The technology of immortality
Recipe for Immortality
Immortality is technically feasible!
I know it sounds crazy, but it appears that the right approach to the problem which people have been trying to solve for ages has finally been found. It does not require any new scientific knowledge - the mankind has known all the scientific facts that are necessary for solving the problem for decades (actually, one can find all the necessary facts in high-school textbooks), but the people were looking for the answer in the wrong place - their very approach was wrong.
So as not to raise any false hopes, I want to set the record straight right from the start - although the right approach has been found, that does not mean that we can become immortals tomorrow. The fact that we know the scientific principles does not mean that we have the technology. The technology based on these principles is still to be developed, and this may take decades or even centuries. (To better understand it, a historical analogy might be helpful: the scientific principles of propulsion were already known back in the times of Newton, but the technology of space flight was only developed in the 20th century).
So, what follows is just a concept. It was originally developed as far back as 1986 in my book “The Wish Generator”. The inspiration for that book was drawn from the “Profiles of the Future” by Arthur C. Clarke which includes Chapter 17 entitled “Brain and Body”, where the feasibility of achieving immortality is discussed, but no specific methods or concepts are proposed.
My book is much more specific on the subject. I hope that one day I’ll have enough time to translate all of it into English, but for now I can only offer you a very brief summary. Those of you who can read Russian can download the original Russian version of the book right now.
Click here to start downloading the file
WISHGEN.ZIP, 101 Kb, which contains the Russian version of the "Wish Generator" (Text in the Cyrilic DOS encoding known as CP866. You will need a Cyrillic screen driver for DOS to read it.)
Two possible approaches to the problem of immortality
Immortality has been mankind’s dream for ages, but all the previous attempts to achieve immortality were doomed to failure for one simple reason: all the inventors tried to indefinitely stretch the existence of one and the same body, without realizing that what really must be saved is not the body itself, but rather the information that this body contains. Let me resort to the following analogy: suppose you’ve got an old and treasured LP record which you would like to preserve forever. There can be two approaches to solving this problem:
- You might try to develop some special substance which, when sprayed on the surface, would make the material of the LP record so robust and durable that no needle will ever be able to scratch it
- You re-record the record to the magnetic tape and, when your original LP record becomes old and unusable, go to some LP manufacturers and ask them to make a new LP record from your tape.
The records on you new LP be will be the same as on the old one, and one could even stick on it a label which looks exactly the same as on the old one. But can one consider this new LP record as the “rejuvenated’ old one?
Or, coming back to the immortality of human beings, can we assume that we are still dealing with the one and the same person, if his or her body contains all the information that was contained in the old body - including both genetic information and memories stored in the brain - while this new body does not contain even a single atom out of the old body?
At first glance this seems to be a valid question. But remember that even conventional, mortal bodies repair themselves throughout their natural lives by taking materials for the repairs from the environment and discharging into it their metabolic wastes, so that by the time when they reach old age there are not very many atoms in their bodies that have been there from the time of their youth. Thus, the individuality is the information contained in the individuum, but not the material of which he or she is built.
The principle of selective preservation of information
Very few of the thinkers of the past who were in quest of immortality realized that it is this information that should be preserved, rather than its “storage media”. However, even they did not know how to achieve this, because their definition of the problem was not quite correct. They assumed that one should try to find a way of preserving all the information that accumulates in a human being throughout his life. But this meant, that in the case of an indefinite lifespan one would have had to store an indefinite amount of information, which is quite evidently impossible. They did not realize that it was not only impossible, it was not desirable either. The loss of ability to forget the undesirable information (such as obsolete behavioral patters and psychological traumas that would have accumulated in unbearable amounts over an infinite lifetime) would have resulted in establishment of stagnating society of immortal conservatives and neurotics. The preservation of information should be selective.
As soon as you redefine the problem as follows - to preserve the information, rather than the storage media, and preserve it selectively, rather than in its entirety - the solution to the problem of immortality turns out to be quite trivial.
What follows is a brief summary of Chapter 3 of my book “The Wish Generator”. I hope that some day I’ll have enough time to translate the whole book into English (Those of you who can read Russian will find the complete text of this book in the Russian version of this Web-page). In the meantime here are some ideas from that book that I consider to be too important to wait until I finish the translation, because the sooner we realize that immortality is feasible, the sooner we start working on it, the greater the chances are that some of us may live long enough to become immortals.
The technology of immortality: The key concepts.
The concept of biointerface is the basis for the Modular System of Immortality (MSI). By biointerface I mean the data interface between the nervous system of a human body and any artificial device.
It is common knowledge that any information carried over nerve fibers from sense organs to the brain, or from the brain to muscles, exists in a nerve fiber in the form of pulses of electrical potential (about 1/10V) that follow each other at the rate of no more than 300 pulses per second. In other words, maximum data throughput of one nerve fiber is about 300 bps (bits per second), which is two orders of magnitude lower than the data throughput of an ordinary phone line.
The simplest example of biointerface is an electrode implanted into a nerve fiber to pick up and record its electrical potentials. Such implantation is a trivial task, which has been performed for decades in labs all around the world.
For the sake of example, imagine now a man who has electrodes implanted into the nerve fibers going from his smell receptors to his brain. Let’s assume that this man sits somewhere in Moscow, and that the pulses picked up by the electrodes are then amplified and transmitted over phone lines to, let’s say, New York. When these pulses arrive to New York, they are fed to the electrodes implanted into the same nose-to-brain nerve fiber in another man. These pulses will travel down the nerve to the brain of this second man, and he, while staying in New York will be able to smell all the odors that exist in that room in Moscow where the first man sits. Now, if you replace the phone line with a tape recorder, you’ll get what I call an aromatron, a device for recording and playing back smells. Devices of this type, when commercialized, might provide the funds needed for further development of biointerface technology. First of all, one will have to find a way of establishing biointerface without this messy procedure of implanting metal electrodes into living tissue. And it’s not just an issue of aesthetics. If you recall that there are one million nerve fibers connecting one human eye to the brain, and the diameter of each fiber is about 1/1000 mm, it will immediately become evident that implanting an electrode into each of these fibers (with, what is more, keeping track of what fiber each electrode belongs to) is an impracticable task.
But MSI system absolutely requires a complete biointerface - that is, interface with all the nerve fibers going to and from the brain of a person. This can only be achieved using either a huge number of microrobots - nanodevices remotely controlled by computer and injected into the bloodstream of a being operated upon, or using special genetically engineered bacteria. In this latter case, the biointerface will be accomplished not by using electrodes and wires, but rather by molecules that could convert electrical potential into light signals (living matter is capable of emitting light - just think of glow-worms) to be transmitted over light conductor grown out of translucent cells similar to those that constitute the vitreous body of an eye.
This two possible methods of achieving biointerface do not presuppose a discovery of some presently unknown fundamental laws of nature. What is required is the development of new technologies, such as nanotechnology, advanced genetic engineering, new methods of remote control, etc., which can be based exclusively on the already existing scientific knowledge. This does not imply, however, that one won’t be able to put to good use any new scientific discoveries that may be made in the future. (For example, if some day science eventually confirms that telepathy does exist, that phenomenon might prove to be a good basis for a biointerface technology). But my point is that even today’s firmly established laws of nature are sufficient for the task.
Biointerface with ALL the nerve fibers of one body that carry information from all the receptors (sense organs) of that body in the “towards-the-brain” direction, and ALL the nerve fibers of that body going to all the end effectors (muscles) of that body in the “from-the-brain” direction. I use the rather cumbersome phrase “towards/from-the-brain direction” rather than simply saying “to/from the brain”, because, as we’ll see below, the brain itself won’t necessarily be present in the body. (see Body Module).
A very rough order-of-magnitude estimate of the data throughput required for the complete biointerface can be obtained as follows:
Data throughput of one nerve fiber is 300 bps (see Biointerface)
There are about one million nerve fibers going from one eye to the brain, therefore, the throughput required to carry all the visual data from both eyes to the brain is 2 x 1 000 000 x 300 bps = 600 Mbps.
If we assume for the purposes of this rough estimate, that we receive from our eyes no less information than from all the other sense organs taken together, then it seems that the total rate of data input a human brain normally receives does not exceed 1200 Mbps.
It is unlikely that brain outputs more data than it receives. That means that the upper limit of the data rates coming and going via complete biointerface in both directions amounts to no more than 1200 + 1200 = 2400 Mbps or 2,4 Gbps, which is the same order of magnitude as a modern fiber optic line.
That means that, at the physical level, the complete biointerface will most likely be implemented in the form of an optic fiber lead having on one of its ends an optic connector for easy connection/disconnection to/from an optical data transfer line, and, on the other end, multiplexers/demultiplexers for distributing the signals over tens of millions of nerve fibers in the body.
Now, imagine a living human body without a brain. It might have lost his brain as a result of some accident, or it might have been born that way (which is not a very uncommon deformity). Or it might be specially grown or cloned using advanced genetic engineering technologies. (Mass production of such brainless bodies may pose some difficult ethical problems, but it is not my intention to consider such problems here. Let us assume for the moment that these problems will be successfully resolved.)
By body modules I mean brainless bodies that are equipped with a complete biointerface. To put it more simply, each of these brainless body modules has a tiny fiber optic lead coming out of it, which can be connected, for example, to a data transmission line. This data transmission line may extend for thousands of miles, to other continents, actually, and have its other end connected to some person who has his/her brain equipped with a complete biointerface (which means that each incoming and outgoing nerve fiber of this person’s brain is biointerfaced).
Now this person can not only smell the odors that the remote body module can smell. He/she can now hear with the body module’s ears, see with its eyes, touch things with its hands, walk around with its legs, taste foods with its mouth, and … well, so on. This opens up the possibility of instant travel to any part of the Earth, that is, to wherever body modules will be made available. This will also allow paraplegics to walk, blind to see, and deaf to hear. The old will have a chance to find themselves in a young body once again. But this is not immortality yet, because their brains will eventually grow too old and die. These are just practical applications, which might help to provide funds for the research needed to advance to the next phase of the project, the creation of the Brain Modules. And these will finally allow to achieve the Immortality itself.
There seems to be good scientific evidence to suggest that each piece of information in the brain is not stored in a particular place of its own, but rather is spread all over the brain. In other words, the brain is more like a hologram than a conventional photograph (if you tear off a part of a photograph, you completely lose all the information contained in the lost part, but if you break a hologram, each fragment still contains the whole picture, fuzzier though it may become). This “holographicity” of memory may explain why, after experiencing a stroke and loosing a whole hemisphere of brain, many people still retain most of their memories, although some of their faculties may be severely impaired, because different brain hemispheres specialize in different functions.
Now, let us imagine that an old person suffers a stroke and one of the hemispheres in his brain becomes dead. Normally, in order to recover from such stroke, this person would have to re-specialize the remaining hemisphere, to teach it to perform the functions which used to be the prerogative of the other hemisphere until it died.
But imagine also, that we have a capability to grow, out of body, a complete new brain hemisphere, and to equip it with a complete biointerface, as well as an intra-brain biointerface. By intra-brain interface I mean the data interface between two brain hemispheres, which implies a two orders of magnitude higher throughput than in the case of complete biointerface between brain and body (there are about two hundred million nerve fibers connecting the two hemispheres of brain vs. several million nerve fibers connecting brain to the body). But thankfully, the intra-brain interface will have to carry data for a very short distance.
I call such one hemisphere equipped with complete biointerface and intra-brain interface a Brain Module. And of course, a brain module should also be equipped with fluid connectors to connect it to the body’s circulatory system, so that it could be supplied with blood and nutrients.
Recipe for immortality
So we remove the dead hemisphere and plug in the new, clean (without any memories), brain module. We just sort of “shore up” the old hemisphere, supplying it with raw processing power of the new brain module, so that it won’t need to re-specialize. Instead, it will have to “teach” the new hemisphere how to handle information. That means, that if the new and old hemispheres will be left to work together for several years’ time, all the active memories, that is, the memories that are really needed and treasured, that really constitute our egos, and therefore are in everyday use, all such memories will gradually percolate into the new hemisphere via intra-brain interface, and will gradually become memorized by it. (Actually, it will probably take much less than several years - we’ve got to keep in mind that intra-brain interface has a two order of magnitude higher throughput than complete biointerface. That means that 80 years of experience received through ordinary sense organs can theoretically be transferred from one hemisphere to another in less than one year).
After the old hemisphere has transferred its information to the new one (not all of its information, but only the information which is really needed - remember what I said in the Introduction about selective preservation of information?) it may eventually also die. But this won’t mean the death of that person, because his ego will already be running on the new brain module. So we can replace another dead hemisphere with one more brain module, and let the first brain module work together with the second one. When the first brain module grows old, we just throw it out, plug in a third one and let it work for several years with the second one. When the second one grows old, we just throw it away, and replace it with a forth one, and so on, ad infinitum. And of course, whenever the body grows old, we just replace it with a new body module.
So, basically, the recipe for immortality is as follows: at any one time we should have two brain modules plugged into one body module, with one of these two brain modules always being at least a few years older then another one.
So, barring accidents, a person using this modular system of immortality may reasonably expect to live forever. And this will have a very profound effect on all the aspects of human life, especially in the areas where the long-term interests of the mankind conflict with short-term interests of individuals. Today, most people on this planet behave very irresponsibly towards future generations (for example, they pollute Earth and let their grand-grand-children worry about this problem. Another example is unwillingness of people to spend the money on a space system that would have protected Earth from an asteroid impact - most people hope that such an impact won’t occur before their life time is out.). But people might think twice about such things, if they know that they will live long enough for the consequences of their irresponsible actions to backfire on them. In this way the immortality of individuals may help to save from extinction the mankind as a whole.
These topics and much more are covered in greater detail in my book “Wish Generator” and its hypertext companion “The Key to the Future”. Unfortunately, both are currently available only in Russian (those of you who can read Russian can find them in the Russian version of this page). I’ll do my best to translate them into English as soon as possible. In the meanwhile, I would welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions that might help me to improve and refine the contents of the present article. Please write to me. My E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
This page last updated October 2, 1997