Cyborgian Immortality by 2045


2045 Initiative
Credit: 2045 Initiative

An article in the Sunday New York Times profiles Russian media tycoon Dmitry Itskov. The 32 year-old is the driving force behind the 2045 Initiative to create cyborg avatars into which people can upload the contents of their brains, i.e., memories, personality, dreams, etc. Itskov has organized the second annual 2045 Global Future Congress which will take place on June 15 and 16 in New York City. Participants in the conference include Harvard genetics maven George Church, X Prize visionary Peter Diamandis, MIT computer genius Marvin Minsky, and Singularity prophet Ray Kurzweil, among others.

What motivates Itskov to pursue this audacious goal? Recall that after Siddhartha Gautama confronted the inevitable suffering of the life he became enlightened, breaking the endless cycle of rebirth and suffering.

According to the Times, at the point of cashing in on his company's successes Itskov also had an epiphany, but unlike the Buddha, he believes that rebirth (of a sort) is the truly enlightened solution to the problems encountered in life:

It was 2005, and he was staring at his computer screen at the company's offices, then housed on a barge on the Moscow River. In an instant, he knew that a life spent accumulating money would not suffice.

"At the time, we'd had a very interesting proposal to sell some shares of the company," he recalls, "and I realized, given what the offer meant for the valuation of the company, that I could live very well. And then I realized that I wouldn't be happy, just working and spending money. I would just age and then die. I thought there should be something deeper."

At the age of 25, he started to have the symptoms of a midlife crisis. He anticipated the regrets he might have as an old man — the musical instruments unlearned, the books unread. The standard span of 80 or so years suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. He soon was seeking out leaders from almost every religion, in a search for purpose and peace.

The more he contemplated the world, the more broken it seemed.

"Look at this," he said, opening his laptop on the table and starting a slide show with one heartbreaking statistic after another: Almost one billion people are now starving. Forty-nine countries are currently involved in military conflict. Ten percent of people are disabled. And so on.

"That is the picture of this world that we created, with the minds we have today, with our set of values, with our egotism, our selfishness, our aggression," he went on. "Most of the world is suffering. What we're doing here does not look like the behavior of grown-ups. We're killing the planet and killing ourselves."

TO change that picture, he reasons, we must change our minds, or give them a chance to "evolve," to use one of his favorite words. Before our minds can evolve, though, we need a new paradigm of what it means to be human. That requires a transition to a world where most people aren't consumed by the basic questions of survival.

Hence, avatars.

One participant in the Congress, a former Orthodox Christian archbishop, Lazar Puhalo believes that "immortality sounds like a ghastly idea."

But how about instead framing the issue as one of making death optional? If immortality turns out to be ghastly, one can always choose oblivion.

Go here for more information on Itskov's 2045 Initiative. See also my review of Stephen Cave's book Immortality: "Do You Really Want to Live Forever?" Cave argues that all forms of immortality would unbearable, and I disagree.

NEXT: Matthew Feeney Discusses the Decline of Christian Communities in the Middle East on RT

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  1. But how about instead framing the issue as one of making death optional? If immortality turns out to be ghastly, one can always choose oblivion.

    There is an alternative to the two choices presented; see the aforementioned Orthodox Christian archbishop for details.

    1. It’s his failure to offer a warranty that’s the problem.

      1. No refunds, exchanges, or substitutions! Thank you, come again!

  2. I say, let me give immortality a test drive.

    1. it gets boring after the 3rd millenium.

      1. I always suspected you were the Wandering Jew.

    2. Yeah, I’ll take it. Those who don’t want to live forever don’t have to sign up.

      1. B-b-but… PLAYING GAWD!!!11!!!11!!! UNATURAL!!!11!!!!

        The moralizing busy bodies who have nothing better to do than run for political office will do everything they can to ban this along with every other personal choice they disagree with.

    3. Give me immortality, or give me death

  3. Oh sure, just what we need, taking the minds and experiences of a bunch of cynical, old, curmugeons and putting them in a fresh, new, immortal container from which they can torture the rest of us.

    1. Oh, great. The overbearing father that never dies.

      1. Heinlein handled this by observing that as lifespans get longer and longer, family ties will bind less and less.

    2. We need to plug those types into a Matrix where they can rule over virtual peasants eternally.

      1. The Sims 23: God Complex?

    3. Maybe a Twitter version: you have to get X number of followers in order to be allowed to upload.

      1. Or better yet: anyone who’s on Twitter is automatically disqualified.

        1. +100.

          Yeah, if you can summarize your thoughts in 140 characters, there seems little need to upload for the future.

          1. Your message contained 116 characters btw.

            1. Thank you for tracking. When Reason posted a note a year or two ago that the Fed was on Twitter someone noted that their first action was to increase the number of characters to 1400.

              1. But then all their tweets just consisted of repeating each word ten times.

            2. And was only at a 5.42 grade level!

      2. Twitter followers? So when it comes to deciding what parts of humanity are most worthy of preservation, your top ten is:

        1. Justin Bieber
        2. Lady Gaga
        3. Katy Perry
        4. Barack Obama
        5. Rihanna
        6. Taylor Swift
        7. YouTube
        8. Britney Spears
        9. Justin Timberlake
        10. Shakira

    4. Like that will be your perspective when you’re the cynical old curmudgeon about to be downloaded into a healthy young avatar…

      1. Just speaking for myself I’m pretty sure my perspective at that point would be “Does this thing come with an integrated weapons system?”

  4. I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that we can recreate the human brain in a computer. Maybe it’s a cop-out on my part, but I’ve never been convinced that you could recreate free will by simply recreating the neural network of the brain.

    1. Yeah. I’m not convinced that a cyborg “me” will really be me. And I don’t want to prospectively approve all the stuff my cyborg self might do on into eternity.

      1. This, plus, what about the original me?!

        1. Yeah, I was wondering that too. Does the copying process destroy the original brain? If not, there will be two of you for a while. Or more — why not make 10 copies? The world can never get enough of me!

      2. There was a break in the continuity of your consciousness while you were asleep last night. Is the you that woke up morning actually the “you” that fell asleep last night, or did that “you” die only to be replaced by a completely new you this morning and you only think you’re the same “you” because you have “your” memories?

        1. When I sleep, I enter the Fade and fight demons. Is that not normal, then?

    2. There are those people who dont believe in free will who dont see the issue.

      1. Oh yes, I’m aware. It seems to be one of the favorite arguments of the nanny-staters.

        1. You’re just saying that because the Koch Bros. told you to.

      2. I believe in free will and don’t see the issue. I don’t see any contradiction. If I can do what my will determines, barring any physical constraint, then I have free will. How else can you define free will? That doesn’t rule out a mechanical process creating my will.

    3. It may not be possible. But why not try?

  5. The 32 year-old is the driving force behind the 2045 Initiative to create cyborg avatars into which people can upload the contents of their brains, i.e., memories, personality, dreams, etc.

    Have scientists isolated the source of human consciousness, then?

    Would they be able to change one’s personality? That would be interesting.

    1. Seeing as the source of human consciousness seems pretty clearly to be a particular electro-physical configuration, there is no reason in theory we can’t reproduce it.

      1. In the broadest view, in a potentially infinite multiverse, we all come back.

      2. Science! It’s so easy!

        Just the other day, I was puttering about in my kitchen, and accidently created three new life forms from non-living material. I put them in a bowl and placed it on the windowsill, and am waiting to see into which forms they eventually evolve.

        1. I don’t recall saying it was easy. I said there is no reason in theory we can’t do it. You should try responding to what I said and not what you imagined I said.

          1. Somebody needs a hug and a candy bar.

          2. Dude, it’s a troll. I think it’s an alias/morph/sockpuppet of American.

            1. Really? I thought “cavalier” was Cavanaugh? He’s been posting on and off for a while now, he even posted a link to answers to the Reason employee Presidential election poll he wasn’t around to participate in.

              1. he even posted a link to answers to the Reason employee Presidential election poll he wasn’t around to participate in.

                I don’t remember doing that. It must have been my consciousless cyborg.

                1. You can see who I am by following the link in my handle.

                2. Huh. It might have been someone with a similar handle. I DO remember someone posting a link to answers to the questionaire, and I thought it was Cavanaugh. I must be misremembering something.

            2. I’m pretty sure that Epi’s not a sockpuppet. He may be a troll, as in, an actual, D&D universe creature that eats people whole and that cannot be killed except with fire and/or acid.

        2. This is what, the entire plotline of Star Trek:TNG, the entire 3rd season?

        3. Get back to us in 20 million years.

          1. I’ll have my cyborg self call your cyborg self.

      3. Of course, Fusion power is, in theory, far easier to reproduce and duplicate. However, we’ve never managed to create a cost effective fusion process that last more than a few seconds. And the ones that have lasted the longest have substantial side effects.

      4. “Seeing as the source of human consciousness seems pretty clearly to be a particular electro-physical configuration, there is no reason in theory we can’t reproduce it.”

        Michael Polyani disagrees with you

        1. Roger

  6. Just don’t start the testing with Lobsters.

    1. Especially ones with Russian accents.

  7. That requires a transition to a world where most people aren’t consumed by the basic questions of survival.

    If these avatars require a constant source of electricity to operate, you haven’t really eliminated the question of survival. And what happens if your avatar is damaged in an accident? Are back-up copies of your personality and memories archived in a storage facility somewhere? How secure is that place, really?

  8. it’s still not true immortality. My brain will cease to function. Though my memories and experiences can live on in something else, I will die. That cyborg is not me, though it would know everything about me and may even act exactly as I might in some situations. but it would also become very different. Part of what makes us who and what we are is how we can interact with our environment. We feel subtleties of temperature variations. We perceive sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. We perceive varying nuances associated with these things. We feel pain. We perceive hunger, fear, and anxiety. We feel love, hatred, anger, bitterness, joy, and pleasure.

    Can we put these exact imitations in cyborgs? I don’t think we can, at least not right now. They will be very different and think very differently as they will not perceive the real world the same we we do.

    The biggest thing is the fear of death. Would cyborgs be able to feel that? Besides, you could virtually infinitely copy someone’s mind. The imperative of time would be greatly lacking.

    1. Well it’s a complicated question. What if you slowly had parts of your body replaced with new cyborg parts that extended your lifespan? As the years go by, and the technology improves, and you live in your enhanced body, we could reach a point where failing parts of the brain can be replaced perhaps one neuron at a time. Is there a point where you are no longer you in that scenario?

      1. Most historic houses are actually total (or near-total) replacements that merely occupy the same space as the original they purport to be.

        1. You could say the same thing about a person. Aside from your brain, your body has been built and rebuilt many times over since you were born. And your brain has expanded. You aren’t the same person you were 10 years ago, literally.

          1. Exactly. There are none of the original atoms. Your are, as Epi stated above, just a particular electro-physical configuration.

            1. So, it isn’t the atoms that make me me. It is the information content stored in how those atoms are connected. It’s like taking a file on the internet. There may be billions of copies of that file, each stored on different hardware, but the information content of each file is identical to all the others. From our perspective there is no “original” in the physical sense. Each copy is that file.

              1. Almost. There are a few things that would make two “identical” copies of a person immediately different. First, if they were in corporeal form, they would immediately start to diverge due to differing sensory input. Actually, that probably encapsulates everything else. Differing experiences would tend to change the personalities and reactions, which would lead to further divergence.

                1. exactly. And given the multiverse theory, are other versions of me in parallel universes actually me? They are just different versions of me, while not actually being me.

                  It’s like having two identical TVs.. or hell… identical twins. They are comprised of the exact same stuff, but they are still two distinctly different entities.

                  For all the information stored in my brain about my memories, thoughts, feelings, etc to be uploaded to a computer and this brain and body die immediately thereafter, that information contained would be just a more sophisticated form of a diary. It would not be me, for I would be dead.

      2. I think it’s probably a continuum where you’re more or less you. I think once you start replacing the brain is when it rapidly stops but I don’t think we’re close in science to knowing what that all means.

      3. If my body has time to adapt to these changes one piece at a time and it extends my life positively, I’m all for it. But to me, just adding my brain to a robot before my human body can’t survive any longer isn’t worth it. Or if you’re just plugging my brain into a virtual reality, that’s a waste. No one needs to have me around in that type of capacity if I’m not really living a life. My ego isn’t big enough to think that.

        1. I just find existing more interesting than not existing. The first 13.8 billion years were pretty dull for me.

          1. Agreed. I don’t think immortality will ever get boring. I love absorbing new content and the great thing about humans is that we are great at producing new content. Most of it is derivative, but there are always diamonds in the rough. I expect it would take a long time just to catch up with everything interesting that has happened to date.

          2. Ah, but who would be doing the existing? It wouldn’t be the you who is experiencing existence up until your death. It would be a copy of you. That continued experience would be no more “yours” than would continued experience through one of your children.

            1. That only makes sense if you think identity is tied strictly to a specific set of atoms.

              1. I’m not talking about identity. I’m talking about consciousness. Think of identical twins or clones. One twin/clone is not conscious of what the other twin/clone experiences. If twin/clone no. 1 dies, it’s lights out for him no matter how many twins/clones of him continue to live.

                1. But they’re only identical in terms of DNA, not in terms of consciousness. They have different sensory input as soon as they have awareness. If consciousness is simply a particular configuration, there is no reason it can’t be gone for a while and then restored. You have gaps in your consciousness every night when you sleep. Are you still the same person in the morning?

                  1. It isn’t about gaps in consciousness. It is about different standing waves.

                    In a sense, you are a standing wave- like a stream of water bumping up against a rock. The universe flows through that wave, changing who you are and even slowly affecting the wave. But you- the wave- has continuity.

                    If you copy a person, you create a new standing wave. It is a unique phenomenon. Unless the “Cyborgification” process is somehow designed to affect the wave itself (like slowly replacing your parts), you are still creating two different people.

                  2. You have gaps in your consciousness every night when you sleep. Are you still the same person in the morning?

                    If I’m not the same person, it wouldn’t bother me now. But I think it would bother the guy who went to sleep last night and then disappeared.

                    Would your objections to being killed vanish if you knew that an identical you was sitting in the next room?

        2. perhaps we can find a way to correct for mistakes or find ways of making the brain survive for an indefinite period.

      4. George Washington’s Axe

    2. This is basically my view as well. Science has not come close to convincing me that our brains are just bio-computers that given enough processing power can be copied. The whole singularity idea seems like at the point of inflection we might have utterly convincing avatars, but they won’t be truly alive. Now life extension I do think has a real future in extending the human condition for a very long time and that’s a field I see rapidly developing in the 21st century; hopefully in the next 50 years so I might be a part of it.

      1. So if you could copy the brain and the body exactly, what exactly would be missing that would make the copy not be “alive”? Some sort of ghost in the machine? I don’t believe in ghosts.

    3. Another question is, would the enhanced physical powers of the cyborg change the personality that was uploaded to it? The people that are naturally attracted to this kind of immortality are probably a bit egotistical to begin with. Now, you give them 10x their current physical strength, telescopic or X-ray vision instead of those thick glasses, a much more handsome-looking face in latex then they had in life, perhaps the same kind of body that Arnold had when he played a cyborg — and you don’t think that will alter the way they see themselves and see the puny and perishable humans around them? You could be creating a race of mechanical super heroes — or super villains. Think about it.

      1. he people that are naturally attracted to this kind of immortality

        A lot of people would prefer not to die, not just nerds secretly hoping to become master villains. Jeez.

      2. Dang it, you’re spoiling my plan!

    4. “That cyborg is not me”

      I don’t know if that is completely obvious. If your consciousness could be reproduced exactly at the moment of your demise, with all your memories and everything, it is hard to say how that is not you. You have just entered a new phase of your existence where you have different forms of sensory input.

      Who knows? I think we will have to try to find out. Answering the question of what it is to be the kind of being that we are is probably one of the most difficult questions there is.

    5. All of those are just sensors. Why can’t we duplicate them?

  9. The only advice I have for people seeking immortality: Hallows, not Horcruxes.

    1. well, just don’t make a horcrux out of a living being.

      1. But in order to make a Horcrux you have to split your soul, which requires killing someone. I guess you could only kill “bad” people…

        1. I dunno if H&R would be the same if you killed Epi.

      2. Tell me about it.

        Voldie was the ultimate moron villain.

        If I had a horcrux it would be a diamond ring at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean or in a landfill somewhere.

        None of this, “Let’s choose a readily recognizable item lots of people saw me wear, and hide it in a shack” or “Let’s choose a living creature and then drag it around with me every time I go into battle – or send it on dangerous missions by itself!”

        1. Yup. Exactly. I would make my horcrux of something common like a stone and just throw it into the middle of a lake or sea, never to be seen again. Or, hell, figure out a way to get it launched into space.

  10. This is precisely the plot of the awesome, but short-lived BSG prequel ‘Caprica’.

    Cylons are not far behind then.

    1. Will they be sexy?

      1. And how would they compare to replicants?

    2. My thought exactly, or to quote one of the monotheist terrorists (Gods! I love saying that!) “Actually, *they* are going to die, it’s their avatars that will go to heaven.”

      Besides, seeing the mess that we’ve made of this place in the recent past, would you really want to live forever even if you could?

      1. I want to live as long as a I want to live. Currently, the total time remains undefined.

      2. It really depends on the details of how the immortality would work. I would really like to know how the next several hundred years turn out.

        1. If interest rates go up, I’ll be a quadrillionaire in no time.

  11. Gee, I thought we were all going to die from drowning due to “global warming” by 2045.

    1. Another advantage of uploading your brain into a cyborg. When you don’t have to actually breathe.

      Which would be weird at first, you know? “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! Wait a second; I don’t need to breathe, anymore. Just relax; take a deep breath…NNNOOOOOOO!!!!!”

      1. There are two things that would convince me to do this in an instant. One would be if the avatar had the ability to fly. The other would be the ability to start and end orgasms on demand.

        1. Your own, or those of other avatars?

          If the latter, that would be an amusing power to have.

          1. Your boss would never yell at you again.

            “Will! Get in here! What is the meaning of this…oh, god.”

          2. Both? Consent could be granted by exchanging public keys.

            1. Then you’d just be a tool of the patriachkey.

              1. That joke is more intelligent than the math in Isaac Newton’s rape manual

      2. I imagine that salt water would do a right number on a mechanical being, especially one comprised of mostly metal.

        1. Naval bronze and titanium will be the materials of the future.

          1. no… you silly fool… unobtainium and adamantium are the materials of the future!

    2. That’s a myth. What’s really going to happen by 2045 is that it will take so many dollars to buy a computer that you’ll have to use superscript just to express the price.

      1. We’ll be flooded by worthless currency AND water?


        1. We’ll use all the paper currency to sop up the water.

      2. Money denominations will be in powers? Nice.

        “You can’t get anything for a five anymore. You need at least a six or a seven.”

        1. “But the government took everything I saved above a five!”

  12. My solipsism is always particularly amused when you “people” have conversations about things like this.

  13. So if you downloaded yourself into an avatar but one day decided to “power down”, would that be legal or would it be considered assisted suicide?

    1. Since you can presumably be turned back on at any point are you actually dead? There are people who have suffered momentary brain death and then been “restarted” who are still considered the same person.

  14. Without intense endorphic pleasure, why bother?

    1. There’ll be an app for that.

  15. The singularity is near.

    1. **BONNGGGGGGG**


  16. You can’t have a bunch of immortals running around. We all know: There can be only 1.

    1. They can just move to Zeist.

  17. Nobody said it yet, so I guess it falls to me. I, for one, will welcome our cybord overloads.

  18. Could we use 3d printing to create our new cyborg bodies?

    1. With built in guns and rocket launchers, of course.

      1. with cobalt blue metallic plating

  19. Where’s my de-evolution into giant horny salamanders huh? I thought that would be more to HnR’s style.

  20. I see a situation where wealthy people would own several cyborg bodies, whereas the poor people would only have access to one, which inequality would require gov’t intervention.

    1. Poor people might have to endure a situation of several conscious beings having to share one body.

      “It’s my turn to go out today!”
      “Shut up! I’ve got a hot date with one of Bill Gate’s cyborgs!”

      It is an inexcusable situation, and I think the FedGov should get to work on a solution now, before the problem arises.

  21. Wyoming teen builds nuclear reactor in dad’s garage, gets kicked out of science fair.

    Next, he plans to build a fully-functioning cyborg with brain uploading capability, resulting in his subscription to Science Magazine getting cancelled.

    1. Farnsworth, eh? I wonder if the lady who kicked him out is related to WERNSTROM!

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