Monday, 29 December 2014

I recently discovered the blog of a life extension activist, Maria Konovalenko, that has lots of cool media, plans, and links to others in the community. She is, for instance, affiliated with the (Russian) Science for Life Extension foundation, and she also cofounded Labcures, a site for crowdfunding individual scientific experiments.

Below is a series of posters that she commissioned to show the possible paths to immortality.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

This open letter by the folks at the Brain Preservation Foundation was quite stirring, and pretty succinctly described why preserving dying people is beneficial,  and feasible with current technology.

As an aside, I learned from the letter that there are surgical procedures that stop all brain and circulatory activity in a patient and yet the patient can recover with their memories intact. This suggests that what makes us us can be preserved by a structural copy of the brain.

We choose brain preservation over natural decay because we accept the current scientific consensus that our unique conscious self is generated by processes within our physical brain. Further, we accept that all the memories, skills, and personality traits that make us unique are hardwired into the physical and molecular connections among our brain’s hundred billion neurons. Such a structural basis of memory and personality is demonstrated by the fact that surgical patients are often put into a state of Profound Hypothermia and Circulatory Arrest (PHCA) in which all patterned brain activity is halted for up to a full hour, yet these patients revive with memory and personality completely intact. The structural basis of memory and personality – the synaptic connectivity between neurons – can be preserved essentially perfectly by today’s chemical fixation and plastic embedding techniques. Extrapolating from current technologies for the nano‐imaging of plastic embedded brain tissue, we believe that one day science will have advanced sufficiently to allow complete retrieval of memories from such a preserved brain. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

I just ran into this 15-minute documentary that I think does a good job describing the motivation for pursuing anti-aging research. It is also wonderful to see how many established research institutions are working on the problem.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Whole Brain Emulation 3

Brain emulation is unlikely to come all in one go. The following diagram is one of the participants' models for the stages of success leading to brain emulation. Stages 1 and 2 are the preliminaries, while stage 6 is loosely defined. Stages 3 to 5 are what they focused on in the workshop.

Whole Brain Emulation Success Criteria chart

Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Whole Brain Emulation 2

I'd like to share the highlights of the Whole Brain Emulation workshop technical report from Monday in the next few posts.

The introduction of the paper shows the potential benefits from this technology.

  • Brain emulation is the logical endpoint of computational neuroscience’s attempts to accurately model neurons and brain systems. 
  • Brain emulation would help us to understand the brain, both in the lead‐up to successful emulation and afterwards by providing an ideal test bed for neuroscientific experimentation and study. 
  • Neuromorphic engineering based on partial results would be useful in a number of applications such as pattern recognition, AI and brain‐computer interfaces.  
  • As a long‐term research goal it might be a strong vision to stimulate computational neuroscience. 
  • As a case of future studies it represents a case where a radical future possibility can be examined in the light of current knowledge. 
  • The economic impact of copyable brains could be immense, and could have profound societal consequences (Hanson, 1994, 2008b). Even low probability events of such magnitude merit investigation.  
Individually [sic] 
  • If emulation of particular brains is possible and affordable, and if concerns about individual identity can be met, such emulation would enable back‐up copies and “digital immortality”. 
  • Brain emulation would itself be a test of many ideas in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of identity, or provide a novel context for thinking about such ideas. 
  • It may represent a radical new form of human enhancement.

Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap

Monday, 21 July 2014

Whole Brain Emulation

The technology might become feasible for a human mind to be "uploaded" to a computer where it could be backed up near-infinitely. A workshop was held in 2007 to survey the state of the art of the required technology, and the advances required to make it feasible. The research report was fascinating, but spoiler: it doesn't look like it'll be feasible until 50 or more years out.

Whole brain emulation (WBE) is the possible future one-to-one modelling of the function of the human brain. It represents a formidable engineering and research problem, yet one which appears to have a well-defined goal and could, it would seem, be achieved by extrapolations of current technology.
Since the implications of successful WBE are potentially very large the Future of Humanity Institute hosted a workshop in Oxford on 26-27 May, 2007. Invited experts from areas such as computational neuroscience, brain-scanning technology, computing, and neurobiology presented their findings and discussed the possibilities, problems and milestones that would have to be reached before WBE becomes feasible.
Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap

Sunday, 20 July 2014

I've started reading Nick Bostrom's "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", a textbook on the current state of the art in creating superhuman artificial intelligences. I think such an AI would be useful for solving humanity's problems including (you guessed it) eradicating death. The preface of the book, however, has this very cool fable on why it is gravely important to figure out how to build a safe superhuman AI.
The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows
It was the nest-building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away. 
“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!” 
“Yes!” said another. “And we could use it to look after our elderly and our young.” 
“It could give us advice and keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat,” added a third. 
Then Pastus, the elder-bird, spoke: “Let us send out scouts in all directions and try to find an abandoned owlet somewhere, or maybe an egg. A crow chick might also do, or a baby weasel. This could be the best thing that ever happened to us, at least since the opening of the Pavilion of Unlimited Grain in yonder backyard.” 
The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art“of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?” 
Replied Pastus: “Taming an owl sounds like an exceedingly difficult thing to do. It will be difficult enough to find an owl egg. So let us start there. After we have succeeded in raising an owl, then we can think about taking on this other challenge.” 
“There is a flaw in that plan!” squeaked Scronkfinkle; but his protests were in vain as the flock had already lifted off to start implementing the directives set out by Pastus. 
Just two or three sparrows remained behind. Together they began to try to work out how owls might be tamed or domesticated. They soon realized that Pastus had been right: this was an exceedingly difficult challenge, especially in the absence of an actual owl to practice on. Nevertheless they pressed on as best they could, constantly fearing that the flock might return with an owl egg before a solution to the control problem had been found. 
It is not known how the story ends, but the author dedicates this book to Scronkfinkle and his followers.

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

"The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not "get over" the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to."
On Death and Dying - book cover

 On Death and Dying - Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

Monday, 14 July 2014

The desire to live forever appears to be a near-universal trait in human culture. It might seem like only "fringe" religions like those mentioned in yesterday's article: Terasem, TransfigurismCosmism etc. explicitly aim to attain immortality but in fact, nearly all the major world religions do. See this list from the Wikipedia article on immortality

4.1 Ancient Greek religion
4.2 Ascended Masters
4.3 Buddhism
4.4 Christianity
4.5 Hinduism
4.6 Islam
4.7 Judaism
4.8 Rastafarianism
4.9 Taoism
4.10 Zoroastrianism

In this light, people today who are working towards or waiting patiently for God/Technology to deliver them from death (myself included) are just the modern practitioners of an ancient tradition.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sometimes when I try to explain my beliefs about avoiding death to other people, I find myself sounding like a nutty cultist. Unsurprisingly, others have noticed the same thing. Case in point: this (quite long) 2011 article in H Plus Magazine about how faith in a coming technological singularity that will cure all human ills, even death, looks and quacks a lot like religion:

Religion is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as being:
• the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power...
• details of belief as taught or discussed...
• a particular system of faith and worship...
• a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance...
So my claim is not that the Singularity is a religion. My claim is that there are many to whom the idea has become a matter of faith, one which supports an overarching ideology they espouse as being pervasive due to the Singularity creating some form of an all-powerful being.

I need to make sure that my belief in the power of human ingenuity to solve all problems rests on evidence more solid than because it makes my dreams possible.

The Technological Singularity as Religious Ideology 

Friday, 11 July 2014

At the other end of the spectrum, here's a 1967 story by Harlan Ellison about how eternal life could really, really suck
AM has altered me for his own peace of mind, I suppose. He doesn't want me to run at full speed into a computer bank and smash my skull. Or hold my breath till I faint. Or cut my throat on a rusted sheet of metal...I have no mouth. And I must scream. 

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Here's a lovely short story showing, among other things, an optimistic view of an immortal life

Jack was gone.
What could she do?
What did she have to do? Suddenly she realized how silly the simulation had been: how could she have hoped to get closer to him, than to live his vision of the future?
Only one small action, one appropriate action, remained that she could perform. She could remember forever.
And so, just as a part of her lived forever on the Mountain, just as a part of her lived forever singing, so now she maintained a part of her that would spend all its moments remembering her earlier moments with him. She became in part a living memorial to the one who brought her here.

"The Gentle Seduction" by Marc Stiegler

Monday, 7 July 2014

I never finished reading "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker because it's just too wordy and abstruse. But it's thesis is intriguing. From Wikipedia

The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism. Becker argues that a basic duality in human life exists between the physical world of objects and a symbolic world of human meaning. Thus, since humanity has a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, we are able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving our symbolic halves. By embarking on what Becker refers to as an "immortality project" (or causa sui), in which a person creates or becomes part of something which they feel will last forever, the person feels they have "become" heroic and, henceforth, part of something eternal; something that will never die, compared to their physical body that will one day die. This, in turn, gives the person the feeling that their life has meaning, a purpose, significance in the grand scheme of things.
Another theme running throughout the book is that humanity's traditional "hero-systems" i.e. religion, are no longer convincing in the age of reason; science is attempting to solve the problem of humanity, something that Becker feels it can never do. The book states that we need new convincing "illusions" that enable us to feel heroic in the grand scheme of things, i.e. immortal. Becker, however, does not provide any definitive answer, mainly because he believes that there is no perfect solution. Instead, he hopes that gradual realization of humanity's innate motivations, namely death, can help to bring about a better world.

 "The Denial of Death"

Sunday, 6 July 2014

“The road to death is a long march beset with all evils, and the heart fails little by little at each new terror, the bones rebel at each step, the mind sets up its own bitter resistance and to what end? The barriers sink one by one, and no covering of the eyes shuts out the landscape of disaster, nor the sight of crimes committed there.”
Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

And a more recent TEDx talk by Aubrey de Grey where he focuses on the strategies for actually curing aging. The thing that got me was the graph at 1:35
What I'm showing here is a cause for celebration. It is that we have massively increased the proportion of the population that reaches the age of 65. On this particular graph just for illustration...from 1950 out to a projected 2050 and that goes from about 8% up to 22%.

How to End Aging: Aubrey de Grey at TEDxOxbridge

Monday, 30 June 2014

Here's a very entertaining TED talk by Aubrey de Grey of the SENS foundation that covers among other things, reasons why we should work towards defeating aging.
So I'm going to start with why we should. Now, I want to ask a question. Hands up: anyone in the audience who is in favor of malaria? That was easy. OK. ... So we all think malaria is a bad thing. That's very good news, because I thought that was what the answer would be. Now the thing is, I would like to put it to you that the main reason why we think that malaria is a bad thing is because of a characteristic of malaria that it shares with aging. And here is that characteristic. The only real difference is that aging kills considerably more people than malaria does.
Aubrey de Grey: A roadmap to end aging

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The lyrics to this song bring tears to my eyes every time

People say that we'll die someday, but we just don't believe it 
Long before we are old and gray, we'll find a way to beat it 
Fight against physical decay, keep our bodies breathing 
By the next quarter century we won't even need them 

"The Singularity" by Miracles of Modern Science

Saturday, 28 June 2014

"The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant" is a wonderful allegory by FHI's Nick Bostrom. Sometimes moving a situation (e.g. our acceptance of death) to a different setting is illuminating.
Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived. Sometimes the dragon would devour these unfortunate souls upon arrival; sometimes again it would lock them up in the mountain where they would wither away for months or years before eventually being consumed.

The misery inflicted by the dragon-tyrant was incalculable. In addition to the ten thousand who were gruesomely slaughtered each day, there were the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, and friends that were left behind to grieve the loss of their departed loved ones.

Some people tried to fight the dragon, but whether they were brave or foolish was difficult to say. Priests and magicians called down curses, to no avail. Warriors, armed with roaring courage and the best weapons the smiths could produce, attacked it, but were incinerated by its fire before coming close enough to strike. Chemists concocted toxic brews and tricked the dragon into swallowing them, but the only apparent effect was to further stimulate its appetite. The dragon’s claws, jaws, and fire were so effective, its scaly armor so impregnable, and its whole nature so robust, as to make it invincible to any human assault.

Seeing that defeating the tyrant was impossible, humans had no choice but to obey its commands and pay the grisly tribute. The fatalities selected were always elders...
The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant