Thou shalt live forever

September 20, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

By: Arnav Agarwal


Edward Cullen might not be the only one living forever: humans might be joining the vampires in a leap towards eternal life.

If the work of Dmitry Itskov- founder of the “Initiative 2045”, the program which proposes the reality of human immortality- follows through, the project will turn fiction into fact: machine-assisted human immortality will be an option in only 33 years. Gathering a team of leading Russian scientists to cultivate the worlds of neuroscience, android robotics and cybernetic immortality, Itskov is striving to produce a fully-functional holographic human avatar controlled by an artificial brain containing an individual’s complete consciousness.

It might seem like the idea is right out of a sci-fi movie, but there is certainly a method to the madness. An intricate plan of action from 2015 to 2045 involves the development of “a robotic form of a human body remotely controlled via BCI” (2015-2020), “an Avatar in which a human brain is transplanted at the end of one’s life” (2020-2025), “an Avatar with an artificial brain in which a human personality is transferred at the end of one’s life” (2030-2035), and finally, “a hologram-like Avatar” (2040-2045). Yes, you read correctly: the Avatar, an artificial body into which a human brain will be transplanted, could be as little as seven years away.

While the desired outcomes seem out of reach, organizations have already been hard at work in the field. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is already working on an alternate program coincidentally also entitled “Avatar”, in an attempt to “create a brain-machine interface that will allow soldiers to control bipedal human surrogate machines remotely with their minds”, according to Popular Science Magazine’s Clay Dillow. The financial aspects of the project were addressed by Itskov as well, who reached out to the world’s richest to request assistance in financing the project while offering them their own personal immortality projects free of charge in July, according to an article released by CBC News.

But, the idea hasn’t convinced everybody. In response to the fact that medical prosthesis projects have shown that the human nervous system can manipulate prosthetics via thought, Discovery’s Alyssa Danigelis expressed that there is a ”world of difference between pursuing a brain-controlled exoskeleton to help paraplegics regain control and wanting to essentially upload a human brain into an artificial body,” as reported by CBC News.

The initiative got sceptical responses from several students within the McMaster community as well. Beatrice Preti, a second-year Bachelor of Health Sciences student, didn’t question the technology behind the innovation, but raised concerns on the initiative’s concept of eternal life as a whole: “Is life as a robot truly life? The gift we were granted with that very first breath? To have a brain control a robot, would that be living? Life is about the experience.” On the subject of immortality, she stated, “I doubt that such an experience could lead to immortality. Because immortality is the indefinite extension of life - and there is no life without the flesh and blood which teaches us who we are.”

John Sawires, a third-year B.H.Sc. student, had a different take on the issue, addressing global issues and the ever-growing challenge of seemingly limitless population growth feeding off severely-limited resources: “We're already dealing with enough problems from overpopulation. If you think about it, the problems associated with this are caused by the distribution of wealth (or lack thereof).” Sarah Sullivan, a third-year Social Sciences student, echoed John’s concerns: “The idea of being able to live forever terrifies me. We already have major overpopulation issues. What would occur if no one passed away? Would we just sterilize ourselves to keep our numbers at bay?”

Ashley Yu, a second-year B.H.Sc. student, stressed the fine line between “can” and “should”, expressing her concern over how we handle the power we hold: “The funny thing about science and technology is that it is easy to get excited or carried away with the vast amounts of possibilities that the future holds. Yes, many actions can be both plausible and feasible with the development of new technology. However, we often fail to ask ourselves if we should commit these actions just because we can. To quote Spiderman, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’”.

Rida Tul-Zahra, President of Mac Ethics Club, shared her personal views on the initiative: “I don’t think that trying to change the natural course of events by disrupting the cycle of life will lead to any good…In my opinion, the amount of money that is going to be invested in this project could be used in better ways – to help eradicate poverty and famine in some of the developing countries… Only those who will be able to afford a personal avatar will have the chance to become ‘immortal’”.

It is evident that the technological innovation required to make the project a reality stands as the most significant barrier as Itskov and his team strive to achieve a feat that has only been dreamt of before. Despite the numerous ethical, biological and social considerations, generating a machine so advanced and multi-faceted in its functionality is the primary determinant of the initiative’s success.

“I think that a ‘humanoid robot’ may be possible someday, but definitely not as soon as 2045,” says Jane Huang, a second-year Honours Biology and Psychology student. “There is so much we do not know about the brain and its functions, so how can we take the brain and incorporate it into a holographic human? How would the brain direct the avatar without a nervous system? How would the holographic body keep the brain alive without the organ systems of a normal human body?”

CBC News’ recent poll asking readers whether they would “opt for cybernetic immortality if it existed within their lifetime” revealed that a significant number of individuals would buy in to the initiative if it was successful, with over 52% of voters voting “yes”, approximately 38% voting “no”, and approximately 10% voting “I’m not sure” or providing an alternate response.

Rachel Shan, a first-year Arts and Science student, certainly relates far more to the latter 38% than the former 52%: “I am completely and utterly against such technology…All I can say is, if offered one million dollars to live forever, I would decline in a heartbeat.”

Some of the world’s leading researchers continue in pursuit of the world of cybernetic immortality, crashing technological milestones on their way to possibly generating one of the most powerful developments of the 21st century. The project’s progress has already begun to show promising signs of making ground-breaking progress and transforming the human experience. The question which continues to boggle the minds of many, however, is whether a successful initiative will transform the human experience for the better or for the worse.

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