Since dawn of our existence and from the day that we started our cognition, the biggest dream of our life has been immortality. We have sought for it everywhere: Adam could achieve knowledge but god protected the secret of immortality from his access; in the epic of Gilgamesh he searches for immortality at tablet eleven; the elixir of youth was the alchemists’ dream; and still there are lots of scientists who are seeking for immortality in their fields of research.
But what has made humans to be so concerned about their immortality? The strongest endeavor of almost all biological systems is to keep themselves alive, among all of the living creatures the strongest kind of this desire exist in us rather than any other biological system. That is because we had understood that we would die, hence we started to seek immortality since the dawn of our existence. We justified our immortality in religious believes, we sought for it in magic world and we are still looking for it in science.
The will for immortality exists in all of us but there is another question: is it even rational to seek immortality? Is immortality cost beneficial in economic aspects? Or immortality is just another irrational desire?
1.1. Death and economy
In order to find whether search for immortality is cost beneficial or not, it would be better to evaluate the economic aspects of this topic. According to WHO statistics , every year almost 54 million people die in all over the world and bury their knowledge and abilities with themselves. The average raising costs for a child from birth to 18 years old in USA is about $ 72,360 [US department of health and human service, 2013] and this cost in UK reaches to more than $330,000 for a 21 years old person [Smithers, 2012] and $ 16425 for developing countries [Shah, 2013].
Based on death rates and child raising costs, death costs in America was almost 178 billion dollars in 2010 [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010] and 162 billion dollars in UK during the 2010 [Office for National Statistics, 2010]. This cost reaches to 871 billion dollars in the rest of the world. (With an under estimation which assumes that the rest of the world are developing countries with $ 2.5 for raising a child per day [Shah, 2013])
Costs of caring elderly people reached to 11 billion dollars in Australia during 2009-2010 [Productivity Commission, 2010] and in USA 143.1 billion $ in 2010 was paid for Nursing care facilities and continuing care retirement communities [National Center for Health Statistics, 2012].this means that the elderly care costs in USA alone reaches to more than 1.4 trillion dollars in a decade.
If people never age or become physically disabled or never die, we can expand our economies and our civilization in a vast scale. All of the mentioned factors above emphasize the enormous costs of death and its attributes. These Statistics show a huge imposed economic harm to the entire world because of our physical imperfections which is more than 13.5 trillion dollars in a decade.
R&D costs of accessing immortality with an overestimation are completely negligible in comparison with death costs in a decade. Immortality research is even a great investment opportunity for investors because after accomplishment of an immortality project, every human will be a costumer of the immortal life.
1.2. Death and scientific growth
In history of science, there are a few people who have major impacts and they caused revolutions in their fields, people like Darwin, Newton, Feynman, etc. But these people die like others and we lose all of them. If they were able to live immortally, their contributions could cause a great scientific-technological acceleration.
2. How to Achieve Immortality? Biological vs. Non-biological
In order to find a way for physical immortality, we must define “What we are” first and then we could find what kind of thing we need to preserve to achieve immortally.
A fairly short analysis leads us to the point that we are just a conscious entity, in other words, a mind. We are a cognitive system existing in a biological medium, more precisely a mind which exploits a biological brain.
As a consequence, if we are a mind, we just need to keep our mind alive to access physical immortality. This applies whether we choose a biological system or a non- biological system as a brain.
Based on this postulate, we can divide physical immortality approaches into two distinct strategies:
i) Keeping our biological body alive in order to keep our mind functioning
ii) Construct a non-biological medium and then transfer our mind into this medium to maintain mind function
Several measures have been suggested for keeping our biological medium such as:
- Brain or head transplant
- Anti-aging medicine
- Regenerative medicine
Brain and/or head transplant is surgical method to transplant a brain or a head into a new body; the new body can be provided potentially by cloning. In case of a brain transplant, the acceptor body should be above the age of brain full growth (approximately 12 years old for parietal and temporal lobe and 17 years old for temporal lobe) [Blakemore, 2012].
Anti-aging medicine consists of any action that could prevent or stop aging process.
Regenerative medicine is the method for replacing body parts with regenerated human cells, tissues or organs to maintain regular body functions [ Mason, C. and P. Dunnill, 2008]. This method could be used in order to prolong life potentially indefinitely.
On the other hand, the only contemporary non-biological systems that are capable of encompassing the mind are computer systems. There is a strategy for transferring the mind to a non-biological medium known as Mind uploading or Whole Brain Emulation.
The Idea of Mind uploading or whole brain emulation as Sandberg, A. and N. Bostrom  mentioned is to:
“ take a particular brain, scan its structure in detail and construct a software model of it that is so faithful to the original that, when run on appropriate hardware, it will behave in essentially the same way as the original brain”
Fig. 1 Different approaches to physical immortality
It sounds necessary to choose the best choice in order to access immortality. In the next part, the biological and non-biological approaches will be compared and I will try to define the ultimate strategy for immortality.
2.1. What is the everlasting solution?
2.1.1. Our future civilization defines the everlasting solution for immortality
In the Kardashev scale, civilizations are divided to three types based on their energy consumption [Kardashev, 1964]:
- A first level civilization is capable of exploiting its entire planet’s energy.
- A second level civilization is capable of exploiting the energy of its star.
- A third level civilization is capable of exploiting its entire galaxy energies.
Although we have not reached a first level civilization yet, we will probably reach first, second and maybe third level in far future.
In a civilization above the first level, our life won’t be restricted in just one planet or a confined space, citizens of a second level civilization need to adjust themselves with space conditions. They should live in different gravity conditions, temperature ranges and atmospheres.
Obviously, when we want to expand our civilization in the future we face lots of “different” and “difficult” problems with a biological intelligent system, while such problems are not even posed for a non-biological one which can adjust itself with space conditions well.
In comparison with a biological brain, a computer system as a non-biological intelligent system is definitely a better creature for space colonization and therefore being the citizen of higher level civilizations.
A computer system just consumes electricity and works without oxygen, food, water, etc. All of the factors above suggest that it would be more suitable if we exist as robots rather than biological creatures.
2.1.2. Energy consumption
In our era, a supercomputer which can simulate human brain processes needs approximately electricity power equal to one Gigawatt although different companies are trying to reduce this number to 20 Megawatts of power or even less [Human Brain Project, 2013]. Is it possible to argue that in order to manufacture every artificial brain this amount of energy is needed?
Let’s review a historical lesson, ENIAC, the first computer in history.
This machine needed 150 kW of power [Weik, 1955] and it was just capable of simple computations while we can obtain hundred times of these processes with one hundredth of
that electricity power now. We have expanded the processing abilities while we have reduced the energy consumption simultaneously. So if this trend is continued, which is believed to be continued based on moor’s law, we will be able to manufacture an artificial brain with reasonable electric power consumption.
Also nature suggests consuming less energy is possible. Our biological brain works with just 20 Watts of power [Drubach, 2000] and it has capability of almost 1 Peta floating point operations in a second (PFLOPS). Using an analogy, we can argue that if it is possible to maintain a biological brain with 20 w of power, it might be possible to maintain an artificial one with 20 W of power too.
Computer’s advantage in energy source is another factor which needs to be addressed. The point is that the biological brain uses the food to provide the energy for itself while we can “directly” provide the electricity for the artificial brain. As a result, the artificial (non- biological) brain would get the upper hand in an energy competition because producing electricity is too much cheaper and more reasonable than food production.
2.1.3 Everlasting biological problem
If we choose a biological medium to live in, we have to take its burden on our shoulders as a consequence: a biological medium apparently cannot conquer all of the causes of death that a non-biological body can.
A biological system, for example, is always in danger of physical trauma, infectious viral or bacterial diseases, dramatic environmental changes, etc. These are threats that could kill a biological system easily while these conditions might not be even a threat for a non-biological system.
On balance, I believe it is necessary to choose a non-biological medium because it will be the everlasting and ultimate solution. This step could be a start point for creating citizens of beyond second level civilization. Non-biological intelligent systems are creatures who process fast and accurate, can survive deep space conditions, and are resistant against dramatic environmental changes and physical trauma; finally, Transhumans who van not die or at least not easily.
3. Non-Biological Immortality (NBI): Current Proposals and philosophical assumptions
Mind uploading or whole brain emulation is the famous hypothesis for achieving Non- Biological Immortality (NBI). It is believed that the Mind uploading meets some challenges of NBI while it poses some new ones. One of those posed challenges is implicitly explained in the swampman thought experiment [Davidson, 2001]:
“Suppose Davidson goes hiking in the swamp and is struck and killed by a lightning bolt. At the same time, nearby in the swamp another lightning bolt spontaneously rearranges a bunch of molecules such that, entirely by coincidence, they take on exactly the same form that Davidson’s body had at the moment of his untimely death. This being, whom Davidson terms “Swampman,” has, of course, a brain which is structurally identical to that which Davidson had, and will thus, presumably, behave exactly as Davidson would have. He will walk out of the swamp, return to Davidson’s office at Berkeley, and write the same essays he would have written; he will interact like an amicable person with all of Davidson’s friends and family, and so forth.”
As a consequence, neither the Swamp Man nor the so called “uploaded mind” can be the desired person; they are just copies. Hopkins [HOPKINS, 2012] claimed that no matter what kind of measure you use to accomplish the NBI, you will fail, because moving the mind is an assumption taken from religious beliefs:
“For example, if I copy a page from a book, I have not “moved” the page from the book to the printout paper exiting the copier. The page is still there and the printout is a new object that looks just like the page, and note, it does not make the slightest difference if I quickly or slowly destroy the page in the book as I make the copy the copy is still just a copy.”
The main theme of these objections is something that can be called the “transferring problem” and that is: how one can guarantee that mind uploading transfers the mind rather than reconstructing a similar but different copy?
All of the assertions above that challenge the possibility of uploading seem to be mainly concerned with the so called destructive mind uploading:
“It will create new minds exactly similar to other minds, but will not save anyone’s life.” [HOPKINS, 2012]
And these arguments make sense, replicating a brain will yield a “Replicated brain”, it can’t be the original brain. For these reasons, mind uploading in this way will probably fail.
However, this is not the end of the story for mind uploading. Another approach can be proposed based on defining the mind as a set of complex electrical activity in the brain, as mentioned by Hopkins :
“Materialists and naturalists may think of the mind as produced by brain activity or perhaps as some brain activity itself (these are complicated philosophy of mind issues)”
Therefore the mind is defined as a set of complex electrical activity in the brain in here. Actually, it seems that the mind is a dynamic process which reconstructs and reshapes itself every moment. Considering this concept, a proper NBI needs to maintain a dynamic informational process (stream of consciousness) which reorganizes itself every moment with experiencing. Therefore, continuation of the stream of consciousness is the key point to solve the transferring problem. Consequently, making an identical substrate which replicates the same process by destroying the current substrate (destructive mind uploading) won’t help. Maybe the only way to transfer the mind (electrical activity) is to maintain its existence alongside changing its substrate. It is possible to let this electrical activity to continuously flow somewhere else; to another substrate, and then let it to pursue its existence in the second one. This idea can be considered as a “substrate switch”. This “substrate switch” can be achieved through expansion of this flow of electrical activity to another substrate and then maintaining it in there.
We can think of our entire mind transferring process as a substrate switch. This substrate switch includes two steps. First: expansion of electrical flow to two substrates and second: blockage of the first substrate. This solution can answer the transferring problem at least in theory because it defines the mind as “a dynamic electrical activity” and it transfers the mind by switching its flowing substrate while maintaining its “continuous existence”. Metaphorically, mind and brain are like a river, the mind is the water and the brain is its riverbed [Seung, 2010]. Dynamic change of mind’s substrate changes the riverbed of a river but it keeps the same water of the river. Postulating the effectiveness of maintaining the consciousness during mind transfer is called the “consciousness continuity concept” for mind transfer.
On the other hand, other philosopher [Hauskeller, 2012] claimed that even gradual uploading1 will fail, because there is a “significant change” in mind uploading. In his point of view, gradual uploading methods or are like gradually decreasing the water temperature till it freezes.
But this assertion does not seem to be true at all. The uploading is not a significant change in mind; it is a significant change in the substrate of mind, the brain. Brain itself is a constantly changing entity and change is the way that the brain maintains itself. Perusing this change, regardless of what its texture is, will probably maintain the mind and consciousness. Besides, based on his argument one can say that since 98% of atoms that constitute human body change completely every year [Aebersold, 1954] people will be “destructed” every year, a conclusion which is unlikely to be true. Therefore it seems that Hauskeller’s views might produce wrong outcomes.
Concepts and methods for a successful substrate switch were proposed previously [Goertzel, 2012] [Kurzweil, 1999, 52_55] and they are mainly consistent with the consciousness continuity concept of mind transfer. However, it seems that a more precise description of a mind transfer method based on consciousness continuity is still needed.
4. Dynamic brain switch: the theory
Dynamic brain switch (DBS) is just one of the possible methods that can be proposed to implement the consciousness continuity concept for mind transfer. DBS also tries to achieve brain switch in one of its most reduced forms. In this method, both artificial and natural brains are merged together at first and then a unified consciousness must be achieved. After all, two brains will be detached while the biological brain loses its ability to hold the mind and mind continues its existence in the artificial substrate and the conscious experience is maintained during the process. Among all of the steps, brain merging is the one that demands a robust theoretical basis.
Brain Merging or mind coalescence is a hypothetical mind created by merging two or more previously separate minds [Sotala and Valpola, 2012]. However, the feasibility of such a process needs to be addressed.
Sotala and Valpola  argued that the Split brain syndrome-a situation that each hemisphere gains an independent consciousness- might be the evidence for feasibility of mind coalescence. Therefore based on existence of this syndrome the mind coalescence might be possible in a reverse process, when an extra system is added to the brain. However, this phenomenon only suggests a possibility and it leaves the theoretical aspects of the process unexplained. Therefore it seems that a theoretical justification is still needed.
Theoretical possibility of brain merging might be found through the integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT). This theory introduces “phi” to measure consciousness and systems with a positive value of phi are called complex.
There is more than one complex in the brain but the complex in which the phi value is the highest is the main complex. The phi value can be changed by different physiological factors like sleep or pathophysiological factors such as split brain syndrome. Fortunately, there are other ways to manipulate the phi value e.g. Computer simulations proved the possibility of decreasing the integrated information (phi value) by functional disconnections that change the size of a complex. [Tononi,2004].
Therefore merging two conscious entities together to make a new unified consciousness is possible in theoretical framework of IIT. This unification can be achieved through adding extra systems (e.g. an artificial brain, substrate) to an existing system (biological brain) which can provide the merged state brains.
Fig.2 Change of the amount of integrated information during the brain switch. A successful brain merging unifies two streams of consciousness and makes an integrated one i.e. it will increase the amount of integrated information (phi) in the merged state.
Brain to brain merging can be regarded and put into action based on this assumption: mind coalescence is a process aimed to increment the phi value for a system. It is argued that the concepts of IIT theory, if it proved, can be used as the theoretical basis for the brain merging.
5. Dynamic brain switch in practice
Practical challenges toward the DBS can be divided into two main types: required technologies, and their methods of implementation. These two issues are discussed in the following sections.
5.1 Dynamic brain switch in practice; requirements
DBS requires similar-but not identical- technologies that other proposed methods for Biological Immortality need.
- Those three main requirements are: Constructing the artificial substrate (artificial brain)
- In-vivo Imaging devices
- In-vivo stimulation devices
5.1.1 A vision for the artificial substrate
The first step for any NBI method is to construct the first artificial brain and DBS is not an exception. Several projects concerned with replicating some or all of the brain functions such as SyNAPSE, Human Brain Project (HBP), neurogrid [Boahen, 2006], Spinnaker[Jin et al,2008], etc. these projects are some good approaches toward an artificial brain. However, it seems unlikely that these types of projects can make an artificial brain that has a “conscious mind”. The reason is that they are not based on a “proven explanation” for the consciousness, because there isn’t any!
There are some models and theories that claim they can explain consciousness2 [Reggia, 2013], but they haven’t been proven yet. We note that constructing an artificial brain without a consciousness producing architecture is similar to constructing an airplane without a wing. We can think of SyNNAPSE like projects as “Giant Signal Processing Machines” but they are not promising measures to build an “artificial mind”. HBP will be a valuable tool to analyze different mechanisms of the brain but it seems unlikely to result in a full artificial brain with a mind.
In this manner, it is argued that discovering the consciousness is one of the main steps toward an artificial brain and NBI. Consequently, constructing the first “strong artificial consciousness” is the necessary milestone for any NBI. This issue should be regarded as one of the top priorities in the Mind Uploading community. The reason is that regardless of the implementation method, understanding the consciousness is the cornerstone of having an artificial substrate.
5.1.2 Imaging and stimulation technologies
Brain merging needs a bidirectional connection between two brains. Bidirectional connection in here’means the imaging and stimulation devices that merge the activity of these two brains.
Technical issues regarding the required imaging technologies such as quantum dots or nanorobotic chips are mentioned in [Koen, 2012] and they will not be discussed further in here.
Stimulation can be implemented through the similar technologies. Some nanorobots can be designed to fulfill both imaging and stimulation tasks. There are also some candidate instruments that can be used for this purpose. It might be possible to develop some nanorobots as “artificial ion channels” to record and stimulate neurons with a satisfying accuracy. Another way might be to develop new generations of Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices with stimulation capability. These devices might be designed to stimulate individual neurons with the help of nanoparticles3; or one can use a modified version of the optogenetics method4 to stimulate networks of neurons or even using the Transcranial Focused Ultrasound (FUS) [Yoo et al, 2013] might be a possibility. Invasive methods such as use of cortical electrodes can also be implemented for this purpose. (Although their invasiveness keep them as the last option for such a purpose).
5.2 Dynamic Brain Switch in practice; implementation
5.2.1 How much of the brain needs to be merged?
If merging needs bidirectional connections, what are the necessary sites of imaging/stimulation in brain for a unified consciousness? Some parts of the brain such as cerebellum seemingly have little to do with the consciousness. Is it necessary to use imaging/stimulation for these parts of the brain or not? Perhaps we can merge brains with a good reduction in number of required imaging/stimulation units. Would it be suitable to consider the thalamocortical system’s units as the main site of imaging/stimulation?
These are questions that can be answered with a better understanding of consciousness in humans. And it seems that finding the NCC can be the best way to find the most reduced form of imaging/stimulation site in a merging process. Finding the NCC would help to significantly reduce the elaboration of the merging machine. Therefore discovering the NCC can be considered as another critical step toward constructing a successful merged state with minimal elaboration.
Merging can be beneficial for another purpose, the memory transfer. Transferring the memories in a brain switch is pivotal since a mind is mainly distinguished by its memories, but how merging can help the transfer of memory?
If two brains in a merged state produce a unified consciousness, therefore the exchange of information and copying all of the biological brain’s information can be implemented readily. Since two conscious systems are merged, special algorithms might be used to copy memories to artificial brain during their conscious recall. In this sense, it will be possible to transfer memories of an upload seeker mind to its artificial substrate. Also other methods for memory transfer such as digital backup or TERASEM M mind uploading like experiments [Rothblatt, 2012] can be used alongside the mentioned method.
5.2.2 Brain Switch; maintaining the conscious experience
The last and most essential step in DBS is to permanently transfer the mind process to the artificial substrate while ensuring that the mind is being “transferred”, not “copied”. The key point based on consciousness continuity is to maintain the conscious experience during the mind transfer. In other words if the mind experiences the steps of mind transfer, the moving can be considered successful. But how can it happen?
As mentioned previously, the last step is to restrict the consciousness in the artificial brain. Based on the definition of the mind as the flow of electrical activity in the brain:
a) Maintaining this electrical activity maintains the mind
b) Blocking the flow of electrical activity in biological brain can prevent the mind from being there.
Two solutions can be proposed to block the flow of electrical activity in the biological brain and restrict it to the artificial brain:
A: previously, it was found that neural connections can change during a BMI process [Lebedev, et al, 2005]. Therefore two merged brains that have their own interactions can change each other’s
connectivity. In order to restrict the flow of information to the artificial brain, one can adjust the stimulation pattern of the merging device in a way that it erases the critical connections of the biological brain. By critical I mean the neural structures that account for consciousness, erasing these connections will prevent the mind from “flowing” in there4.
This process would take a longer time rather than the other one since it is exploiting the neural plasticity.
B: The other way can be to zap the neurons or destroy them one by one while maintaining the consciousness with the help of the artificial brain. The stimulation/Imaging devices (such as nano- robots or nanoparticles) can be used to fulfill the task of destroying the neurons in the biological brain.
One should notice that the all of the mentioned techniques and other possible techniques must satisfy the main criterion of consciousness continuity concept. They must provide a continuum of mental experience during the brain switch process.
In terms of metaphor, pathways in the biological brain act as the riverbed of the mind, their destruction will prevent the flow of electrical activity (the mind) in the biological brain. Based on this assumption, removing the connections of the biological brain can be the solution.
If this process abolishes the connections of critical circuits for consciousness, it can be a way to diminish the expanded consciousness and restrict it to the artificial brain. This will block the flow of information in the biological brain. In this way, the mind can “dynamically” be transferred to an artificial medium; A “dynamic brain switch”.
Biological immortality might seem a far-fetched goal, but it is as much inevitable as it seems to be far- fetched. Future civilizations, if they emerge, will probably constitute from intelligent robot citizens. Philosophical issues on the feasibility of NBI are challenging, however they don’t refute possibility of NBI. It seems that the concept of consciousness continuity can address some existing challenges of NBI theoretically, especially the transferring problem. Dynamic brain switch, if technically possible, might be a measure to achieve biological immortality. All in all, there is a long way to go to achieve immortality, but the good news is that there “is” a way to achieve immortality.
I should appreciate Mammad Farahmandnia for his delightful interest and help and Dr. Alireza Mehdizadeh for his encouragements. I also acknowledge Seyyed Mahmoud Moheymani for designing the pictures.
1 Gradual uploading is the method to gradually replace the brain units and body parts with their artificial counterparts
2 Existing models can be roughly categorized into five mainstreams: Global Workspace Theory, Integrated Information Theory, Higher-level Representations, Internal Self-models and Attention Mechanisms [Reggia, 2013].
3 It might be possible to use nanoparticles which attach to cellular ionic channels to provide an accurate stimulation capability. A magnetic gradient changes excitation properties of nanoparticles therefore each group of these nanoparticles will open their related ion channel in a specific wavelength. In this way, each frequency will open a specific group of ion channels that magnetic gradient allows. Opening ion channels in micrometer scale seems to be enough for a stimulation purpose.
4 Modified optogenetics method is a hypothesis to use specific ionic channels that are sensitive to specific EMWs (i.e. the microwaves) instead of rhodopsin so that we can stimulate neurons without using the optical fiber. However, I do not know whether it is possible to use this method to stimulate individual neurons.
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ABOLFAZL ALIPOU was born in 1992 and grew up in Shiraz, a city south west of Iran. When he was in my 18, he developed a philosophical idea of the human and cosmos: decaying organic matters in a gigantic physical machine. SInce then he pursued one goal and that was immortality. He entered the biological sciences in order to become an aging researcher and work towards a cure for aging. However, after one year of research Abolfazi felt there were better ways for achieving immortality; specifically “Mind uploading”, but not in the usual way that people think about it. After this realization he began in earnest his research in neuroscience to achieve the goal.
Conscioustronics Foundation, Janbazan Blvd, Shiraz, Iran