New Technologies Fueling Man's Attempt To Live Forever
By Tom OlagoMay 09, 2016
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Man's quest to live forever and escape or defy death has persisted since time immemorial. Today, there are still groups and individuals who are constantly seeking ways to attain immortality. Little wonder, given that the morbid prospect of death is so depressing and limiting for those who believe it all ends here on earth.
Dave Schilling, in a recent report for theguardian.com, examined the concept of 'virtual immortality' that is part of the drive to find ways to overcome death. As Schilling points out, "Become virtually immortal" is one of the slogans found on the hauntingly cheerful website for Eternime.
It's a start-up firm aiming to let you store your memories and your personality in digital form past your physical expiration date (also known as death). They hope to feed the data into chatbots that will allow us to "speak to the dead".
Schilling quipped: "The website goes on to describe the service as "a library that has people instead of books", which truly does add new meaning to the phrase "I'm checking you out", doesn't it? Crack open your MacBook, and hey, there's your old pal Odd George from the bar around the corner. He's been saved in exacting digital detail for you to enjoy, while his actual body gets chewed up by insects".
According to Schilling, Eternime drums up excitement through a far more personal issue. It's not about the death of the whole planet, it's about the death of one person you love...Eternime is trifling with someone's most intimate emotions. Their website claims more than 31,000 people have signed up to have their identity uploaded into the cloud.
So how long will it be before mankind can finally overcome death through cryonics or whatever other scheme may be conjured up by science? Google's chief futurist Ray Kurzweil thinks we could start living forever by 2029, according to a recent businessinsider.com article by Brant Ranj.
Kurzweil is one of the biggest believers in The Singularity, the moment when humans -- with the aid of technology --will supposedly live forever. He's chosen the year 2045 because, according to his calculations, "The non-biological intelligence created in that year will reach a level that's a billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today."
But even before 2045, Kurzweil thinks we could begin the deathless process."I believe we will reach a point around 2029 when medical technologies will add one additional year every year to your life expectancy...By that, I don't mean life expectancy based on your birth date, but rather your remaining life expectancy."
He further predicts that nanomachines capable of taking over for our immune system (to fix problems like cancerous cells and clogged arteries) and connecting our brains to the cloud will be available by then. He likens that change as the next step in our evolution, the same way our ancestors developed to use the frontal cortex 2 million years ago, as some would believe.
Kurzweil pointed to two advancements that have already happened to support his futuristic claims. The first is the rate of technological advancement: His current Android phone is several orders of magnitude smaller, more powerful, and less expensive than the $11 million computer he used at MIT in the mid-1960s. Technology will only continue to get smaller, more powerful, and less expensive over time.
The second is work being done at Joslin Diabetes Center in Connecticut, which has used biotechnology to turn off the fat insulin receptor gene in animals, allowing them to eat large quantities of food without developing diabetes or gaining weight. By hacking the human body, we can ditch millennia-old genes that serve no purpose and increase our lifespan significantly.
As Ranj aptly concludes, it's yet to be seen if his plans will pan out, but Kurweil considers dying before 'the singularity' to be a failure on his part, so he's adopted a strict diet with the hope of making it to 2045 and living forever.
Still, it looks like only the rich and famous will be the ones to benefit from the intention to conjure up eternal life in laboratories - or at the very least they would be at the front of the global queues. As Zack Guzman recently reported for CNBC.com, the cost of immortality could easily be in the region of $200,000 and counting.
Some of our dead have already paid up for the privilege. As Guzman notes, in the desert climate of Scottsdale, Arizona, rest 147 brains and bodies, all frozen in liquid nitrogen with the goal of being revived one day.
It's not science fiction - to some it might not even be science - yet thousands of people around the world have put their trust, lives and fortunes into the promise of cryonics, the practice of preserving a body with antifreeze shortly after death in hopes future medicine might be able to bring back the deceased.
"If you think back half a century or so, if somebody stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating we would've checked them and said they're dead," said Max More, CEO of the Scottsdale-based Alcor. "Our view is that when we call someone dead it's a bit of an arbitrary line. In fact, they are in need of a rescue."
That "rescue" begins the moment a doctor declares a patient dead. Alcor's team then prepares an ice bath and begins administering 16 medications and variations of antifreeze until the patient's temperature drops to near freezing.
Next, a contracted surgeon removes a patient's head if the member selected Alcor's "Neuro" option, as it's euphemistically called, in hopes that a new body can be grown with a member's DNA once it comes time to be thawed out. It's also the much cheaper route. At a price tag of $80,000, it's less than half the cost of preserving your whole body. "That requires a minimum of $200,000, which isn't as much as it sounds, because most people pay with life insurance," More said.
Zackman points out that such a business model is pretty consistent in the nonprofit cryonics community and costs could be as low as $28,000 for whole-body preservation. The price discrepancies are closely tied up with how the financing structures and other related elements are set up.
Elaine Walker, 47, is a single mother and part-time college instructor at Scottsdale Community College who signed up to have her head frozen at Alcor nine years ago, after discovering cryonics in an online newsgroup back in the pre-Google days of the 1990s.
She still worries about saving for the eternal future but she's less concerned about what it might look like. "I actually spend zero time worrying about that," Walker said. "It's not that I want to be alive again so I can live out some lifetime or do something I didn't get a chance to do. It's really just because I want to see what happens...I want to see the future, so this is what I'm excited about," she said. The cost is very small considering I have that hope."
In the eyes of the law, Alcor is under no commitment to deliver life after death. In fact, after legal death has been declared the government views Alcor's 147 "patients" as nothing more than bodies and organs donated to science under the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which means even though Alcor signs a contract with its members saying it will deliver its cryonics services, it is under 'loose obligation' to do so.
The immortality concept has its critics, even amongst professional peers. As Michio Kaku, futurist and professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York said: "When people ask me a scientific question I have to give them results that are testable, that are reproducible and falsifiable.
Unfortunately, cryonics offers none of the above." Whereas advocates of cryonics point to successful in-vitro fertilization of frozen embryos and experiments with simpler animals, Kaku points to the lacking human evidence.
Others note the inherent complexity and lack of current scientific understanding of the human brain. Pointing to the existence of over 100 billion neurons and the minute fraction so far mapped by science, Columbia neuroscientist Dr. Ken Miller likened cryonics to "selling tickets to a ride you can't go on."
But in the eyes of More, Alcor isn't selling hope. It's a chance...For members like Walker and others, that's enough to pay for.
Other life- resurrecting strategies are emerging too. Sarah Knapton, science editor for the telegraph.co.uk reports that a groundbreaking trial to see if it is possible to regenerate the brains of dead people has won approval from health watchdogs.
A biotech company in the US has been granted ethical permission to recruit 20 patients who have been declared clinically dead from a traumatic brain injury, to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life.
Scientists will use a combination of therapies, which include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques which have been shown to bring patients out of comas.
The trial participants will have been certified dead and only kept alive through life support. They will be monitored for several months using brain imaging equipment to look for signs of regeneration, particularly in the upper spinal cord - the lowest region of the brain stem which controls independent breathing and heartbeat.
The team believes that the brain stem cells may be able to erase their history and re-start life again, based on their surrounding tissue - a process seen in the animal kingdom in creatures like salamanders who can re-grow entire limbs.
Dr. Ira Pastor, the CEO of Bioquark Inc. said: "This represents the first trial of its kind and another step towards the eventual reversal of death in our lifetime...We hope to see results within the first two to three months."
Dr. Pastor added: "It is a long - term vision of ours that a full recovery in such patients is a possibility, although that is not the focus of this first study - but it is a bridge to that eventuality."
"Through our study, we will gain unique insights into the state of human brain death, which will have important connections to future therapeutic development for other severe disorders of consciousness, such as coma, and the vegetative and minimally conscious states, as well as a range of degenerative CNS conditions, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease," added Dr Sergei Paylian, Founder, President, and Chief Science Officer of Bioquark Inc.
Other experts are not so optimistic, though. Commenting on the trial, Dr. Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist at the Cardiff University's Centre for Medical Education said: "While there have been numerous demonstrations in recent years that the human brain and nervous system may not be as fixed and irreparable as is typically assumed, the idea that brain death could be easily reversed seems very far-fetched, given our current abilities and understanding of neuroscience. "Saving individual parts might be helpful but it's a long way from resurrecting a whole working brain, in a functional, undamaged state."
Ironically, all man's efforts and experiments to achieve immortality reflect an ignorance as to the cause of death in the first place. All the emphasis is on the body without regard to the soul.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6.23) Eternal life has already been secured through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is a 'fait accompli'.
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 15.55-57)