Volume 1, Issue 4
4th Quarter, 2006

Strategies for Personality Transfer

William Sims Bainbridge

This article was adapted from a lecture given by William Sims Bainbridge, Ph.D., at Terasem Movement, Inc.’s  2nd Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology at Terasem’s Green Mountain Retreat in Lincoln, VT, on July 20, 2006.

William Sims Bainbridge is an Adjunct Professor with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University. This article is a reconnaissance of the ways in which scientists are beginning to archive aspects of an individual, in hopes that an inventory of variables and strategies will help guide the effort to transfer human personalities to information systems and other new homes. At present, there appear to be two very distinct technological approaches to transfer, the neuro-structural and the behavioral. This article focuses on the behavioral.

The neuro-structural approach to personality capture seeks to chart the intricate connections between neurons in the brain, as preparation for emulating the dynamics of a human nervous Bainbridgesystem inside a computer, or perhaps as a template for the growth of a replacement brain or entire body. As parodied in Rudy Rucker’s (1982) novel Software[1], scanning the structure of a living brain may destroy it, and non-destructive methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may not be able to achieve fine enough spatial resolution to trace the neuronal connections (Bainbridge, 2002a).[2] There is no need to decide this issue now, because brain research will continue for other reasons, and results can be applied to transfer later on. Without complete confidence, I have suggested that the neuro-structural approach may not be able to transfer personalities until the technology is fully mature, at which point it could copy a brain with perfect accuracy. The problem is that one might not be able to decipher the meaning of any one neuronal connection without simultaneously modeling all the others. Presumably, this approach will not be mature for several decades, and thus a second approach with a different mix of advantages and disadvantages would be valuable.

The behavioral approach records the words, actions, physiological reactions, and other observable characteristics of the individual.  Many of its methods have been developed over the years in various branches of social and behavioral science, but computer science is now contributing an additional set of tools for this work.  Already it is possible to capture some aspects of a personality, and emulate them to at least a moderate level of fidelity by means of an information system, but a complete behavioral record is beyond current technology. Thus, the behavioral approach will display gradual increases in fidelity of personality capture, and realism of personality emulation, over the coming years. In many areas, our ability to capture an aspect of personality is much better than our ability to emulate it. This is actually very good news, because it means that we can begin today to capture the personalities of people who are likely to die in the near future, worrying about re-animating them at a later time.

My first publication contributing to personality capture was a small book and disk of computer programs, Experiments in Psychology, published in 1986.[3] One program duplicated a classic experiment done by Saul Sternberg twenty years earlier at Bell Telephone Laboratories, exploring the short-term memory of an individual research subject. Another was a simple two-person videogame, inspired by social psychology research that explored how cooperation and hostility could arise during interaction. I am certain that modern video games could be modified to capture habits of individual behavior, almost as if it were in the real world.[4

Next Page

1. Rucker, Rudy. 1982. Software. New York: Ace. (back to top)

2. Bainbridge, William Sims. 2002a. “A Question of Immortality,” Analog 122(5): 40-49. (back to top)

3. Bainbridge, William Sims. 1986. Experiments in Psychology.  Belmont, California: Wadsworth. (back to top)

4. Bainbridge, Wilma Alice, and William Sims Bainbridge. 2006. “Creative Uses of Software Errors: Glitches and Cheats,” Social Science Computer Review, in press. (back to top)


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