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I want to create a story about mind uploading, but I am completely convinced that even if you could transfer the contents of your brain to a computer emulation and then run it, it will always be a copy of your mind and the real you is gone or still in the body. The brain is an embodied system and once you disrupt one feature, the mind is gone.

However, I was trying to think of some high-tech loophole that would truly transfer the mind without destroying and then duplicating it. I'm trying not to go the route of something like a soul transfer, like the Emperor from Star Wars jumping into a clone body. I want to stick to a science-y approach. Does anybody have any ideas on how I might be able to finagle that?

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    $\begingroup$ What has completely convinced you that the "real you" remains behind? Is your certainty important? The movie "The Prestige" is based on the worldbuilding rule that duplication creates two entirely independent and very real "yous." The movie used the "science-y" mystique of Nikolai Tesla to rationalize the rule - but there's no actual science in the movie at all. When worldbulding, worry less about science and a lot less about your conviction and focus on establishing the rules of the world - then worry about rationalizing the rules (if that's needed at all). (**Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 8, 2023 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ ... It's interesting that good scientists are ready to challenge everything - even the most basic of science - while worldbuilders often want science to be (or at least be perceived to be) absolutely trustworthy and irrevocable. Odd that. So... it appears the worldbuilding rule you want to rationalize is that the process of transferring "the mind" results in, what? a dead body and a living soul? That's pretty much what Christian Resurrection is. So the idea is to identify some "science-y" structure to the brain to rationalize the idea that the living soul is more than the pattern of synapses? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 8, 2023 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ the difference between a perfect copy and the original is only a philosophical one. the copy will be "you" just like you are "you" every morning after sleeping. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Nov 8, 2023 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ The usual fiction solution is what they do on the Amazon series Upload; the scanning process itself is destructive. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2023 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ Just a note from computers perspective: there is no such thing as data transfer in computer science (unless you count physically moving a drive from one place to another). When you move a file, it is copied and then removed from original place. Or just repointed to somewhere else, without copying and deleting anything. You could obliterate source part after part as you go, but there is always a source and destination. Whether or not this qualifies as "copy" is up to you to decide. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2023 at 23:18

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You can't transfer information, you can only copy it.

Information can't be taken out of one place and put in another place. Only real objects can be moved.

So a brain with data storage of someone's memories could be taken out of the original body and put into another body.

Or a brain could be scanned and the memories copied into one or more blank brains which could then be activated.

But memories themselves, being information, cannot be transferred, only copied.

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    $\begingroup$ Quantum information can only be moved, not copied (cloned). $\endgroup$
    – benrg
    Nov 9, 2023 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ This is not even correct for bog standard DRAM memory which is destroyed on every read, and has to be constantly written back. $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Nov 9, 2023 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @pipe that sounds like it is even more true for DRAM, why is it not? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 10, 2023 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @benrg correct me if I am wrong but I though the no-cloning theroum only said you cannot create a perfect copy of quantum data not that it cannot be copied with high fidelity. We can't create a perfect copy of anything made of matter as far as I know. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 10, 2023 at 13:35
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Hans Moravec had some interesting ideas on this sort of thing in the late 70s and early 80s, which are detailed in various books including Mind Children. There's no freely available online copy of this that I can find, but there's a very brief summary here. He called the process "transmigration", and it involved a progressive technique where a robotic brain surgeon would monitor the activity of one of your brain cells, and once enough information was gathered an accurate simulation of that cell was made. The cell was removed from the brain, and the other cells that it used to be connected to would now be connected to the computer running the simulation.

This progressive process doesn't have any one point where the source mind is obviously killed or interrupted, though if the uploaded mind is a purely-software artifact, then you can copy it to your heart's content once the process is completed. The process does not allow for a return to the biological brain, and once it has been started the subject will be wholly or partially simulated from then on. It also assumes that there's no non-physical component of a mind, no magical animating spirits or whatever, which may or may not be compatible with the setting you're creating. (As an aside, in Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, there were copyable uploads and souls, but souls were an emergent property of the mind rather than the other way around, and so uploading created a new soul. There's scope for interesting stories in softer sci-fi settings around that sort of thing)

If you wanted your uploaded minds to be unique and uncopyable, that's a more difficult problem. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds had DRM which is practical if a little unsatisfying. To have uniqueness enforced by physics, you might have to start doing a bit of dubious quantum handwavery, and dealing with issues like entangling whatever quantum bits you propose your brain has with corresponding elements in the computer that will house the upload. I won't elaborate on that here, because ultimately it is handwaving, perhaps even more so than the notion of uploading in the first place.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's only a little bit of a handwave. We know there are biological processes that make use of quantum effects. (Photosynthesis requires electron tunneling for example.) And we're pretty sure neurons use them too. So that puts you in a position where: A) Even if you can make your computer brain interact with the same quantum effects, it would be darned difficult to capture the data to simulate them. And B) you would have a hard time making copies, or even just "rebooting" the artificial brain because the quantum effects might easily be handling important data that would be lost. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Nov 8, 2023 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Perkins its been theorised, sure (eg. orch-or) but proposals for actual mechanisms to couple some intracellular quantum effects to large scale brain activity have been lacking and there's a lot of criticism from many different fields. I'd say it is more likely than humans having a soul that grants them consciousness, but that's a very low bar to cross. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2023 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Perkins but assuming there are quantum bits in your brain, handwaving a means to entangle some external quantum gloop with it doesn't particularly sound like a plausibility step too far, given all of the rest of the disbelief that needs to be suspended to get there. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2023 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't necessarily need to be entangled with "external gloop" to get the desired effect of making migration mandatory. It just needs to be providing some kind of data handling that cannot be copied. That cannot be observed closely enough to be sure that you've got it right. It could be as simple as a delay-loop data storage, but you either use the original loop as-is, or you probably lose something. If that something turns out to be important, then you easily find yourself in a situation where you can move the mind to new hardware, but only make partial copies. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Nov 8, 2023 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ This is quite terrifying when you realize the same process is already occurring all the time as your bran cells are replaced with new ones. If you don't believe there is any metaphysical component to your self, the difference between the natural replacement and the process of moving the cells to a simulation is rather moot. $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2023 at 11:52
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Because the mind is not copied, the mind moves itself

Actually nobody knows how to copy a mind. What is known is how to make artificial blank electronic "brain matter" which can be interfaced to the brain in a way that enables it to use it just like normal neurons.

Some handwavium stimulation is then needed to encourage the brain into using the electronic neurons over the natural ones, and let the natural ones fall into disuse. So it's a continuous process that will take an extended time and at the end the biological brain is no longer used and does not hold any relevant functions or personality.

Of course this can go terribly wrong and can totally change a personality if it's not done the right way (like rushing it, or not administering the correct medication).

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    $\begingroup$ I had to come out of lurking boycott mode to give this comment a boost. It is the only practical and credible answer out of all the one offered here. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Nov 9, 2023 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ This is the answer I would write if you hadn't, more or less. Gradually "augment" the brain with hardware that the mind "expands into", and over time let the organic structures decay (or outright kill/remove them). Then you can serve the Omnissiah indefinitely. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2023 at 13:51
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We can describe uploading as taking 3 steps.

Step 1 is reading the state of a human mind.

Step 2 is storing the state of a human mind.

Step 3 is running the state of a human mind.

The easiest way to make uploading be a move and not a copy is to make reading destructive. In order to read the state of a human mind, you have to kill the brain it is running on.

You put it to sleep, fill it full of chemicals that stop its continued processing, drop it down to near absolute zero. Then you scan it micrometer by micrometer, capturing both the layout of neurons, the state of neurtransmitters, the internal structure of neurons. You do this at a certain depth - then you literally physically shave off half of that depth, and repeat.

This process literally shreds the physical brain.

The result is then processed. The parts that matter are abstracted (at the individual neuron level) and the parts that don't matter are discarded to produce a model of the person's brain. This is then run in computer hardware.

Once uploaded, the state of a human brain might be easy to duplicate. But we may be unable to print a new biological brain -- so you cannot be both an upload and an biological brain.

We may even be able to make brain prosthetics; brain-shaped devices that store an upload and let them interact with a biological body. The path to full upload may have involved building partial brain prosthetics for brain damaged people or to deal with neurological degenerative problems.

Inventing a sciency reason why you cannot duplicate human minds once uploaded is extremely difficult. "Quantum" handwaving, where the human brains state is somehow this fragile Quantum thing, isn't very plausible; our brain is warm and wet and durable, all of which make storing an "important" distributed fragile Quantum state implausible.

A duplicate of the mind state would share a common memory and behavior.

But I can try.

It is possible that the state of a human mind is far greater than what we can store using conventional computation. At the technology level they have, storing a single human mind using conventional computation requires a trillion dollar supercomputer.

However, storing the human mind using an exotic computation system is far cheaper. But that exotic storage is fragile, far more fragile than a human brain.

So we do the shave-thing to upload the human mind, but we can't do simplifying abstractions on it: we are forced to store insane amounts of information at the individual neuron level to generate a functioning copy of the consciousness that existed before. What more, we need to simulate things at that individual neuron level to an insane degree for a conventional computer.

The actual hardware we run uploaded minds on instead stores a kind of hologram of the brain. It refactors the entire brain's storage using a (here is that word) quantum computer, so each part of the mind host is running multiple parts of the brain it uploaded.

This process compresses the mind, reducing the storage required by a factor of $10^{12}$, from world-GDP supercomputer to wrist watch. Similarly, it reduces the computation required from world-GDP supercomputer at sub-realtime (a conventional simulation) to being able to run it at slightly faster than realtime (further speedups are possible, but require exponentially more expensive hardware -- like, every 100x increase in hardware cost gives you 5% faster runspeed).

These quantum-compressed minds cannot be copied. The process of producing a copy is destructive of their state, and unlike a biological mind you can't safely put them to sleep and freeze them.

However, at the point of upload, multiple copies can be made. But once you have done that step, each copy has to run (some can run at fractions of realtime, others slightly faster) or they will decay.

And if the machine running your uploaded consciousness fails, you die.

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    $\begingroup$ Making the read operation destructive does not make it a transfer, any more than delete a file after copying it does. Uniqueness is not the same thing as identity. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Nov 9, 2023 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ Cooling things to near absolute zero has some interesting effects that kind of break this answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2023 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ @TomášZato ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4733321 citation provided; how near then becomes the question, and can you avoid erasing the mind while cooling. These procedures could be tested on non-humans long before we did them on humans, and on humans who are clinically dead (as the structures that define the mind don't collapse instantly, the life support tends to collapse first) before we allow non-dead humans to upload. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Nov 9, 2023 at 20:04
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Quantum state cannot be copied

... only moved, which is what you need: No-cloning theorem

Since consciousness based on quantum phenomena may be true (Quantum mind) you don't need to use any high-tech loopholes - base your story on our current quantum knowledge.

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The meat brain is slowly replaced by artificial parts.

Injected nano bots replace all neurons and synapses one by one with synthetic counterparts over a few hours/days/months. There is no cut where the real you is shut down and the copy comes alive - you are conscious all the time. The hybrid brain keeps working during this process and at some point is completely artificial.

At that point it can be severed from the body. To keep integrity, the brain will be handled as a black box with no way to copy it. Standardized interfaces allow transfer of the physical artificial brain into artificial bodies or again with the help of nanobots, into human host bodies - or simply hooked up into large networks with other artificial brains.

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We don't know what a mind is made of.

For sure we know it's not plain matter or energy, because if it was we would have been able to measure it somehow with our science based devices.

This said, you can go with whatever you want, since it is your story, and you can simply say that with the patented MINDUPPY method one actually transfers the mind, not just copies it. You are not writing a patent or a scientific paper, nobody will try to replicate or reproduce your method.

Wells' The first man in the Moon doesn't explain how the Cavorite is made, but this doesn't make the story less enjoyable.

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The brain is made up of many parts, if you cut out one small cluster of neurons, scan the neurons, and then wire up a connection to a computer simulation of those neurons, surely your consciousness will continue. You can then continue, perhaps over a period of hours or days, cutting away small parts grey matter and replacing it with computer interfaces.

By slowly replacing the brain until no grey matter remains, you can ensure consciousness can continue.

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    $\begingroup$ The Ship of Theseus solution! I love it! $\endgroup$
    – Carduus
    Nov 9, 2023 at 18:43
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Instead of copying, gradual replacement.

Your brain already is a thing that changes itself constantly. If you spend a lot of time navigating your brain allocates more brain matter to brain area’s for that task. stop doing that and your brain reduces that area and re-allocates it. It also still creates some extra neurons while others die off, so the brain constantly has to update and change itself.

You don’t just copy the brain, but put in some cybernetics that take over some tasks, and then some more, and more. Each time the brain stops assigning a task to a particular neuron and gives it to cybernetics, that neuron is shut down or removed instead. It wasn’t doing anything, however short, and wasn’t part of the brain’s total processing (ignoring some cross-talk that the brain does, which the implant that shuts the neuron down can simulate).

Eventually you didn’t download a brain but just… moved every process onto the cybernetics. The brain is completely shut off, vacant. No personality is in there, it all moved itself to the cybernetics. Which you can take out and place in a computer.

A slower version is to put the person in a computer (which could simply be wearable or implanted if its powerful enough) and wait. Every time too many neurons die, the implants/computer takes over that task and the brain will gladly accept the replacements. As the brain slowly dies over time everything is taken over by the implants. Does it matter if your brain’s processes are handled by unique neuron #123456789 or by an implant/nanobot/whatever with a serial number that does the same task?

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Baby Steps

First you need some kind of intermediate process that everyone agrees is not really making a copy, then you do something just like that, but it goes into a computer instead.

For example: A teleportation machine could be seen as destroying you in one place and making an exact copy of you in another place, but if it is used so often that people are used to just thinking that it actually just moves them. That's the first step. Now one could use the same process, but instead of transporting you into another physical space, it just uploads your consciousness and now that's all of your existence.

The key is that you define another process that is accepted to be not making a copy, even if you could think of it that way. Then you say it's just like that, with only one small difference.

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  • $\begingroup$ This could be achieved by replacing neurons 1 by 1 with a computer model of said neuron (maybe linking the virtual neuron to the real brain with fancy nano wireless connectors, it's SF after all). At each step the subject can keep talking and interrupting the process, always feeling like themselves. Yet in the end their cranium is empty save for the last nano connectors transmitting signals to and from the virtual brain, and the actual decisions are taken inside the computer. $\endgroup$
    – armand
    Nov 9, 2023 at 0:36
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The mind needs the feedback of reality and the looming presence of Death

So - first one:

Without input (taste, touch, sight, hearing etc.) what is copied remains static and is just a copy.

The conscious (which is the bit that makes the Mind more than a static repository of memories) needs feedback about the real world in order to make it move through space and time.

The second is where you can have more fun - in order for a Mind to properly function, it needs the finality of death - Aging. You can add some fun justifications in here (a Mind that does not know death slowly goes insane or something to do with Alzheimer's etc.). The knowledge of Death is what gives the memories in the brain meaning and therefore interact with the consciousness, creating something that is more than a mere copy.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with the concept of death being needed. Children can learn very late of the concept of death and often don’t have much concept of progression either, believing things will stay the same. And yet children are the most unapologetically happy beings around. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Nov 11, 2023 at 13:38
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You're asking an impossible question.

We do not know what consciousness is. Neither do we know how, and why, does it emerge. Most importantly, we do not know what warrants its continuity.

For this reason it is impossible to answer how to truly transfer a conscious being, rather than make a copy of them. This is one of the questions that, currently, cannot even be approached, at least unless you wish to include one of several competing philosophical or religious systems into your work.

NB:

It is a frustrating issue, similar to the philosophical zombie problem: it seems unfalsifiable, and yet - even more than the philosophical zombie - it cannot be simply rejected for being unfalsifiable.

If you attempt a transfer, how will you test if you've just made a copy or truly transferred your subject? The copy may have inherited all memories of your subject and isn't aware that they are just a copy. Hell, you cannot even know if your 'copy' is even conscious or if it is just a philosophical zombie.

And yet if I was to be transferred or uploaded in such a way I would be very much interested if I continue existing after the process is done! Perhaps I will cease to exist at all; in such a case it will not matter to me in the slightest if my copy claims it is me. Or perhaps the attempt to upload my brain severs my soul from my body, because a soul can only dwell within a living human body and not a computer, and therefore I then see a bright light and, afterwards, Jesus. Again, in such a case I doubt it will matter to me that in some computer there is a simulation that claims to be me.

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Real-time Control, Stored Emulation, or a hybrid of both?

In my opinion, you have answered the question in your first paragraph, and the rest of the question, cannot be answered with hard science:

I want to create a story about mind uploading, but I am completely convinced that even if you could transfer the contents of your brain to a computer emulation and then run it, it will always be a copy of your mind and the real you is gone or still in the body. The brain is an embodied system and once you disrupt one feature, the mind is gone.

The problem won't go away, the more research you do, the more you realize that "emulation" is more likely than a complete transfer of consciousness, because we have made more progress with brain imaging, making scanned models of fruit flies and mice, and less progress with actual comprehension and interpretation of how consciousness works. If there are choices here it is between a) control of external body in real time b) brain emulation stored and used later.

You can't eliminate "handwavium", but you can think about technological progress and write back story for it. I watched a video that summarized the brain upload process like this a)scanning the brain b) interpreting the results c)uploading the copy to a super computer d) transferring the information. The information is thought. Rather than just gloss over each of these things- each one of these stages is something to research and dwell on and be creative about.

While programs like Nectome and the Brain Preservation Foundation are starting points, they have involved transfer from dead subjects. If you decline the option of emulation from a dead subject, perhaps you mean control of an external body by a living subject.

Scanning and gathering data about the brain in live subjects is possible,to the point where companies like Neuralink and Braingate can gather data through electrodes and a user can use thoughts to manipulate computer programs and robotic arms, This is a distant precursor, a first iteration of what you are talking about- it is still scanning, interpreting, uploading, transferring thought. In this case, the person controlling a robot arm can be disabled.

If this technology was accelerated it might eventually yield a person controlling a robot body.If scanning data was gathered for long enough through such an implant, it follows that we might advance in neuroscience as well. The life-tracker of the future might submit themselves to an implant especially if the technology underlying the implants could become less invasive.Eventually I believe we will capture more neuroscientific data, to create more complete digital substrates or copies of ourselves.

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Laws and/or conventions.

Put a large bureaucracy or a religion in charge of making sure there is only ever one of you at a time. We don't need a pure science answer if somebody's telling the scientists it's illegal because it's immoral. I'm sure we could find a bible passage to back up the fact that you're unique.

Put a few quality checks in the process to prevent a mess-up that would end in two dead 'yous', and then definitively annihilate the old one. Problem solved.

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    $\begingroup$ Sooner or later someone would realize that those laws are just suggestions... $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Nov 10, 2023 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ however whether this "sooner or later" happens before, during or maybe some beautiful day after the story, is up to the author. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Nov 10, 2023 at 11:40
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we have developed a protocol based on simultaneous fixation with glutaraldehyde (GA) and osmium (OsO4), sequential osmification and treatment of samples with potassium ferrocyanide (FeCN), staining of samples with uranyl acetate (UA) with heating to 50 °C, staining with lead aspartate (PbAsp)

This is from the description of the advanced method to determine 3D structure of the neural network within brain (a real 2023 year method, source - Nature). I do not think the brain would be good enough to use after such a scan.

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Truly transferring a mind as opposed to simply copying it. This is a difficult problem. But at a minimum, the water can be muddied with the ship of Theseus paradox. The paradox imagines a ship where as the planks go slightly rotten, they are replaced with new ones. The old ones are not discarded but stored. We wait until every plank in the ship is replaced. And then, we assemble the replaced planks into a new ship. Now which one is the original ship?

You can do the same thing with the brain. Slowly start replacing small chunks of it with artificial counterparts. The artificial replacements are so good and copy the function of the part they replace so well that the overall consciousness can't even tell the difference. Then one day, the entire brain is artificial. The continuity of experience is maintained and there is a good argument to be made that the original consciousness transitioned to the artificial state as opposed to being copied to it.

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Quantum uploading. Due to no-cloning theorem a quantum system cannot be exactly copied without the original destroyed. On the other hand, quantum state can be teleported and stored on different mediums that can store quantum information (qubits). Such teleported system will be absolutely identical to the original system, including the quantum-mechanical properties of the observer.

As such, to make quantum uploading, you need

  • A quantum teleportation system, capable of accurately teleport a human-sized system.

  • A powerful enough quantum computer.

In the process of quantum uploading the original mind will be inevitably destroyed (even if the body and physical brain will survive, it will not be the observer anymore, but a philosophical zombie). The true mind will be uploaded into the quantum computer, which will be able to continue its operation.

After such kind of uploading, the no-cloning theorem remains valid, which means that you still cannot copy the quantum mind inside the computer without destroying the original. It always will be a unique copy regardless, in the computer or not.

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Frame challenge: brain in a jar connected to the Internet works just as well

No one has figured out brain emulation. However they have figured out how to isolate the brain and emulate the rest of the nervous system.

Being connected to the Internet, you can "go" anywhere virtually, and in theory you don't even need to know where your brain is physically located.

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