Category Archives: longevity

Your most likely cause of death is being switched off

This one’s short and sweet.

The majority of you reading this blog live in the USA, UK, Canada or Australia. More than half of you are under 40.

That means your natural life expectancy is over 85, so statistically, your body will probably live until after 2060.

By then, electronic mind enhancement will probably mean that most of your mind runs on external electronics, not in your brain, so that your mind won’t die when your body does. You’ll just need to find a new body, probably an android, for those times you aren’t content being on the net. Most of us identify ourselves mainly as our mind, and would still think of ourselves as still alive if our mind carries on as if nothing much has happened, which is likely.

Electronic immortality is not true immortality though. Your mind can only survive on the net as long as it is supported by the infrastructure. That will be controlled by others. Future technology will likely be able to defend against asteroid strikes, power surges cause by solar storms and so on, so accidental death seems unlikely for hundreds of years. However, since minds supported on it need energy to continue running and electronics to be provided and maintained, and will want to make trips into the ‘real’ world, or even live there a lot of the time, they will have a significant resource footprint. They will probably not be considered as valuable as other people whose bodies are still alive. In fact they might be considered as competition – for jobs, resources, space, housing, energy… They may even be seen as easy targets for future cyber-terrorists.

So, it seems quite likely, maybe even inevitable, that life limits will be imposed on the vast majority of you. At some point you will simply be switched off. There might be some prioritization, competitions, lotteries or other selection mechanism, but only some will benefit from it.

Since you are unlikely to die when your body ceases to work, your most likely cause of death is therefore to be switched off. Sorry to break that to you.

Future human evolution

I’ve done patches of work on this topic frequently over the last 20 years. It usually features in my books at some point too, but it’s always good to look afresh at anything. Sometimes you see something you didn’t see last time.

Some of the potential future is pretty obvious. I use the word potential, because there are usually choices to be made, regulations that may or may not get in the way, or many other reasons we could divert from the main road or even get blocked completely.

We’ve been learning genetics now for a long time, with a few key breakthroughs. It is certain that our understanding will increase, less certain how far people will be permitted to exploit the potential here in any given time frame. But let’s take a good example to learn a key message first. In IVF, we can filter out embryos that have the ‘wrong’ genes, and use their sibling embryos instead. Few people have a problem with that. At the same time, pregnant women may choose an abortion if they don’t want a child when they discover it is the wrong gender, but in the UK at least, that is illegal. The moral and ethical values of our society are on a random walk though, changing direction frequently. The social assignment of right and wrong can reverse completely in just 30 years. In this example, we saw a complete reversal of attitudes to abortion itself within 30 years, so who is to say we won’t see reversal on the attitude to abortion due to gender? It is unwise to expect that future generations will have the same value sets. In fact, it is highly unlikely that they will.

That lesson likely applies to many technology developments and quite a lot of social ones – such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, both already well into their attitude reversal. At some point, even if something is distasteful to current attitudes, it is pretty likely to be legalized eventually, and hard to ban once the door is opened. There will always be another special case that opens the door a little further. So we should assume that we may eventually use genetics to its full capability, even if it is temporarily blocked for a few decades along the way. The same goes for other biotech, nanotech, IT, AI and any other transhuman enhancements that might come down the road.

So, where can we go in the future? What sorts of splits can we expect in the future human evolution path? It certainly won’t remain as just plain old homo sapiens.

I drew this evolution path a long time ago in the mid 1990s:

human evolution 1

It was clear even then that we could connect external IT to the nervous system, eventually the brain, and this would lead to IT-enhanced senses, memory, processing, higher intelligence, hence homo cyberneticus. (No point in having had to suffer Latin at school if you aren’t allowed to get your own back on it later). Meanwhile, genetic enhancement and optimization of selected features would lead to homo optimus. Converging these two – why should you have to choose, why not have a perfect body and an enhanced mind? – you get homo hybridus. Meanwhile, in the robots and AI world, machine intelligence is increasing and we eventually we get the first self-aware AI/robot (it makes little sense to separate the two since networked AI can easily be connected to a machine such as a robot) and this has its own evolution path towards a rich diversity of different kinds of AI and robots, robotus multitudinus. Since both the AI world and the human world could be networked to the same network, it is then easy to see how they could converge, to give homo machinus. This future transhuman would have any of the abilities of humans and machines at its disposal. and eventually the ability to network minds into a shared consciousness. A lot of ordinary conventional humans would remain, but with safe upgrades available, I called them homo sapiens ludditus. As they watch their neighbors getting all the best jobs, winning at all the sports, buying everything, and getting the hottest dates too, many would be tempted to accept the upgrades and homo sapiens might gradually fizzle out.

My future evolution timeline stayed like that for several years. Then in the early 2000s I updated it to include later ideas:

human evolution 2

I realized that we could still add AI into computer games long after it becomes comparable with human intelligence, so games like EA’s The Sims might evolve to allow entire civilizations living within a computer game, each aware of their existence, each running just as real a life as you and I. It is perhaps unlikely that we would allow children any time soon to control fully sentient people within a computer game, acting as some sort of a god to them, but who knows, future people will argue that they’re not really real people so it’s OK. Anyway, you could employ them in the game to do real knowledge work, and make money, like slaves. But since you’re nice, you might do an incentive program for them that lets them buy their freedom if they do well, letting them migrate into an android. They could even carry on living in their Sims home and still wander round in our world too.

Emigration from computer games into our world could be high, but the reverse is also possible. If the mind is connected well enough, and enhanced so far by external IT that almost all of it runs on the IT instead of in the brain, then when your body dies, your mind would carry on living. It could live in any world, real or fantasy, or move freely between them. (As I explained in my last blog, it would also be able to travel in time, subject to certain very expensive infrastructural requirements.) As well as migrants coming via electronic immortality route, it would be likely that some people that are unhappy in the real world might prefer to end it all and migrate their minds into a virtual world where they might be happy. As an alternative to suicide, I can imagine that would be a popular route. If they feel better later, they could even come back, using an android.  So we’d have an interesting future with lots of variants of people, AI and computer game and fantasy characters migrating among various real and imaginary worlds.

But it doesn’t stop there. Meanwhile, back in the biotech labs, progress is continuing to harness bacteria to make components of electronic circuits (after which the bacteria are dissolved to leave the electronics). Bacteria can also have genes added to emit light or electrical signals. They could later be enhanced so that as well as being able to fabricate electronic components, they could power them too. We might add various other features too, but eventually, we’re likely to end up with bacteria that contain electronics and can connect to other bacteria nearby that contain other electronics to make sophisticated circuits. We could obviously harness self-assembly and self-organisation, which are also progressing nicely. The result is that we will get smart bacteria, collectively making sophisticated, intelligent, conscious entities of a wide variety, with lots of sensory capability distributed over a wide range. Bacteria Sapiens.

I often talk about smart yogurt using such an approach as a key future computing solution. If it were to stay in a yogurt pot, it would be easy to control. But it won’t. A collective bacterial intelligence such as this could gain a global presence, and could exist in land, sea and air, maybe even in space. Allowing lots of different biological properties could allow colonization of every niche. In fact, the first few generations of bacteria sapiens might be smart enough to design their own offspring. They could probably buy or gain access to equipment to fabricate them and release them to multiply. It might be impossible for humans to stop this once it gets to a certain point. Accidents happen, as do rogue regimes, terrorism and general mad-scientist type mischief.

And meanwhile, we’ll also be modifying nature. We’ll be genetically enhancing a wide range of organisms, bringing some back from extinction, creating new ones, adding new features, changing even some of the basic mechanism by which nature works in some cases. We might even create new kinds of DNA or develop substitutes with enhanced capability. We may change nature’s evolution hugely. With a mix of old and new and modified, nature evolves nicely into Gaia Sapiens.

We’re not finished with the evolution chart though. Here is the next one:

human evolution 3

Just one thing is added. Homo zombius. I realized eventually that the sci-fi ideas of zombies being created by viruses could be entirely feasible. A few viruses, bacteria and other parasites can affect the brains of the victims and change their behaviour to harness them for their own life cycle.

See http://io9.com/12-real-parasites-that-control-the-lives-of-their-hosts-461313366 for fun.

Bacteria sapiens could be highly versatile. It could make virus variants if need be. It could evolve itself to be able to live in our bodies, maybe penetrate our brains. Bacteria sapiens could make tiny components that connect to brain cells and intercept signals within our brains, or put signals back in. It could read our thoughts, and then control our thoughts. It could essentially convert people into remote controlled robots, or zombies as we usually call them. They could even control muscles directly to a point, so even if the zombie is decapitated, it could carry on for a short while. I used that as part of my storyline in Space Anchor. If future humans have widespread availability of cordless electricity, as they might, then it is far fetched but possible that headless zombies could wander around for ages, using the bacterial sensors to navigate. Homo zombius would be mankind enslaved by bacteria. Hopefully just a few people, but it could be everyone if we lose the battle. Think how difficult a war against bacteria would be, especially if they can penetrate anyone’s brain and intercept thoughts. The Terminator films looks a lot less scary when you compare the Terminator with the real potential of smart yogurt.

Bacteria sapiens might also need to be consulted when humans plan any transhuman upgrades. If they don’t consent, we might not be able to do other transhuman stuff. Transhumans might only be possible if transbacteria allow it.

Not done yet. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about fairies. I suggested fairies are entirely feasible future variants that would be ideally suited to space travel.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/fairies-will-dominate-space-travel/

They’d also have lots of environmental advantages as well as most other things from the transhuman library. So I think they’re inevitable. So we should add fairies to the future timeline. We need a revised timeline and they certainly deserve their own branch. But I haven’t drawn it yet, hence this blog as an excuse. Before I do and finish this, what else needs to go on it?

Well, time travel in cyberspace is feasible and attractive beyond 2075. It’s not the proper real world time travel that isn’t permitted by physics, but it could feel just like that to those involved, and it could go further than you might think. It certainly will have some effects in the real world, because some of the active members of the society beyond 2075 might be involved in it. It certainly changes the future evolution timeline if people can essentially migrate from one era to another (there are some very strong caveats applicable here that I tried to explain in the blog, so please don’t misquote me as a nutter – I haven’t forgotten basic physics and logic, I’m just suggesting a feasible implementation of cyberspace that would allow time travel within it. It is really a cyberspace bubble that intersects with the real world at the real time front so doesn’t cause any physics problems, but at that intersection, its users can interact fully with the real world and their cultural experiences of time travel are therefore significant to others outside it.)

What else? OK, well there is a very significant community (many millions of people) that engages in all sorts of fantasy in shared on-line worlds, chat rooms and other forums. Fairies, elves, assorted spirits, assorted gods, dwarves, vampires, werewolves, assorted furry animals, assorted aliens, dolls,  living statues, mannequins, remote controlled people, assorted inanimate but living objects, plants and of course assorted robot/android variants are just some of those that already exist in principle; I’m sure I’ve forgotten some here and anyway, many more are invented every year so an exhaustive list would quickly become out of date. In most cases, many people already role play these with a great deal of conviction and imagination, not just in standalone games, but in communities, with rich cultures, back-stories and story-lines. So we know there is a strong demand, so we’re only waiting for their implementation once technology catches up, and it certainly will.

Biotech can do a lot, and nanotech and IT can add greatly to that. If you can design any kind of body with almost any kind of properties and constraints and abilities, and add any kind of IT and sensing and networking and sharing and external links for control and access and duplication, we will have an extremely rich diversity of future forms with an infinite variety of subcultures, cross-fertilization, migration and transformation. In fact, I can’t add just a few branches to my timeline. I need millions. So instead I will just lump all these extras into a huge collected category that allows almost anything, called Homo Whateverus.

So, here is the future of human (and associates) evolution, for the next 150 years. A few possible cross-links are omitted for clarity

evolution

I won’t be around to watch it all happen. But a lot of you will.

 

Will population grow again after 2050? To 15Bn?

We’ve been told for decades now that population will level off, probably around 2050, and population after that will likely decline. The world population will peak around 2050 at about 9.5 Billion. That’s pretty much the accepted wisdom at the moment.

The reasoning is pretty straight forward and seems sound, and the evidence follows it closely. People are becoming wealthier. Wealthier people have fewer kids. If you don’t expect your kids to die from disease or starvation before they’re grown up, you don’t need to make as many.

But what if it’s based on fallacy? What if it is just plain wrong? What if the foundations of that reasoning change dramatically by 2050 and it no longer holds true? Indeed. What if?

Before I continue, let me say that my book ‘Total Sustainability’, and my various optimistic writings and blogs about population growth all agree with the view that population will level off around 2050 and then slowly decline, while food supply and resource use will improve thanks to better technologies, thereby helping us to restore the environment. If population may increase again, I and many others will have to rethink.

The reason I am concerned now is that I just made another cross-link with the trend of rising wealth, which will allow even the most basic level of welfare to be set at a high level. It is like the citizen payment that the Swiss voted on recently. I suggested it a couple of years ago myself and in my books, and am in favour of it. Everyone would receive the same monthly payment from the state whether they work or not. The taxes due would then be calculated on the total income, regardless of how you get it, and I would use a flat tax for that too. Quite simple and fair. Only wealthier people pay any tax and then according to how wealthy they are. My calculations say that by 2050, everyone in the UK could get £30,000 a year each (in today’s money) based on the typical level of growth we’ve seen in recent decades (ignoring the recession years). In some countries it would be even higher, in some less, but the cost of living is also less in many countries. In many countries welfare could be as generous as average wages are today.

So by 2050, people in many countries could have an income that allows them to survive reasonably comfortably, even without having a job. That won’t stop everyone working, but it will make it much easier for people who want to raise a family to do so without economic concerns or having to go out to work. It will become possible to live comfortably without working and raise a family.

We know that people tend to have fewer kids as they become wealthier, but there are a number of possible reasons for that. One is the better survival chances for children. That may still have an effect in the developing world, but has little effect in richer countries, so it probably won’t have any impact on future population levels in those countries. Another is the need to work to sustain the higher standard of living one has become used to, to maintain a social status and position, and the parallel reluctance to have kids that will make that more difficult. While a small number of people have kids as a means to solicit state support, but that must be tiny compared to the numbers who have fewer so that they can self sustain. Another reason is that having kids impedes personal freedom, impacts on social life and sex life and adds perhaps unwelcome responsibility. These reasons are all vulnerable to the changes caused by increasing welfare and consequential attitudes. There are probably many other reasons too. 

Working and having fewer kids allows a higher standard of living than having kids and staying at home to look after them, but most people are prepared to compromise on material quality of life to some degree to get the obvious emotional rewards of having kids. Perhaps people are having fewer kids as they get wealthier because the drop of standard of living is too high, or the risks too high. If the guaranteed basic level of survival is comfortable, there is little risk. If a lot of people choose not to work and just live on that, there will also be less social stigma in not working, and more social opportunities from having more people in the same boat. So perhaps we may reasonably deduce that making it less uncomfortable to stop work and have more kids will create a virtuous circle of more and more people having more kids.

I won’t go as far as saying that will happen, just that it might. I don’t know enough about the relative forces that make someone decide whether to have another child. It is hard to predetermine the social attitudes that will prevail in 2050 and beyond, whether people will feel encouraged or deterred from having more kids.

My key point here is that the drop in fertility we see today due to increasing wealth might only hold true up to a certain point, beyond which it reverses. It may simply be that the welfare and social floor is too low to offer a sufficient safety net for those considering having kids, so they choose not to. If the floor is raised thanks to improving prosperity, as it might well be, then population could start to rise quickly again. The assumption that population will peak at 9 or 9.5 billion and then fall might be wrong. It could rise to up to 15 billion, at which point other factors will start to reassert themselves. If our assumptions on age of death are also underestimates, it could go even higher.

And another new book: You Tomorrow, 2nd Edition

I wrote You Tomorrow two years ago. It was my first ebook, and pulled together a lot of material I’d written on the general future of life, with some gaps then filled in. I was quite happy with it as a book, but I could see I’d allowed quite a few typos to get into the final work, and a few other errors too.

However, two years is a long time, and I’ve thought about a lot of new areas in that time. So I decided a few months ago to do a second edition. I deleted a bit, rearranged it, and then added quite a lot. I also wrote the partner book, Total Sustainability. It includes a lot of my ideas on future business and capitalism, politics and society that don’t really belong in You Tomorrow.

So, now it’s out on sale on Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-humanity-belongings-surroundings/dp/1491278269/ in paper, at £9.00 and

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-Ian-Pearson-ebook/dp/B00G8DLB24 in ebook form at £3.81 (guessing the right price to get a round number after VAT is added is beyond me. Did you know that paper books don’t have VAT added but ebooks do?)

And here’s a pretty picture:

You_Tomorrow_Cover_for_Kindle

Future gender equality – legally recognise everyone’s male and female sides

My writing on the future of gender and same-sex reproduction now forms a section of my new book You Tomorrow, Second Edition, on the future of humanity, gender, lifestyle and our surroundings. Available from Amazon as paper and ebook.

or

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-humanity-belongings-surroundings/dp/1491278269

Has the sisterhood forgotten older women?

We just went through International Women’s Day and I was one of many people asked to write an essay on the above topic for a compendium of essays for the International Longevity Centre, highlighting problems faced by older women and asking if they have been forgotten by feminism.

The pdf of the whole compendium is downloadable from

http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/has_the_sisterhood_forgotten_older_women

At the moment of writing, it is available via Internet Explorer but not Chrome. I haven’t tested other browsers.

What will your next body be like?

Many engineers, including me, think that some time around 2050, we will be able to make very high quality links between the brains and machines. To such an extent that it will thereafter be possible (albeit expensive for some years) to arrange that most of your mind – your thinking, memories, even sensations and emotions, could reside mainly in the machine world. Some (perhaps some memories that are rarely remembered for example) may not be suited to such external accessibility, but the majority should be.

The main aim of this research area is to design electronic solutions to immortality. But actually, that is only one application, and I have discussed electronic immortality a few times now :

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/how-to-live-forever/

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/increasing-longevity-and-electronic-immortality-3bn-people-to-live-forever/

What I want to focus on this time is that you don’t have to die to benefit. If your mind is so well connected, you could inhabit a new body, without having to vacate your existing one. Furthermore, there really isn’t much to stop you getting a new body, using that, and dumping your old one in a life support system. You won’t do that, but you could. Either way, you could get a new body or an extra one, and as I asked in passing in my last blog, what will your new body look like?

Firstly, why would you want to do this? Well, you might be old, suffering the drawbacks of ageing, not as mobile and agile as you want to be, you might be young, but not as pretty or fit as you want to be, or maybe you would prefer to be someone else, like your favourite celebrity, a top sports hero, or maybe you’d prefer to be a different gender perhaps? Or maybe you just generally feel you’d like to have the chance to start over, do it differently. Maybe you want to explore a different lifestyle, or maybe it is a way of expressing your artistic streak. So, with all these reasons and more, there will be plenty of demand for wanting a new body and a potentially new life.

Options

Lets explore some of the options. Don’t be too channelled by assuming you even have to be human. There is a huge range of potential here, but some restrictions will be necessary too. Lots of things will be possible, but not permissible.

Firstly, tastes will vary a lot. People may want their body to look professional for career reasons, others will prefer sexy, others sporty. Most people will only have one at a time, so will choose it carefully. A bit like buying a house. But not everyone will be conservative.

Just like buying a house, some rich people will want to own several for different circumstances, and many others would want several but can’t afford it, so there could be a rental market. But as I will argue shortly, you probably won’t be allowed to use too many at the same time, so that means we will need some form of storage, and ethics dictates that the ‘spare’ bodies mustn’t be ‘alive’ or conscious. There are lots of ways to do this. Using a detachable brain is one, or not to put a brain in at all, using empty immobile husks that are switched on and then linked to your remote mind in the cloud to become alive. This sounds preferable to me. Most likely they would be inorganic. I don’t think it will be ethically acceptable to grow cloned bodies in some sort of farm and remove their brains, so using some sort of android is probably best all round.

So, although you can do a lot with biotech, and there are some options there, I do think that most replacement bodies, if not all, will be androids using synthetic materials and AI’s, not biological bodies.

As for materials, it is already possible to buy lifelike full sized dolls, but the materials will continue to improve, as will robotics. You could look how you want to look, and your new body would be as youthful, strong, and flexible as you want or need it to be.

Now that we’re in that very broad android/robot creativity space, you could be any species, fantasy character, alien, robot, android or pretty much any imaginary form that could be fabricated. You could be any size or shape from a bacterium to an avatar for an AI spaceship (such as Rommy’s avatar in Andromeda, or Edi in Mass Effect. Noteworthy of course is that both Rommy and Edi felt compelled to get bodies too, so that they could maximise their usefuleness, even though they were both useful in their pure AI form.)

You could be any age. It might be very difficult to make a body that can grow, so you might need a succession of bodies if you want to start off as a child again. Already, warning bells are ringing in my head and I realise that we will need to restrict options and police things. Do we really want to allow adults people to assume the bodies of children, with all the obvious paedophilic dangers that would bring? Probably not, and I suspect this will be one of the first regulations restricting choice. You could become young again, but the law will make it so your appearance must remain adult. For the same obvious reasons, you wouldn’t be allowed to become something like a teddy bear or doll or any other form that would provide easy access to children.

You could be any gender. I wrote about future gender potential recently in:

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/the-future-of-gender/

There will be lots of genders and sexuality variations in that time frame.  Getting a new or an extra body with a different gender will obviously appeal to people with transgender desires, but it might go further and appeal to those who want a body of each sex too. Why not? You can be perfectly comfortable with your sexuality in your existing gender, but  still choose a different gender for your new body. If you can have a body in each gender, many people will want to. You may not be restricted to one or two bodies, so you might buy several bodies of different ages, genders, races and appearances. You could have a whole village of variants of you. Again, obvious restrictions loom large. Regulation would not allow people, however rich or powerful, to have huge numbers of bodies running around at the same time. The environmental, social, political and military impacts would get too large. I can’t say what the limits will be, but there will certainly be limits. But within those limits, you could have a lot of flexibility, and fun.

You could be any species. An alien, or an elf, or a dog. Technology can do most shapes and as for how it might feel, noone knows how elves or dogs or aliens feel anyway, so you have a clean slate to work with, customising till you are satisfied that what you create matches your desire. But again, should elves be allowed to interbreed with people, or aliens? Or dogs? The technology is exciting, but it does create a whole new genre of ethical, regulatory and policing problems too. But then again, we need to create new jobs anyway.

Other restrictions on relationships might spring up. If you have two or more bodies, will they be allowed to have sex with each other, marry, adopt kids, or be both parents of your own kids. Bear in mind cloning may well be legal by then and artificial wombs may even exist, so being both parents of your own cloned offspring is possible. If they do have sex, you will be connected into both bodies, so will control and experience both sides. It is worth noting here that you will also be able to link into other people’s nervous systems using similar technology, so the idea of experiencing the ‘other’ side of a sex act will not be unique to using your own bodies.

What about being a superhero? You could do that too, within legal limits, and of course those stretch a bit for police and military roles. Adding extra senses and capabilities is easy if your mind is connected to an entire network of sensors, processors and actuators. Remember, the body you use is just an android so if your superheroing activity gets you killed, it is just a temporary inconvenience. Claim on insurance or expenses and buy a new body for the next performance.

In this future world, you may think it would be hard to juggle mindsets between different bodies, but today’s computer games give us some insight. Many people take on roles every day, as aliens, wizards or any fantasy in their computer gaming. They still achieve sanity in their main life, showing that it is almost certainly possible to safely juggle multiple bodies with their distinct roles and appearances too. The human mind is pretty versatile, and a healthy adult mind is also very robust. With future AI assistance and monitoring it should be even safer. So it ought to be safe to explore and have fun in a world where you can use a different body at will, maybe for an hour or maybe for a lifetime, and even inhabit a few at once.

So, again, what will your next body look like?

Things that don’t work but could

Continue reading

Avatar 0.0

There has been some activity in recent weeks on the development of avatars, as in the film, or at least some agreement on feasibility and intention to develop, with real actual funding.

The concept is that you could inhabit another body and feel it is yours. I have written many times about direct brain links, superhuman AIs, shared consciousness and so on, since 1992, and considered a variety of ways of connecting. It has been fun exploring the possibilities and some of the obvious applications and dangers. For a few years it seemed to be just Kurzweil and me, but gradually a number of people joined in, often labelling themselves transhumanists. Now that it is more obvious how the technology might spin out, the ideas are becoming quite mainstream and no longer considered the realm of cranks. Many quite respectable scientists are now involved.

Google DARPA and avatar and you’ll see a lot of recent commentary on the DARPA project to create surrogate soldiers, just like we see them in the film. Not tomorrow, but by around 2045. Why then? Well, 2045 is the date when some of us expect to be able to do a full direct brain link, at least in prototype. I think with a lot of funding and the right brains involved, it is entirely achievable then.

But DARPA won’t have it all to themselves. The Russians are also looking at it, and hosted a recent conference. Dmitry Itskov, founder of Russia 2045, has been given permission to develop his own avatar program. Check this out:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44938297/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/does-future-hold-avatar-like-bodies-us/#.T0YoIPFmKom

From their conference press release:

The first Global Future Congress 2045 (GF2045) was held on Feb.17-20 in Moscow, where 56 world leading physicists, biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and philosophers met to discuss breakthroughs in life extension technologies and draft a resolution to the United Nations setting the radical lengthening of human lifespan and the creation of Avatars as a priority for preservation of humankind.

About 500 people attended the three-day event featuring presentations by over 50 scientists including inventor Ray Kurzweil, Microsoft Research Director Rane Johnson-Stempson, and Astronaut Sergey Krichevskiy. The event was focused on breakthrough technologies that could create a synthetic body-vessel for the mind, offering humans unlimited prolongation of life to the point of immortality…..

Among the featured life-extension projects is “2045” a Russia-based Avatar project consisting of three phases. First, to create a humanoid robot named “Avatar”, and a state-of-the-art brain-computer interface system. Next, to create a life support system between the “Avatar” and the human brain. The final step is creating an artificial brain in which to transfer the original individual consciousness.

Development of a cybernetic body. This is about as advanced as it gets currently. You can link to nerves, and transmit signals to and from them to capture and relay sensations. But this will progress quickly over coming years as we start seeing strong positive feedback among the nano-bio-info-cogno disciplines. I’m just annoyed that I am not just starting my career about now, it would be an excellent time to do so. But at least I’ll get pleasure from saying ‘I told you so’ a few times.

I won’t repeat all the exciting possibilities for the military, sex and games industries, or electronic immortality, I’ve blogged enough on these. For now, it’s just great to see the field moving another important step further from sci-fi into the realms of reality

 

Zombies are coming!

Zombies are coming. They might arrive around 2075. I like Zombies, or more accurately, I like killing them. I shoot hundreds of them every week on my Xbox, in games like Half Life, Oblivion and Dead Space. There are a fair few zombie films around too, evidence that we just love being terrified by zombies. I think perhaps the big attraction is that they are extremely scary when done right, fictional, only a bit human-like, and of course dead anyway, so it doesn’t cause any guilt when you kill them again. So, I got to thinking whether they will always be fictional, or whether there is some prospect of them arriving, and if so, what can we do about it? Will it be like the computer games and movies, or different? Here goes. Bear with me, since you need to look first at the basic foundations of the technology platform on which their arrival will depend.
As I outlined already, nanotechnology is feeding in to neuroscience by enabling finer probes that can assist scientists in reverse engineering it. Biotechnology and IT are slowly converging, with insights in AI helping brain science and vice versa, but also in that we can now make rudimentary connections between IT and our nervous systems. Synthetic biology is rapidly getting to grips with basic tools and techniques used by nature, and improving on some of them, replicating others, to make entirely synthetic components of future biological systems. We are already designing bacteria to do specific protein engineering tasks, break down waste, and provide sensory capability So, lots of interesting tech is going on.
Listing a few of the important (from a Zombie perspective anyway) outcomes of such research, we can now connect IT to nerve tissue (and the connections are rapidly becoming finer thanks to nanotech). We can modify DNA and simulate and then assemble a wide range of proteins (although this is still very limited and very slow). We are starting to understand some of the basic principles of how to make smart and conscious machines and are already very good at distributed processing, self organisation, sensing and data storage and distribution. In the not too far future, we will be able to enhance human senses by linking various synthetic sensors to our brains. We will be able to link to peripheral nerves to pick up sensations and relay them across networks, stimulating equivalent nerves in other people to create the same or at least similar sensations in them. In IT, we have already progressed some way along the multi-core and distributed processing time-lines, and it is foreseeable that in the far future, computing my well be done by billions of tiny processors suspended in a gel, using optical interconnects. In fact, using progress in biotech and synthetic biology, it is equally foreseeable that this will be done by using bacteria to assemble the IT in their own cells, and using their own energy to power the circuits.
So, round about the time we figure out how the brain works well enough to connect properly to it, we will also be designing conscious machines and very probably using smart bacteria as the platform for them, creating and powering the electronic components in what is best described as smart yogurt. Looking at the basic physics and maths, it is clear that a smart yogurt could have as much raw processing power as all the human brains in Europe! Already scary, but let’s not go all Terminatory just yet, Zombies are much more fun.
Smart yogurt is actually really scary stuff. It would look (and maybe even taste) just like today’s. But each cell would contain electronic circuits, that can be connected to the circuits in other bacteria using optical signals (bioluminescence for example) to make very sophisticated circuits for all kinds of sensing, storage, comms and processing. And because they are still viable bacteria, they will be able to survive and flourish anywhere there is a decent food supply. Being very smart collectively (each yogurt could have an IQ equivalent to the whole of the EU), they will be able to genetically redesign their own offspring to capture and colonise other biological niches. They will be able to design offspring so that they can penetrate the human body and bypass the immune system, or to enter and remain in the brain (let’s not even call these bacteria, since they are more likely to be nothing like natural bacteria when they’ve finished, they may well be as small as viruses but with much more sophisticated capability). Inside the brain, they might connect to individual synapses and monitor and signal the electrical activity to their external allies. These allies might then create an electronic replica of that person’s brain, thereby replicating their mind. They might map out the connections to work out the signals the person uses to move their limbs, to speak or do anything else.
This obviously provides the means to remote control the person’s body, and to intercept or over-ride any thoughts they might have. Smart yogurt could take over your mind, over-ride your brain at will, and to control your body as easily as you can. Keeping a person’s body alive is optional, but obviously comes with advantages of maintaining its capability. Keeping the brain alive is less advantageous, as the yogurt can take over and replace any and all of its functions. So we are likely to have a few varieties of zombies. Some will be brain-dead, but otherwise perfectly healthy. Others will be fully alive but with their minds under supervision and subject to over-ride. They might know what is happening to them but be powerless to resist. Others will have no awareness of their predicament and think they are fine even though they have been enslaved. And finally, we may have some that are fully and properly dead, brought back to an animated state by the yogurt taking over all the main electrical functions while the brain itself is potentially even missing. We could even have headless zombies!
Killing these zombies would probably work much like it does in the games and movies. They all need a body to be in at least partial working order, and if they are going to get around, that means they need a circulatory and respiratory system, and legs (or a mobility scooter at least). So you could kill them by fire, chopping them up, or shooting them in the heart, or various other ways.
The headless and dead zombies sound quite disturbing, but they would be in small minority. The great majority of zombies would look much like normal people. This is more like ‘The Body Snatchers’ than ‘Dead-Space’. How much they will worry us depends mainly on whether they are aggressive. Terry Pratchett wrote amusingly about a zombie being gainfully employed as a solicitor. If they use the technology suggested here, many zombies could be fully functioning, valuable members of the community, even leaders and captains of industry. For a while anyway. But some might be violent. We might try to use zombies extensively in the army or police, for obvious reasons. But if they are as smart as or smarter than people, they will soon have their own culture and inevitably come into conflict with regular people. They might rise against us in a war against humans. Trouble is, if they have superior senses and faster brains and more intelligence and can communicate directly across the net, they will be pretty good competition. We will probably lose.
So, zombies are possible, plausible, even likely, given what we already can deduce about the future of technology. And the time-frame for this possibility is sooner than you would hope. Depending on our reactions and adaptations, they could become a threat to human existence. I’m going back on Dead Space to improve my aim.
The one possibly good thing is that as a way of wiping out life on earth, zombies are only one of 150 alternatives that are feasible this century. We might not last long enough to be killed by zombies. I am not sure if that is good or bad.