When we become immortal, are we still “human” in the truest sense of the word?
We have all been there – the moment when you realize someone you love is gone forever, and one day, you will be, too. Whether you like it or not, death is inevitable. But we all know, or would like to believe, that there is a way around this: achieving immortality. We have seen it in some movies or TV shows; for example, in Doctor Who, the Doctor can live forever by, essentially, “regenerating” himself.
We usually just chuckle a bit after reading or viewing such fantasies, wishing we had that superpower too. Well, what if I told you that you could actually be immortal?
How are we going to live forever?
There are currently two popular theories of immortality—biological immortality and digital immortality. Both terms are pretty self-explanatory. For the former, we use various ways to reverse the aging process in our body; and for the latter, we project ourselves into the digital world to achieve immortality with methods, such as mind uploading (that is, uploading a copy of your consciousness or personality to the digital world where we do not have to worry about aging anymore). While both concepts seem to only exist in sci-fi movies, we are probably closer to them than you might think.
Going back in time?
While living longer might sound like a good deal, we often forget about the quality of life of our final years. If you could live to be 200 years old, but the last 100 years are just you in a decrepit state—would you accept the offer? Indeed, just simply extending your lifespan may not be favorable. But do not worry; reverse aging may be the way out. The concept of reverse aging is that it reverses our biological clock or keeps us at our mature age, during which our cells are still healthy and thus achieving immortality. But how are we going to make that work?
Scientists from Silicon Valley have been working hard to find the components for a magic serum. Currently, the focus is on our DNA. There is a substance called telomeres in our DNA, which are designed to protect our DNA during cell division. Every time our cell divides, the telomeres become shorter. Eventually, the telomeres get so short that our cells will stop regenerating from that point. This is when we get old. Back to our focus, the scientists from Silicon Valley are trying to keep the telomeres at the size around our maturity age so that our cells can keep regenerating forever. This is reverse aging. Some other scientists, such as Harvard professor George Church, claim to have successfully modified mice’s DNA, making them live longer. However, whether their solution will work for humans is yet to be determined.
Recent research indicates that scientists may be close to achieving reverse aging. It claims that the cells they experimented on could turn the clock back for 30 years without losing their function. Safe to say, reverse aging is closer than you think.
Going the digital route?
Digital immortality entails uploading a copy of yourself, whether you want to call it your personality or consciousness, onto the digital world. And since you do not have to worry about a deteriorating physical body, you are immortal.
In recent years, there have been signs that human brains can actually work with machines. Neuralink is one example. It is an application that makes use of the electrical signals that travel in your brain to control electronic devices, like computers or mobile devices. Why is this special? Because our thoughts are basically electrical signals. This means that our brain, to a certain extent, can dictate our digital world. If so, does that mean we can simulate our entire brain activity on a computer?
Leaders around the world have been trying to make this happen. For example, the European Union (EU) started the Human Brain Project in 2013. The project brings together technology and the most brilliant minds, aiming to advance humanity’s knowledge of the brain. And of course, one of its focus areas is brain simulation. If we can simulate 100% human brain activity on a computer, that would be proof that the human mind can function fully in a digital environment, which is one of the current limitations, and we are another step closer to making mind-uploading work.
Science has been proving that mind uploading is probably possible since we still have not found a law of physics that bans this idea. Furthermore, as computing power gets more potent in recent years, more people are proposing the theory that we may already be living in a digital world, suggesting that the entire conscious thing could be just a few lines of code. It may not be far before we invent mind uploading.
We are almost there
We may already be one foot away from immortality—digital or biological. It is mind-blowing when you really think about it, but weren’t all inventions once deemed impractical?
Once upon a time, we struggled to fly in the sky a few kilometers above Earth, but now we are already planning to travel to the red planet 54,600,000 km above the ground called Mars. Think about just how far we have come. The future always manages to surprise us.
That said, there are always “loopholes” in these ways of immortality. For example, for reverse aging, you can still die from unnatural causes, such as a car crash. And for digital immortality, what if your digital version is not actually “you”? You may have seen this scene from the animation Invincible where there are two copies of consciousness after Robot’s mind was transferred. Indeed, mind uploading could be a “copy and paste” instead of a “move and delete”. If it is “copy and paste”, then there may be two versions of “you” after uploading your mind: one in the original world and one in the digital world. What to do with the original you, then? Even if you wake up in the digital world and realize there is only one “you”, how would you know the operators did not simply erase the “original you” in the real world? Does that count as murder?
Besides, what would you do if you could live forever? In a finite world, there are only a finite amount of things to do. There will come a day when you will get bored with everything. What would you do then?
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