With the lengthening human life expectancy and accelerating pace of technological and scientific advancement, some have proclaimed that immortality is an achievable dream within our lifetime.
With the lengthening human life expectancy and accelerating pace of technological and scientific advancement, some have proclaimed that immortality is an achievable dream within our lifetime. Several possibilities of life extension have been floated including extending the limits of the human body through genetic modification or drugs, transferring consciousness to a computer (mind uploading), and suspended animation.
Using technology and drugs to extend life is nothing new. Modern medicine does this everyday through basic treatments. This process has increased in the last century with the advent of artificial devices such as pacemakers and artificial hearts as well as drugs that slow or reverse certain ailments. The difference, though, is that these efforts are focused on allowing man to maximize its existing lifespan. Even recent breakthroughs or those just beyond the horizon such as artificial blood and 3d printed organs are intended to help those suffering from illness or injury.
New breakthroughs hold not only the promise to increase life expectancy but to push the lifespan beyond current boundaries and lengthen the longevity of the conscious mind.
One such innovation is artificial implants. Those with ailments like Alzheimer’s and loss of limb function are soon to be the recipients of technology that allows humans to rely on embedded microchips in the brain. The chips can make it easier to remember things or help with math calculations. One such chip attempts to convert short term memories into long terms memories. A current study is being done in the US on nine epileptic patients in the hopes that this will soon be used on a larger group of people.
There is also promise shown in drugs that can help people regain lost memories. One such drug is an existing cancer drug that was effective at restoring memories in mice. Taken together, both implants and drugs promise to restore lost memories and cognitive function, but it has also gotten many people thinking about using such treatments in healthy patience. Some evidence has shown a normal decline in the speed of retrieving memory and making calculations as we age. Such advancements could one day be used to restore that lost function and extend the length of our functioning mind.
Another drug holds the promise of slowing down the aging process. A 3.5 Million year old bacteria discovered by a Russian scientist has been shown to extend fertility and cause certain animals to behave like their younger counterparts. Other research that introduces a specific compound targeting metabolism demonstrated the ability to extend the lifespan of worms by 50%.
The increased processing speed of computers has also raised speculation that an artificially built system sophisticated enough might one day be able to allow human consciousness to be uploaded and stored. Some speculate that it will soon be possible to not only replicate but transfer the human mind to a computer. The idea goes that consciousness is a component that emerges from complexity beyond the sum of its parts. If artificial intelligence and consciousness are possible, so too might be the ability to transfer the existing mind into an artificial one, allowing one to live forever in an artificial body.
There is one final, and perhaps most exciting, development in life extension. What was once known as cryogenics has been improved to the point where medical experts are able to lower the temperature of organs, tissues, and entire organisms to slow down the chemical processes close to zero without freezing. Scientists have reanimated live organisms such as fish, but they also do it routinely on transplanted by using chemicals that prevent the formation of ice crystals thus preventing the rupture of cells at low temperatures.
There are now organizations that use this process, known as bio vitrification, to put people immediately following death into a state of suspended animation in the hopes of one day reanimating them and curing whatever it was that killed them. One procedure uses the process on the entire body, while another option suspends only the brain. The second option will require an advancement of technology that will allow either for a cloned body replica to implant the brain or perhaps an artificial body.
At one time, this procedure was only available in the United States, but now there is a nonprofit organization that facilitates the storage and transport of people within the UK to various organizations that use the same process.
While immortality has yet to be achieved, the possibility is no longer as crazy as it sounds. Science and technology have already extended the life of billions of people. While the political and ethical implications are still being discussed, the simple fact is new breakthroughs now hold the process to both lengthen the life of mankind as well as extend meaningful consciousness for an indefinite period of time.