The forthcoming Global Futures 2045 conference is attracting media attention to Dmitry Itskov's 2045 Initiative. The technological aim of the program is to move out of our biology and into durable, ageless machine bodies and minds as quickly as possible - though of course an upload of you is not you, but rather a distinct copy. That will not prevent people from choosing to create uploaded copies of themselves when the option becomes available, and will not diminish the enthusiasm of those who belief that a copy of you is you. Moving from a biological mind to a machine mind without copying or destroying yourself would have to be a much more gradual process, perhaps by a slow replacement of individual neurons and synapses with more resilient nanomachines that serve the same purpose.
The technologies needed to enable these goals are distant but not implausible - there is a lot of work between here and there. To my eyes this all seems like a harder and slower track to agelessness than the biological path of rejuvenation biotechnology as championed by the SENS Research Foundation. We don't have all the time in the world to wait for the future until researchers can repair the various known underlying causes of aging, and sorting that out in the biology we have today seems more viable than building a new home for the mind.
It is hard to imagine a day when the ideas championed by Mr. Itskov, 32, a Russian multimillionaire and former online media magnate, will not seem strange, or at least far-fetched and unfeasible. His project, called the 2045 Initiative, for the year he hopes it is completed, envisions the mass production of lifelike, low-cost avatars that can be uploaded with the contents of a human brain, complete with all the particulars of consciousness and personality. [He] has the attention, and in some cases the avid support, of august figures at Harvard, M.I.T. and Berkeley and leaders in fields like molecular genetics, neuroprosthetics and other realms that you've probably never heard of.
Mr. Itskov's role in the 2045 Initiative is bit like that of a producer in the Hollywood sense of the word: the guy who helps underwrite the production, shapes the script and oversees publicity. He says he will have spent roughly $3 million of his own money by the time the [forthcoming Global Futures 2045 conference] is over, and though he is reluctant to disclose his net worth - aside from scoffing at the often-published notion that he's a billionaire - he is ready to spend much more.
For now, he is buying a lot of plane tickets. He flies around the globe introducing himself to scientists, introducing scientists to one another and prepping the public for what he regards as the inevitable age of avatars. In the span of two weeks, his schedule took him from New York (for an interview), to India (to enlist the support of a renowned yogi), home to Moscow, then to Berkeley, Calif. (to meet with scientists), back to Moscow and then to Shanghai (to meet with a potential investor).
Mr. Itskov says he will invest at least part of his fortune in such ventures, but his primary goal with 2045 is not to become richer. In fact, the more you know about Mr. Itskov, the less he seems like a businessman and the more he seems like the world's most ambitious utopian. "We need to show that we're actually here to save lives. To help the disabled, to cure diseases, to create technology that will allow us in the future to answer some existential questions. Like what is the brain, what is life, what is consciousness and, finally, what is the universe?"
I might not believe that Itskov's vision is the best way forward towards greater longevity, but I do think that we would all benefit from the existence of a good many more ambitious utopians of this sort.