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Global Future: Creating Gods Among Us?


I had seriously intended to restart Tech Gestalts today, because I have a backlog of ideas that just grows faster than I can weed them out. Or move over to gaming news and maybe talk about the Origins Games Fair and Shadowrun Fifth Edition (seriously, buy the damn game. It’s awesome and you want it.) But at the last minute, I heard about the transhumanists at Global Future 2045. For those who don’t know, GF2045 is a conference founded by Russian businessman Dmitry Itskov, best known for his involvement with the 2045 Initiative, a program aimed at human immortality by 2045.

Here’s their promotional video:

A little less-biased expository background on Mr. Itskov and his 2045 Initiative might be necessary: Finding biographical information on the 30-something year-old Russian media tycoon is a pain in the ass, but his project is pretty transparent. Preceding the United States Department of Defense’s Avatar Project (which is basically the James Cameron movie, but with killer robots instead of sexy blue chicks), Itskov wants us all to end up like the protagonist of that film: mentally transported to a healthy, superior body (no word on if we’ll all be dating a sexy blue alien, unfortunately). At the moment, most of the research has been done by a team of 30 scientists paid out of Itskov’s own pockets. But at GF2045, they opened their project to a global audience and research  staff.

At first, their plan will involve moving human brains into “progressively disembodied” new forms, presumably first with elective brain-computer interfaces, then android bodies, etc. Their end goal is to be able to “upload” a human consciousness into an artificial brain-computer, itself designed by reverse-engineering the human brain. We’re already closer than you think.  These “Avatar D” humans would have no physical form outside of a computer or nano-cloud used to store their consciousness and whatever robotic bodies they chose to temporarily inhabit or remotely control for specific tasks. Most communication would be via custom holograms, to maintain some sense of human connection between the Avatar and baseline humans.

Hopefully holograms like this.  Courtesy oxmonline.com

Actually a deceased 80-year old CEO.
Courtesy oxmonline.com

The GF2045 conference focused on what technologies would be necessary to achieve Itskov’s long-term goals. Methods of preserving a human brain in an aware, living state separate from the body took a backseat to the much more interesting (and necessary, for the Initiative’s success) process of creating brain-like computers. Part of this is because there’s a lot more applications for a brain-like computer than just immortality: cybernetic limbs that respond to commands from your neurons are just being tested, and we’ve induced both schizophrenia and compulsive lying in computers to better study how the human mind works without tormenting a real human.

As you may have noticed from their promotional video, the project compares itself to the nuclear and space programs of the last century. Looking back, those programs’ greatest contributions to humanity were in their spin-off technologies and their unifying effect on the populace, something that the 2045 Initiative’s promo video hints that they are acutely aware of.

Regardless of whether their final goal is immortality, or a well-conceived lie to boost general scientific research, Itskov seems really optimistic about the project’s chances, appealing to American researchers in an interview:

“I understand these are some very big challenges for scientists. But I believe in something you call ‘The American Dream.’ If you put all your energy and time into something, you can make it a reality…years ago, people didn’t believe the internet could work. I think of Avatar in the same light. Right now, the idea is new and radical. It won’t always be that way.”.

The American Dream, apparently. Courtesy hypebeast.com

The American Dream, apparently.
Courtesy hypebeast.com

Interestingly, the project’s supporters include the Russian Ministries of Education and Science, and the Ocean of Wisdom himself, the Dalai Llama.

But what does it all mean for you and me?

Well, in the Avatar A stage of the project, you’re looking at a few new industries. First off, somebody’s gotta build the damn things, and you’ve also got to have programmers and engineers that know their way around Brain-Computer-Interfaces to repair them. Of course, people are going to cosmetically modify them, so as to distinguish one another, even if they’re only used as soldier-drones or miners or deep-sea welders. If they actually become as popular as Itskov is hoping, you’re looking at gaming models, working models, fighting models, sport models: mostly tailored to a more expensive market, obviously (semi-realistic androids will currently run you about $200,000). Additionally, if they really do replace business trips with company-owned robotic telepresence, there goes the airline industry (48% of Americans go on business trips annually.)

Courtesy the 2045 Initiative

The Avatar B stage, which involves moving a human brain to a machine body, doesn’t really add that many more world changes. Okay, we can now move our brains into robot bodies. That’ll extend our lifespans, but it’s not immortality. Say we take the normal human life expectancy (not to be confused with lifespan, which is a theoretical) of 67, and add 42 years, the longest anyone’s ever lived in a coma. This would make the average life expectancy for rich assholes now 109. Impressive, but not exactly making Chewbacca or Liara T’Soni jealous.

The Avatar C stage is full of problems I really don’t want to think about. Of course, every great cause is, but I’m knowledgeable enough about some of these to really worry. Stage C Avatars will use a completely bionic brain that has a person “uploaded” into it. Physical sexuality basically disappears or becomes a multiple choice question at this stage. Want a feminine-looking body? Upload to one, regardless of birth gender. Want to be Andre the Giant tough? Cough up the cash, Debbie. Stage C Avatars would be the perfect astronaut, needing no atmosphere or food to explore deep space or the Martian surface. They could also be the perfect soldier: feeling no pain, having no fear of permanent death, and custom-built for war. The 2045 Initiative might see a future where everyone is highly evolved and introspective, but wherever there’s a new technology there is someone using it for selfish ends.

Limitless free energy source? Build a murder-suit, I have Gwyneth Paltrows to menace. Courtesy comicvine.com

Limitless free energy source? Build a murder-suit, I have Gwyneth Paltrows to menace.
Courtesy comicvine.com

Maximum life span would become basically infinite, which means a few things. More overpopulation issues, for starters, though the kinds of resources these guys are consuming will be different from everyone else’s. It also means that rich asshats will always be rich asshats. No dying and passing the torch to a younger, more innovative generation. The same stuffy CEOs we have now would be the same one’s we’d have until they were assassinated. At least assassinating them would be easy, maybe a good strong magnet, a Trojan, electrical surge.

Speaking of assholes living forever, you know who would really want Stage C Avatar bodies? Tyrannical dictators. Imagine the Ayatollah, Robert Mugabe, or the internet’s favorite ex-assassin Vladimir Putin with eternal life and an array of armor-plated bodies. Ever wonder how normal people feel in Warhammer 40k, or super-hero comics, all frail and scared while gods walk among them? We might find out, first hand, if things progress this far. Of course, if we figure out how to move human minds to a computer, essentially making the individual a computer program, could we figure out how to code new people into (cyberspace) existence?

I'll have one generation of these, please. Courtesy halo.wikia.com

I’ll have one entire generation of these, please.
Courtesy halo.wikia.com

Stage D avatars currently seem a little far-fetched, but people have said the same thing about space travel in our recent past, so I’ll humour them here. Nano-bot or holographic interaction with the real world eliminates most physical needs to a ridiculous scale (even to the point of removing the need to manufacture robotic bodies in large numbers), but it raises some important philosophical questions. Why would we ever want to interact with the real world if we could exist in custom-built cyber worlds, without any material desires? Sure, somebody would have to because the systems holding the Avatars would need maintenance, but the Stage D’s themselves wouldn’t really have a reason to. Amass wealth? Why, your only physical need is maintenance. Collect power? Why, when you can be a god within an artificial realm. Stage D avatars would likely be so disconnected from the rest of humanity, because of the nature of their needs, as to almost be non-players in society. Like Tibetan monks. Cyberpunk Monks. Cybermonks. Why isn’t that an archetype in Shadowrun?

Josh Snow is a fervent transhumanist who’s secretly terrified the future will be more boring peaceful Star Trek, less exciting dystopian Blade Runner. He’s also the liberal editor for TSFBPolitics and a serial re-tweeter @ArkangelWinter.

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