The Price of Immortality

Since ancient ages, humans had the Dream: to become Immortal! We live in times, when a new generation tries to make the attempt to make humans immortal. But, what is the price of immortality?

First trials made by humans was to find some sort of “magic pill” – be it the fountain of youth, the elixir of life, the holy grail, till modern medicine of genetic engineering. We have summed-up all these Formulas for Immortality:

After the magic “pills” proved to be a failure, the second attempt was more symbolic: artists got the task to conquer immortality. Generation after generation, creativity was called in: Ancient sculptures of Renaissance paintings, but also Artistic Avant-garde including Futurism and Bio-Cosmists that dreamed to resurrect the death, till contemporary attempts for Digital/Virtual Immortality:
We summed up all these attempt in our article Immortality: Between Power and Art

But, during all these quests, “party-spoilers” always asked the same one thing: why to be Immortal and what is the Price of It?
In this chapter, we count the Coins for Immortality.
Before we look into the Party spoiler, lets see how the CASHFLOW 4 IMMORTALITY looks like.

When it comes to immortality, investors are….really investing! The interest is huge, not only to make money, in the same time investors are interested personally to extend life span.

Ultra-rich investors, who want to live forever, held an exclusive reunion-conference in Switzerland, reports MIT Technology Review. The conference co-organizer Tobias Reichmuth is investing $106 million over the next 4.5 years, co founded Maximon—an organization that supports longevity biotech companies, and has a personal goal of living to the age of 120. The menu contained ‘rejuvenation dinner’ and the program ‘morning longevity workout’. Most participants already have a longevity-list that could include anything from cold-water baths and high-intensity exercise to prescription-only drugs or a combination of supplements.

One of the biggest tech companies, Google, is intensively studying anti-aging and has invested a lot, however, Calico – the company established in Silicon Valley, seems to be very secretive. “We should pause for a moment to note how strange this is. One of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world has taken an interest in aging research, with about as much funding as NIH’s entire budget for aging research, yet it’s remarkably opaque. Google also prides itself for being a leader on transparency and for its open culture.” writes Vox in 2017.

Google is not the only company. Silicon Valley billionaires want to live forever.

Peter Thiel, co-founded PayPal and Palantir, once famously said, “death is a problem that can be solved.” He is one of the biggest advocates for life extension and early investors, already in 2006 he donated $3.5 million to support anti-ageing research through the non-profit Methuselah Mouse Prize foundation, and updates his investment to $7 million by 2017. (more in Time)

Jeff Bezos seems to agree with Thiel, and invested some of his $199 billion into a new “rejuvenation” start-up called Altos Labs, reports MIT Technology Review. The anti-ageing start-up, which is said to be pursuing biological reprogramming technology, is reportedly also backed by Russian-Israeli venture capitalist Yuri Milner, who made a fortune as an early investor in Facebook. Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, has given more than $330 million to research about aging and age-related diseases. (Time). Billionaire Jim Mellon told CNBC that he was planning to take Juvenescence public -the company is investing in anti-ageing therapies.

The most famous case is the startup Ambrosia was really offering to rejuvenate people with infusions of young blood, for $8,000 for a liter, till FDA shut it down.

Bezos and Thiel were united in the quest for immortality, and jointly invested in Unity Biotechnology, which failed its first major study, canceled its main anti-aging program, laid off 30% of its staff, and shifted its focus to ophthalmology and neurology. (CNBC)

On the other side, EU contributed to brain research with $1.3 billion, and proudly launched the Human Brain Project in 2013 pulling in $1.3 billion (form taxpayer money..?). Henry Markram promised to create a simulation of the entire human brain on a supercomputer and EU funded it. Less than two years into it, the project turned into a ‘brain wreck’, and Markram had to step down. (Scientific American)

Startups in the field of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology, and Cognitive Science (NBIC ) or the technologies for improving human performance are definitely the next gen startups, as investors and VC are pumping money. Some argue these are the next-gen of speculative startups- out of fear of the…bubble!

The startups bubble is a never-ending discussion in the tech field, especially as a reminder of the 1999 dot-com era and the collapse and recession that followed. While some investors are enjoying the party of billions poured into startups, others warn about the bubble.- due to high evaluation rate, capacity to raise multi-million rounds even before showing a prototype, but also an obscene spending showed by founders, that prized growth over profits. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, that pumped 100$ billion into startups was called by Reuters a “one-man bubble-maker”
(Overview of startup bubble discussions – New York Times)
But, till now, there were no big signs of abrupt crash. Indeed, some startups
-failed exemplary – WeWork,
-other proved to be scam – like Elizabeth Holmes biotech startup Theranos (Marketplace)
-other were charged with fraud for misleading investor – is the case of biotech startup uBiome (Reuters) Oh, yes, and FTX, just crashed, alongside 134 companies.
Hollywood made some movies – form the first 2, but we are eagerly waiting for other stories as well. PHOTO CU WEWORK ANS ELIZABETH HOLEMS MOVIES.

WEWORKTHE DROPOUT

As more and more money is redirected from apps to NBIC, some think that the bubble or bubble-talks will move here. Even VC firms seem to be more selective in their biotech investments, while pharma companies thinking more cautiously about allocating capital. The highs of the sector in early 2021 gave way to a bear market that persisted into the second half of this year — but there’s hope the bubble hasn’t popped for good, says the editors of Pharma Voice.

The world is unequal, and it becomes more and more unequal. All statistics show that while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer., and the middle class is thinner. In such conditions, will the non-super-rich have access to the magic pill? Considering the money poured in different researches, and knowing that VC would want $$$ back in order to also get their Wall Street accounts immortal.
Most scientists agree that if the magic-pill is developed, that life extension technology will be expensive in the first place – only a small number of wealthy persons will be able to afford it. And as such, the difference can grow even stronger, as the rich accumulate immortal values and assets, while the poor are dying.

But, wasn’t it always like that? When a break-through was achieved, first the rich benefited, but then it trickled down to the middle class and poor: cars, air flights or exotic fruits were expensive and only the few had them, while nowadays, most people (in western societies) can afford them.
The only question that remains is if this trickle-down process was achieved naturally or by the fact that wealth was distributed after WW2, and nowadays the trend is to be more and more concentrated? Even today, while in western societies life expectancy is somewhere around 75+, in poor societies life expectancy is around 45+.

“Is there harmonious cohabitation between chimpanzees and humans? No, we put them in zoos”

Scientist Laurent Alexandre

Bioethicist John Harris admits that unless immortality is universal, one might wind up with “parallel populations” in which only the upper few could afford the treatments needed to extend lifespan.
“The problem of global justice will be repeated in those societies able to implement life extending therapies. Just as there will exist parallel societies, some able to provide immortalizing therapies and some not, so within those society that have the technology and resources required, there will be parallel population of mortals and immortals”
And he continues to argue, that just because we cannot provide it is doubtful ethics to deny palpable good for some people, just because we cannot provide for all.

Scientist Laurent Alexandre considers based on human history, he does not consider that two species – one superior and one inferior can peacefully coexists, and warns us about the nightmare that can come:
“The coexistence between extremely intelligent people thanks to technology and people who have average intellectual abilities today cannot be harmonious'' he believes. “Is there harmonious cohabitation between chimpanzees and humans? No, we put them in zoos” . And the SF film, In Time, is questioning exactly this segregation between those who have time and those who don’t.

If the rich and powerful get access to immortality – and we usually know that they are not the kindest – what if mad people got to be immortal and perpetuate their vicious, greedy and poisonous mind-set and criminal actions?

It is a question that haunted also the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Jennifer Doudna, considered the leader of the “CRISPR revolution” for her fundamental work and leadership in developing CRISPR-mediated genome editing.

One night the scientist had a dream. And in that dream she was summoned to meet someone interested of a technology that makes you Immortal. It was Hitler. (The Niche)

I had a dream recently, and in my dream”—she mentioned the name of a leading scientific researcher—“had come to see me and said, ‘I have somebody very powerful with me who I want you to meet, and I want you to explain to him how this technology functions.’ So I said, Sure, who is it? It was Adolf Hitler. I was really horrified, but I went into a room and there was Hitler. He had a pig face and I could only see him from behind and he was taking notes and he said, ‘I want to understand the uses and implications of this amazing technology.’ I woke up in a cold sweat. And that dream has haunted me from that day. Because suppose somebody like Hitler had access to this—we can only imagine the kind of horrible uses he could put it to. Jennifer Doudna

What if Hitler was here between us now? The question needs to be reflected upon – because one thing humanity does not lack: the dark side of it. There are other questions as well:

  • How can societies and civilisation evolve by maintaining circles that think in a certain way?
  • How would our societies look like if we would still have the old-superstitious thinkers, the fanatics, those Caliguals and Neros, the monarchs who think they are anointed by Gods? Could we evolve?
  • In an immortal society, how do you make room for new generations, new ideas?

One way to make people immortal is… Brain downloading. If we are cognition, and we can simulate cognition, we can download the brain and upload it to a computer and live happily ever after. This prediction was made by the futurist Kurzweil, the physicist Stephen Hawking and the neuroscientist Randal Koene. These argue that because human consciousness is supposedly like computer software, it will soon be possible to download human minds to a computer, in the circuits of which we will become immensely powerful intellectually and, quite possibly, immortal.

The dystopian movie Transcendence (2014) starring Johnny Depp as the Kurzweil-like scientist whose mind was downloaded to the internet show such a scenario – with disastrous results for humanity.?

But, some scientist say:
Human Brain ≠ Computer

Philosopher John Searle distinguishes between a computer who manipulates symbols and the mind that attaches meaning to them. The Chinese room argument holds that a digital computer executing a program cannot have a “mind,” “understanding” or “consciousness,” regardless of how intelligently or human-like the program may make the computer behave. (Chinese room experiment by Searle say that a computer can pair English and Chinese words, and even pass the Turing test, but that doesn’t mean it understand Chinese)
So, when it comes to downloading the brains, what gets on the computer is not the brain, but a bunch of 0s and 1s, a picture of the brain that have isomorphism, mirror parts of the the brain, but is not the brain.

It seems that some psychologists agree as well:

The brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer”

research psychologist Robert Epstein.

The idea that memories that are stored in individual neurons is preposterous: how and where is the memory stored in the cell? asks Epstein. Nobody can actually retrieve from the cell the knowledge of a chess player or a musician, or the photos or algorithms. Some tried it. The most famous case is that of Einstein.
Shortly after Einstein’s death in 1955, Thomas Stoltz Harvey, who performed the autopsy, dissected the brain into several pieces studied by leading pathologists. (This was done, without Einstein’s consent and the inciting incident was revealed in 1978 by a journalist). Still, the mystery of Einstein’s visionary theories could not be cracked. He could not find out the mystery of Einstein. No new physics theories in Einstein’s cell.

But, if we came back to memory downloading/uploading on the internet, computer memory that can copy each detail, and human memory function quite differently. The same story will be recalled differently by different people or by the same person in different life stages. No ‘copy’ of the story is ever made. Epstein argues that this makes each human unique – not just in our genetic makeup, but even in the way our brains change over time. And depends on different histories, context, etc. Neurobiologist Steven Rose pointed out in The Future of the Brain (2005), a snapshot of the brain’s current state might also be meaningless unless we knew the entire life history of that brain’s owner. Neuroscientist Kenneth Miller considered that science is very far from understanding how the brain works suggesting it will take ‘centuries’ just to figure out basic neuronal connectivity: (New York Times) :

The current best achievement was determining the connections in a tiny piece of brain tissue containing 1,700 synapses; the human brain has more than a hundred billion times that number of synapses. While progress is swift, no one has any realistic estimate of how long it will take to arrive at brain-size connectomes. (My wild guess: centuries.)

We can conclude with the words of philosopher John Searle:

We do not know how to build an artificial brain because we do not know how the brain works”.

Or with the reflections of ethicist Nicholas Agar who argues that by the time we are able to upload minds to computers, other life extension technologies will be available, so that uploading will no longer be an attractive option. What other Technologies?

Enhancement technology


So, what about human enhancement technologies?
Ethicist Nicholas Agar book “Dialogues on Human Enhancement” is forthcoming with Routledge, but from his first book “Humanity’s End: Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement”, we can say that he is the party spoiler for the proponents of radical enhancement, namely Ray Kurzweil (dubbed “The Technologist”), Aubrey de Grey (“The Therapist”), Nick Bostrom (“The Philosopher”), and James Hughes (“The Sociologist”).
Agar questions the era of ‘humanity plus’ or ‘post-humanity’ , where people can change themselves in ways that, up to now, have existed only in SF book. But, even minor enhancements may end up doing more harm than good, and change humans in unpredictable ways, for example those with enhancements may lack empathy and compassion for those who have not chosen or cannot afford these new technologies.

Ethicist and theologist, Todd Daly, also considers that there will be social costs once enhancement technology appear, because mainly the privileged ones will have access to it, and those will use it only at their advantages: “And I’m not convinced that people who get these enhancements will want to make sure everyone else eventually gets them too, because people usually want to leverage the advantages they have.” says Todd Daly. The same concern is shared by Lawyer and ethicist George Annas who considers that enhanced people will see the unenhanced as subhuman,” he says. “[Enhanced] people would probably assume they had the right to rule us, and the rest of us might try to kill them, ending in a lot of dead and hurt people.”

Ultimately, Agar does not believe that enhanced humans will be more happy and somehow suggests to enjoy also our minuses and limitations. “Happiness also is found in limits, says Agar of Victoria University. “There are things that I value and am proud of in my life, like my recent book,” he says. “But how can I value the writing of my book if I’ve been cognitively enhanced, and doing such a thing becomes much easier?”.

Moreover, what about character and virtue? Will they come with enhancement as well? Did technology make humans more ethical?
“The things that have to do with human character and virtue and those things that make life meaningful will not change as a result of human enhancement, just like they haven’t changed as our society has changed,” says Theologists Ted Peters. ( PewResearch)

Agar also raises the question of money, because the huge profits that could be made from commercializing increasingly powerful human enhancement technologies suggest that there is a need for the ethically unbiased analyses. He also warns that currently, when biopolitics will probably dominate the debates in the next decade, the space is dominated by powerful tech-companies the control the debates. (ABC)

IMMORTALITY.

Living less than 100 years, Humans with frail bodies and minds dream of Eternity.
It’s a dream that haunts us, and despite our evident failure, we keep searching and researching it.
How can we live forever young?
The question changes us constantly. It raises debates, and discussion about Who we are?
Each failure to achieve it, humbles us, and make us value and cherish Life, till a new generation comes and with Greed and Ego considers that it deserves to be Immortal – and tries out ridiculous receipts.
In the end, a simple question would be: how can we want to be immortal in a civilisation that constantly hurts others and itself?
But, at least till now, the greedy ones proved to be mortal and vanished in history.
Let’s hope that in the years to come, when biopolitics will dominate the public agenda, when all the brain hacks and enhancement and augmentation trials will be made, humanity as a whole will benefit and evolve.

Reading Room : Book recommendations

John Searle- Mind: A Brief Introduction (summary of work in philosophy of mind)
Nicholas Agar – Humanity’s End Humanity’s End* Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement
Matthew Cobb – The Idea of the Brain
George Zarkadakis – In Our Own Image
Steven Rose – The Future of the Brain
Anthony Chemero – Radical Embodied Cognitive Science
Ray Kurzweil – How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
Robert Epstein – Cognition, Creativity and Behavior
Dr. Laurent Alexandre – La guerre des intelligences – Intelligence Artificielle versus Intelligence Humaine
Walter Isaacson –The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

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