Monthly Archives: March 2012

Immortality, Anyone?

Have you heard about the Russia 2045 project?

They just finished a big conference and here is how founder, Dmitry Itskov describes it:  “in brief: the most important thing is that we want to eliminate death and disease for all—to overcome the limitations of our protein-based body; to find a way out of the chain of various crises our civilization is facing.”

On the surface, that sounds pretty good.  Until you realize that if these guys eliminate death, the world is going to get pretty crowded in a hurry.  Not only that, one has to wonder if they will give the “cure” away for free or if you’ll have to pay for it.  In which case, “the 1%” are probably going to be the first (and maybe the only) ones in line.  So instead of solving crises of civilization, this could cause a few more.

I did a little research and found out more about the plan.  It turns out that if Russia 2045 is successful, we won’t be sitting around forever playing Angry Birds and Unfriending people.  The way in which death will be eliminated is by implanting human brains into robots which won’t be subject to things that usually kill people.

The timeline of the project calls for finding a way to “surgically transplant a human consciousness into a robot body within 10 years.”  The current thinking is that they will “upload” peoples’ minds into robots without surgery “leaving the bodies as empty husks as their owners ‘live on.’”

The next step will be to develop indestructible bodies.  These new bodies “will have a perfect brain-machine interface to allow control and a human brain life support system so the brain can survive outside the body.”

And if that’s not enough, the last part will be to create an artificial brain.  Presumably, you will be able to get your hands on the artificial brain and body of your choice, upload your brain, and, voila, immortality.

But wait, there’s more!  Ultimately, they hope to come up with a holographic body rather than a physical body.  As Dmitry Itskov says, “Holograms give plenty of advantages. You can walk through walls, move at the speed of light.  Remember in Star Wars, Obi-Wan’s hologram? That was pretty amazing.” 

The web site states:  “This will open a new epoch – an epoch of immortal neo-humans and super-humans. The epoch of a new civilization – the future.”

How does that grab you?  An epoch of immortal neo-humans and super-humans.

Sounds to me like we’re going to need a John Connor or two.

I remember a philosophy class in which we read a fascinating story called “Where Am I?” by a contemporary philosopher named Daniel Dennett.  In that story, Dennett is supposed to go on a mission on which he will be exposed to rays that might damage brain cells but not body cells.  So they take his brain out and put it in a “vat” with life support.  Then they hook up the brain and body with a two way radio so that they can communicate—but over unlimited distances.  DD looks normal, except that he has an antenna in his head and his brain is no longer physically in his body.

Because Dennett is a philosopher, the story then poses all sorts of interesting scenarios that muddle up the question of “where am I” as the brain and body go their separate ways but are still, effectively, one being. 

For example, if the body were to go out and commit a crime, who should be punished for the crime?  The brain presumably thought it up, but the body did the crime. 

It led to a lot of interesting class discussions but nothing like those that Russia 2045’s plans will probably generate.  The project organizers have all sorts of ideas about how robot bodies with human brains could fight fires, work in mines and go out and kill each other in wars (what’s the point of that?).  And of course, there is the whole issue of immortality.

Even without robotic augmentation, there is a chance that I’ll still be around in 2045 to see if they manage to succeed.  But to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to stick around much longer if they do.

And anyway, the whole human/machine interface/confusion thing is already being done, and this is the sort of thing that makes you wonder about the human race in the first place. 

I saw another article that talked about how the singer Kei$ha, (who believes that she was JFK in a past life and wears some of her placenta in a locket around her neck to ground herself), has decided to replace some of her hair with metal studs.  There was a picture of her that showed what looked like thumbtacks stuck in a shaved area of her head, i.e., like a robot waiting for a brain. 

Now you may be wondering why someone would do that.

The answer, according to the article, is that Lady Gaga’s outrageous costumes and behaviour have made it “hard for young talent to stand out from the crowd.”   So studs in the head are apparently the only recourse. 

There is no mention of the possibility that a singer might stand out by being, well, a good singer. 

So although the ethical questions of implanting brains into robots and vice versa are fascinating, they are dwarfed by the biggest question around the whole enterprise.  Specifically, if this is the sort of brain function that is rampant, why are we going to spend a lot of time and effort figuring out how to download it into a machine?