I have written and lectured many times on this topic, but it’s always worth doing an occasional update. Anyone under 35 today will likely have access to electronic immortality and live forever.Well, not forever, but until the machines running their minds fail. How? Read on.
Scientists can already replicate the functions of small parts of the brain, and can essentially replace them in lab animals. Every year, this moves on a little, for all the best reasons. They aren’t mad scientists, they are trying to find solutions to enormous human problems such as senility, strokes and general loss of brain function due to normal ageing. These destroy parts of the brain function, so if we can work out how to augment the remaining brain to replace lost function, then that should be a good thing. But although these things start in medical treatment, the military also has an interest in making super-soldiers, with faster reactions, better senses, superior intelligence and so on. And the rest of us present a large and attractive market for cosmetic use of brain augmentation.
Most of us would happily pay out for the cosmetic version of all of these things once they become available and safe. I want a higher IQ, perfect memory, better creativity, modifiable personality, enhanced senses and so on. You probably do too., though your list may not be exactly the same as mine. The wish list is long and many of the items on it will become available this century.
The timeline goes from today’s simple implants and sensory links all the way to a full direct link to most parts of the brain by 2045-2050. This will allow 2-way communication between your organic brain and electronic enhancement, which could physically be almost anywhere, though transmission time limits how far away some functions can be. What starts as a cosmetic enhancement to senses or memory will gradually be enhanced to add IQ, telepathic communication, shared minds and many other areas. Over time, more and more of your mind will actually be housed in the machine world. Some of it will still run in your organic brain, but a reducing proportion, so your brain will become less and less important to your mind’s ongoing existence . At some point your organic body will die, and you’ll lose that bit, but hey, it’s no big deal, most of the bits you actually use are elsewhere. But medical advances are fixing many of the things that might otherwise kill you, and pushing your date of death further into the future. That buys you more time to make the migration. How much time?
For young people, the rate of medical advancement expected over the next few decades is such that their expected death date is actually moving further away.
Let’s clarify that: for anyone under 35, each year, for quite a long period starting soonish, more than a year will be added to their expected lifespan, so they won’t be getting closer to dying, they will be getting further away. But only for a time. That rate of development can’t continue forever. It will eventually slow down. But realistically, for the developed world and for many in the developing world too, under 35s will live into their late 90s or 100s. If you’re 35 today, that means you probably aren’t going to die until after 2075, and that is well after the electronic immortality option kicks in. If it appears on the market in the 2050s, as I believe it will for rich or important people, by 2080, it will be cheap and routine and pretty much anyone will have it as an option.
So, anyone under 35 has a very good chance of being able to carry on electronically after their body dies. They will buy some sort of android body, or maybe just rent one when they want to do something in the physical world and otherwise stay in the cloud. Space and resource limitations may dictate how much real world presence you are permitted.
How many people does this apply to. Median age in the world at the moment in almost exactly 30. 3.5Bn pople are under 30, but some will die too early to benefit. Another 500M in the 30-35 range will make up for the younger ones that die from accidents, wars, disease, or disasters. Then we need to discount for those that won’t be able to afford it. After much hand waving and guesstimating, a reasonable estimate of 3Bn results for those that will have reasonable access to electronic immortality, and will probably live to around 100 before that. Wow! We don’t just have the first person alive who will live electronically for hundreds of years after their body dies. We have the first 3Bn.
They won’t live forever. The Earth won’t last forever, nor will the rest of the universe. But they will be able to live until someone destroys the equipment or switches them off. Wars or terrorism could do that, or even a future society that turns against the idea. It is far from risk free. But, with a bit of luck maybe they could expect to live for a few hundred years after they ‘die’.
I know I’ve made the joke many times, but it’s still worth repeating. Soon, death will no longer be a career problem.