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Immortality, Anyone?

March 3, 2012

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?

26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2012 6:02 pm

    Wonderful post. This is a scary topic and the more the virtues are extolled the more I get scared.

    “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.” Seeing as you have the image from Frankenstein, this quote from the sequel is relevant: “To a new world of gods and monsters!” Equally scary.

    • March 9, 2012 6:17 am

      Yes, there’s lots of opportunities for the law of unintended consequences to operate!

  2. March 4, 2012 2:06 am

    It boggles the mind. Good luck grandkids.

  3. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    March 4, 2012 3:14 am

    I don’t want immortality – well, I certainly don’t want it for quite a few people on this planet unless with the gift of forever life, they undergo at the same time a complete repair to their inhumanity and lack of compassion and consideration. There are a tremendous amount of people in the world who’ve done enough damage in their lifetimes.

    • March 9, 2012 6:18 am

      I agree–in many respects desire for immortality is an expression of selfishness which is consistent with inhumanity, lack of compassion and consideration.

  4. March 4, 2012 3:37 am

    I worry that a thirty year career in Corrections may have implanted a robot brain into my body. Immortality is only a dream. We’d be so much more happier if we woke up to accept our bodies for what they are: a temporary appearance here on earth.

  5. March 4, 2012 6:31 am

    When I worked on my MA I wrote on the challenge to ethics such possibilities would have on humanity describing the scenario you have illustrated for my ethics course in theology. Seemed thought provoking to me esp with all the political and economic and moral upheaval faced by the church decades ago(as well as today). The professor gave me a D saying this was not scifi but theology. I guess he missed the point: artificial hip, open heart surgery and aging slow down science are not scifi any more and we must deal with it. A great piece. Coulda used you 40 years ago to argue about that grade.

    • March 9, 2012 6:21 am

      wish I would have been there–nothing like taking on a theology professor on the subject of missing the point!

  6. March 4, 2012 3:15 pm

    “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?” … ha ha. You always manage to sneak in such an observation.

  7. March 4, 2012 9:50 pm

    I think the Blithering idiot put it beautifully.

  8. March 5, 2012 5:10 am

    What kind of diet does the robot with the implanted human brain subsist on? A few nuts, bolts, and screws atop a plateful of spinach?

  9. March 6, 2012 12:54 am

    I’ve read a similar thing, namely that because, in essence, everything (including physical objects) boils down to information, we may “one day be able to download ourselves to software and dispense with our physical bodies.”

    So then we could simply exist as data on a hard drive, and billions of people would fit on a microchip, no bulky robots would be necessary, and overpopulation would thus be solved.

    You could say that as data on a hard drive we wouldn’t be able to engage in any physical activities in the conventional sense, but at bottom physical activities merely produce sensations, and sensations, once again, are nothing but a form of information that can be translated into strings of 1’s and 0’s. Really moving around isn’t necessary to produce the sensations—i.e., the information—generated by moving around.

  10. March 6, 2012 4:23 pm

    Oddly, I have been reverting to this subject lately in my odd moments — the human fascination with immortality. (Being a devotee of Story, I tend to ponder the fictional or claimant immortals I have encountered — vampires, the Wandering Jew and the Flying Dutchman, the Comte de Saint-Germain, Roger Zelazny’s Conrad, Mel Brooks’ Two Thousand Year Old Man, to name a few).

    Robert Anton Wilson was riveted by the idea that consciousness could break free of perishable biology, and actually preserved his murdered daughter’s brain cryonically — something I can only regard as a pathological reaction to grief. What a Godawful notion, really.

    We all want to think it faintly possible that we might live forever, and we all also recognize what a grotesque world it would be if everyone did. Worse yet would be the world in which money bought you evasion of Death. Can you imagine Mitt Romney living forever?

  11. March 9, 2012 6:22 am

    I think his cryosurgeons are already doing a pretty good job.

  12. March 31, 2012 4:05 pm

    It’s interesting that Russia would be at the forefront of immortality research when they have one of the highest death rates of developed countries.

  13. April 4, 2012 12:56 am

    I felt old when I got up this morning and feel older still at the possiblilities. I’m okay with living the life that my body allows me to within its given limits. Don’t need to extend it to immortality. We already have gone beyond what there are answers for ethically. I like to have the ethical issues thought out first before we are in the middle of them trying to figure out what is the right thing to do.

    • April 5, 2012 8:47 pm

      I agree–thinking through the ramifications before the genie is out of the bottle would be a good idea!

  14. April 4, 2012 11:08 pm

    I sometimes work with the elderly. Anyone who thinks the human brain doesn’t age needs to spend some time hanging out with that crowd a little more often. It seems like a massive waste of effort and technology to put our brains into indestructible robots so they can sit around and watch “Matlock” reruns. Nice post!

    • April 5, 2012 8:46 pm

      Thanks! Yes, one of the first questions that comes to mind is why you would want to live forever.

      • April 5, 2012 10:42 pm

        Two of my favorite books of all time involved eternal life. “Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins and “Forever” by Pete Hamill. In both of those works, the characters remained somewhere in their 30’s or 40’s. If I get eternal life, I’d prefer to be in my late 20’s, but then I suppose I wouldn’t appreciate anything for all eternity.

        • April 6, 2012 10:25 am

          Haven’t read those books–in fact can’t think of anything I’ve read where a character has eternal life except maybe Dracula and he seemed pretty bored with the whole thing.

          • April 6, 2012 12:01 pm

            I’d recommend either of those books. “Forever” ends up being a history of Manhattan. “Jitterbug Perfume” is vintage Tom Robbins with lots of quirky stuff, including but not limited to beet pollen and funeral pyres.

  15. April 11, 2012 11:46 am

    Oh Thomas, as I shall be about 100 plus in 2045 I shan’t be around to see these things. Pity. I should have liked meeting robots with human brains )

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