Neurotechnology and the 2045 Initiative

Below is quoted a mainstream media piece on Dmitry Itskov's 2045 Initiative, an exemplar of that section of the futurist community who look forward to non-biological strategies for extending life. The underlying goals of reverse engineering the brain, building brain simulations, and integrating technology with neural tissue and functions are very much in the air these days, and a number of large US and European projects are underway in this space.

At the tender age of 32, Dmitry Itskov is not yet a billionaire, although a lot of respected news outlets think otherwise. He is a millionaire many times over - a survivor of the dot-com bubble who made his fortune building a media empire in Russia. Like many people who become extremely rich very quickly, he has decided to invest some of his money in innovative, forward-looking endeavors. But his idea is more ambitious than most: radical life extension.

In 2011, Itskov founded the 2045 Initiative, which is named for the year when he intends to complete the project's ultimate goal: to outwit and outrun mortality itself. His "avatar" project is a four-stage process, beginning with the development of androids directed by brain-computer interfacing - mind-controlled robots, in other words. It would culminate in a computer model of a person's brain and consciousness, which could be uploaded into a machine for posterity. An eternal problem, solved.

To achieve cybernetic immortality and turn what he calls his "science mega-project" into a reality, Itskov's 2045 Initiative is funding labs around the world; Itskov is both investing his own money and raising external capital, building support among entities ranging from Ivy League universities to large corporations to even the Dalai Lama. Even if Itskov doesn't reach his final goal of radical life extension via avatars, the amount of attention he's bringing and money he's investing in neurotech research have many people excited. And Itskov is just one in an increasingly crowded field.

While I don't agree that the end goal here is useful from a practical standpoint - a copy of you is not you - the next few decades are certainly going to be a very interesting time in applied neurotechnology.



"...a copy of you is not you..."
Interesting. Which would further perhaps suggest that somehow those bodily bits providing sustenance and sensory connection outside of the brain -and in essence- the biological matter of the brain after you die are somehow sacred and essential to the 'you' in yourself. That there is added benefit to maintaining this integrated set of body-sensor-brain as an essential 'you' when compared with possibly upgrading your body set and sensory functions to a mechanical system that may provide richer, faster, more detailed input. I agree that the body and its sensors provide a type of 'flavour' to the experiences that make up the 'you' - similar to growing up in the country versus the city. What has happened in the past certainly should be kept to provide a foundation to your own personality, but to allow yourself to be constrained by certainly a far-from-perfect vessel and sensory set when higher 'bandwidth' and storage options soon to be available is to compare a desire to keep horse and buggy even when starving on the way to the grocery store.
I am most fascinated by SENS because I believe it seems to be a most efficient combination of likely success in the medium term with the limited resources and interest that is available - a kind of first-past-the-post, bargain basement way of preserving my experiences and allowing me to build upon them indefinitely. I do not, for one moment, thing that the human body, such as it is is sacred, perfect, efficient, the means to the most rich and full life possible - it is simply all that nature and man's limited abilities - has provided for us at this point. I hope that longevity competition for money, interest, and research talent, does not push SENS out too soon, but practically it will be the first technology to show continuation that shall likely draw money and attention - though ideally, a selection of post-2013 life span extension options would be desirable.

Posted by: Jer at November 15th, 2013 9:05 AM

This is where ethics, morality, and philosophy start to get very, very, difficult. People have been trying to define what it means to have a soul for hundreds of years without much success. It's a concept nobody can quite nail down.
If we are going to go down the road of artificial intelligence, I'd like to keep simulations of human minds and actual AIs completely different and separate. The more alien and machine-like our AIs are, the better. We shouldn't start blurring the lines between humanity and AIs or we will cause massive conflicts over ethical issues.

Fortunately, the ethics and morality of SENS-style biological life extension are simple, easy, and obvious. It's a huge good, and it's more of the same, just better.

Posted by: Carl at November 15th, 2013 9:42 AM

People like Dmitry Itskov and Kurzweil severely lower the credibility and ultimately damage the "longevity movement". This cyborg shit, excuse my language, but it's shit, is utterly ridiculous. It's the "duct tape" solution to life.

Biology is working on a floor infinitely higher than technology, as in billions of years. It would probably be a good idea to start there.

Hacking biology with biology apparently doesn't make sense and is completely insane.

Posted by: Jonathan at November 15th, 2013 8:29 PM

Just a reminder that keeping an open mind is an enormous challenge, one that very few (if any) are capable of maintaining. I personally find it discomforting when near certainty is thrown around loosely by just about everyone I encounter. I am also equally thankful for the information and comments we get to share on a blog like this. 100 years from now I hope to look back and laugh at some of the concepts we hold so dear.

Posted by: Jim E. Mel at November 21st, 2013 7:54 PM

Jonathan, they do not discredit longevity, everything they stand for is noble and some of the goals, say transitioning our bodies into partially artificial and biological entity are quite realistic. Why is to say such goals are impossible. This is why research is needed, to find answers to optimize the human condition otherwise we will never know.

Transitioning our BODIES from a biological to artificial state while maintaining biological neurons and brain seems completely possible (though decades off of course. However, transitioning the human brain to a completely artificial state I myself am quite skeptical since we do not yet know what consciousness really is, there is still decades of research needed.

All in all, it would be nice if we could stop attacking the 2045 initiative as a pointless or out of touch concept, since their goals is to research and find answers to optimize the human condition. Whether or not we will be able to transfer human consciousness into another carrier or not this charity 2045 initiative will help find out, and it is very important that we do find out the facts. That way we know all our options are when it comes to optimizing our condition, both longevity, expression, and super intelligence.

Posted by: Alasuya Lushanova at December 1st, 2013 2:31 AM
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