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If a whole human brain is successfully emulated by 2100, what is the maximum number of humans that will be uploaded in any 5-year period?

Whole Brain Emulation (WBE), often informally called “uploading”, is a proposed technique that involves using a computer to emulate the states and functional dynamics of a brain at a relatively fine‐grained level of detail to produce the same outward behaviour as the original brain. The basic idea is to take a particular brain, scan its structure in detail, and construct a software model of it that is sufficiently faithful to the original that, when run on appropriate hardware, it will behave in essentially the same way as the original brain.[1]

WBE has been proposed as a path to creating human-level digital intelligence.[2]

An approach to WBE examined in in Bostrom and Sandberg (2008), a comprehensive study on the topic, is one that involves destructive scanning, in which the brain is separated from other tissue, sliced into thin slices, fixated and subsequently scanned accurately and a at a sufficiently high resolution. This process could be applied immediately after death or on cryogenically preserved brain tissue.

In his book, The Age of Em, Robin Hanson has argued that the emulations in highest demand will be those of the brains of the most elite humans around today.[2] In his view, the em world will be dominated by a few (i. e. something like one thousand) copy clans, copied from humans who will tend to be selected for their productivity, such as billionaires, or winners of Nobel or Pulitzer prizes.

If Whole Brain Emulation succeeds, what is the maximum number of humans that will be uploaded in any 5-year period before 2100?


This question will resolve as the maximum number of humans whose brain is destructively emulated to produce at least one viable emulation, in any 5-year period before 2100. Emulation here is the process, described in [1] that is based on direct simulation of the neural connectome (and a requisite level of its physical instantiation).

For the purpose of this question successful WBE will be taken to mean an emulation that is at least as faithful to the original brain as an “individual brain emulation” in Bostrom and Sandberg (2008) (page 11):

Success criterion: "The emulation produces emergent activity characteristic of that of one particular (fully functioning) brain. It is more similar to the activity of the original brain than any other brain."

Correct properties: "Correct internal and behaviour responses. Retains most memories and skills of the particular brain that was emulated. (In an emulation of an animal brain, it should be possible to recognize the particular (familiar) animal.)"

Donors need not have been alive before their brain is uploaded. The question resolves ambiguously if WBE does not succeed before 2100. Note that multiple copies of an emulation of a whole human brain only counts as one upload. The question resolves ambiguous if the number falls outside upper bound on the numerical range, which is set at 20B.

This question was inspired by a discussion between @frxtz, @tenthkrige and @holomanga on whether to count emulations “ems”, or uploads as humans for question related to global catastrophic risk.


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