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Considering all the recent articles about humans becoming immortal in the coming 40-50 years, is it really possible?

The suggested method is to transfer humans consciousness from their biological bodies to some sort of machine/software. But since we still are miles away from understanding the complexity of the human mind, many (including me) doubt this will be possible in the next hundred or so years, assuming the race and Earth survives that long to begin with.

Another, yet harder method would be to reconstruct our biological structure. Make our bodies reconstruct broken cells and develop a quirk in order to duck decay. I'm no where near understanding the biological laws of humans but I would assume this would be a harder task to achieve than the first method described?

So what's your viewpoint? Which method could we actually apply and succeed with in a near future? Or does it seem highly impossible to achieve immortality at all?

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    $\begingroup$ Could we still call 'human' some simulated brain with no physical body? This may be a philosophical question. $\endgroup$ – Kii Jan 19 '16 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by immortality? One way to look at it is when the average life expectancy grows with more than 1 year per year. At that point people stop aging relative to their life expectancy and as such in a way become immortal. To achieve this a lot of work (and probably breakthroughs) in a lot of medical areas (and probably in traffic accident prevention as well) are needed but even the more conservative experts expect this to happen in the next century. $\endgroup$ – Selenog Jan 20 '16 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ This is a very philosophical question, and touches the question of the self and the mind. What is life? What is consciousness? Is a human without a brain alive? Does a digitized human have a "consciousness"? Are you even the same person waking up each time you go to bed? These are questions that we might never get an answer to. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Since reconstructing cells in our body mean that at least one day, all the cells would be replaced, would that still be "you" right now? Were you immortal or slowly changed into a new being? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ See When will uploaded minds be a reality? for your first scenareo. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 22 '16 at 19:27
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I don't think we could, but for philosophic reasons, rather than technical ones.

For something to be declared "immortal," is a high claim. But how do you decide if something is immortal?

There is a famous thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus, from ancient Greek times. The Ship of Theseus, in the story, is a famous warship responsible for countless victories. However, over the years, she's needed repairs. Replacement ribs, replacement rudders, etc. Eventually there isn't a single piece remaining that has seen one of her famous victories. Is she still the Ship of Theseus? If not, when did she cease to be?

One would need to pick a stance about what it means for a "person" to be alive before one could dare talk about immortality. Honestly, the Ship of Theseus is still used today, because there is no consensus as to the answer. Strange phrases like "endurable" and "perdurable," that you rarely see in every day life, crop up trying to explain this dilemma. Literally speaking, what might be immortal to one, thanks to massive replacement of hardware may be dead to another.

The other issue is entropy. Lots of people translate "immortal" as "living a lot longer than they can think about." However, this can become very difficult as you get onto longer scales. Stephen Baxter's book, Manifold Time, explores these longer time scales. Sure, everything could be pretty peachy for a while, but what about when the sun goes out? On a cosmic scale, that's actually going to happen pretty soon (only about 4 billion years away). If your plan is to escape to other stars, what happens when they all go out? Surprisingly, there's a lot more life left in the universe after the stars go out. What about proton decay? Immortality is tough when the particles we think of as defining existence start to wink out.

These issues make defining "immortal" remarkably difficult. Thus, you won't find just one answer to your problem.

Consider how many religions declare us to already be immortal in one way or another. Buddhism has their system of rebirth. Christianity has their eternal soul. Daoism says we've always been part of the immortal, yet ephemeral. Maybe we already have our immortality, we're just looking in the wrong place.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good thinking about the decay of elementary particles. Due to entropy, nothing can be considered 'immortal'. This was a very philosophical question indeed. $\endgroup$ – Bloc97 Oct 22 '16 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that these are very hard problems... but once you have the tech to get to that point you have a lot of tech to work out the solutions. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Oct 22 '16 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ The religions are just making stuff up. There is no evidence for immortal souls as no one knows what a soul is or how to detect one. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Oct 22 '16 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson That is true. Then again, no one knows how to detect consciousness either. Its just something we talk about, and assume we have, but there's no evidence that a conscious being is fundamentally different from a non-conscious being. There's a lot of deep concepts in humanity that defy what one might call "evidence." $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 22 '16 at 23:09
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There are different forms of immortality.

  1. Biological immortality. The most commonly understood form of immortality means that the physical body of a living organism never decays to a point where it stops functioning as a whole and the organism dies. There are at least 2 variants to this:

a) Freeze a body to stop all biological/chemical activity that leads to its decay, then un-freeze that body and, if necessary, kickstart its activity. Real examples of this have been observed in a virus and bacteria that have been frozen.

For single-cell organisms, this problem has been pretty much solved, as demonstrated by sperm and egg banks. For multi-cellular organisms, this problem is as yet unsolved, but it should, in principle, be possible. Of course, without further measures, the ageing process would continue as normal after revival, so it's debatable whether or not this would represent immortality.

b) Cell damage due to replication will eventually cause more and more cells to fail or slow their functions, until the organism as a whole dies. Identifying and repairing that damage with biological machinery is already something that all multi-celled organisms do, so replacing or supporting the biological machinery with an artificial one is certainly possible. As science and technology advance, the harmful effects of ageing, disease, and (not instantly lethal) injury could be slowed and reversed ever further, resulting in an effectively unlimited natural lifespan.

  1. Immortality of the consciousness: Preservation of a person's intelligence, personality traits, memories, etc. through technical means. That can mean

a) removing a person's brain and keeping it alive and connected to the outside world in a vat; this has at least an overlap with biological immortality and also requires an advanced brain-machine interface.

b) Uploading all those desired properties into a computer system of some sort, making it possible to get rid of all biological parts of the human. Immortality in that case would mean making backups of that information and preserving them in case of hardware failure/obsolescence. Both of these approaches have at least an overlap with biological immortality. This would essentially require creating an artificial intelligence that is indistinguishable from the original person because of its memories and personality.

Either approach would require significant advances in science and technology, but as long as they don't violate any laws of physics, then in principle they are possible. Which of them happens first, or whether any will happen at all, is anyone's guess.

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Death is what happens when the systems are breaking down faster than they can get repaired. There seem to be two main ways to deal with this. They are not mutually exclusive. Repair systems faster or slow the rate of damage. True immortality would require either infinite speed of repair or zero rate of damage. Neither seem physically possible whether remaining in the original substrate or migrating to one that is more resistant to damage.

That said, a distributed mind (say a member of a hive mind) would have to have all instances destroyed simultaneously to end up truly dead. The more pervasive and diversely located the less likely that could happen. A global extinction event on earth would not harm a hive mind that had colonies throughout the solar system.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, Immortality would (under your definition) only require the rate of damage to be slower than or equal to the rate of repair. Only problem is we don't know how to "repair" age right now. $\endgroup$ – Ieuan Stanley Jan 19 '16 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ @IStanley Well, we know a few animals that are age-immune (and the mechanisms that they use), the problem is that their methods won't work for us (not unless you are ok with runaway untreatable cancer or reverting to a ball of undifferentiated stem cells). $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 19 '16 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s, yeah, I know. I know there's some research going into the caps on the end of cells/DNA (or something like that, can't remember the details!) which deteriorate over time. My point is that, if that for instance is the key, we wouldn't have to make the caps impermeable, or stop them decaying at all; we'd just have to be able to repair them faster than they decay in order to achieve "True Immortality" (unless I'm misunderstanding the definition of True Immortality here). $\endgroup$ – Ieuan Stanley Jan 19 '16 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @IStanley Telemiers (holy cow I almost spelled that correctly). When the endcaps are gone, our cells can't functionally divide any further. The problem is that by repairing those end caps, humans develop cancer and/or cancer growth becomes uncontrollable. It's not just a matter of repairing the telemiers, but also one of preventing cancer (which, as you may know, we still haven't "cured"). $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 19 '16 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @IStanley Telomers are used as part of programmed cell death (apoptosis). If you repaired them faster than they decayed, potentially by upregulating telemerase, which is an enzyme in our body designed to do exactly that, you could prevent apoptosis due to cellular age. However, you would still have to deal with the side effects of information degredation over time (the kinds of effects that telomers were designed to help us counteract by killing cells that divided too many times) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 19 '16 at 18:06
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I doubt it, while we are growing our knowledge and technical base quickly, there is so much we simply don't understand.

Transferring a human consciousness to an AI sounds great, until you realize we don't even know what consciousness is, can't read it and have nothing to 'transfer' it to.

For a sanity check, it's worth noting that a lot of our advanced medical/biological tools (e.g. vaccines, antibiotics, GM) aren't things we devised ourselves, but as I understand it natural processes we simply observed and harnessed. As such unless there's a natural process to transfer consciousness....

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Not in the near future !

What is immortality ? It's impossible. It means to never cease to live. Considering the universe itself will end someday, then all livings will die with it. So nothing could ever be immortal. (without travelling/looping in time ?)

Could be transfer our 'consciousness' in another physical corpse ?

This may be possible. We don't really know yet (well, I don't). While neuroscientists seem to progress in this way we are not yet close to doing it. It is already possible to plug some neural implant to control animals. And this has been done for human to control computers too.

Could we artificially evolve our body to live longer ?

We did it, we do it. We've been able to create an artificial heart so far. Organ transplantations are better and better (and research about clonage just at their beginning). While Medicine still makes progress, I bet we'll live longer in a hundred years than now. Though some studies say that we live longer because of social things (such as retirement, paid leaves, etc.).

While it's hard to repair our biological body, it may become easier with artificial organs in the future. Still, DNA research may help design some micro-organisms able to interact and repair our biological body.

Conclusion

Immortality (IMO) will never be reached. It's not impossible that we could expand our lifespan to the point where we live several hundred years but not in a near future. The impacts of such a thing on demographics would be very huge. Our capacity to biologically procreate would certainly stay the same though (limited number of ovocytes).

Plus, I strongly suggest reading A. E. van Vogt novels : The world of null-A which kind of aboard the subject of immortality with (IMO) a real consistence and questions ask !

The philosophical part

Is it still Human ? We (Human) are essentially composed of a body and a mind. Some think they are two separated things, but I think they are in fact inseparable. Our body is able to perceive the outside world and thus our mind interpret these perceptions and learn from it. If a human brain was to be uploaded in a computer, it would certainly loose its perceptions to acquire some new others. Could we still call this entity a Human ? I seriously doubt it as it would have no biological/physical needs and its behaviours would then be affected by this lack of needs.

Is it really unique ? When it will be possible (if ever) to upload someone's consciousness into an artificial body this would cause some tremendous difficulties for mankind to define identity. What if the same brain is uploaded twice in different bodies ? What if we lose some minds but then we remind we have some back-up ? Which one is the "real" mind of the person ? This kind of questions will arise and will be difficult to answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why the "few hundred years" limit? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 19 '16 at 12:38
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Facts

First, there was the ear on the back of a mouse. Then, there was the trachea grown from the patient's own stem cells. Closer to the bleeding edge are grown livers and lungs. Today, we have 3D printers which can print biological tissue the way you would print a picture off your computer! Also, hydras, some jellyfish, and planariums may already be immortal!

Speculation

We have every reason to believe that the exponential growth in biotechnology and nanotechnology will continue for the foreseeable future. At what point that will enable human immortality, nobody can say. But there is also no intrinsic reason that living creatures have to die. Rather, death appears to be designed and programmed into them to facilitate generational adaptation (raising the question of whether immortality is actually A Good Thing(TM)).

If humans do become immortal, it will almost certainly start out with organ replacement, proceed to in situ tissue regeneration, and conclude with complete disease management/eradication. Whether humans also achieve the ability to upload consciousness is orthogonal to biological immortality.

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My answer considers biological immortality only.

I feel our understanding of the brain, consciousness, etc. is too limited to consider uploading consciousness or transferring it into another biological entity as means for achieving immortality in the near future.

Biological Immortality

I've read several articles that state human life expectancy may begin growing at an increasing pace. It's possible that if life expectancy begins increasing faster than people age, there will arise a generation which could hope for immortality. Whether immortality could be achieved would depend upon both civilization being maintained and advances in medicine continuing at pace greater than the population ages.

The term "immortality" would apply to the generation as a whole. Unlucky individuals would still die from disease, accident, genetic defects, etc.

I suspect some longevity treatments would benefit everyone regardless of age, while other treatments might need to be applied at or before a certain age. Meaning people passed the age would miss out on the longevity treatment and continue to age or decline. I suspect that the limiting factor wouldn't be chronological age so much as the biological age (hormone levels, amount of cellular damage, disease processes, etc.).

It might be odd to live in such a society. Where someone a few years younger than you stops aging while you continue to age. Imagine being visited in an elder care home - you at the ripe & decrepit age of 100 while your sibling 2 years younger appeared to be someone in their 20s or 30s. Some people would become extremely bitter about missing out.

There would also be the societal strain of rapidly increasing population (people not dying but continuing to reproduce). Treatments to greatly increase our life expectancy might require laws that impose reproductive constraints. Some people might voluntarily forgo the treatments in order to not be reproductively constrained.

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