Someday technology will allow us to perfectly simulate every component of a VHS tape; if the tape isn’t too degraded at the time that it’s scanned, it can be replayed on a supercomputer and the video signal can be rebuilt at great computational cost. We’ll solve for the quantum magnetism and a mechanical model of the spools and stuff. If you forgot to rewind it won’t work.

Is ‘someday’ today? A better question is why. We have more efficient ways to work with video. And we have more video than we know what to do with. At best we want specific slices of the past or aggregate views; for example, newsrooms use archival footage.


We don’t read most historical diaries. There are exceptions; we suppose that special people at special moments have something to say. We preserve their letters and papers and people write new stuff about them, we quote them, we try to use them to understand the present.

Anne Frank is the opposite. A lot of people read the diary of Anne Frank because it gets assigned in school. Society’s brain constantly chews over this content and recirculates it, uses it to draw new conclusions. (We learned she would have been a Belieber, for example).

She’s like Pompeii; not special because she did something unusual, but because she’s normal, and even for normal stuff, we don’t have many perfect snapshots.

This is how I feel about uploading brains. if we were to preserve them, the mode of use would be mostly shredding them up into trained stats models. We might do periodic simulation for a special few.

Parasitism and social security

I’ve never heard a good argument for why future super cyborgs would want this. I guess you could use them to develop human behavioral models? They might help categorize and influence people, the way facebook uses behavioral models now.

They might use them for solving social problems, but I don’t believe that the social problems of a society that can simulate human brains would be the same as ours. I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘wire up Einstein Fermat and Gauss and invent FTL drive’.

At best, the social contract here is like social security: why do future people preserve and timeshare our consciousnesses? So they can someday participate in the same thing. But the idea that they’ll get utility from it is mostly silly.

Personality retrieval in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is so interesting, but they only do John Keats and they do it as part of their war against human descendants; they’re not trying to be nice. Also until they perfected the tech the cybrids went insane. Yes I know this is fiction but even in fiction the best explanation for this is parasitism. (Same as facebook now).

I read Accelerando too. The first section was smart and relevant but the brain simulation stuff lost me.

Most individuals aren’t relevant to history except in the aggregate, and most history isn’t relevant to the future. ‘History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes’. If it did repeat itself, brain simulation might have some money behind it. Most rhymes are given away for free.


We produce more data than our grandparents, if you count social media and photos and stuff. But the non-public parts are hard to crack.

Google’s take on this: People expect Google to keep their information safe, even in the event of their death. They will sometimes give you access to some stuff (whatever that means). But unlike paper, the letters of our dead twinkle and decay in SSD arrays, driving stale ad predictions like prayer wheels but not available to their descendants.

If the metaphor here is Google as mythical land of the dead and the living taking dangerous quests there to retrieve monster-slaying advice and family photos, this is as good an explanation for Google’s role in society as anything else I’ve heard.

I suspect diaries, for those who even keep them anymore, are the most idiosyncratic in terms of how they’re stored. ‘Digital preservation’ is a big question for archivists and librarians. For paper, digital text, and simulated minds, it’s plausible that the main consumer will be family and descendants trying to make sense of their own existence – same as photo albums and graveyards now.

Is the graveyard of the future an MMO? Will we ask them for advice, or to explain the past?


If you haven’t seen the Hitler / Stalin / Buggles deepfake now is as good a time as any. For what purpose will we use the dead? This video is one answer to that question.

This may not need saying, but neither historical person ever sang this song in real life probably. We can choose to make the simulant dead as close to their old selves as possible, but we can also manipulate or rewind them, force them to go through moments with us again and again until we get it right,. They’re not totally real. They’re puppets and people do a lot of strange things with puppets.

My point is that I’m not sure why people are fixated on mind uploading or why it’s a linchpin of ‘the singularity’. Or even what the singularity is – ‘the moment when technology can no longer be predicted’? As if it can be predicted now.

A culture that has the computational power and modeling knowledge to make a world of warcraft graveyard hopefully has better things to work on.