Doesn’t the mention of death make you cringe? It’s quite unsettling to know that our cells are biologically programmed to age, wither and die. Has human life meant to be that short of around 100 years? It seems like a tragedy. Apparently, we are living at the servitude of nature and nature has punished us with a slowly decaying body. We are designed to end up miserable, dependent with diseases and with deteriorating, feeble bodies. It’s a ghastly picture. It feels like watching a horror movie.
All our ability to experience life, create, explore, enjoy comes with a limited edition body – is wholly heart-wrenching. Isn’t there a way around this? A way to maintain continuity of one thing we most value – our life with abundant youthfulness?
I sat searching about it and google searches on life extension opened up a box of possibilities. I found out that life span could be extended with drugs, cryonics, nanomedicine, regenerative medicine and uploading the mind to a metal substrate. Death now seemed to turn from an inevitable curse to a biological problem that could be solved with advances in technology.
Life Extension Therapies
There are ample of examples in history where mankind has been earnestly trying to extend human life span and achieve immortality. However, men in previous generations haven’t been much successful, primarily due to a knowledge gap and lack of technological tools.
That shouldn’t make you pessimistic of future prospects for cracking the ageing code and death itself. We now live in an age, in which science has made great strides and scientific advances have bridged the gaps in knowledge in diverse areas to the point where we increasingly know more and more about less and less. Science continues forward in its pursuit to increase its knowledge of the universe and everything that inhabits it.
As for life extension therapies, there is plenty of good news on account of advances in tissue regeneration, stem cells, mapping of the human genome, and a more complete understanding of the human biology. Also, future breakthroughs in stem cells, regenerative medicine, molecular repair, gene therapy, nanotechnology, brain mapping and AI would help us lead healthier lives, increase longevity, and prolong life indefinitely.
Aristotle claimed that man is essentially a rational animal and reason is a characteristic of man. As per him, highest human happiness or wellbeing is attainable when a life is lived consistently, excellently, and completely in accordance with reason. Thus, shouldn’t we use reason to seek knowledge that will improve our lives?
Life extension promises the abundant fountain of youth. Advances in knowledge and technology is empowering us to steer evolution and make life more meaningful. Shouldn’t we use knowledge to break the adamantine link between ageing and death? Would you have your friends and family pass away knowing that their last years were difficult, debilitating or painful?
Life Extension would be possible by the following ways in future:
- Biological Life Extension
- Mind Upload
You will find the below intriguing. And it will surely leave you ecstatic – at what life extension is promising:
|Average Life expectancy|
|Once Life Extension is achieved||120, 150, 200, 500, 1000+|
Present Human Life Cycle
Future Human Life Cycle
Many consider evolution an intelligent algorithm that has created a rich, complex and diverse life all around planet Earth. However, it is only when we start studying nature and biological bodies that we tend to see the limitations and imperfections of evolution. Our body has vestigial organs, and so do other animals. There is a lot of unnecessary complexity in our body designs. More worse we have fragile and extremely vulnerable bodies, with the number of things that can go wrong are more than 4000. Thus, biological processes are quite suboptimal. On top of all this, our bodies are programmed to self-destruct, which is rather puzzling to comprehend. As per Darwinism, natural selection enables organisms to survive optimally, compete and reproduce. Then, why does evolution not prevent ageing? This presents an evolutionary paradox.
What if ageing is the result of an utterly misfortunate anomalous algorithmic error? Mother Nature goofed-up! Oops!
Evolution mostly seems like an algorithm that lacks a meaningful purpose, other than to survive, reproduce and self-destruct. Evolution is flawed and fallible. We can certainly do better and that’s where advances in research and technology hold the promise to make us better designers.
Just to clarify a few things, before I dive into life extension therapies:
People that advocate life extension do so because they value being alive, and see death as an end to all experiences and opportunities. The thing that is downright evil, about death, especially an early death, is that it terminates the possibilities of anything more. Life extension, thus, is a deeply moral project that is working to extend lifespan and increasing the quality of life with more vigorous bodies.
Life extension methods involve altering our human body. Isn’t that fundamentally changing our human nature, by modifying it with synthetic materials?
The definition of human nature entails the freedom to make choices. A person has a right to modify their body as per their desires i.e. have morphological freedom. More so, it is hard to argue about the practical benefits that come with inhabiting a disease free and healthy body.
We exercise morphological freedom whenever we decide to undergo cosmetic surgery to enhance beauty or make body piercings or get a tattoo itched on our skin. We willingly use implants and undergo surgeries to transplant organs, if there is a disease or dysfunction. Also, people happily pop pills to treat certain disorders and conditions, even when they are aware it changes their underlying biological chemistry.
Does then modifying my body change my essence? Human cells are replaced over a period of time. We are changing as we are growing, it is just the pattern of information that continues. Modifying oneself won’t result in losing the continuity of pattern of information. Rather it would enhance our essence by expanding our potential in diverse spheres.
The concept of what it means to be human would expand in the future. Technology will enrich our ability to create and appreciate all forms of knowledge. Empirically, it is evident that our values include the continuous questioning of knowledge and expanding the same. This makes us a species that is constantly changing.
Biological Life Extension
Biological life extension entails extending lifespan with reversing ageing, using regenerative medicine, gene therapy, stem cells, pharmaceuticals and organ replacement to create a healthy body that lasts for centuries.
Ageing is a complex and multifactorial process. Also, defining aging can be a tricky concept. In its simplest form, overall aging can be understood as cellular breakdown over time, which manifests itself in some of the common diseases of old age: diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, etc.
Ageing kills around 100,000 people each day. Lives are priceless, hence combating ageing is of immense significance. Moreover, solving ageing is a worthy pursuit, as it will result in an end of tremendous suffering, for the elderly and their loved ones.
Ageing can be seen as a medical challenge that can be broken into chunks and solved. The working knowledge of the mechanisms of senescence seems to have a tremendous potential for the development of life extension interventions. These interventions would aid in delaying the ageing process and increasing longevity. Reduction of oxidative damage, telomerase activation, genetic manipulation, and potential cellular therapies from stem cell research are some of the research areas.
There have been 9 hallmarks identified that result in ageing. These are:
- Genomic Instability – This is due to the high frequency of mutations within the genome of a cellular lineage caused by both internal and external factors. During one’s life span, this build-up of damage accelerates ageing. Also, genomic instability is one of the contributing factors of some age related diseases such as cancer and ALS. Endogenous DNA damage i.e., metabolically caused damage occurs on average more than 60,000 time a day in the genomes of human cells.
- Telomere attrition: Telomeres are disposable buffers located at the ends of our chromosomes. These are truncated every time a cell divides, and they thereby protect the genes on the chromosome from being truncated instead. Telomere shortening limits the process of cell division by inducing replicative senescence, differentiation, or apoptosis. Telomere shortening is linked to ageing and age-related diseases.
- Epigenetic alterations: Epigenome comprises of all the chemical compounds that are added to one’s DNA (genome), as a way to regulate the gene expression in the DNA. Epigenetic changes are caused by a number of factors including diet, lifestyle, life experiences and other environmental factors. Accumulating evidence indicates that epigenetic alterations affect ageing.
- Loss of proteostasis: Proteostasis, a portmanteau for protein homeostasis, is a set of biological pathways that control the biogenesis, chaperoning (the activity of keeping proteins properly folded), and degradation of proteins outside and inside cells. Over time, there is a decline in the protein homeostasis and an accumulation of protein aggregates. Studies show that the piling of damaged proteins is observed with ageing and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
- Deregulated nutrient-sensing: Nutrient sensing is a mechanism by which cells recognize fuel substrates such as proteins and glucose. Nutrient sensing pathways regulate metabolism by ensuring that our bodies take in the right amount of nutrition. The four associated key protein groups with nutrient-sensing are IGF-1, mTOR, sirtuins, and AMPK. These nutrient sensing pathways are deregulated due to damaging effects caused by metabolism and it’s by products through oxidative stress, ER stress, calcium signalling, etc. With deregulated nutrient sensing pathways, the body begins to break down at the cellular level, and this in turn is a catalyst for ageing.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction: Mitochondria is commonly referred as the energy powerhouse that regulates the metabolism in our bodies. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been associated with normal aging and correlated with the development of a number of age-related diseases including cancer, Parkinson’s and diabetes.
- Cellular senescence: Cellular senescence, occurs due to the ceasing of cell division. As a result, there is a build-up of older cells, which cause ageing and age-related pathologies.
- Stem cell exhaustion: Stem cell exhaustion which is the decline in stem cell activity, results in their inability to continue to replenish the tissues of an organism. The accumulation of damage that increases with stem cell exhaustion is linked to ageing.
- Altered intercellular communication: Communication between cells is disrupted with age. This results in inflammation, tissue damage and consequently ageing.
Nanomedicine involves use of nano-scaled machines to cure diseases and dysfunction within a body. With the human genome mapped, we have a detailed understanding of different body molecules that includes their structure and functional information. This molecular knowledge, along with advances in medical nanotechnology would enable targeted manipulation of life on a molecular level to produce desired results.
Small nano machines that can travel in your blood stream and carry tools or medicine to cure diseases, sounds like science fiction. However, science fiction will turn to science fact in the coming decades. Nanomedicine would be able to cure most of the diseases. Nanomedicine will be able to treat a number of pathologies such as blood clot, cancer, gout, kidney stones, etc. Nanobots will detect and repair aberrations, remove debris, and even fix DNA transcription errors. These would act like superbots that keep you healthy and fit.
There are designs proposed by Robert A Freitas for artificial red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. White blood cells are part of body’s immune system and protect the body from harmful microbes. Artificial red blood cells transport more oxygen efficiently than biological ones. Artificial platelets will have a bleeding control thousand times faster than biological platelets, and would be lifesaving in accidents. Artificial WBC or as termed microbivores would be 1000 times faster in destroying pathogens and clear an infection within minutes or hours. In future, you don’t have to pop antibiotics to fight infections. All you would do is download software, and recover your health in a relatively short period. If only these would have arrived sooner the ongoing pandemic wouldn’t have lasted this long.
As per Freitas ‘If 99% of all medically preventable conditions that lead to natural death are eliminated, health span can increase to about 1100 years.’ Nanobots will certainly offer a cure for heart disease and cancer, which are among the top 10 disease killers world-wide. Also, nanobots could introduce DNA changes to essentially reprogram our genes. Thus, nanobots promise dechronification, or rolling back the clock and longevity. Sounds awsm, eh?
Mind uploads open a new frontier to achieve extended lifespan. Once the brain is in software form, a person can live indefinitely. Creating a mind upload would be a backup and an insurance policy against natural death or unexpected death. This would truly make you immortal.
Norbert Weiner, the father of cybernetics, wrote an interesting book in 1948 titled Cybernetics: Control and communication in the Animal and the machine. He presented cybernetics as a confounding idea where the biological system and the computer was the same thing. Essentially, brain is just an information processing organ, wherein different parts are working in cohesion to respond to external and internal stimulus and produce an output.
Mind uploading can be accomplished by either destructive scanning (copy-and-delete) or by non-destructive scanning (copy-and-upload). In both the methods, scanning will require capturing and mapping all the salient details to create a replica of the biological mind in a digital format.
A roadmap suggested in a paper on Whole Brain Emulation, discusses three main capabilities required to upload a brain. These include:
- Physically scan brains to capture all the necessary information
- Be able to interpret the scanned data to build a software model
- Have the ability to simulate this large model
Diagram – Capabilities needed for WBE:
Destructive scanning has higher spatial resolution that non-destructive scanning. However, with the arrival of nanobots, the accuracy of scanning the brain will increase two-fold. Nanobots would stick to different regions of the brains, and send accurate information of brain activity, connectomics, etc. This will help in building detailed maps of individual brains, and create an extensive database of brain activity maps.
There are currently brain projects being funded and in progress all over the world. They seek to decode this amazing organ that gives us the capacity to think, conceptualize, feel and create. The convergence of research from a number of labs in the coming years would lead to breakthroughs in neuroscience, and eventually a detailed understanding of every section of human brain.
People that choose to upload their minds, would have their funeral turn into a happy ceremony. They would take a day off, attend their funeral, and get back to other things the next day.
Cryonics, is a field that deals with the low-temperature freezing (usually at −196 °C or −320.8 °F) and storage of a human corpse or severed head, in order to resurrect the body in future using bioengineering, molecular nanotechnology, or nanomedicine as key technologies. The object of cryonics is to prevent death by preserving sufficient cell structure and chemistry so that recovery (including recovery of memory and personality) remains possible by foreseeable technology.
First, the water from the bodies is removed, as the expansion of water on freezing could fracture the surrounding cells. Second, the water is replaced with a chemical mixture called a cryoprotectant. Cryoprotectants, are macromolecules that work like an anti-freeze substance. They protect cells from the adverse effects of intracellular ice crystal formation during the process of freezing and thawing. This process of cooling without freezing is called vitrification. Vitrified bodies/organs are then suspended in containers, with controlled temperature environments.
Cryonicists contend that as long as vitrification can preserve brain structure, there should be no fundamental barrier, given our current understanding of physical law, to recover the brain’s information content.
Some organizations that currently provide cryonic facilities are Tomorrow Biostasis, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Cryonics Institute and KrioRus.
Questions and Answers:
When will life extension be achieved?
This question is open for debate. Some speculate that life extension therapies should be available post 2050. If this is the case, anybody today below the age of 35, has a high chance of getting a ticket to the future. If you are below 35, open a fund for extending your life span. Eat healthy, exercise and keep yourself fit. Longevity is certainly a goal worth working towards. For people above 35, enroll into a cryonics program to preserve your brain.
How will our body adapt to nanobots?
Nanotechnology will be designed in a way to maintain homeostasis in all biological processes. Only materials that are biocompatible will be used for designing nanobots. Even though, nanobots would process at a highly significant speed, there would be controls in place so that nanotech won’t confuse or overload the body and self-replicate. Any errors, and difficulties would be taken care of during the trail phases. Also, any company introducing nanobots for the human body, will have to undergo stringent FDA scrutiny to get approvals before they sell their technology as a therapy for curing/reversing ageing and age-related disorders.
Will my mindclone really be conscious?
Consciousness, is a puzzle, which has overwhelmed philosophers over centuries. The thing about consciousness is that it is deeply embedded in the person’s subjective experience, and there exists no objective test to measure something as subjective as consciousness. The more tricky part is, that ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are antonyms. The definition of one contradicts the definition of another, which makes it more difficult to resolve the hard problem of consciousness. Would my experience of colour ‘blue’, be same as my mindclone’s experience of colour ‘blue’?
If we keep aside the subjective questions related to consciousness, and concentrate on the biophysics of the brain, it is quite evident that consciousness is just an emergent property owing to the complex interactions of the underlying bio-substrate. Just like the arrangement of different atoms of water give rise to the property of liquidity. In very crude terms, consciousness thus is just information processing and how a brain feels about the information processing that goes on in response to external and internal stimulus.
There are no laws of physics that prohibit the replication of the same information processing patterns on a different non-biological substrate. If a mindclone can display complex, rich, subtle behaviors’, feelings and thought patterns, it is very much a conscious entity.
If you upload your mind, and have a conversation about consciousness with your mindclone, it will surely remind you Descarte’s “cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am.
How accurate would mind uploading be?
Once cyber consciousness is achieved, things get pretty fast and unchallenging.
A mindware software would include the process to create a digital mind. The software would contain a large database of different personality types, statistical models for human behaviour in various situations, etc. It will be activated by a mindfile that includes details about a person’s life. The details will be captured via intricate scanning of the brain and information supplied by the person or closed ones and the person’s digital footprints.
The accuracy of the upload thus depends on the amount of personal data captured or that you supply in your mindfile. The more personal data present, the more accurate the upload would be.
If you choose to limit the information shared, the mind upload won’t match you in every thought and emotion. It will be created to match a certain set of personal attributes inclusive of personality, beliefs, values provided and the ones selected by the company that provides the mind uploading service. Also, regulations will dictate the selection of digital twin traits.
Well, it must be mentioned that even with a brain chip, there is possibility for a divergence in thoughts, emotions and memory selection. However, in such a case, the difference wouldn’t be significant enough to amount to much.
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Kurzweil, Ray. (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
Tegmark, Max. (2017). Life 3.0.
Rothblatt, Martine. (2014). Virtually Human: The Promise‑‑And the Peril‑‑of Digital.
(2004). The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Lifespans
Sandberg, A. & Bostrom, N. (2008): Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap, Technical Report#2008‐3, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University. Link: www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/reports/2008‐3.pdf