“The year is 2032. You have just celebrated your 80th birthday and you have some tough decisions ahead. You can keep repairing your current body or move into a new one. The growing of ‘blank’ bodies has become one of the fastest advancing health industries in the world, and by using your own genetic material, body farmers can recreate your biological condition at age 20.” The above scenario was taken from “When Death Becomes Optional,” written by Google’s top-rated Futurist, Thomas Frey in a recent K21st article.
Historians place the start of culture when humans replaced hunter-gathering with farming about 10,000 years ago. When this trip began, life was brutal, medicine almost non-existent; average life expectancy hovered around puberty, living just long enough to reproduce, which allowed our species to continue.
However, we've progressed rapidly through the millenniums. Average life expectancy now pushes 80 in developed countries and according to UN census data, octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians are among the fastest-growing age groups. Today, scientists are poised to eliminate most diseases; and a few bold thinkers believe we will even have an opportunity one day of conquering death itself.
Author Ray Kurzweil in The Singularity is Near says; between 2035 and 2050, we will merge skills, knowledge, and personalities with artificial intelligence. This will produce a superior human with self-repairing non-biological parts built into a body that thinks and reasons far better than today's humans.
Therefore, within two generations, we will begin merging with our machines. This means that biological humans will have only lasted about 400 generations from the beginning of culture to the present, an alarmingly short span for Earth life.
However, experts say replacing biology with non-biological parts should not imply humanity's extinction. Today, people wear eye-glasses, sport false teeth; cochlear implants, titanium hips; even thought-controlled prosthetics (Parkinson's patients), but we still consider ourselves human. In fact, if we swapped every cell in our bodies for "artificial" materials, while maintaining memories and consciousness, most experts say that our feelings of 'being human' would still dominate.
During the 2030s, computers are predicted to surpass human intelligence, an event that some believe could result in the development of wireless interfaces that connect human brains with machines, enabling direct access of information from machine to brain; and also, allowing the transfer of consciousness and memories from a damaged body into a healthy android body. Death interrupted; life continues indefinitely.
But before we can begin uploading human minds into machines or android bodies, science must first unravel the mysteries of human consciousness. How does an "I" arise from a clump of biological neurons? Could the answer be found in how our 100 billion neurons connect with each other?
The National Institutes of Health hopes to foster research that will one day solve this eternal puzzle with the Human Connectome Project, a $30-million research effort to promote major leaps in understanding brain functions. Researchers want to determine how brain activities translate into mental function.
After the Singularity, a time predicted around 2045; super intelligent machines are expected to help us solve many of our problems, such as curing disease and lowering the gap between haves and have nots.
Other areas of progress expected from technology advances include a better insight to the mind, which could lead to eliminating much of the evil found in criminals, sociopaths, and others that would harm society; and ending wars and conflicts caused by religious ideologies and competition for resources.
As we move through the last half of the 21st century, each decade we will shed more of our biology, enabling people to enjoy the security of life in a strong 'super-body' that automatically repairs itself when damaged. Transitioning to this mostly non-biological body will signal the end of unwanted human deaths.
Today, we are fragile; tied to a single planet and solar system, over which we exert little control. Many experts believe we should develop interstellar travel, which would increase our survival odds should we encounter hostile aliens in our space ventures. Can this positive future happen? Stay tuned!
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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