Complex Made Simple

Immortality is showing life as a concept but also in the lab

Humankind’s thirst for infinite existence has taken a new turn with ideas springing from theoretical assumptions that future tech can turn practical to real-life experiments, with mice that is

The human brain regularly performs complex processes with the help of its 86 billion neurons Building a human connectome is clearly a much more complicated process Another proposed method of getting information from the brain is through a brain-computer interface

Humankind’s thirst for infinite existence has taken a new turn with ideas springing from theoretical assumptions that future tech can turn practical to real-life experiments, with mice that is.

Transhumanism

A movement called transhumanism is now devoted to using science and technology to augment our bodies and our minds, and to allow humans to merge with machines, eradicating old age as a cause of death.  

Mind uploading describes a hypothetical process of separating a person’s consciousness (which involves their emotions, thought processes, and experiences), then converting it into a digital format, and finally transferring the digital consciousness into a different substrate, like a machine. 

The process would conceivably incorporate different steps, like mind copying, mind transfer, mind preservation, and whole brain emulation (WBE).

Overview of how mind uploading can actually work

 Step 1: Getting the information from the brain

The human brain regularly performs complex processes with the help of its 86 billion neurons that function simultaneously in a large neural network. There are more than 125 trillion synapses just in the cerebral cortex alone. That is a lot of information and storage capacity.  

Mind uploading advocates claim that noninvasive brain scans can provide sufficient resolution for copying the brain. The information stored in our brain would then be used to create a connectome, a complete map of the neural connections in the brain, created using incredibly precise scanning of the neurons and the synapses.

However, to date, we only have a complete connectome for a 1.5-millimeter roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans, which has just 302 neurons and about seven thousand synaptic connections. In 2014, the OpenWorm project which mapped the brain replicated it as software and installed it in a Lego robot that was capable of the same sensory and motor actions as the biological model.

Building a human connectome is clearly a much more complicated process needing huge amounts of time and resources for the identification of about 86 billion neurons, determination of their precise location, and tracing and cataloging of their projections on one another. This is inconceivable using existing technologies. 

Another proposed method of getting information from the brain is through a brain-computer interface (BCI). There are already existing implanted devices that can translate some types of neuronal information into commands and are capable of controlling external software or hardware, such as a robotic arm. However, modern BCIs are only very slightly related to the theoretical BCIs which would be needed to allow us to transfer our brain states into a digital medium.

Some suggest that downloading consciousness would require technology capable of scanning human brains at a quantum particle level. 

Elon Musk’s Neuralink is one company working on aspects of mind-uploading. They are designing a neural implant that would work “like a Fitbit in your skull.”  But it is not close to the technology needed to upload an entire brain.

Meeting the challenges of step 1: Preserving the brain

Some wealthy individuals who wish to live forever are opting to preserve their brains and sometimes bodies through cryopreservation. In theory, in the future when human connectome technology is fully developed, their consciousness could then be retrieved and uploaded. An American cryonics company Alcor Life Extension Foundation already stores around 180 cryopreserved human bodies. 

However, some experts also claim that such cryonic techniques may damage the brain beyond repair.

Recently, an MIT graduate Robert McIntyre, rekindled the brain preservation hype when he announced his Y-Combinator backed startup Nectome is building some next-generation tools to preserve brains in the microscopic detail needed to map the connectome. 

Step 2: Reconstruction of the artificial brain

Once all the neural activity is mapped out and the connectome is ready, the next step would be to digitize it. According to a rough estimate published in Scientific American, the memory storage capacity of the human brain could be around 2.5 Petabytes (2,500 TB). 

Apart from the storage, we will require a computer architecture on which the brain can be reconstructed in the form of computable code. And there is the issue of power for that architecture. Today, a computer with the same memory and processing power as the human brain would require around 1 gigawatt of power, or “basically a whole nuclear power station to run one computer that does what our ‘computer’ does with 20 watts,” according to Tom Bartol, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute.  

Step 3: Emulation in an external substrate

Once all the requirements are fulfilled and the artificial brain is ready, the “mind” can now be uploaded into a simulation, such as a virtual world, like the metaverse. Another transhumanist idea suggests that the mind can also be uploaded on a humanoid robot. Uploading into a physical robot would require robots that are a lot more functional than any that currently exist. 

However, if the consciousness is uploaded as a substrate-independent mind (SIM), and if the SIM is deemed to be conscious, then it will also need to exist in a place and be able to interact with things. This will require virtual reality that is identical to how humans experience actual reality. All of this will require yet more storage capacity, signal bandwidth, and power. 

Senescent cells

Now researchers in Japan say they may have taken a step toward boosting human longevity with successful trials of a vaccine against the cells that contribute to the ageing process.

In laboratory trials, a drug targeting a protein contained in senescent cells – those which have naturally stopped reproducing themselves – slowed the progression of frailty in older mice.

The vaccine also successfully targeted the senescent cells in fatty tissue and blood vessels.

“We can expect that (the vaccine) will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other aging-related diseases,” Juntendo professor Toru Minamino told Japan’s Jiji news agency.

Cells become senescent when they stop duplicating themselves, often in response to naturally-occurring damage to their DNA.  

In laboratory tests, preventing the build-up of senescent cells extended the lifespan of mice by 15%, Euronews reported. But researchers still don’t know how much a living creature’s lifespan can be extended.

Some believe there is a limit for the human lifespan of around 130 years as a current estimate.