Uploads, 2011, software, Kinect, MindWave.
Uploads is a DIY Transhumanist system for creating low-resolution personality uploads using currently available consumer-level technology.
Created using C++, OpenFrameworks and Python on Trisquel GNU/Linux 5.
You can download the source files here.
Uploading human consciousness to a computer was a common trope of Cyberpunk literature. Pat Cadigan’s “Synners“, the TV series “Max Headroom“, the movie “The Lawnmower Man“, and William Gibson’s short story “The Winter Market” all feature uploads. But there is a more serious side to uploading, exemplified by Hans Moravec‘s book “Mind Children”.
The titular character of the “Max Headroom” TV series is the uploaded consciousness of a television reporter. Max is a glitch art upload, an example of noise signifying authenticity that predates Trip-Hop. In the episode “Detities” an Extropian televangelist church wishes to replace their primitive uploads, essentially video loops of the dead who intone a familiar phrase to reassure their visitors, with the more advanced Max Headroom process.
Moravec proposes that the brain be scanned, layer by layer, by a destructive system that would remove neurons whose values had already been transferred to computer. The brainless body would then be left to die. “The Winter Market” dramatises the question of whether the resulting data is really the person whose physical existence was terminated in order to create it.
This Transhumanist resolution to the mind/body problem ironically separates the mind from the body by asserting that the mind is purely a localized product of part of the body. The technology required to do so is not yet available. But people’s social lives are atrophying as they become simply vehicles for maintaining digital social media simulacra of their lives.
There is a new trend in Transhumanism, if not inspired by Maker culture then reflecting it, to not wait for future technological or economic developments before getting on with upgrading oneself. This trend is exemplified by sensory enhancements such as neodymium magnet implants and haptic direction senses. This kitchen table Transhumanism realises some of the content of Transhumanism at the expense of disappointing its fetishised military-industrial-complex inspired form.
The quantum free will confections of Roger Penrose’s “The Emperor’s new mind” and the role of embodiment and the rest of the nervous system in consciousness aside, for uploading the state of the brain (which in Moravec’s scheme is coterminous with the mind) to be a successful transcription of personhood we must know the level of detail at which further detail would be irrelevant. We do not, but it is certainly below the level of Electroencephalography (EEG).
“Uploads” uses consumer EEG headset equipment to digitize the least possible record of the state of the human brain in different emotional states (chosen from Descartes’ emotional categories). It is emotion that makes us human, after all. A physical expression of emotion is digitized using the Kinect. The brainwave and facial states are rendered in software in response to the emotional environment of Twitter. Using consumer-grade equipment ties the project to Maker culture and kitchen table Transhumanism.
I expect this project to be misunderstood in two ways, both failures of irony. Firstly as a demonstration that uploading is practical in a limited way now so its full imagined form will be possible soon. Secondly as an unreflectively parodic rejection of that claim. This is in itself part of the work, which is art by virtue of being a reflexive intervention in perception.
This project is dedicated to the memory of Internet VR pioneer Evie Matthieson.