“When you have to edit her next release. Which will almost certainly be soon, because she needs money bad. She’s taking up a lot of ROM on some corporate mainframe, and her share of Kings won’t come close to paying for what they had to do to put her there. And you’re her editor, Casey. I mean, who else?”
—William Gibson, “The Winter Market”
PZ Myers in And Everyone Gets a Robot Pony! on Sandberg and Bostrom’s “Whole Brain Emulation”, a “roadmap” for building the accurate simulation of a brain by slicing it into very thin slices and then scan these very thin slices:
We can’t even record the complete state of a single cell; we can’t model a nematode with a grand total of 959 cells. We can’t even start on this problem, and here are philosophers and computer scientists blithely turning an immense and physically intractable problem into an assumption.
I’m a huge fan both of science and of science fiction, cyberpunk especially, and William Gibson in particular, and both science and literature certainly build models. But science is not literature. Literature can and should make all kinds of assumptions, reasonable or crazy ones, pulled out of thin air or meticulously researched and based on current knowledge: to entertain, to enrich our imagination, or to safely play through all the “as ifs“ that we need to get a better understanding of ourselves and how we relate to the world. Alas, this is not how we define the Scientific Method.
Now, add to the “Whole Brain Simulation” the idea that this simulated brain would be able to process information faster when it is ported to faster hardware (and break out the popcorn).
If singularitarians were 19th century engineers, they’d be the ones talking about our glorious future of transportation by proposing to hack up horses and replace their muscles with hydraulics. Yes, that’s the future: steam-powered robot horses. And if we shovel more coal into their bellies, they’ll go faster!
PZ Myers is the wet towel in our echo chambers of grandiose ideas.