‘ Your animal life is over. Machine life has begun .’ The superhighway to immortality

In California, progressive scientists and billionaire patrons consider information and communication technologies to widen life by uploading sentiments to prevail separately from the body is only a few years away

Heres what happens. You are lying on an operating table, fully self-conscious, but rendered otherwise insensible, otherwise incapable of action. A humanoid machine shows at your back, bowing to its task with ceremonial formality. With a brisk sequence of flows, the machine removes a large board of bone from the backside of your cranium, before carefully laying its digits, fine and sensitive as a spiders legs, on the viscid surface of your psyche. You may be suffering some hesitations about the necessary procedures at this place. Set them aside, if you can.

Youre in pretty deep with this thing; theres no backing out now. With their high-resolution microscopic receptors, the machine fingers search the compound arrangement of your mentality, moving the data to a powerful computer on the other side of the operating table. They are dropping further into your cerebral is something else, these thumbs, searching deeper and deeper strata of neurons, improving a three-dimensional delineate of their endlessly complex interrelations, all the while composing system to model this activity in personal computers hardware. As thework follows, another mechanical appendage less fragile, little meticulous removes the scanned material to a biological litter container for later dumping. This is material you will no longer be needing.

At some point, you become aware that you are no longer present in your form. You observe with sadness, or fright, or detached interest the lessening convulsion of that organization on the operating table, the last ineffective agitations of a finished meat.

The animal life is over now. The machine life has begun.

This, more or less, is the scenario outlined by Hans Moravec, a prof of cognitive robotics at Carnegie Mellon, in his 1988 volume Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence . It is Moravecs conviction that the future of the human species will involve a mass-scale desertion of our biological torsoes, aftermath by procedures of this kind. Its a belief shared by many transhumanists, a crusade whose aim is to improve our bodies and thoughts to the quality where we become something other and more efficient than the swine we are. Ray Kurzweil, for one, is a foremost counsel of the relevant recommendations of mind-uploading. An emulation of the human rights intelligence guiding on an electronic arrangement, he writes in The Singularity Is Near , would move much faster than our biological brains. Although human psyches is beneficial for massive parallelism( on the order of 100 trillion interneuronal contacts, all potentially operating simultaneously ), the rest time of the link is extremely slow compared to contemporary electronics. The technologies required for such an emulation sufficiently potent and capacious computers and sufficiently advanced brainscanning proficiencies will be available, he announces, by the early 2030 s.

And this, obviously, is no tiny assert. We are talking about not only radically increased life spans, but also radically expanded cognitive abilities. We are talking about endless transcripts and iterations of the ego. Having undergone a procedure like this, you would exist to the extent you are able meaningfully be said to exist at all as an entity of unbounded possibilities.

I was introduced to Randal Koene at a Bay Area transhumanist conference. He wasnt speaking at the conference, but had come along out of personal interest. A cheerfully reserved soul in his early 40 s, he spoke in the punctilious staccato of a non-native English orator who had long mastered the language. As we parted, he sided me his business card and often afterward that evening Iremoved it from my wallet and had a proper look at it. The poster was illustrated with a picture of a laptop, on whose screen was displayed a stylised image of a psyche. Underneath was etched what appeared to me an attractively strange message: Carboncopies: Realistic Streets to Substrate Independent Minds. Randal A Koene, founder.

I took out my laptop and was just going the website of Carboncopies, which I learned was a nonprofit organisation with a goal of advancing the reverse engineering of neural material and terminated psyches, Whole Brain Emulation and developed at neuroprostheses that simulate functional responsibilities judgment, establishing which is something we bawl Substrate Independent Minds. This latter term, I read, was the objective to be able to sustain person-specific functions of memory and know-how in many different operational substrates besides the biological psyche. And this, I further learned, was a process analogous to that by which programme independent code can be compiled and run on many different estimating platforms.

It seemed that I had convened, without realising it, a person who was actively working toward the kind of brain-uploading scenario that Kurzweil had outlined in The Singularity Is Near . And this was a person I needed to get to know.

Randal Koene: It wasnt like I was treading into laboratories, telling people I wanted to upload human brains to computers.

Koene was an affable and accurately forceful man and his communication was singularly hiring for someone so forbiddingly intelligent and who worked in so rarefied a domain as computational neuroscience; so, in his fellowship, I often found myself momentarily forgetting about the nearly impossible the impact of the undertaking he was doing, the profound metaphysical weirdness of the things he was excusing to me. Hed speaking about some tangential topic his happily friendly affair with his ex-wife, suppose, or the culture different in European and American scientific communities and Id remember with a slow, uncanny suffusion of discontent that his employment, were it to yield the kind of results he is aiming for, would amount to the most significant happen since the process of developing Homo sapiens . The odds seemed quite long from where I was standing, but then again, I reminded myself, its own history of discipline was in many ways an almanac of highly unlikely victories.

One evening in early spring, Koene drove down to San Francisco from the North Bay, where he lived and wielded in a rented ranch mansion surrounded by rabbits, to encounter me for dinner in a small Argentinian restaurant on Columbus Avenue. The swooning tracing of an accent shown itself to be Dutch. Koene was born in Groningen and had expended the majority of members of his early childhood in Haarlem. His father was a particle physicist and there were frequent moves, including a two-year stint in Winnipeg, as he followed his occupation from one experimental nuclear installations to the next.

Now a boyish 43, he had lived in California merely for the past 5 year, but had come to think of it as residence, or the closest event to residence hed encountered during the course of a nomadic life. And often of this had to do with different cultures of techno-progressivism that had spread outward from its concentrated parentages in Silicon Valley and come to encompass the entire Bay Area, with its historically high turnover of progressive opinions. It had been a while now, he mentioned, since hed described his work to someone, merely for them to react as though he were making a underrated prank or simply to tread off mid-conversation.

In his early teens, Koene began to conceive of the major question with the human rights mentality in computational words: “its just not”, like personal computers, understandable and rewritable. You couldnt get in there and deepen it, make it moved more efficiently, like you could with directions of system. You couldnt exactly speed up a neuron like you could with personal computers processor.

Around this time, he spoke Arthur C Clarkes The City and the Stars , a romance mounted a billion years from now, in which the enclosed municipality of Diaspar is ruled by a superintelligent Central Computer, which creates torsoes for the citys posthuman both citizens and accumulations their thinkers in its recall banks at the end of their lives, for the application of reincarnation. Koene insured good-for-nothing in this idea of reducing human beings to data that seemed to him implausible and felt good-for-nothing in himself that prevented from working to draw it about. His mothers fostered him in this singular sake and the scientific expectation of perpetuating human heads in hardware became a regular topic of dinnertime conversation.

Computational neuroscience, which reaped its practitioners not from biology but from the fields of maths and physics, seemed to offer the most promising approaching to the problem of mapping and uploading the intellect. It wasnt until he embarked exploiting the internet in the mid-1 990 s, though, that he detected a loose parish of people with an interest in the same area.

As a PhD student in computational neuroscience at Montreals McGill University, Koene was initially cautious about uncovering the underlying reason for his investigates, for fear of being taken for a fantasist or an eccentric.

I didnt hide it, as such, he replied, but it wasnt like I was treading into labs, telling beings I wanted to upload human thoughts to computers either. Id work with parties on some related locality, like the encoding of recall, with the aim of reaching figuring out how that were likely to fit into an overall road map for whole mentality emulation.

Having worked for a while at Halcyon Molecular, a Silicon Valley gene-sequencing and nanotechnology startup funded by Peter Thiel, he decided to stay in the Bay Area and start his own nonprofit corporation is targeted at advancing the cause to which hed long been dedicated: carboncopies

Koenes decision was in the exceedingly ground he embarked prosecuting that are active in the first place: an anxious awareness of the small and lessening store of days that remained to him. If hed disappeared the university roadway, hed have had to devote most of his time, at the least until fastening term, to projects that were at best tangentially relevant to his central initiative. The path he had chosen was a difficult one for research scientists and he lived and wreaked from one small infusion of private funding to the next.

But Silicon Valleys culture of radical techno-optimism had been its own preserving force for him, and a source of financial backing for a project that took its home within the wildly aspirational ethic of that cultural situation. There were people there or thereabouts, wealthy and influential, for whom a future in which human minds might be uploaded onto computers was one to be actively endeavoured, a problem to be solved, disruptively innovated, by the implementation of money.

Brainchild of the movies: in Transcendence( 2014 ), scientist Will Caster, give full play to Johnny Depp, uploads his imagination to a computer program with hazardous outcomes.

One such person was Dmitry Itskov, a 36 -year-old Russian tech multimillionaire and founder of the 2045 Initiative, an organisationwhose territory propose was to create technologies permitting the transfer of private individuals temperament to a economically more advanced nonbiological carrier, and spreading life, including to the place of immortality. One of Itskovs projections was the creation of avatars artificial humanoid figures that would be controlled through brain-computer interface, technologies that would be complementary with uploaded judgments. He had money Koenes work with Carboncopies and in 2013 they organised a conference in New York called Global Futures 2045, proposed, according to its promotional blurb, at debates of a new evolutionary programme for humanity.

When we spoke, Koene was working with another tech entrepreneur mentioned Bryan Johnson, who had sold his automated payment company to PayPal a couple of years back for $800 m and who now limited a risk capital relate “ve called the” OS Fund, which, I learned from its website, invests in entrepreneurs working towards quantum leap breakthroughs that promise to rewrite the operating systems of life. This language impressed me as strange and unsettling in a way that exposed something all-important about the position toward human experience that was spreading outward from its Bay Area centre a knot of software metaphors that had metastasised into a way of thinking about what it meant to be a human being.

And it was the sameessential metaphor that lay at the core of Koenes project: the sentiment as a piece of software, an application flowing on the platform of chassis. When he use the expression emulation, he was using it explicitly to conjure the appreciation in which a PCs operating system could be emulated on a Mac, as what he called platform independent code.

The relevant discipline for whole brain emulation is, as youd expect, hideously involved, and such an interpretation deep equivocal, but if I can risk a gross oversimplification here, I will say that it is possible to conceive of the relevant recommendations as something like this: first, you examine the pertinent information in a persons psyche the neurons, the endlessly ramifying connections between them, the information-processing task of which consciousness is seen as a byproduct through whatever technology, or compounding to new technologies, grows workable first( nanobots, electron microscopy, etc ). That scan then becomes a blueprint for the reconstruction of the subject brains neural networks, which is then converted into a computational representation. Eventually, you imitate all of this on a third-party non-flesh-based substrate: some kind of supercomputer or a humanoid machine designed to simulate and extend the experience of incarnation something, perhaps, like Natasha Vita-Mores Primo Posthuman.

The whole part of substrate freedom, as Koene pointed out to me whenever I asked him what it would be like to exist outside of a human body, and I asked him many times, in various ways was that it would be like no one thing, because there would be no one substrate , no one medium of being. This was the concept transhumanists referred to as morphological freedom the sovereignty to take any bodily form engineering permits.

You can be anything you like, as an article about uploading in Extropy periodical gave it in the mid-9 0s. You can be big or small; you can be lighter than air and tent-fly; they are able to teleport and walk through walls. You can be a lion or an antelope, a frog or a move, a tree, a reserve, the coating of coat on a ceiling.

What genuinely interested me about this idea was not how strange and far-fetched it seemed( although it was ticked those cartons resolutely enough ), but rather how fundamentally identifiable it was, how universal. When talking to Koene, I was principally trying to get to grips with the feasibility of the project and with what it was he foresaw as a desirable outcome. But then we would part company I would hang up the request, or I would take my leave and start strolling toward the nearest terminal and I would find myself appearing strangely affected by the whole project, strangely moved.

Because there was something, in the end, paradoxically and definitively human in this hope for liberation from human chassis. I encountered myself thinking often of WB Yeatss Sailing to Byzantium, in which the ageing poet writes of his burning to be free of the weakening torso, the nauseating mettle to vacate the croaking swine for the manmade and immortal flesh of a mechanical fowl. Once out of nature, he writes, I shall never take/ My bodily form from any natural happen/ But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make.

One evening, we were sitting outside a combination bar/ laundromat/ standup comedy venue in Folsom Street a residence with the fortuitous reputation of BrainWash when I confessed that the relevant recommendations of having my thought uploaded to some technological substrate was profoundly unappealing to me, horrifying even. The effects of technology on my life, even now, were something about which I was profoundly ambivalent; for all I had gained in availability and connectedness, I was increasingly well informed the extent to which my motions in the world were interceded and circumscribed by firms whose only real pastime was in reducing the lives of human beings to data, as a means to further reducing us to profit.

The content we destroyed, the people with whom we had nostalgic meetings, the information we read about the outside nature: all these shifts were coming increasingly under the influence of unseen algorithm, the creations of these business, whose complicity with government, moreover, had come to seem like the largest submerged narrative of our time. Handed the world we were living in, where the vulnerable liberal principle of the autonomous soul was already receding like a half-remembered nightmare into the doubtful mist of history, wouldnt a progressive fusion of ourselves with technology quantity, in the end, to a final capitulation of the very idea of personhood?

Koene gestured again and took a swallow of his beer.

Hearing you say that, he said, makes it clear that theres a major obstruction there for people. Im more comfortable than you are with the relevant recommendations, but thats because Ive been exposed to it for so long that Ive just got used to it.

Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov wants to create engineerings permitting the transfer of an individuals identity to a economically more advanced nonbiological carrier. Image: Mary Altaffer/ AP

In the weeks and months after I rendered from San Francisco, I reckoned obsessively about the relevant recommendations of whole psyche emulation. One morning, I was at home in Dublin, suffering from both a pate coldnes and a hangover. I lay there, idly considering hauling myself out of bed to join my partner and my son, who were in his bedroom next door enjoying a raucous tournament of Buckaroo. I realised that these conditions( president coldnes, hangover) had imposed upon me a regiman of mild bodily schism. As often happens when Im experiencing for the purposes of the climate, I had a sense of myself as an irreducibly biological thought, an assemblage of flesh and blood and gristle. I appeared myself to be an organism with blocked nasal channels, a bacteria-ravaged throat, a tearful throb deep within its skull, its cephalon. I was aware of my substrate, in short, because my substrate felt like shit.

And I was gripped by a sudden curiosity as to what, precisely, that substrate is constituted by, as to what I myself happened, technically pronouncing, to be. I reached across for the telephone on my nightstand and entered into Google the words What is the human … The first three autocomplete suggestions offered What is The Human Centipede about, and then: What is the human body made of, and then: What is the human condition.

It was the second issue I craved answered at this particular day, as perhaps a back entrance into the third. It turned out that I was 65% oxygen, which is to say that I was principally breeze, chiefly nothing. After that, I was composed of diminishing quantities of carbon and hydrogen, of calcium and sulphur and chlorine, and so on down the elemental table. I was also mildly surprised to learn that, like the iPhone I was extracting the information collected from, I likewise contained trace elements of copper and cast-iron and silicon.

What a piece of work is a man, I envisaged, what a epitome of dust.

Some minutes later, my spouse entered the bedroom on her hands and knees, our son on her back, controlling the collar of her shirt close-fisted in his little fists. She was acquiring clip-clop noises as she crawled forwards, he was chortling giddily and wailing: Dont buck! Dont buck!

With a raucous neighing chime, she arched her back and cast him collapsing gently into a sequence of shoes by the wall and he screamed in delighted anger, before climbing up again. Nothing of this, I find, could be interpreted in code. Nothing of this, I detected, could be run on any other substrate. Their glamour was bodily, in the most profound appreciation, in the saddest and most wonderful sense.

I never adored my wife and our little boy more, I realised, than when I thought of them as mammals. I dragged myself, my animal body, out of berthed to join them.

To Be a Machine by Mark OConnell issued by Granta( 12.99 ). To ordering a facsimile for 11.04 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online guilds simply. Telephone orderings min p& p of 1.99

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