Many scientists spend all of their careers working to cure different maladies but what if we could take a short cut and cure death itself?
But people have fantasized over the priceless treasure that is immortality for milleniums so what’s different now?
Many futurists are excited about ideas that are coming to fruition such as mind uploading, life extension, age reversal, artificial organs, and hyper-realistic virtual realities as possibilities to make the dream last forever.
Estimations for reaching immortality range from 2030 for the rich and powerful, to 2100 for those with more modest means.
1. Mind Uploading
Kenneth Hayworth, a veteran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a self-described “outlandishly futuristic thinker,” explains how he plans to achieve immortality himself in an article called The Strange Neuroscience of Immortality on The Chronicle.
Here are some of the most interesting excerpts from the article on The Chronicle but if you have time, I suggest you check out the original story, as the full thing is certainly worth a read.
Hayworth has spent much of the past few years in a windowless room carving brains into very thin slices. He is by all accounts a curious man, known for casually saying things like, “The human race is on a beeline to mind uploading: We will preserve a brain, slice it up, simulate it on a computer, and hook it up to a robot body.” He wants that brain to be his brain. He wants his 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses to be encased in a block of transparent, amber-colored resin—before he dies of natural causes.
“If your body stops functioning, it starts to eat itself,” he explains to me one drab morning this spring, “so you have to shut down the enzymes that destroy the tissue.” If all goes according to plan, he says cheerfully, “I’ll be a perfect fossil.” Then one day, not too long from now, his consciousness will be revived on a computer. By 2110, Hayworth predicts, mind uploading—the transfer of a biological brain to a silicon-based operating system—will be as common as laser eye surgery is today.
Seung proposes a two-part test. First, is it true that we are our connectomes? Second, does cryonics or chemical brain preservation keep the connectome intact? If either statement is false, then freezing or uploading can’t work. If both statements are true, immortality isn’t in the offing, he cautions, but it’s at least plausible. “Some colleagues may think this is all kind of crazy,” he says, “but these questions can be addressed in an intellectually rigorous way.” Source
So that is one case of a man striving for the seemingly impossible with enough passion to make me believe that he may actually be able to do it.
In an article from the Guardian, Ian Pearson, head of the futurology unit at BT, agrees with Hayworth and says,
‘If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it’s not a major career problem,’ Pearson told The Observer. ‘If you’re rich enough then by 2050 it’s feasible. If you’re poor you’ll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it’s routine. We are very serious about it. That’s how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT.’ Source
He also has some pretty thought-provoking views on consciousness such as inserting or developing awareness in strawberry yoghurt as a hypothetical example.
‘We can already use DNA, for example, to make electronic circuits so it’s possible to think of a smart yoghurt some time after 2020 or 2025, where the yoghurt has got a whole stack of electronics in every single bacterium. You could have a conversation with your strawberry yogurt before you eat it.’ Source
2. Life Extension
A less extreme approach in the same direction is trying to extend life for as long as possible using emerging technologies. We are reaching an age where we will soon be able to print replacement organs with 3d printers using stem cells as ink.
Smart homes and smart appliances have become more integrated into today’s society so you can monitor and control the temperature, lighting and other functions right from your smartphone. Now what if you could do the same with your body?
Scientists in Switzerland have developed a device that can warn you on your smartphone before you have a heart attack. I have included excerpts from an article covering this story which was posted on ExtremeTech and explains how it works.
The 14mm device measures up to five indicators, including proteins like troponin, that show if and when a heart attack has occurred. Using Bluetooth, the device can then transmit the data to a smartphone for tracking. The device can also track levels of glucose, lactate, and ATP, providing valuable data for physiologic monitoring during activity, or in possible disease conditions like diabetes.
Outside the body, a battery patch provides the 100 milliwatts of power that the device requires by wireless inductive charging through the skin. Source
Ray Kurzweil’s is one of the world’s leading futurists who thinks it won’t be long until we see the first successful examples of halting and then reversing age. He says, “I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogram our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, aging. Then nanotechnology will let us live for ever.” Source
3. Ethics of Immortality
The question of immortality is also not just a technological phenomenon but actually plays right into the core of human nature. Stephen Cave, the author of Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, explains why death and avoiding it is such a uniquely human characteristic in the following quote from an interview with FiveBooks. Source
It’s a human universal. Among all of the animals, we probably uniquely are aware that we’re going to die. We try to avoid the worst, to keep going one way or another, yet we must live in the knowledge that it is futile – that ultimately, the worst thing that can possibly happen will happen. That all our projects and all our dreams, everything we’re striving for, one day it will all be over. And this is terrifying. So we are very keen to hear any story that can allay this fear and say death isn’t what it seems, and we can just keep on going indefinitely. Source
Undoubtedly the first people who will be offered the chance at immortality will be the rich and the powerful which may not seem fair to some, alright to most people, but in the interest of advancing this field of study it may be a necessity.
Dmitry Itskov is a Russian billionaire who had precisely this idea and is now accepting investors to que up to place funding in the first ever Immortality Research Centre. By investing now they may actually be buying the quick ticket to immortality.
Itskov founded the 2045 Initiative in February 2011. He has brought 30 top Russian scientists on board and plans to create an international research center devoted to study immortality. The 2045 Initiative has outlined a 30-year plan to develop the technology for human beings to transfer their consciousness into “avatars,” or robots. Its self-declared ambition is to make the human race “eventually become a new species.”
Although most of these technologies are still decades away, think about all the philosophical and practical conundrums that will arise. Which conventional human values would change without any age limit? How will we judge maturity? Will the most senior or the most accomplished of the immortals deserve the most respect? Will people become more productive or more lazy?
What will happen when no one is ever allowed to retire because they have to keep working to support themselves indefinitely? Will people remain the same age forever or continue to have their consciousness placed in youth bodies, grow old and repeat without end.
What about uploading your mind to a computer or some other non-biological interface? When you are “reborn,” is the new you really still you?
Is there anything to stop there from being two of you, or two hundred?
Food for thought folks. Watch for the second part to the IMMORTALITY series on De Vos Discoveries all about changing values written by a guest blogger Sheldon Hoffman at Penguinpoetry.wordpress.com