More Commentary on Russia 2045

An article by Ben Goertzel over at h+ Magazine discusses the Russia 2045 initiative, a program I've noted on a couple of occasions. A few highlights:

For 3 days in late February, Russian businessman Dmitry Itskov gathered 500+ futurists in Moscow for a "Global Future 2045 Congress" - the latest manifestation of his "Russia 2045" movement. ... The occurrence of a conference like this in Russia is no big shock, of course. Russia has a huge contingent of great scientists in multiple directly Singularity-relevant areas; and it also has an impressively long history of advanced technological thinking . My dear departed friend Valentin Turchin wrote a book with Singularitarian themes in the late 1960s, and the Russian Cosmists of the early 1900s discussed technological immortality, space colonization and other futurist themes long before they became popular in the West.

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It's unclear from the online conference abstracts and other Russia 2045 materials just how much actual work is going in Russia on right now, explicitly oriented toward realizing the exciting visions Itskov describes; and it's also unclear to what extent Itskov's "Russia 2045" movement serves an active R&D role, versus a visionary and publicity role. It appears that most of the concrete science and engineering work at the conference was presented by scientists who had made their breakthroughs outside the context of the "Russia 2045" project; whereas Itskov and the other Russia 2045 staff were largely oriented toward high-level visioning. But of course, Russia 2045 is a new initiative, and may potentially draw more researchers into its fold as time progresses.

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Ray Kurzweil gave a fairly glowing report, noting "It was a well funded conference, funded by a number of major corporations in Russia..... There was significant representation from the mainstream press. The ideas were taken seriously. There were people from companies, from academe, from government.... The comparison to Humanity+ or the Singularity Summit is reasonable.... The people at the conference (about 500-600) were pretty sophisticated about all the issues you and I talk and write about."

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Clearly there are many smart scientists and engineers in Russia doing directly Singularity-relevant things; and Itskov's Russia 2045 organization seems to be doing a good job of attracting public and political attention to this work. What amount of concrete work is actually going on toward Itskov's list of grand goals is unclear to me at present, but certainly seems something to keep an eye on.

As Goertzel notes, there are the standard reasons for caution before becoming too taken by this project - but unlike the usual situation for an emerging initiative there is already a fair amount of money involved. So if we outsiders adopt a wait and see approach, matters will undoubtedly become more clear in time. Either there will be tangible progress, leading to more outreach and collaboration with the scientific community, or there will not. Either way it can be taken as a confirmation that the time is becoming right for far greater public support of longevity engineering: building longer healthy lives and attempting to reverse or effectively work around the consequences of aging.

Comments

There seem to be two parts to the Russia 2045 strategy, but the first is much more interesting. As far as I know, very little work has been done on life-support systems for the brain, or how the brain could even be abstracted from the skull intact. If they concentrated on issues like those, and the big issue of mind-machine interfaces, I would feel much more confident in that as opposed to the present level of airy speculation.

I still feel as though there's another path toward extended lifespan that doesn't get much discussion. The problem is that we have all these complex organs that get damaged, needing repair or replacement. The SENS strategy works in vivo, the regenerative medicine strategy works in vitro, and the Russia 2045 strategy works in silico, all toward addressing this problem.

When thinking of all the daunting complexities, realize that, as J.B.S. Haldane said when confronted with a Creationist who couldn't believe it possible to go from one cell to all the working complexity of a human body in billions of years through evolution, "You did it yourself in nine months." We can already make full sets of working, interconnected, young, vital, capable organ systems quite trivially! The problem is that they belong to themselves, that is that they are complete individuals with personal identity and moral rights, who absolutely shouldn't be treated as biological vehicles. If one precludes CNS development, however, no such issue arises. Why not take advantage of the evolutionary programming that already exists and that is already competent to create a body through the finely honed and well-orchestrated execution of developmental programming?

There is a feasible roadmap toward the relevant technology beginning with animal husbandry and the quest for cruelty-free meat. Cattle without brains do not suffer. If the basic homoeostatic functions of the brain and a few of its most rudimentary behavioural programs can be emulated by an implanted electronic device, these cattle would be even more pliant and low-maintenance than the ordinary kind. For the ultimate application, one need only substitute one type of livestock for another.

An additional advantage of this strategy is the ability to go beyond repair and give people new bodies that are better than new. People could have input into the design of their own physiology.

Posted by: Jose at March 31st, 2012 12:24 AM

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