A group of scientists, business leaders and public figures from around the world met this past weekend to discuss evolution, but this wasn't the same old discussion about where we came from, but about where we can go from here, and how technology could make us immortal by 2035.
The 2045 Initiative was started in 2011 by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov, with the goal of engineering the future of human evolution. The plan is to first create life-like robotic copies of our bodies in the next 2 to 7 years, which we would control and interact with the world through, similar to the movie Surrogates. From there, in roughly 5-to-10-year steps, the initiative would work towards transplanting our brains into robot bodies by 2025, and then by 2035, do away with the flesh entirely by allowing us to transfer our personality into a robot 'avatar'. The final step in the plan, scheduled for 2045, would be to divorce ourselves completely from the body, and just have our robotic minds controlling holograms to interact with the world.
[ Related: Smarter than C-3PO: future robots will work in teams ]
The plan is an ambitious one, and it brings up several questions about ourselves that aren't so easy to answer...
What defines us as human? Is it our body? Our mind? The interplay between the two? If we divorce one from the other, can we still call ourselves human? What effect does this have on the structure of our society and legal system?
Hiroshi Ishiguro, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan spoke at the Global Future 2045 Conference in New York City, using what he calls a 'Geminoid' — a robot 'twin' of himself — illustrated part of the problem when he said: "The problem is, if I use this android, the research institute says it cannot pay for me."
The audience laughed, but it does show how our society will have to adapt along with these kinds of advances. Some things will surely translate well enough. If you commit a crime using your robot body, it's doubtful that any argument could be made for you to get away with it. However, what about legal rights for the robot body? If you receive danger pay as part of your wage, should you still receive that if you're doing your job via a remote-controlled robot body? If the body is damaged, or destroyed, does that qualify towards your medical plan?
Beyond what defines us as human, as we advance in this kind of technology, will we really need to identify ourselves as human? Would moving beyond that state be good or bad? If our minds interact with the world solely through a computer interface, would that make the world less real to us? Would that impact on our humanity? Would it create new levels of society and new levels of exploitation?
What happens if we no longer interact with the world through a computer interface, but instead become the computer interface?
Is the human mind, tied to a mortal body with a lifespan that tops out at roughly 100 years, even ready for an extended lifespan, or even immortality?
It's not just the technologists thinking about these ideas, though. Psychology, neuroscience, and even spirituality are being discussed as well, to get an idea of how these developments could affect our entire being.
[ More Geekquinox: Lasers uncovers ancient city lost for 1000 years ]
Personally, I would welcome the idea of extended life and possibly even immortality, as long as there was still things to keep me busy — like exploring the universe. However, I think transplanting my brain into a robot body would be as far as I'd go with these developments, because after that, it doesn't really seem like immortality (at least not from a personal perspective).
Human consciousness is a tricky thing, and we still aren't quite sure what exactly defines us, but from all the information we have right now, it would seem that any attempt to upload our minds into a computer would simply be creating a copy of us. To all outward appearances, this copy would think like us and act like us, of course. Anyone interacting with it wouldn't know the difference. However, would it actually be us? Would we close our eyes as the scanner copied our brain, and suddenly open our eyes in a mechanical body nearby? Or would we simply die and the copy carry on in our place?
Considering that I want to live long enough to explore the universe, rather than just sending copies of me out to do the job for me after I'm gone, I'm not sure I'd take the chance.
Geek out with the latest in science and weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!