Singularity bits 2012-03-06

Posted on March 6, 2012

This is yet another cross-post from the One Over Zero blog.

On the human body’s inadequacies

One aspect that is often associated with the coming of the Singularity is that it will enable us to live forever (or at least for as long as we want to). This may or may not be desirable, but setting aside the discussion about whether we will want to live forever or even if we can cope with such a thing, at least the notion of substantially extending our current lifespan is very appealing to most people right now.

In fact, and regardless of the Singularity, for quite some time now we’ve been studying the ageing process in animals, with an especially keen eye towards the human species, in the hopes of being able to substantially delay said process or even to revert it and make it possible to rejuvenesce an ageing body into a younger, healthier one.

As it turns out, our bodies appear to have a definite expiry date after which, no matter how sound our mind is, they’ll simply shut down, independently of our efforts to keep them healthy. Assuming the following article accurately reflects the state-of-the-art of our knowledge about human ageing, trying to keep this body around for much more than a century is a losing proposition.

In “Your Body Wasn’t Built To Last: A Lesson From Human Mortality Rates” the author explains how

By looking at theories of human mortality that are clearly wrong, we can deduce that our fast-rising mortality is not the result of a dangerous environment, but of a body that has a built-in expiration date.

Now, even if we can’t live forever in our own bodies, we’ll still be inside them for quite some time, as the expected life span of the average human being increases (whether or not we do hit a biological limit). So what can we do to be better able to cope, then?

Well, some people are thinking about ways to enhance the human body, in order to make it more adapted to our living conditions here on earth. This could be taken to the natural conclusion in the form of a process of gradually replacing body parts that become defective. This process may have it’s appeal for some but it is also a controversial issue with it’s fair share of hot buttons (“When do I stop being a person and become a machine?”, “Am I less of a person as a Cyborg?”, “Am I the same person I was when I began the process?”, “And if not, when did I become a different person?” and so on and so forth…)

Others are working on ways to preserve and even enhance our brain’s abilities but only at a very small, personal level (no big society-scale jump here).

Personally I don’t put much stock in the possibility of making our current frail shells last forever, preferring to bank on another staple of the Singularity concept, which is the idea that after it comes to pass, we’ll very soon be able to codify our minds (which is not the same as our brains exactly, but does include them) in such a way that will allow us tu upload them to a different container, be it a computer, a computer network (living in the clouds, anyone?) or a new, physical, engineered body. And some container that will be, can you imagine our ability to design such things by then?

Now the fun part comes when we try to ponder such a possibility under the light of our current moral standards. If the concept of incremental body enhancements through technology is a controversial one, what can be said about the concept of living as a bodiless entity, or about the concept of “self” when your mind can be uploaded and, thus, gasp copied!

Fun stuff indeed.