or absent, one or zero.

A “string” in computer programming is a sequence of items of a particular length. They may be fixed or variable length. Eight, sixteen, thirty-two and sixty-four bit numbers are fixed length. A text string is variable length.

A byte is a series of eight bits that’s used as a standard representation for typographic characters, colour values and many other things. Up until IBM’s OS/360 project in the late 1960s there was no real standard for this – computers might be decimal, or alphabetic, or have “words” of sizes from four to twenty-four bits. Some Soviet computers of the same period used ternary logic rather than binary. Alan Turing used a logarithmic measure of information entropy called a “ban“. So be wary of naturalising the bit and the eight-bit byte, but when you see bits grouped together in strings of lengths that divide neatly into eight, recognise that this is related to the reality of how most modern computer sytems divide up their memory.)

Bitstrings can be used to represent the presence or absence of properties. A fixed-length bitstring is a bitfield, but we’re going to stick with the more general name. Integer numbers represented in binary use bits to represent the presence or absence of quantities of increasing sizes within the number. 0110 is six in a four bit “nibble”. UNIX filesystems represent the permissions that the owner and other users of a file have to access and manipulate it as a sequence of bits.

Such bitfields can be found throughout computing. The satirical proposal for an “evil bit” to be set on Internet messages that have evil intent, shows both the prevalence of bitstrings and their users awareness of the limitations of binary thinking and computational representation.

As with their use to represent integer numbers using binary, bits can represent doubling or halving of quantities. It takes 33 bits of entropy to uniquely identify an individual among seven billion on Earth. Cryptographic hashes, which produce compact unique “names” for any input file of any length, often output 128, 160 or 256 bit values. Each bit doubles the possible size, quantity, or uniqueness of the thing it represents. It also doubles the size of the space in which it can hide.

Contemporary cryptographic encoding and signing systems use keys several thousand bits in length. They would take a conventional computer an infeasable amount of time to break. This property is used in Bitcoin mining to create cryptographic puzzles that require capital outlay to solve.

A proposal for “vectored signatures” for the “V” version control system uses features of these different strings of bits. It represents assertions about an individual’s relationship to and opinion of a piece of code using a bitstring. It asserts the identity of that individual using cryptographic signatures. This combination is a generalization of cryptographic “keysigning” as recognition of identity, and the fact that Bitcoin transactions involve cryptographic signatures of communications between individuals about single-dimensional (monetary) quantities.

The bitstring representation of logical operators developed by the Logical Geometry project provides a compact and information-rich notation for various logics. Each bit represents a fact about an operator such as “true in all possible worlds”, and relates to geometric and trellis representations of the same operators. Bitwise operations on these representations are meaningful – for example bitwise NOT on p (1100) gives ¬p (0011).

The combination of logically manipulable bitstring representations (as with Logical Geometry) asserted through cryptographic signatures (as with vectored signatures) seems like a possibly fruitful area of investigation.

Causal Horns

Gabriel's Horn
3D illustration of Gabriel’s horn by RokerHRO – Public Domain.

Causal horns are the equivalent of light cones for the potential effect of an event on other events over time – promoting or inhibiting the probability of particular range of events.

They’re horns because they’re twistier than generalized cones (although they compose similarly toDavid Marr’s use of them). Anything from a simple cone via hooks and bulbs to corkscrews and nautilus shells.

A causal horn fits within slices of the light cones of a succession of information transmissions. It’s more information rich, slower, and multidirectional in comparison.