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Immortals, Posthumans – Require Regular Maintenance.
Kamil Muzyka   Nov 12, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Many transhumanist factions point out a need to gain some form of longevity or even immortality. The most common forms are mind upload, life extending drugs and treatments, body part replacement with prosthetics or “spare parts” and lastly, cryonics.

For the matter of this article I will skip cryonics, though it surely is a sufficient method of life preservation and probably would help many people survive a long space journey, but there are limits to how many times one can be frozen and unfrozen. After some time it reaches a point where further unfreezing could have fatal outcomes.

The mind upload, sometimes referred to as mind transfer or whole brain emulation, is perhaps the most discussed one, as it promises the creation of a human based posthuman entity. Unlike the artificial intelligence, which would be “human-made”1 as an intellectual homunculus, the uploadee would be either a new form of a human being or a new kind of entity, a post human being. It all depends on the way we would recognize its rights and legal status2. Those can be either treating the uploadee simply as a data recording, an intelligent application with same rights as AIs would have3, or as a legal person, for lacking the corporeal body4, or a physical entity, either the same as the original one5, or as its twin6. The greatest legal concerns would come in the manners of “hidden catches” in the “transfer agreements”, producer's legal liabilities and responsibilities for storage devices’ failure or malfunction7, and the uploadees8 liabilities.

There are a couple of things that “The Human Brain Project” could explain to us. First of all, as the process is often referred to as the “whole” brain emulation, we should be able to trace the essential parts of the brain, containing the “mind” and leaving only those parts to be scanned, thus making the procedure quicker, and the data smaller9, for your uploaded personality or backup wouldn’t require junk data-connections clogging its’ storage10.

Another thing, to which most transhumanists would rub their hands, is the idea of expanding the uploaded brain. Being restricted by nature, mainly by the size of our skulls, our brain needs to fold it’s tissue, in order to “expand” it’s number of connections. If this is the case, would the uploaded brain, granted input and output connections with the “outside world”, and a several times larger free “hard drive space”, even a “living space” to expand into, obtain several new abilities, develop a separate personality11, or in the worst case, dissolve into a supercomputing hyper intelligent solipsistic or autistic program?

The final issue would be the question of “downloading” the brain. Neuroscience today is on the verge of human memory alteration, via optogenetics12. The other option would be a 3D model of the “post human entity” in the form of a brain, which could be grafted or 3D printed, and inserted into a previously assembled body, or a body lacking a head13, or even printing a human body, as a whole or as a “easy assembly kit”14.

This is the issue that most transhumanists tend to not to think about, or even ask “why?”, “what for?”. This is mainly because many of those people view the singularity as the “mission complete scenario”, the so called nirvana, heaven, where we ascend into post mortality state, of abundance and limitless opportunities. Most ideologies and movements have promised that and all of them have failed. Despite the ultratech focus of the trans and posthumantists of every sort, one must answer the question of, is it really the ultimate “victory” scenario, or just a game changer15? If it’s just a game changer, we may assume that some people would prefer the “reincarnation” via re-embodiment of their mind into the flesh more than walking around in a mechanical vehicle.

The issue of maintenance revolves around several matters. Firstly the storage, either a memory device or a temporal haven in the case of cloudloaded16, inserted in a mobile prosthetic body, should require regular diagnostic checks and replacements of worn out parts, for one wouldn’t be glad to suddenly lose his memory or suffer a serious data trauma17. Data protection also needs to be mentioned, and not in the question of can an infomporphic ent/uploadee copy itself, but the means of securing his data so that an unauthorized entity won’t copy his memories, which are likely to contain valuable data. The last important matter would be the backup copy. Besides the ent being a copy of an real person, living or deceased, one can decide to store a backup of himself in a safe place, in case something would happen to the “currently running” copy18.

Besides mind uploading, there is the issue of life extension via pharmaceutical drugs. We can distinguish two methods for this, either the regular consuming of preservation and anti aging drugs, or the more wishful, “the one pill to cure them all”. This however would work with chromosome engineering, but it would hardly be an one time pile, rather a complex procedure involving probably nanotechnology, nanobots changing the entire chromosomes. The other way would be a series of “drugs” taken in order to rejuvenate the body and extend it’s lifespan. this scenario is more probable, first in the manner of economy, and secondly in the manner of maintenance. A company holding a patent for the “immortality drug” would be the biggest case of “submarine patent” owners and one of the biggest patent trolls in the history of industrial property law. There are also scenarios when the procedure is totally outlawed, or kept secret by companies and authorities, like many patents by the issuing a patent secrecy order.

Another treatment option would be stem cell therapy, where using stem cells nurtured form foreign donors or vats, or by reprogramming somatic cells to become induced pluripotent stem cells19. As the first one seems to recall the old vampire myths20, is a currently developed method, but like the second one, it is foreshadowed by the “cell morphing” or “biohacking” like some refer to it. Basically his method involves forcing cells into going back to the stem cell form, and from there “pushing” them into taking the shape of a desired cell21. As in most cases, today this is mostly a creeping method, not in a full commercial use. One could wonder if this method would have to involve nanobots in order to function properly, as if in the case of repairing, picking out one cell at a time would be extremely time absorbing. The nanobots should be considered replenishable, because the “Von Neumann”22 type self replicating machines use the resources available in the surrounding environment as their rebuilding material, which can cause serious damage to the “hosts” body. Therefore it is desirable that the “host” would replenish his nanobot swarm via injections, using synergies or pumps23. The similar method is the “Whole-Body Induced Somatic Cell Turnover”, or WISCT24

If those nanobots are in some way connected or controlled by the brain via feedback, would that count as being a cyborg25? Using the old, classical definition it sure would be. Prosthetic and artificial body parts, along with “grown” or grafted organs, leaving the philosophers with the question of his identity26. The one of my favourite questions from my childhood was, “after how many implants/cyberware do you cease being human?”. As for modern day legal doctrines, there is no strict definition of a human being regarding the amount of injury sustained, alterations underwent and organs replaced with artificial or ones from donors. The “spare parts” scenario is probably the least probable scenario, tough it sounds like some old fashion science fiction27. Where in the case of injuries, one can easily imagine the regrowing of limbs and putting them in the place of the ones you’ve lost, attaching prosthetics, the remaining parts of the body will age as normal. In the end one would end up replacing every dying part with either a synthetic one, or a cultivated tissue, in both ways being a kind of a “patchwork” Frankenstein being. Would this be a cause off legal concerns? Current legal regulations tend rather to not define, what’s a human. A human, being a set of organs, still is human. A human with some of the organs removed or replaced by artificial ones is regarded as human. If the organs would’ve been kept alive, removed and placed back again, like pieces of a puzzle, it will certainly be regarded as a human being, the same one, despite losing its integrity. A person with another person's organs, despite how many, is the same person.

Here we stumble upon a philosophical and ethical dilemma28. Is the body just a replaceable package for the brain? If so, the person remains the same, whatever organs were replaced, besides the brain. Or maybe the genetic identity holds that person’s integrity. This depends on what do you transplant. A xenotransplant form a donor will have a different genetic code, while the “grown at will” or grafted organs will contain the same DNA. But in this case, how is it with the brain, for an example after a partial brain transplant29, which has been already done with mice30, as well as with human beings31. But the question of identity remains, as we still have to consider, how much of your brain can we exchange with foreign tissue, before you become a totally different person3233.

Let’s discuss the legal outcomes of posthumanity’s biological immortality. For instance, the “life sentence” in its present shape would be invalid. In the case of imprisoned individuals with the “one time chromosome alteration”, keeping them locked up forever would be a nonsense, even if they would commit a crime against humanity34. There would be no other way, but either to euthanize them, or “reprogram” their personalities, which in both cases can be seen as a violation of basic human rights. In the case of immortals requiring regular maintenance, either replenishing their nanobots, checking their storages or replacing their tissues with “new ones”, one can view the possibility of “cutting off” those procedures as very appealing. It might be viewed as a form of human rights infringement, but this is the only possible way, that an individual would really “feel” his punishment.

There are also questions of inheritance and retirements. As for the later, the biologically or synthetically immortal would never retire ( even voluntarily), in most cases they’d have to earn money in order to afford their upkeep and maintenance. The question of inheritance is far more easier in the case of uploadees than in the case of those biologically immortal. The uploaded copy, the running copy or the ent, as we may refer to it, would inherit all the personal rights and property titles, after the original’s death35. As the natural causes of death would be cast away, the only way an immortal would die is due to a sheer accident, or a violent crime ( murder).

However, the final issue remains. If by any mean, we would achieve any of the mentioned types of immortality, will it be available for everyone? In transhumanist dreams and philosophy, yes. But the reality would be much harsher. If not granting every one the right to live forever or have an extremely long lifespan, than who? The rich and wealthy are the first to have it anyway. Or we might choose, who’d be granted the right to carry on living, picking those chosen by some moral tests. Should we carry on the conquest of space, due to the lack of living space on our homeworld, or apply a drastic measure for population control, that might lead to genocide? Will the promise of eternal life, either among the living or as a “ghost in the machine” spark a global conflict, as it did in the past ages? Time will tell.

References

1 Many Sci-Fi scenarios predict the coming of a self-aware AI via the increase of computational power output or net traffic, reminiscing the Boltzmann brains. An alternative scenario would involve a program evolving its own personality and consciousness as an outcome of the processes going on in the so called “machine ecology” and artificial biology.

2 It most often falls into the legal recognition of an entity.

3 By that I mean only the rights of copyright, license and ownership, but no human right what so ever.

4 Unless we treat their “personal storage devices” as a form of a prosthetic body.

5 In the case that involves the uploadees organic brain to sustain irreparable damage during the procedure.

6 In the case where both of them are simultaneously active

7 Everyone who had ever suffer a file corruption due to a flawed memory stick can surely imagine, what it would be like to have such a disaster occurring in the case of uploadees.

8 Which I would refer to as “Ents”, being the short for entity.

9 This hypothesis has a flaw, which is that there is a large probability that our mind is more likely a multiswarm intelligence (referring to the neurons and glea cells as two cooperative swarms), therefore zone/sector scanning would leave us with a neuroconstruct, but in many ways impaired.

10 Simulated avatars, robotic prosthetic bodies or the “cases”( storage devices) wouldn’t require the brainstem to work as well the “unused connections”.

11 Like in the cases of people with multiple personality disorder.

12 http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/jul/25/false-memory-implanted-mouse-brain

13 http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org/history , though I don’t know if it wasn’t just a sideshow trick, but this would be more reasonable http://qz.com/99413/first-ever-human-head-transplant-is-now-possible-says-neuroscientist/

15 Like in Vernor Vinge’s “A fire upon the deep”, where the “Powers” in the Transcendence resemble more Lovecraftian “Cthuluesque” deities than a “higher consciousness” beings of the postsingularity hypothesis/

16 Uploaded into a cloud, therefore gaining access to remote vehicles/prosthetic bodies/avatars.

17 Regarding this as a serious damage to the uploadee’s data construct, disabling his core or side cognitive or communicative functions.

18 Hackers and viruses would pose a major threat to ents.

20 Creatures feasting on the stem cells of “mortals”.

23 In the same manner as insulin pumps https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/vod/vsum0001.htm

25 Tough some transhumanists argue that the term “cyborg” has the same negative connotations as the word “negro” and therefore those people should be referred to as “augments” ( people with augmentations).

26 The ship of Theseus

27 William Tenn’s “ Down Among the Dead Men” and Marry Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus” could be a good example

28 Anna Beczko – Podmiotowość prawna Człowieka w dobie postępu biotechmedycznego (Human being as a legal entity in the times of biotechmedical progress – polish edition) p. 351. Temida 2 Publishing, Białystok 2011.

32 http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=4104 as quoted by Peter Watts PhD in the example of a patient, who had one of his hemispheres turned down.

33 One of the most notable science fiction novel containing transhumanist themes and tropes, V. Vinge’s “A fire upon the deep” mentions a species called the Tines, where the pack of several members formed a distinct personality, and when losing/replacing members, the pack’s personality began to change.

35 If we would use the mechanism treating the ent as a “twin” or a clone, but with the same personality. 

Kamil Muzyka is a lawyer specializing in industrial property law and technology management, with a focus on issues of artificial intelligence, asteroid mining and international space law.



COMMENTS

As always, Kamil, thinking way beyond the box.


Thanks for that.

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