Technological Attempts at Human Immortality
Vampires are everywhere. Not literally of course, but it seems that every other movie coming to theaters and every other television program features the pale nocturnal bloodsuckers in some form or another. Truth be told, there have been books and movies and shows about vampires for decades now, but things have certainly kicked into high gear over the last few years. There’s got to be more to it than just “vampires are dangerous and sexy.” Perhaps it’s the idea of immortality that intrigues and allures fanatical audiences by the millions. Perhaps deep in the human psyche, as the educated population’s overall belief in a heaven or life after death wavers, there is a glimmer of hope that these creatures really do exist, and that one bite could make you live forever.
Well, sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but vampires don’t exist. This does not mean that all hope is lost, as there is much effort and research and money going into uncovering the path to human immortality. We should not look towards creatures of myth for answers, but to technology. Here’s what’s being done so far.
When we were kids, whenever we heard the name Walt Disney we thought about three things: exhilarating theme parks; magical movies; and a creepy frozen dead guy who was buried underneath Disneyland, “waiting” to be brought back to life when the proper technology existed. This was of course an urban legend, and could not have been further from the truth as the founder of the Disney empire was in fact cremated. One month after Disney’s death however, a University of California psychology professor James Bedford would become the world’s first corpse to be cryogenically frozen.
Coming from the Greek word kryos, which means icy cold, cryonics is the process by which the bodies of humans and animals are preserved at extremely low temperatures, with the intentions of being resuscitated when the appropriate technology exists. The belief is that a person’s memory, identity and personality are stored within brain cells that do not necessarily require brain activity to survive. So the body is cooled to approximately 77 degrees Kelvin, while cryoprotectant solutions are circulated through the blood vessels, removing and replacing any water to ensure that ice doesn’t form between the cells, causing irreversible damage.
KrioRus, a cryonics center in Russia highly recommends neuropreservation, where they surgically remove your brain, store it in a liquid nitrogen-filled vat, and dispose of the rest of the body. According to Danila Medvedev who runs the center, “We know that the personality is stored in the brain. So when a person’s body is old, there’s no reason to keep it”. Gotta love that Russian practicality!
Freezing dead people is easy. It will be reviving them that will be the tricky part. Assuming all their theories about “personality being stored in the brain, even after death” are correct, they will need the technology to repair the all the cellular and tissue damage caused by lack of oxygen, undo the toxicity caused by the cryoporotectants, repair fracturing caused by thermal stress, uploading whatever mind is still in the brain, all while reversing whatever ailment caused the body to die in the first place.
While there are those seeking physical immortality, extensive research and development is being done in the field of digital immortality. The basic concept is simple: scan the brain, map the brain, upload the brain and store the brain. We’ve already developed the technology to scan the physical brain and its activity, but how do we scan and map the most important part of the brain: the part that’s us?
One method would be to record every conversation a person has ever had, and E-memory technology already exists. Another would be to monitor, record and analyze a person’s social internet use over an extended period of time. Gathering this data would give useful insight into a person’s personality and interests, making it easier to generate a digitized mind map. Once the information has been recorded and uploaded, a digital version of yourself is now possible. Now that your “personality” exists on a supercomputer’s hard drive, a physical avatar can be constructed, ready to have “you” downloaded into its artificial brain. Your body might be dead but your mind can live forever in a robot.
Instead of downloading our brains to live forever in robots, there are those who feel we will use our brains to implant robots in us to help us live forever. According to American scientist Ray Kurzweil, at the rate we are learning about how the body works and as our understanding of technology increases, we will figure out how to immortalize human beings within the next 20 years. And how will we be able to do this? Nanobots. And Kurzweil is no quack. He is considered one of the world’s leading futurists and technological innovators, and he’s won the prestigious National Medal of Technology. He is the inventor of the first reading machine for blind people as well as the first synthesizer capable of recreating the sound of a grand piano.
For the last two decades Kurzweil has been employing his vast knowledge of how the human body degenerates to counteract the aging process. Living a life of low stress, maintaining an extremely healthy diet, exercising, as well as taking over 200 supplements a day, his body has only shown a couple of years of aging over the last sixteen. At 57 years old a thorough physical examination proved he had the body of a 40-year old. And that’s without nanobots!
While the human cell is an impressive little organism, Kurtweil feels they are too slow in performing their various tasks. “Ultimately, nanobots will replace blood cells and do their work thousands of times more effectively… Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen…Heart-attack victims – who haven’t taken advantage of widely available bionic hearts – will calmly drive to the doctors for a minor operation as their blood bots keep them alive…Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes.” Designs for nanotechnology already exist that will take the next 20-25 years to perfect, but once completed and introduced to the human system they will be able to download programs from the internet to help them kill diseases.