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The Boon to Longevity Progress Will Be Increased Activism, Advocacy, and Lobbying – Article by Franco Cortese

The Boon to Longevity Progress Will Be Increased Activism, Advocacy, and Lobbying – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
November 17, 2013
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When asked what the biggest bottleneck for progress in life extension is, most thinkers and researchers say funding. Others say the biggest bottleneck is breakthroughs, while still others say it’s our way of approaching the problem (i.e., seeking healthy life extension, a.k.a. “aging gracefully”, instead of more comprehensive methods of radical life extension). But the majority seem to feel that the largest determining factor impacting how long it takes to achieve indefinite lifespans is adequate funding to plug away at developing and experimentally verifying the various alternative technologies and methodologies that have already been proposed (e.g. Robert Freitas’s Nanomedicine [1], Aubrey de Grey’s Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence [2, 3, 4], Michael R. Rose’s Evolutionary Longevity [5, 6]). I claim that Radical Longevity’s biggest bottleneck is not funding, but advocacy, activism and lobbying.
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This is because the final objective of increased funding for Radical Longevity and Life Extension research can be more effectively and efficiently achieved through public advocacy for Radical Life Extension than it can by direct funding or direct research, per unit of time or effort. Research and development obviously still need to be done, but an increase in researchers needs an increase in funding, and an increase in funding needs an increase in the public perception of indefinite longevity’s feasibility and desirability.

There is no definitive timespan that it will take to achieve radically extended life. How long it takes to achieve Radical Longevity is determined by how hard we work at it and how much effort we put into it. More effort means that it will be achieved sooner. And by and large, an increase in effort can be best achieved by an increase in funding, and an increase in funding can be best achieved by an increase in public advocacy. You will likely accelerate the development of Radically Extended Life, per unit of time or effort, by advocating the desirability, ethicality, and technical feasibility of longer life than you will by doing direct research, or by working towards the objective of directly contributing funds to life-extension projects and research initiatives.

In order to get funding we need to demonstrate with explicit clarity just how much we want it, and that we can do so while minimizing potentially negative societal repercussions like overpopulation. We must do our best to vehemently invalidate the clichés that promulgate the sentiment that life extension is dangerous or unethical. It needn’t be either, and nor is it necessarily likely to be either.

Some think that spending one’s time deliberating the potential issues that could result from greatly increased lifespans and the ways in which we could mitigate or negate them won’t make a difference until greatly increased lifespans are actually achieved. I disagree. While any potentially negative repercussions of life extension (like overpopulation) aren’t going to happen until life extension is achieved, offering solution paradigms and ways in which we could negate or mitigate such negative repercussions decreases the time we have to wait for it by increasing the degree with which the wider public feels it to be desirable, and that it can very well be done safely and ethically. Those who are against radical life extension are against it either because they think it is infeasible (in which case being “against” it may be too strong a descriptor) or because they have qualms relating to its ethicality or its safety. More people openly advocating against it means a higher public perception of its undesirability. Whether indefinite longevity is eventually achieved via private industry or via government-subsidized research initiatives, we need to create the public perception that it is widely desired before either government or industry will take notice.

The sentiment that the best thing we can do is simply live healthily and wait until progress is made seems to be fairly common as well. People have the feeling that researchers are working on it, that it will happen if it can happen, and that waiting until progress is made is the best course to take. Such lethargy will not help Radical Longevity in any way. How long we have to wait for indefinite lifespans is a function of how much effort we put into it. And in this article I argue that how much funding and attention life extension receives is by and large a function of how widespread the public perception of its feasibility and desirability is.

This isn’t simply about our individual desires to live longer. It might be easier to hold the sentiment that we should just wait it out until it happens if we only consider its impact on the scale of our own individual lives. Such a sentiment may also be aided by the view that greatly longer lives would be a mere advantage, nice but unnecessary. I don’t think this is the case. I argue that the technological eradication of involuntary death is a moral imperative if there ever was one. If how long we have to wait until radical longevity is achieved depends on how vehemently we demand it and on how hard we work to create the public perception that longer life is widely longed-for, then to what extent are  100,000 lives lost potentially needlessly every day while we wait on our hands? One million people will die wasteful and involuntary deaths in the next 10 days. 36.5 million people will die this year from age-correlated causes of functional decline. This puts the charges of inethicality in a ghostly new light. If advocating the desirability, feasibility, and blatant ethicality of life extension can hasten its implementation by even a mere 10 days, then one million lives that would have otherwise been lost will have been saved by the efforts of life-extension advocates, researchers, and fiscal supporters. Seen in this way, working toward radical longevity may very well be the most ethical and selfless way you could spend your time, in terms of the number of lives saved and/or the amount of suffering prevented.

One of the most common and easy-to-raise concerns I come across in response to any effort to minimize the suffering of future beings is that there are enough problems to worry about right now. “Shouldn’t we be worrying about lessening starvation in underdeveloped countries first? They’re starving right now. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the problems of today, on things that we can have a direct impact on?” Indeed. 100,000 people will die, potentially needlessly, tomorrow. The massive number of people that suffer involuntary death is a problem of today! Indeed, it may very well be the most pressing problem of today! What other source of contemporary suffering claims so many lives, and occurs on such a massive scale? What other “problem of today” is responsible for the needless and irreversible involuntary death of one hundred thousand lives per day? Certainly not starvation, or war, or cancer, all of which in themselves represent smaller sources of involuntary death. Longevity advocates do what they do for the same reason that people who try to mitigate starvation, war, and cancer do what they do, namely to lessen the amount of involuntary death that occurs.

This is a contemporary problem that we can have a direct impact on. People intuitively assume that we won’t achieve radically extended life until far in the future. This makes them conflate any lives saved by radically extended lifespans with lives yet to come into existence. This makes them see involuntary death as a problem of the future, rather than a problem of today. But more people than I’ve ever known will die tomorrow, from causes that are physically possible to obviate and ameliorate – indeed, from causes that we have potential and conceptual solutions for today.

I have attempted to show in this article that advocating life-extension should be considered as “working toward it” to as great an extent as directly funding it or performing direct research on it is considered as “working toward it”. Advocacy has greater potential to increase life extension’s widespread desirability than direct work or funding does, and increasing both its desirability and the public perception if its desirability has more potential to generate increased funding and research-attention for life-extension than direct funding or research does. Advocacy thus has the potential to contribute to the arrival of life extension and hasten its implementation just as much, if not more so (as I have attempted to argue in this article), than practical research or direct funding does. This should motivate people to help create the momentous momentum we need to really get the ball rolling. To be a longevity advocate is to be a longevity worker! Involuntary death from age-associated, physically-remediable causes is the largest source of death, destruction and suffering today.  Don’t you want to help prevent the most widespread source of death and of suffering in existence today? Don’t you want to help mitigate the most pressing moral concern not only of today, but of the entirety of human history – namely physically remediable involuntary death?

Then advocate the technological eradication of involuntary death. Advocate the technical feasibility, extreme desirability, and blatant ethicality of radically extending life. Death is a cataclysm. We need not sanctify the seemingly inevitable any longer. We need not tell ourselves that death is somehow a good thing, or something we can do nothing about, in order to live with the “fact” of it any longer. Soon it won’t be a fact of life. Soon it will be an artifact of history. Life may not be ipso facto valuable according to all philosophies of value – but life is a necessary precondition for any sort of value whatsoever. Death is dumb, dummy! An incontrovertible waste convertible into nothing! A negative-sum blight! So if you want to contribute to the solution of problems of today, if you want to help your fellow man today, then stand proud and shout loud “Doom to Arbitrary Duty and Death to  Arbitrary Death!” at every crowd cowed by the seeming necessity of death.

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Franco Cortese is a futurist, author, editor, Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, Ambassador at The Seasteading Institute, Affiliate Researcher at ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute, Advisor at the Lifeboat Foundation (Futurists Board Member and Life Extension Scientific Advisory Board Member), Director of the Canadian Longevity Alliance, Activist at the International Longevity Alliance, Canadian Ambassador at Longevity Intelligence Communications, an Administrator at MILE (Movement for Indefinite Life Extension), Columnist at LongeCity, Columnist at H+ Magazine, Executive Director of the Center for Transhumanity, Contributor to the Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology, India Future Society, Serious Wonder, Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. Franco edited Longevitize!: Essays on the Science, Philosophy & Politics of Longevity, a compendium of 150+ essays from over 40 contributing authors.
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References:
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[1]. de Grey AD, Ames BN, Andersen JK, Bartke A, Campisi J, HewardCB, McCarter RJ, Stock G (2002). “Time to Talk SENS: Critiquing the Immutability of Human Aging”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 959: 452–62. PMID 11976218.
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[2]. de Grey, Aubrey (2003). The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging. Austin, Texas: Landes Bioscience. ISBN 1-58706-155-4.

[3]. de Grey, Aubrey and Rae, Michael (2007). Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime. St. Martin’s Press.

[4]. Laurence D. Mueller, Casandra L. Rauser and Michael R. Rose (2011). Does Aging Stop? Oxford University Press.

[5]. Garland, T., Jr., and M. R. Rose, eds. (2009). Experimental Evolution: Concepts, Methods, and Applications of Selection Experiments. University of California Press.

We Seek Not to Become Machines, But to Keep Up with Them – Article by Franco Cortese

We Seek Not to Become Machines, But to Keep Up with Them – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
July 14, 2013
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This article attempts to clarify four areas within the movement of Substrate-Independent Minds and the discipline of Whole-Brain Emulation that are particularly ripe for ready-hand misnomers and misconceptions.
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Substrate-Independence 101:

  • Substrate-Independence:
    It is Substrate-Independence for Mind in general, but not any specific mind in particular.
  • The Term “Uploading” Misconstrues More than it Clarifies:
    Once WBE is experimentally-verified, we won’t be using conventional or general-purpose computers like our desktop PCs to emulate real, specific persons.
  • The Computability of the Mind:
    This concept has nothing to do with the brain operating like a computer. The liver is just as computable as the brain; their difference is one of computational intensity, not category.
  • We Don’t Want to Become The Machines – We Want to Keep Up With Them!:
    SIM & WBE are sciences of life-extension first and foremost. It is not out of sheer technophilia, contemptuous “contempt of the flesh”, or wanton want of machinedom that proponents of Uploading support it. It is, for many, because we fear that Recursively Self-Modifying AI will implement an intelligence explosion before Humanity has a chance to come along for the ride. The creation of any one entity superintelligent to the rest constitutes both an existential risk and an antithetical affront to Man, whose sole central and incessant essence is to make himself to an increasingly greater degree, and not to have some artificial god do it for him or tell him how to do it.
Substrate-Independence
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The term “substrate-independence” denotes the philosophical thesis of functionalism – that what is important about the mind and its constitutive sub-systems and processes is their relative function. If such a function could be recreated using an alternate series of component parts or procedural steps, or can be recreated on another substrate entirely, the philosophical thesis of Functionalism holds that it should be the same as the original, experientially speaking.

However, one rather common and ready-at-hand misinterpretation stemming from the term “Substrate-Independence” is the notion that we as personal selves could arbitrarily jump from mental substrate to mental substrate, since mind is software and software can be run on various general-purpose machines. The most common form of this notion is exemplified by scenarios laid out in various Greg Egan novels and stories, wherein a given person sends their mind encoded as a wireless signal to some distant receiver, to be reinstantiated upon arrival.

The term “substrate-independent minds” should denote substrate independence for the minds in general, again, the philosophical thesis of functionalism, and not this second, illegitimate notion. In order to send oneself as such a signal, one would have to put all the processes constituting the mind “on pause” – that is, all causal interaction and thus causal continuity between the software components and processes instantiating our selves would be halted while the software was encoded as a signal, transmitted and subsequently decoded. We could expect this to be equivalent to temporary brain death or to destructive uploading without any sort of gradual replacement, integration, or transfer procedure. Each of these scenarios incurs the ceasing of all causal interaction and causal continuity among the constitutive components and processes instantiating the mind. Yes, we would be instantiated upon reaching our destination, but we can expect this to be as phenomenally discontinuous as brain death or destructive uploading.

There is much talk in the philosophical and futurist circles – where Substrate-Independent Minds are a familiar topic and a common point of discussion – on how the mind is software. This sentiment ultimately derives from functionalism, and the notion that when it comes to mind it is not the material of the brain that matters, but the process(es) emerging therefrom. And due to the fact that almost all software is designed to as to be implemented on general-purpose (i.e., standardized) hardware, that we should likewise be able to transfer the software of the mind into a new physical computational substrate with as much ease as we do software. While we would emerge from such a transfer functionally isomorphic with ourselves prior to the jump from computer to computer, we can expect this to be the phenomenal equivalent of brain death or destructive uploading, again, because all causal interaction and continuity between that software’s constitutive sub-processes has been discontinued. We would have been put on pause in the time between leaving one computer, whether as static signal or static solid-state storage, and arriving at the other.

This is not to say that we couldn’t transfer the physical substrate implementing the “software” of our mind to another body, provided the other body were equipped to receive such a physical substrate. But this doesn’t have quite the same advantage as beaming oneself to the other side of Earth, or Andromeda for that matter, at the speed of light.

But to transfer a given WBE to another mental substrate without incurring phenomenal discontinuity may very well involve a second gradual integration procedure, in addition to the one the WBE initially underwent (assuming it isn’t a product of destructive uploading). And indeed, this would be more properly thought of in the context of a new substrate being gradually integrated with the WBE’s existing substrate, rather than the other way around (i.e., portions of the WBE’s substrate being gradually integrated with an external substrate.) It is likely to be much easier to simply transfer a given physical/mental substrate to another body, or to bypass this need altogether by actuating bodies via tele-operation instead.

In summary, what is sought is substrate-independence for mind in general, and not for a specific mind in particular (at least not without a gradual integration procedure, like the type underlying the notion of gradual uploading, so as to transfer such a mind to a new substrate without causing phenomenal discontinuity).

The Term “Uploading” Misconstrues More Than It Clarifies

The term “Mind Uploading” has some drawbacks and creates common initial misconceptions. It is based off terminology originating from the context of conventional, contemporary computers – which may lead to the initial impression that we are talking about uploading a given mind into a desktop PC, to be run in the manner that Microsoft Word is run. This makes the notion of WBE more fantastic and incredible – and thus improbable – than it actually is. I don’t think anyone seriously speculating about WBE would entertain such a notion.

Another potential misinterpretation particularly likely to result from the term “Mind Uploading” is that we seek to upload a mind into a computer – as though it were nothing more than a simple file transfer. This, again, connotes modern paradigms of computation and communications technology that are unlikely to be used for WBE. It also creates the connotation of putting the mind into a computer – whereas a more accurate connotation, at least as far as gradual uploading as opposed to destructive uploading is concerned, would be bringing the computer gradually into the biological mind.

It is easy to see why the term initially came into use. The notion of destructive uploading was the first embodiment of the concept. The notion of gradual uploading so as to mitigate the philosophical problems pertaining to how much a copy can be considered the same person as the original, especially in contexts where they are both simultaneously existent, came afterward. In the context of destructive uploading, it makes more connotative sense to think of concepts like uploading and file transfer.

But in the notion of gradual uploading, portions of the biological brain – most commonly single neurons, as in Robert A. Freitas’s and Ray Kurzweil’s versions of gradual uploading – are replaced with in-vivo computational substrate, to be placed where the neuron it is replacing was located. Such a computational substrate would be operatively connected to electrical or electrochemical sensors (to translate the biochemical or, more generally, biophysical output of adjacent neurons into computational input that can be used by the computational emulation) and electrical or electrochemical actuators (to likewise translate computational output of the emulation into biophysical input that can be used by adjacent biological neurons). It is possible to have this computational emulation reside in a physical substrate existing outside of the biological brain, connected to in-vivo biophysical sensors and actuators via wireless communication (i.e., communicating via electromagnetic signal), but this simply introduces a potential lag-time that may then have to be overcome by faster sensors, faster actuators, or a faster emulation. It is likely that the lag-time would be negligible, especially if it was located in a convenient module external to the body but “on it” at all times, to minimize transmission delays increasing as one gets farther away from such an external computational device. This would also likely necessitate additional computation to model the necessary changes to transmission speed in response to how far away the person is.  Otherwise, signals that are meant to arrive at a given time could arrive too soon or too late, thereby disrupting functionality. However, placing the computational substrate in vivo obviates these potential logistical obstacles.

This notion is I think not brought into the discussion enough. It is an intuitively obvious notion if you’ve thought a great deal about Substrate-Independen -Minds and frequented discussions on Mind Uploading. But to a newcomer who has heard the term Gradual Uploading for the first time, it is all too easy to think “yes, but then one emulated neuron would exist on a computer, and the original biological neuron would still be in the brain. So once you’ve gradually emulated all these neurons, you have an emulation on a computer, and the original biological brain, still as separate physical entities. Then you have an original and the copy – so where does the gradual in Gradual Uploading come in? How is this any different than destructive uploading? At the end of the day you still have a copy and an original as separate entities.”

This seeming impasse is I think enough to make the notion of Gradual Uploading seem at least intuitively or initially incredible and infeasible before people take the time to read the literature and discover how gradual uploading could actually be achieved (i.e., wherein each emulated neuron is connected to biophysical sensors and actuators to facilitate operational connection and causal interaction with existing in-vivo biological neurons) without fatally tripping upon such seeming logistical impasses, as in the example above. The connotations created by the term I think to some extent make it seem so fantastic (as in the overly simplified misinterpretations considered above) that people write off the possibility before delving deep enough into the literature and discussion to actually ascertain the possibility with any rigor.

The Computability of the Mind

Another common misconception is that the feasibility of Mind Uploading is based upon the notion that the brain is a computer or operates like a computer. The worst version of this misinterpretation that I’ve come across is that proponents and supporters of Mind Uploading are claiming that the mind is similar in operation current and conventional paradigms of computer.

Before I elaborate why this is wrong, I’d like to point out a particularly harmful sentiment that can result from this notion. It makes the concept of Mind Uploading seem dehumanizing, because conventional computers don’t display anything like intelligence or emotion. This makes people conflate the possible behaviors of future computers with the behaviors of current computers. Obviously computers don’t feel happiness or love, and so to say that the brain is like a computer is a farcical claim.

Machines don’t have to be as simple or as un-adaptable and invariant as the are today. The universe itself is a machine. In other words, either everything is a machine or nothing is.

This misunderstanding also makes people think that advocates and supporters of Mind Uploading are claiming that the mind is reducible to basic or simple autonomous operations, like cogs in a machine, which constitutes for many people a seeming affront to our privileged place in the universe as humans, in general, and to our culturally ingrained notions of human dignity being inextricably tied to physical irreducibility, in particular. The intuitive notions of human dignity and the ontologically privileged nature of humanity have yet to catch up with physicalism and scientific materialism (a.k.a. metaphysical naturalism). It is not the proponents of Mind Uploading that are raising these claims, but science itself – and for hundreds of years, I might add. Man’s privileged and physically irreducible ontological status has become more and more undermined throughout history since at least as far back as the Darwin’s theory of Evolution, which brought the notion of the past and future phenotypic evolution of humanity into scientific plausibility for the first time.

It is also seemingly disenfranchising to many people, in that notions of human free will and autonomy seem to be challenged by physical reductionism and determinism – perhaps because many people’s notions of free will are still associated with a non-physical, untouchably metaphysical human soul (i.e., mind-body dualism) which lies outside the purview of physical causality. To compare the brain to a “mindless machine” is still for many people disenfranchising to the extent that it questions the legitimacy of their metaphysically tied notions of free will.

Just because the sheer audacity of experience and the raucous beauty of feeling is ultimately reducible to physical and procedural operations (I hesitate to use the word “mechanisms” for its likewise misconnotative conceptual associations) does not take away from it. If it were the result of some untouchable metaphysical property, a sentiment that mind-body-dualism promulgated for quite some time, then there would be no way for us to understand it, to really appreciate it, and to change it (e.g., improve upon it) in any way. Physicalism and scientific materialism are needed if we are to ever see how it is done and to ever hope to change it for the better. Figuring out how things work is one of Man’s highest merits – and there is no reason Man’s urge to discover and determine the underlying causes of the world should not apply to his own self as well.

Moreover, the fact that experience, feeling, being, and mind result from the convergence of singly simple systems and processes makes the mind’s emergence from such simple convergence all the more astounding, amazing, and rare, not less! If the complexity and unpredictability of mind were the result of complex and unpredictable underlying causes (like the metaphysical notions of mind-body dualism connote), then the fact that mind turned out to be complex and unpredictable wouldn’t be much of a surprise. The simplicity of the mind’s underlying mechanisms makes the mind’s emergence all the more amazing, and should not take away from our human dignity but should instead raise it up to heights yet unheralded.

Now that we have addressed such potentially harmful second-order misinterpretations, we will address their root: the common misinterpretations likely to result from the phrase “the computability of the mind”. Not only does this phrase not say that the mind is similar in basic operation to conventional paradigms of computation – as though a neuron were comparable to a logic gate or transistor – but neither does it necessarily make the more credible claim that the mind is like a computer in general. This makes the notion of Mind-Uploading seem dubious because it conflates two different types of physical systems – computers and the brain.

The kidney is just as computable as the brain. That is to say that the computability of mind denotes the ability to make predictively accurate computational models (i.e., simulations and emulations) of biological systems like the brain, and is not dependent on anything like a fundamental operational similarity between biological brains and digital computers. We can make computational models of a given physical system, feed it some typical inputs, and get a resulting output that approximately matches the real-world (i.e., physical) output of such a system.

The computability of the mind has very little to do with the mind acting as or operating like a computer, and much, much more to do with the fact that we can build predictively accurate computational models of physical systems in general. This also, advantageously, negates and obviates many of the seemingly dehumanizing and indignifying connotations identified above that often result from the claim that the brain is like a machine or like a computer. It is not that the brain is like a computer – it is just that computers are capable of predictively modeling the physical systems of the universe itself.

We Want Not To Become Machines, But To Keep Up With Them!

Too often is uploading portrayed as the means to superhuman speed of thought or to transcending our humanity. It is not that we want to become less human, or to become like a machine. For most Transhumanists and indeed most proponents of Mind Uploading and Substrate-Independent Minds, meat is machinery anyways. In other words there is no real (i.e., legitimate) ontological distinction between human minds and machines to begin with. Too often is uploading seen as the desire for superhuman abilities. Too often is it seen as a bonus, nice but ultimately unnecessary.

I vehemently disagree. Uploading has been from the start for me (and I think for many other proponents and supporters of Mind Uploading) a means of life extension, of deferring and ultimately defeating untimely, involuntary death, as opposed to an ultimately unnecessary means to better powers, a more privileged position relative to the rest of humanity, or to eschewing our humanity in a fit of contempt of the flesh. We do not want to turn ourselves into Artificial Intelligence, which is a somewhat perverse and burlesque caricature that is associated with Mind Uploading far too often.

The notion of gradual uploading is implicitly a means of life extension. Gradual uploading will be significantly harder to accomplish than destructive uploading. It requires a host of technologies and methodologies – brain-scanning, in-vivo locomotive systems such as but not limited to nanotechnology, or else extremely robust biotechnology – and a host of precautions to prevent causing phenomenal discontinuity, such as enabling each non-biological functional replacement time to causally interact with adjacent biological components before the next biological component that it causally interacts with is likewise replaced. Gradual uploading is a much harder feat than destructive uploading, and the only advantage it has over destructive uploading is preserving the phenomenal continuity of a single specific person. In this way it is implicitly a means of life extension, rather than a means to the creation of AGI, because its only benefit is the preservation and continuation of a single, specific human life, and that benefit entails a host of added precautions and additional necessitated technological and methodological infrastructures.

If we didn’t have to fear the creation of recursively self-improving AI, biased towards being likely to recursively self-modify at a rate faster than humans are likely to (or indeed, are able to safely – that is, gradually enough to prevent phenomenal discontinuity), then I would favor biotechnological methods of achieving indefinite lifespans over gradual uploading. But with the way things are, I am an advocate of gradual Mind Uploading first and foremost because I think it may prove necessary to prevent humanity from being left behind by recursively self-modifying superintelligences. I hope that it ultimately will not prove necessary – but at the current time I feel that it is somewhat likely.

Most people who wish to implement or accelerate an intelligence explosion a la I.J. Good, and more recently Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, wish to do so because they feel that such a recursively self-modifying superintelligence (RSMSI) could essentially solve all of humanity’s problems – disease, death, scarcity, existential insecurity. I think that the potential benefits of creating a RSMSI are superseded by the drastic increase in existential risk it would entail in making any one entity superintelligent relative to humanity. The old God of yore is finally going out of fashion, one and a quarter centuries late to his own eulogy. Let’s please not make another one, now with a little reality under his belt this time around.

Intelligence is a far greater source of existential and global catastrophic risk than any technology that could be wielded by such an intelligence (except, of course, for technologies that would allow an intelligence to increase its own intelligence). Intelligence can invent new technologies and conceive of ways to counteract any defense systems we put in place to protect against the destructive potentials of any given technology. A superintelligence is far more dangerous than rogue nanotech (i.e., grey-goo) or bioweapons. When intelligence comes into play, then all bets are off. I think culture exemplifies this prominently enough. Moreover, for the first time in history the technological solutions to these problems – death, disease, scarcity – are on the conceptual horizon. We can fix these problems ourselves, without creating an effective God relative to Man and incurring the extreme potential for complete human extinction that such a relative superintelligence would entail.

Thus uploading constitutes one of the means by which humanity can choose, volitionally, to stay on the leading edge of change, discovery, invention, and novelty, if the creation of a RSMSI is indeed imminent. It is not that we wish to become machines and eschew our humanity – rather the loss of autonomy and freedom inherent in the creation of a relative superintelligence is antithetical to the defining features of humanity. In order to preserve the uniquely human thrust toward greater self-determination in the face of such a RSMSI, or at least be given the choice of doing so, we may require the ability to gradually upload so as to stay on equal footing in terms of speed of thought and general level of intelligence (which is roughly correlative with the capacity to affect change in the world and thus to determine its determining circumstances and conditions as well).

In a perfect world we wouldn’t need to take the chance of phenomenal discontinuity inherent in gradual uploading. In gradual uploading there is always a chance, no matter how small, that we will come out the other side of the procedure as a different (i.e., phenomenally distinct) person. We can seek to minimize the chances of that outcome by extending the degree of graduality with which we gradually replace the material constituents of the mind, and by minimizing the scale at which we gradually replace those material constituents (i.e., gradual substrate replacement one ion-channel at a time would be likelier to ensure the preservation of phenomenal continuity than gradual substrate replacement neuron by neuron would be). But there is always a chance.

This is why biotechnological means of indefinite lifespans have an immediate advantage over uploading, and why if non-human RSMSI were not a worry, I would favor biotechnological methods of indefinite lifespans over Mind Uploading. But this isn’t the case; rogue RSMSI are a potential problem, and so the ability to secure our own autonomy in the face of a rising RSMSI may necessitate advocating Mind Uploading over biotechnological methods of indefinite lifespans.

Mind Uploading has some ancillary benefits over biotechnological means of indefinite lifespans as well, however. If functional equivalence is validated (i.e., if it is validated that the basic approach works), mitigating existing sources of damage becomes categorically easier. In physical embodiment, repairing structural, connectional, or procedural sub-systems in the body requires (1) a means of determining the source of damage and (2) a host of technologies and corresponding methodologies to enter the body and make physical changes to negate or otherwise obviate the structural, connectional, or procedural source of such damages, and then exit the body without damaging or causing dysfunction to other systems in the process. Both of these requirements become much easier in the virtual embodiment of whole-brain emulation.

First, looking toward requirement (2), we do not need to actually design any technologies and methodologies for entering and leaving the system without damage or dysfunction or for actually implementing physical changes leading to the remediation of the sources of damage. In virtual embodiment this requires nothing more than rewriting information. Since in the case of WBE we have the capacity to rewrite information as easily as it was written in the first place, while we would still need to know what changes to make (which is really the hard part in this case), actually implementing those changes is as easy as rewriting a word file. There is no categorical difference, since it is information, and we would already have a means of rewriting information.

Looking toward requirement (1), actually elucidating the structural, connectional or procedural sources of damage and/or dysfunction, we see that virtual embodiment makes this much easier as well. In physical embodiment we would need to make changes to the system in order to determine the source of the damage. In virtual embodiment we could run a section of emulation for a given amount of time, change or eliminate a given informational variable (i.e. structure, component, etc.) and see how this affects the emergent system-state of the emulation instance.

Iteratively doing this to different components and different sequences of components, in trial-and-error fashion, should lead to the elucidation of the structural, connectional or procedural sources of damage and dysfunction. The fact that an emulation can be run faster (thus accelerating this iterative change-and-check procedure) and that we can “rewind” or “play back” an instance of emulation time exactly as it occurred initially means that noise (i.e., sources of error) from natural systemic state-changes would not affect the results of this procedure, whereas in physicality systems and structures are always changing, which constitutes a source of experimental noise. The conditions of the experiment would be exactly the same in every iteration of this change-and-check procedure. Moreover, the ability to arbitrarily speed up and slow down the emulation will aid in our detecting and locating the emergent changes caused by changing or eliminating a given microscale component, structure, or process.

Thus the process of finding the sources of damage correlative with disease and aging (especially insofar as the brain is concerned) could be greatly improved through the process of uploading. Moreover, WBE should accelerate the technological and methodological development of the computational emulation of biological systems in general, meaning that it would be possible to use such procedures to detect the structural, connectional, and procedural sources of age-related damage and systemic dysfunction in the body itself, as opposed to just the brain, as well.

Note that this iterative change-and-check procedure would be just as possible via destructive uploading as it would with gradual uploading. Moreover, in terms of people actually instantiated as whole-brain emulations, actually remediating those structural, connectional, and/or procedural sources of damage as it pertains to WBEs is much easier than physically-embodied humans. Anecdotally, if being able to distinguish among the homeostatic, regulatory, and metabolic structures and processes in the brain from the computational or signal-processing structures and processes in the brain is a requirement for uploading (which I don’t think it necessarily is, although I do think that such a distinction would decrease the ultimate computational intensity and thus computational requirements of uploading, thereby allowing it to be implemented sooner and have wider availability), then this iterative change-and-check procedure could also be used to accelerate the elucidation of such a distinction as well, for the same reasons that it could accelerate the elucidation of structural, connectional, and procedural sources of age-related systemic damage and dysfunction.

Lastly, while uploading (particularly instances in which a single entity or small group of entities is uploaded prior to the rest of humanity – i.e. not a maximally distributed intelligence explosion) itself constitutes a source of existential risk, it also constitutes a means of mitigating existential risk as well. Currently we stand on the surface of the earth, naked to whatever might lurk in the deep night of space. We have not been watching the sky for long enough to know with any certainty that some unforeseen cosmic process could not come along to wipe us out at any time. Uploading would allow at least a small portion of humanity to live virtually on a computational substrate located deep underground, away from the surface of the earth and its inherent dangers, thus preserving the future human heritage should an extinction event befall humanity. Uploading would also prevent the danger of being physically killed by some accident of physicality, like being hit by a bus or struck by lightning.

Uploading is also the most resource-efficient means of life-extension on the table, because virtual embodiment not only essentially negates the need for many physical resources (instead necessitating one, namely energy – and increasing computational price-performance means that just how much a given amount of energy can do is continually increasing).

It also mitigates the most pressing ethical problem of indefinite lifespans – overpopulation. In virtual embodiment, overpopulation ceases to be an issue almost ipso facto. I agree with John Smart’s STEM compression hypothesis – that in the long run the advantages proffered by virtual embodiment will make choosing it over physical embodiment, in the long run at least, an obvious choice for most civilizations, and I think it will be the volitional choice for most future persons. It is safer, more resource-efficient (and thus more ethical, if one thinks that forestalling future births in order to maintain existing life is unethical) and the more advantageous choice. We will not need to say: migrate into virtuality if you want another physically embodied child. Most people will make the choice to go VR themselves simply due to the numerous advantages and the lack of any experiential incomparabilities (i.e., modalities of experience possible in physicality but not possible in VR).

So in summary, yes, Mind Uploading (especially gradual uploading) is more a means of life-extension than a means to arbitrarily greater speed of thought, intelligence or power (i.e., capacity to affect change in the world). We do not seek to become machines, only to retain the capability of choosing to remain on equal footing with them if the creation of RSMSI is indeed imminent. There is no other reason to increase our collective speed of thought, and to do so would be arbitrary – unless we expected to be unable to prevent the physical end of the universe, in which case it would increase the ultimate amount of time and number of lives that could be instantiated in the time we have left.

The fallibility of many of these misconceptions may be glaringly obvious, especially to those readers familiar with Mind Uploading as notion and Substrate-Independent Minds and/or Whole-Brain Emulation as disciplines. I may be to some extent preaching to the choir in these cases. But I find many of these misinterpretations far too predominant and recurrent to be left alone.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

Intimations of Imitations: Visions of Cellular Prosthesis and Functionally Restorative Medicine – Article by Franco Cortese

Intimations of Imitations: Visions of Cellular Prosthesis and Functionally Restorative Medicine – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 23, 2013
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In this essay I argue that technologies and techniques used and developed in the fields of Synthetic Ion Channels and Ion-Channel Reconstitution, which have emerged from the fields of supramolecular chemistry and bio-organic chemistry throughout the past 4 decades, can be applied towards the purpose of gradual cellular (and particularly neuronal) replacement to create a new interdisciplinary field that applies such techniques and technologies towards the goal of the indefinite functional restoration of cellular mechanisms and systems, as opposed to their current proposed use of aiding in the elucidation of cellular mechanisms and their underlying principles, and as biosensors.

In earlier essays (see here and here) I identified approaches to the synthesis of non-biological functional equivalents of neuronal components (i.e., ion-channels, ion-pumps, and membrane sections) and their sectional integration with the existing biological neuron — a sort of “physical” emulation, if you will. It has only recently come to my attention that there is an existing field emerging from supramolecular and bio-organic chemistry centered around the design, synthesis, and incorporation/integration of both synthetic/artificial ion channels and artificial bilipid membranes (i.e., lipid bilayer). The potential uses for such channels commonly listed in the literature have nothing to do with life-extension, however, and the field is, to my knowledge, yet to envision the use of replacing our existing neuronal components as they degrade (or before they are able to), rather seeing such uses as aiding in the elucidation of cellular operations and mechanisms and as biosensors. I argue here that the very technologies and techniques that constitute the field (Synthetic Ion Channels & Ion-Channel/Membrane Reconstitution) can be used towards the purposes of indefinite longevity and life-extension through the iterative replacement of cellular constituents (particularly the components comprising our neurons – ion-channels, ion-pumps, sections of bi-lipid membrane, etc.) so as to negate the molecular degradation they would have otherwise eventually undergone.

While I envisioned an electro-mechanical-systems approach in my earlier essays, the field of Synthetic Ion-Channels from the start in the early 1970s applied a molecular approach to the problem of designing molecular systems that produce certain functions according to their chemical composition or structure. Note that this approach corresponds to (or can be categorized under) the passive-physicalist sub-approach of the physicalist-functionalist approach (the broad approach overlying all varieties of physically embodied, “prosthetic” neuronal functional replication) identified in an earlier essay.

The field of synthetic ion channels is also referred to as ion-channel reconstitution, which designates “the solubilization of the membrane, the isolation of the channel protein from the other membrane constituents and the reintroduction of that protein into some form of artificial membrane system that facilitates the measurement of channel function,” and more broadly denotes “the [general] study of ion channel function and can be used to describe the incorporation of intact membrane vesicles, including the protein of interest, into artificial membrane systems that allow the properties of the channel to be investigated” [1]. The field has been active since the 1970s, with experimental successes in the incorporation of functioning synthetic ion channels into biological bilipid membranes and artificial membranes dissimilar in molecular composition and structure to biological analogues underlying supramolecular interactions, ion selectivity, and permeability throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. The relevant literature suggests that their proposed use has thus far been limited to the elucidation of ion-channel function and operation, the investigation of their functional and biophysical properties, and to a lesser degree for the purpose of “in-vitro sensing devices to detect the presence of physiologically active substances including antiseptics, antibiotics, neurotransmitters, and others” through the “… transduction of bioelectrical and biochemical events into measurable electrical signals” [2].

Thus my proposal of gradually integrating artificial ion-channels and/or artificial membrane sections for the purpose of indefinite longevity (that is, their use in replacing existing biological neurons towards the aim of gradual substrate replacement, or indeed even in the alternative use of constructing artificial neurons to — rather than replace existing biological neurons — become integrated with existing biological neural networks towards the aim of intelligence amplification and augmentation while assuming functional and experiential continuity with our existing biological nervous system) appears to be novel, while the notion of artificial ion-channels and neuronal membrane systems ion in general had already been conceived (and successfully created/experimentally verified, though presumably not integrated in vivo).

The field of Functionally Restorative Medicine (and the orphan sub-field of whole-brain gradual-substrate replacement, or “physically embodied” brain-emulation, if you like) can take advantage of the decades of experimental progress in this field, incorporating both the technological and methodological infrastructures used in and underlying the field of Ion-Channel Reconstitution and Synthetic/Artificial Ion Channels & Membrane-Systems (and the technologies and methodologies underlying their corresponding experimental-verification and incorporation techniques) for the purpose of indefinite functional restoration via the gradual and iterative replacement of neuronal components (including sections of bilipid membrane, ion channels, and ion pumps) by MEMS (micro-electrocal-mechanical systems) or more likely NEMS (nano-electro-mechanical systems).

The technological and methodological infrastructure underlying this field can be utilized for both the creation of artificial neurons and for the artificial synthesis of normative biological neurons. Much work in the field required artificially synthesizing cellular components (e.g., bilipid membranes) with structural and functional properties as similar to normative biological cells as possible, so that the alternative designs (i.e., dissimilar to the normal structural and functional modalities of biological cells or cellular components) and how they affect and elucidate cellular properties, could be effectively tested. The iterative replacement of either single neurons, or the sectional replacement of neurons with synthesized cellular components (including sections of the bi-lipid membrane, voltage-dependent ion-channels, ligand-dependent ion channels, ion pumps, etc.) is made possible by the large body of work already done in the field. Consequently the technological, methodological, and experimental infrastructures developed for the fields of Synthetic Ion Channels and Ion-Channel/Artificial-Membrane Reconstitution can be utilized for the purpose of (a) iterative replacement and cellular upkeep via biological analogues (or not differing significantly in structure or functional and operational modality to their normal biological counterparts) and/or (b) iterative replacement with non-biological analogues of alternate structural and/or functional modalities.

Rather than sensing when a given component degrades and then replacing it with an artificially-synthesized biological or non-biological analogue, it appears to be much more efficient to determine the projected time it takes for a given component to degrade or otherwise lose functionality, and simply automate the iterative replacement in this fashion, without providing in vivo systems for detecting molecular or structural degradation. This would allow us to achieve both experimental and pragmatic success in such cellular prosthesis sooner, because it doesn’t rely on the complex technological and methodological infrastructure underlying in vivo sensing, especially on the scale of single neuron components like ion-channels, and without causing operational or functional distortion to the components being sensed.

A survey of progress in the field [3] lists several broad design motifs. I will first list the deign motifs falling within the scope of the survey, and the examples it provides. Selections from both papers are meant to show the depth and breadth of the field, rather than to elucidate the specific chemical or kinetic operations under the purview of each design-variety.

For a much more comprehensive, interactive bibliography of papers falling within the field of Synthetic Ion Channels or constituting the historical foundations of the field, see Jon Chui’s online biography here, which charts the developments in this field up until 2011.

First Survey

Unimolecular ion channels:

Examples include (a) synthetic ion channels with oligocrown ionophores, [5] (b) using a-helical peptide scaffolds and rigid push–pull p-octiphenyl scaffolds for the recognition of polarized membranes, [6] and (c) modified varieties of the b-helical scaffold of gramicidin A [7].

Barrel-stave supramolecules:

Examples of this general class falling include voltage-gated synthetic ion channels formed by macrocyclic bolaamphiphiles and rigidrod p-octiphenyl polyols [8].

Macrocyclic, branched and linear non-peptide bolaamphiphiles as staves:

Examples of this sub-class include synthetic ion channels formed by (a) macrocyclic, branched and linear bolaamphiphiles, and dimeric steroids, [9] and by (b) non-peptide macrocycles, acyclic analogs, and peptide macrocycles (respectively) containing abiotic amino acids [10].

Dimeric steroid staves:

Examples of this sub-class include channels using polydroxylated norcholentriol dimers [11].

p-Oligophenyls as staves in rigid-rod ß-barrels:

Examples of this sub-class include “cylindrical self-assembly of rigid-rod ß-barrel pores preorganized by the nonplanarity of p-octiphenyl staves in octapeptide-p-octiphenyl monomers” [12].

Synthetic polymers:

Examples of this sub-class include synthetic ion channels and pores comprised of (a) polyalanine, (b) polyisocyanates, (c) polyacrylates, [13] formed by (i) ionophoric, (ii) ‘smart’, and (iii) cationic polymers [14]; (d) surface-attached poly(vinyl-n-alkylpyridinium) [15]; (e) cationic oligo-polymers [16], and (f) poly(m-phenylene ethylenes) [17].

Helical b-peptides (used as staves in barrel-stave method):

Examples of this class include cationic b-peptides with antibiotic activity, presumably acting as amphiphilic helices that form micellar pores in anionic bilayer membranes [18].

Monomeric steroids:

Examples of this sub-class include synthetic carriers, channels and pores formed by monomeric steroids [19], synthetic cationic steroid antibiotics that may act by forming micellar pores in anionic membranes [20], neutral steroids as anion carriers [21], and supramolecular ion channels [22].

Complex minimalist systems:

Examples of this sub-class falling within the scope of this survey include ‘minimalist’ amphiphiles as synthetic ion channels and pores [23], membrane-active ‘smart’ double-chain amphiphiles, expected to form ‘micellar pores’ or self-assemble into ion channels in response to acid or light [24], and double-chain amphiphiles that may form ‘micellar pores’ at the boundary between photopolymerized and host bilayer domains and representative peptide conjugates that may self-assemble into supramolecular pores or exhibit antibiotic activity [25].

Non-peptide macrocycles as hoops:

Examples of this sub-class falling within the scope of this survey include synthetic ion channels formed by non-peptide macrocycles acyclic analogs [26] and peptide macrocycles containing abiotic amino acids [27].

Peptide macrocycles as hoops and staves:

Examples of this sub-class include (a) synthetic ion channels formed by self-assembly of macrocyclic peptides into genuine barrel-hoop motifs that mimic the b-helix of gramicidin A with cyclic ß-sheets. The macrocycles are designed to bind on top of channels and cationic antibiotics (and several analogs) are proposed to form micellar pores in anionic membranes [28]; (b) synthetic carriers, antibiotics (and analogs), and pores (and analogs) formed by macrocyclic peptides with non-natural subunits. Certain macrocycles may act as ß-sheets, possibly as staves of ß-barrel-like pores [29]; (c) bioengineered pores as sensors. Covalent capturing and fragmentations have been observed on the single-molecule level within engineered a-hemolysin pore containing an internal reactive thiol [30].

Summary

Thus even without knowledge of supramolecular or organic chemistry, one can see that a variety of alternate approaches to the creation of synthetic ion channels, and several sub-approaches within each larger ‘design motif’ or broad-approach, not only exist but have been experimentally verified, varietized, and refined.

Second Survey

The following selections [31] illustrate the chemical, structural, and functional varieties of synthetic ions categorized according to whether they are cation-conducting or anion-conducting, respectively. These examples are used to further emphasize the extent of the field, and the number of alternative approaches to synthetic ion-channel design, implementation, integration, and experimental verification already existent. Permission to use all the following selections and figures was obtained from the author of the source.

There are 6 classical design-motifs for synthetic ion-channels, categorized by structure, that are identified within the paper:

A: Unimolecular macromolecules,
B: Complex barrel-stave,
C: Barrel-rosette,
D: Barrel hoop, and
E: Micellar supramolecules.

Cation Conducting Channels:

UNIMOLECULAR

“The first non-peptidic artificial ion channel was reported by Kobuke et al. in 1992” [33].

“The channel contained “an amphiphilic ion pair consisting of oligoether-carboxylates and mono– (or di-) octadecylammoniumcations. The carboxylates formed the channel core and the cations formed the hydrophobic outer wall, which was embedded in the bilipid membrane with a channel length of about 24 to 30 Å. The resultant ion channel, formed from molecular self-assembly, is cation-selective and voltage-dependent” [34].

“Later, Kokube et al. synthesized another channel comprising of resorcinol-based cyclic tetramer as the building block. The resorcin-[4]-arenemonomer consisted of four long alkyl chains which aggregated to form a dimeric supramolecular structure resembling that of Gramicidin A” [35]. “Gokel et al. had studied [a set of] simple yet fully functional ion channels known as “hydraphiles” [39].

“An example (channel 3) is shown in Figure 1.6, consisting of diaza-18-crown-6 crown ether groups and alkyl chains as side arms and spacers. Channel 3 is capable of transporting protons across the bilayer membrane” [40].

“A covalently bonded macrotetracycle (Figure 1.8) had shown to be about three times more active than Gokel’s ‘hydraphile’ channel, and its amide-containing analogue also showed enhanced activity” [44].

“Inorganic derivative using crown ethers have also been synthesized. Hall et al. synthesized an ion channel consisting of a ferrocene and 4 diaza-18-crown-6 linked by 2 dodecyl chains (Figure 1.9). The ion channel was redox-active as oxidation of the ferrocene caused the compound to switch to an inactive form” [45].

B-STAVES:

“These are more difficult to synthesize [in comparison to unimolecular varieties] because the channel formation usually involves self-assembly via non-covalent interactions” [47].“A cyclic peptide composed of even number of alternating D– and L-amino acids (Figure 1.10) was suggested to form barrel-hoop structure through backbone-backbone hydrogen bonds by De Santis” [49].

“A tubular nanotube synthesized by Ghadiri et al. consisting of cyclic D and L peptide subunits form a flat, ring-shaped conformation that stack through an extensive anti-parallel ß-sheet-like hydrogen bonding interaction (Figure 1.11)” [51].

“Experimental results have shown that the channel can transport sodium and potassium ions. The channel can also be constructed by the use of direct covalent bonding between the sheets so as to increase the thermodynamic and kinetic stability” [52].

“By attaching peptides to the octiphenyl scaffold, a ß-barrel can be formed via self-assembly through the formation of ß-sheet structures between the peptide chains (Figure 1.13)” [53].

“The same scaffold was used by Matile et al. to mimic the structure of macrolide antibiotic amphotericin B. The channel synthesized was shown to transport cations across the membrane” [54].

“Attaching the electron-poor naphthalene diimide (NDIs) to the same octiphenyl scaffold led to the hoop-stave mismatch during self-assembly that results in a twisted and closed channel conformation (Figure 1.14). Adding the complementary dialkoxynaphthalene (DAN) donor led to the cooperative interactions between NDI and DAN that favors the formation of barrel-stave ion channel.” [57].

MICELLAR

“These aggregate channels are formed by amphotericin involving both sterols and antibiotics arranged in two half-channel sections within the membrane” [58].

“An active form of the compound is the bolaamphiphiles (two-headed amphiphiles). Figure 1.15 shows an example that forms an active channel structure through dimerization or trimerization within the bilayer membrane. Electrochemical studies had shown that the monomer is inactive and the active form involves dimer or larger aggregates” [60].

ANION CONDUCTING CHANNELS:

“A highly active, anion selective, monomeric cyclodextrin-based ion channel was designed by Madhavan et al. (Figure 1.16). Oligoether chains were attached to the primary face of the ß-cyclodextrin head group via amide bonds. The hydrophobic oligoether chains were chosen because they are long enough to span the entire lipid bilayer. The channel was able to select “anions over cations” and “discriminate among halide anions in the order I- > Br- > Cl- (following Hofmeister series)” [61].

“The anion selectivity occurred via the ring of ammonium cations being positioned just beside the cyclodextrin head group, which helped to facilitate anion selectivity. Iodide ions were transported the fastest because the activation barrier to enter the hydrophobic channel core is lower for I- compared to either Br- or Cl-” [62]. “A more specific artificial anion selective ion channel was the chloride selective ion channel synthesized by Gokel. The building block involved a heptapeptide with Proline incorporated (Figure 1.17)” [63].

Cellular Prosthesis: Inklings of a New Interdisciplinary Approach

The paper cites “nanoreactors for catalysis and chemical or biological sensors” and “interdisciplinary uses as nano –filtration membrane, drug or gene delivery vehicles/transporters as well as channel-based antibiotics that may kill bacterial cells preferentially over mammalian cells” as some of the main applications of synthetic ion-channels [65], other than their normative use in elucidating cellular function and operation.

However, I argue that a whole interdisciplinary field and heretofore-unrecognized new approach or sub-field of Functionally Restorative Medicine is possible through taking the technologies and techniques involved in constructing, integrating, and experimentally verifying either (a) non-biological analogues of ion-channels and ion-pumps (thus trans-membrane membrane proteins in general, also sometimes referred to as transport proteins or integral membrane proteins) and membranes (which include normative bilipid membranes, non-lipid membranes and chemically-augmented bilipid membranes), and (b) the artificial synthesis of biological analogues of ion-channels, ion-pumps and membranes, which are structurally and chemically equivalent to naturally-occurring biological components but which are synthesized artificially – and applying such technologies and techniques toward the purpose the gradual replacement of our existing biological neurons constituting our nervous systems – or at least those neuron-populations that comprise the neocortex and prefrontal cortex, and through iterative procedures of gradual replacement thereby achieving indefinite longevity. There is still work to be done in determining the comparative advantages and disadvantages of various structural and functional (i.e., design) motifs, and in the logistics of implanting the iterative replacement or reconstitution of ion-channels, ion-pumps and sections of neuronal membrane in vivo.

The conceptual schemes outlined in Concepts for Functional Replication of Biological Neurons [66], Gradual Neuron Replacement for the Preservation of Subjective-Continuity [67] and Wireless Synapses, Artificial Plasticity, and Neuromodulation [68] would constitute variations on the basic approach underlying this proposed, embryonic interdisciplinary field. Certain approaches within the fields of nanomedicine itself, particularly those approaches that constitute the functional emulation of existing cell-types, such as but not limited to Robert Freitas’s conceptual designs for the functional emulation of the red blood cell (a.k.a. erythrocytes, haematids) [69], i.e., the Resperocyte, itself should be seen as falling under the purview of this new approach, although not all approaches to Nanomedicine (diagnostics, drug-delivery and neuroelectronic interfacing) constitute the physical (i.e. electromechanical, kinetic, and/or molecular physically embodied) and functional emulation of biological cells.

The field of functionally-restorative medicine in general (and of nanomedicine in particular) and the fields of supramolecular and organic chemistry converge here, where these technological, methodological, and experimental infrastructures developed in the fields of Synthetic Ion-Channels and Ion Channel Reconstitution can be employed to develop a new interdisciplinary approach that applies the logic of prosthesis to the cellular and cellular-component (i.e., sub-cellular) scale; same tools, new use. These techniques could be used to iteratively replace the components of our neurons as they degrade, or to replace them with more robust systems that are less susceptible to molecular degradation. Instead of repairing the cellular DNA, RNA, and protein transcription and synthesis machinery, we bypass it completely by configuring and integrating the neuronal components (ion-channels, ion-pumps, and sections of bilipid membrane) directly.

Thus I suggest that theoreticians of nanomedicine look to the large quantity of literature already developed in the emerging fields of synthetic ion-channels and membrane-reconstitution, towards the objective of adapting and applying existing technologies and methodologies to the new purpose of iterative maintenance, upkeep and/or replacement of cellular (and particularly neuronal) constituents with either non-biological analogues or artificially synthesized but chemically/structurally equivalent biological analogues.

This new sub-field of Synthetic Biology needs a name to differentiate it from the other approaches to Functionally Restorative Medicine. I suggest the designation ‘cellular prosthesis’.

References:

[1] Williams (1994)., An introduction to the methods available for ion channel reconstitution. in D.C Ogden Microelectrode techniques, The Plymouth workshop edition, CambridgeCompany of Biologists.

[2] Tomich, J., Montal, M. (1996). U.S Patent No. 5,16,890. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

[3] Matile, S., Som, A., & Sorde, N. (2004). Recent synthetic ion channels and pores. Tetrahedron, 60(31), 6405–6435. ISSN 0040–4020, 10.1016/j.tet.2004.05.052. Access: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040402004007690:

[4] XIAO, F., (2009). Synthesis and structural investigations of pyridine-based aromatic foldamers.

[5] Ibid., p. 6411.

[6] Ibid., p. 6416.

[7] Ibid., p. 6413.

[8] Ibid., p. 6412.

[9] Ibid., p. 6414.

[10] Ibid., p. 6425.

[11] Ibid., p. 6427.

[12] Ibid., p. 6416.

[13] Ibid., p. 6419.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 6419.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 6421.

[19] Ibid., p. 6422.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., p. 6423.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., p. 6426.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., p. 6427.

[29] Ibid., p. 6327.

[30] Ibid., p. 6427.

[31] XIAO, F. (2009). Synthesis and structural investigations of pyridine-based aromatic foldamers.

[32] Ibid., p. 4.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., p. 7.

[37] Ibid., p. 8.

[38] Ibid., p. 7.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., p. 8.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., p. 9.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., p. 10.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., p. 11.

[53] Ibid., p. 12.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid., p. 13.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid., p. 14.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid., p. 15.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Cortese, F., (2013). Concepts for Functional Replication of Biological Neurons. The Rational Argumentator. Access: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2013/05/gradual-neuron-replacement/

[67] Cortese, F., (2013). Gradual Neuron Replacement for the Preservation of Subjective-Continuity. The Rational Argumentator. Access: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2013/05/gradual-neuron-replacement/

[68] Cortese, F., (2013). Wireless Synapses, Artificial Plasticity, and Neuromodulation. The Rational Argumentator. Access: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2013/05/wireless-synapses/

[69] Freitas Jr., R., (1998). “Exploratory Design in Medical Nanotechnology: A Mechanical Artificial Red Cell”. Artificial Cells, Blood Substitutes, and Immobil. Biotech. (26): 411–430. Access: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9663339

Immortality: Bio or Techno? – Article by Franco Cortese

Immortality: Bio or Techno? – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 5, 2013
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This essay is the eleventh and final chapter in Franco Cortese’s forthcoming e-book, I Shall Not Go Quietly Into That Good Night!: My Quest to Cure Death, published by the Center for Transhumanity. The first ten chapters were previously published on The Rational Argumentator under the following titles:
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I Was a Techno-Immortalist Before I Came of Age

From the preceding chapters in this series, one can see that I recapitulated many notions and conclusions found in normative Whole-Brain Emulation. I realized that functional divergence between a candidate functional-equivalent and its original, through the process of virtual or artificial replication of environmental stimuli so as to coordinate their inputs, provides an experimental methodology for empirically validating the sufficiency and efficacy of different approaches. (Note, however, that such tests could not be performed to determine which NRU-designs or replication-approaches would preserve subjective-continuity, if the premises entertained during later periods of my project—that subjective-continuity may require a sufficient degree of operational “sameness”, and not just a sufficient degree of functional “sameness”—are correct.) I realized that we would only need to replicate in intensive detail and rigor those parts of our brain manifesting our personalities and higher cognitive faculties (i.e., the neocortex), and could get away with replicating at lower functional resolution the parts of the nervous system dealing with perception, actuation, and feedback between perception and actuation.

I read Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation and imported the use of nanotechnology to facilitate both functional-replication (i.e., the technologies and techniques needed to replicate the functional and/or operational modalities of existing biological neurons) and the intensive, precise, and accurate scanning necessitated thereby. This was essentially Ray Kurzweil’s and Robert Freitas’s approach to the technological infrastructure needed for mind-uploading, as I discovered in 2010 via The Singularity is Near.

My project also bears stark similarities with Dmitry Itskov’s Project Avatar. My work on conceptual requirements for transplanting the biological brain into a fully cybernetic body — taking advantage of the technological and methodological infrastructures already in development for use in the separate disciplines of robotics, prosthetics, Brain-Computer Interfaces and sensory-substitution to facilitate the operations of the body — is a prefigurement of his Phase 1. My later work in approaches to functional replication of neurons for the purpose of gradual substrate replacement/transfer and integration also parallel his later phases, in which the brain is gradually replaced with an equivalent computational emulation.

The main difference between the extant Techno-Immortalist approaches, however, is my later inquiries into neglected potential bases for (a) our sense of experiential subjectivity (the feeling of being, what I’ve called immediate subjective-continuity)—and thus the entailed requirements for mental substrates aiming to maintain or attain such immediate subjectivity—and (b) our sense of temporal subjective-continuity (the feeling of being the same person through a process of gradual substrate-replacement—which I take pains to remind the reader already exists in the biological brain via the natural biological process of molecular turnover, which I called metabolic replacement throughout the course of the project), and, likewise, requirements for mental substrates aiming to maintain temporal subjective-continuity through a gradual substrate-replacement/transfer procedure.

In this final chapter, I summarize the main approaches to subjective-continuity thus far considered, including possible physical bases for its current existence and the entailed requirements for NRU designs (that is, for Techno-Immortalist approaches to indefinite-longevity) that maintain such physical bases of subjective-continuity. I will then explore why “Substrate-Independent Minds” is a useful and important term, and try to dispel one particularly common and easy-to-make misconception resulting from it.

Why Should We Worry about SubjectiveContinuity?

This concern marks perhaps the most telling difference between my project and normative Whole-Brain Emulation. Instead of stopping at the presumption that functional equivalence correlates with immediate subjective-continuity and temporal subjective-continuity, I explored several features of neural operation that looked like candidates for providing a basis of both types of subjective-continuity, by looking for those systemic properties and aspects that the biological brain possesses and other physical systems don’t. The physical system underlying the human mind (i.e., the brain) possesses experiential subjectivity; my premise was that we should look for properties not shared by other physical systems to find a possible basis for the property of immediate subjective-continuity. I’m not claiming that any of the aspects and properties considered definitely constitute such a basis; they were merely the avenues I explored throughout my 4-year quest to conquer involuntary death. I do claim, however, that we are forced to conclude that some aspect shared by the individual components (e.g., neurons) of the brain and not shared by other types of physical systems forms such a basis (which doesn’t preclude the possibility of immediate subjective-continuity being a spectrum or gradient rather than a definitive “thing” or process with non-variable parameters), or else that immediate subjective continuity is a normal property of all physical systems, from atoms to rocks.

A phenomenological proof of the non-equivalence of function and subjectivity or subjective-experientiality is the physical irreducibility of qualia – that we could understand in intricate detail the underlying physics of the brain and sense-organs, and nowhere derive or infer the nature of the qualia such underlying physics embodies. To experimentally verify which approaches to replication preserve both functionality and subjectivity would necessitate a science of qualia. This could be conceivably attempted through making measured changes to the operation or inter-component relations of a subject’s mind (or sense organs)—or by integrating new sense organs or neural networks—and recording the resultant changes to his experientiality—that is, to what exactly he feels. Though such recordings would be limited to his descriptive ability, we might be able to make some progress—e.g., he could detect the generation of a new color, and communicate that it is indeed a color that doesn’t match the ones normally available to him, while still failing to communicate to others what the color is like experientially or phenomenologically (i.e., what it is like in terms of qualia). This gets cruder the deeper we delve, however. While we have unchanging names for some “quales” (i.e., green, sweetness, hot, and cold), when it gets into the qualia corresponding with our perception of our own “thoughts” (which will designate all non-normatively perceptual experiential modalities available to the mind—thus, this would include wordless “daydreaming” and exclude autonomic functions like digestion or respiration), we have both far less precision (i.e., fewer words to describe) and less accuracy (i.e., too many words for one thing, which the subject may confuse; the lack of a quantitative definition for words relating to emotions and mental modalities/faculties seems to ensure that errors may be carried forward and increase with each iteration, making precise correlation of operational/structural changes with changes to qualia or experientiality increasingly harder and more unlikely).

Thus whereas the normative movements of Whole-Brain Emulation and Substrate-Independent Minds stopped at functional replication, I explored approaches to functional replication that preserved experientiality (i.e., a subjective sense of anything) and that maintained subjective-continuity (the experiential correlate of feeling like being yourself) through the process of gradual substrate-transfer.

I do not mean to undermine in any way Whole-Brain Emulation and the movement towards Substrate-Independent Minds promoted by such people as Randal Koene via, formerly, his minduploading.org website and, more recently, his Carbon Copies project, Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom through their WBE Roadmap, and various other projects on connectomes. These projects are untellably important, but conceptions of subjective-continuity (not pertaining to its relation to functional equivalence) are beyond their scope.

Whether or not subjective-continuity is possible through a gradual-substrate-replacement/transfer procedure is not under question. That we achieve and maintain subjective-continuity despite our constituent molecules being replaced within a period of 7 years, through what I’ve called “metabolic replacement” but what would more normatively be called “molecular-turnover” in molecular biology, is not under question either. What is under question is (a) what properties biological nervous systems possess that could both provide a potential physical basis for subjective-continuity and that other physical systems do not possess, and (b) what the design requirements are for approaches to gradual substrate replacement/transfer that preserve such postulated sources of subjective-continuity.

Graduality

This was the first postulated basis for preserving temporal subjective-continuity. Our bodily systems’ constituent molecules are all replaced within a span of 7 years, which provides empirical verification for the existence of temporal subjective-continuity through gradual substrate replacement. This is not, however, an actual physical basis for immediate subjective-continuity, like the later avenues of enquiry. It is rather a way to avoid causing externally induced subjective-discontinuity, rather than maintaining the existing biological bases for subjective-discontinuity. We are most likely to avoid negating subjective-continuity through a substrate-replacement procedure if we try to maintain the existing degree of graduality (the molecular-turnover or “metabolic-replacement” rate) that exists in biological neurons.

The reasoning behind concerns of graduality also serves to illustrate a common misconception created by the term “Substrate-Independent Minds”. This term should denote the premise that mind can be instantiated on different types of substrate, in the way that a given computer program can run of different types of computational hardware. It stems from the scientific-materialist (a.k.a metaphysical-naturalist) claim that mind is an emergent process not reducible to its isolated material constituents, while still being instantiated thereby. The first (legitimate) interpretation is a refutation against all claims of metaphysical vitalism or substance dualism. The term should not denote the claim that since mind because is software, we can thus send our minds (say, encoded in a wireless signal) from one substrate to another without subjective-discontinuity. This second meaning would incur the emergent effect of a non-gradual substrate-replacement procedure (that is, the wholesale reconstruction of a duplicate mind without any gradual integration procedure). In such a case one stops all causal interaction between components of the brain—in effect putting it on pause. The brain is now static. This is even different than being in an inoperative state, where at least the components (i.e., neurons) still undergo minor operational fluctuations and are still “on” in an important sense (see “Immediate Subjective-Continuity” below), which is not the case here. Beaming between substrates necessitates that all causal interaction—and thus procedural continuity—between software-components is halted during the interval of time in which the information is encoded, sent wirelessly, and subsequently decoded. It would be reinstantiated upon arrival in the new substrate, yes, but not without being put on pause in the interim. The phrase “Substrate-Independent Minds” is an important and valuable one and should be indeed be championed with righteous vehemence—but only in regard to its first meaning (that mind can be instantiated on various different substrates) and not its second, illegitimate meaning (that we ourselves can switch between mental substrates, without any sort of gradual-integration procedure, and still retain subjective-continuity).

Later lines of thought in this regard consisted of positing several sources of subjective-continuity and then conceptualizing various different approaches or varieties of NRU-design that would maintain these aspects through the gradual-replacement procedure.

Immediate Subjective-Continuity

This line of thought explored whether certain physical properties of biological neurons provide the basis for subjective-continuity, and whether current computational paradigms would need to possess such properties in order to serve as a viable substrate-for-mind—that is, one that maintains subjective-continuity. The biological brain has massive parallelism—that is, separate components are instantiated concurrently in time and space. They actually exist and operate at the same time. By contrast, current paradigms of computation, with a few exceptions, are predominantly serial. They instantiate a given component or process one at a time and jump between components or processes so as to integrate these separate instances and create the illusion of continuity. If such computational paradigms were used to emulate the mind, then only one component (e.g., neuron or ion-channel, depending on the chosen model-scale) would be instantiated at a given time. This line of thought postulates that computers emulating the mind may need to be massively parallel in the same way that as the biological brain is in order to preserve immediate subjective-continuity.

Procedural Continuity

Much like the preceding line of thought, this postulates that a possible basis for temporal subjective-continuity is the resting membrane potential of neurons. While in an inoperative state—i.e., not being impinged by incoming action-potentials, or not being stimulated—it (a) isn’t definitively off, but rather produces a baseline voltage that assures that there is no break (or region of discontinuity) in its operation, and (b) still undergoes minor fluctuations from the baseline value within a small deviation-range, thus showing that causal interaction amongst the components emergently instantiating that resting membrane potential (namely ion-pumps) never halts. Logic gates on the other hand do not produce a continuous voltage when in an inoperative state. This line of thought claims that computational elements used to emulate the mind should exhibit the generation of such a continuous inoperative-state signal (e.g., voltage) in order to maintain subjective-continuity. The claim’s stronger version holds that the continuous inoperative-state signal produced by such computational elements undergo minor fluctuations (i.e., state-transitions) allowed within the range of the larger inoperative-state signal, which maintains causal interaction among lower-level components and thus exhibits the postulated basis for subjective-continuity—namely procedural continuity.

Operational Isomorphism

This line of thought claims that a possible source for subjective-continuity is the baseline components comprising the emergent system instantiating mind. In physicality this isn’t a problem because the higher-scale components (e.g., single neurons, sub-neuron components like ion-channels and ion-pumps, and individual protein complexes forming the sub-components of an ion-channel or pump) are instantiated by the lower-level components. Those lower-level components are more similar in terms of the rules determining behavior and state-changes. At the molecular scale, the features determining state-changes (intra-molecular forces, atomic valences, etc.) are the same. This changes as we go up the scale—most notably at the scale of high-level neural regions/systems. In a software model, however, we have a choice as to what scale we use as our model-scale. This postulated source of subjective-continuity would entail that we choose as our model-scale one in which the components of that scale have a high degree of this property (operational isomorphism—or similarity) and that we not choosing a scale at which the components have a lesser degree of this property.

Operational Continuity

This line of thought explored the possibility that we might introduce operational discontinuity by modeling (i.e., computationally instantiating) not the software instantiated by the physical components of the neuron, but instead those physical components themselves—which for illustrative purposes can be considered as the difference between instantiating software and instantiating physics of the logic gates giving rise to the software. Though the software would necessarily be instantiated as a vicarious result of computationally instantiating its biophysical foundation rather than the software directly, we may be introducing additional operational steps and thus adding an unnecessary dimension of discontinuity that needlessly jeopardizes the likelihood of subjective-continuity.

These concerns are wholly divorced from functionalist concerns. If we disregarded these potential sources of subjective-continuity, we could still functionally-replicate a mind in all empirically-verifiable measures yet nonetheless fail to create minds possessing experiential subjectivity. Moreover, the verification experiments discussed in Part 2 do provide a falsifiable methodology for determining which approaches best satisfy the requirements of functional equivalence. They do not, however, provide a method of determining which postulated sources of subjective-continuity are true—simply because we have no falsifiable measures to determine either immediate or temporal subjective-discontinuity, other than functionality. If functional equivalence failed, it would tell us that subjective-continuity failed to be maintained. If functional-equivalence was achieved, however, it doesn’t necessitate that subjective-continuity was maintained.

Bio or Cyber? Does It Matter?

Biological approaches to indefinite-longevity, such as Aubrey de Grey’s SENS and Michael Rose’s Evolutionary Selection for Longevity, among others, have both comparative advantages and drawbacks. The chances of introducing subjective-discontinuity are virtually nonexistent compared to non-biological (which I will refer to as Techno-Immortalist) approaches. This makes them at once more appealing. However, it remains to be seen whether the advantages of the techno-immortalist approach supersede their comparative dangers in regard to their potential to introduce subjective-discontinuity. If such dangers can be obviated, however, it has certain potentials which Bio-Immortalist projects lack—or which are at least comparatively harder to facilitate using biological approaches.

Perhaps foremost among these potentials is the ability to actively modulate and modify the operations of individual neurons, which, if integrated across scales (that is, the concerted modulation/modification of whole emergent neural networks and regions via operational control over their constituent individual neurons), would allow us to take control over our own experiential and functional modalities (i.e., our mental modes of experience and general abilities/skills), thus increasing our degree of self-determination and the control we exert over the circumstances and determining conditions of our own being. Self-determination is the sole central and incessant essence of man; it is his means of self-overcoming—of self-dissent in a striving towards self-realization—and the ability to increase the extent of such self-control, self-mastery, and self-actualization is indeed a comparative advantage of techno-immortalist approaches.

To modulate and modify biological neurons, on the other hand, necessitates either high-precision genetic engineering, or likely the use of nanotech (i.e., NEMS), because whereas the proposed NRUs already have the ability to controllably vary their operations, biological neurons necessitate an external technological infrastructure for facilitating such active modulation and modification.

Biological approaches to increased longevity also appear to necessitate less technological infrastructure in terms of basic functionality. Techno-immortalist approaches require precise scanning technologies and techniques that neither damage nor distort (i.e., affect to the point of operational and/or functional divergence from their normal in situ state of affairs) the features and properties they are measuring. However, there is a useful distinction to be made between biological approaches to increased longevity, and biological approaches to indefinite longevity. Aubrey de Grey’s notion of Longevity Escape Velocity (LEV) serves to illustrate this distinction. With SENS and most biological approaches, he points out that although remediating certain biological causes of aging will extend our lives, by that time different causes of aging that were superseded (i.e., prevented from making a significant impact on aging) by the higher-impact causes of aging may begin to make a non-negligible impact. Aubrey’s proposed solution is LEV: if we can develop remedies for these approaches within the amount of time gained by the remediation of the first set of causes, then we can stay on the leading edge and continue to prolong our lives. This is in contrast to other biological approaches, like Eric Drexler’s conception of nanotechnological cell-maintenance and cell-repair systems, which by virtue of being able to fix any source of molecular damage or disarray vicariously, not via eliminating the source but via iterative repair and/or replacement of the causes or “symptoms” of the source, will continue to work on any new molecular causes of damage without any new upgrades or innovations to their underlying technological and methodological infrastructures.

These would be more appropriately deemed an indefinite-biological-longevity technology, in contrast to biological-longevity technologies. Techno-immortalist approaches are by and large exclusively of the indefinite-longevity-extension variety, and so have an advantage over certain biological approaches to increased longevity, but such advantages do not apply to biological approaches to indefinite longevity.

A final advantage of techno-immortalist approaches is the independence of external environments it provides us. It also makes death by accident far less likely both by enabling us to have more durable bodies and by providing independence from external environments, which means that certain extremes of temperature, pressure, impact-velocity, atmosphere, etc., will not immediately entail our death.

I do not want to discredit any approaches to immortality discussed in this essay, nor any I haven’t mentioned. Every striving and attempt at immortality is virtuous and righteous, and this sentiment will only become more and apparent, culminating on the day when humanity looks back, and wonders how we could have spent so very much money and effort on the Space Race to the Moon with no perceivable scientific, resource, or monetary gain (though there were some nationalistic and militaristic considerations in terms of America not being superseded on either account by Russia), yet took so long to make a concerted global effort to first demand and then implement well-funded attempts to finally defeat death—that inchoate progenitor of 100,000 unprecedented cataclysms a day. It’s true—the world ends 100,000 times a day, to be lighted upon not once more for all of eternity. Every day. What have you done to stop it?

So What?

Indeed, so what? What does this all mean? After all, I never actually built any systems, or did any physical experimentation. I did, however, do a significant amount of conceptual development and thinking on both the practical consequences (i.e., required technologies and techniques, different implementations contingent upon different premises and possibilities, etc.) and the larger social and philosophical repercussions of immortality prior to finding out about other approaches. And I planned on doing physical experimentation and building physical systems; but I thought that working on it in my youth, until such a time as to be in the position to test and implement these ideas more formally via academia or private industry, would be better for the long-term success of the endeavor.

As noted in Chapter 1, this reifies the naturality and intuitive simplicity of indefinite longevity’s ardent desirability and fervent feasibility, along a large variety of approaches ranging from biotechnology to nanotechnology to computational emulation. It also reifies the naturality and desirability of Transhumanism. I saw one of the virtues of this vision as its potential to make us freer, to increase our degree of self-determination, as giving us the ability to look and feel however we want, and the ability to be—and more importantly to become—anything we so desire. Man is marked most starkly by his urge and effort to make his own self—to formulate the best version of himself he can, and then to actualize it. We are always reaching toward our better selves—striving forward in a fit of unbound becoming toward our newest and thus truest selves; we always have been, and with any courage we always will.

Transhumanism is but the modern embodiment of our ancient striving towards increased self-determination and self-realization—of all we’ve ever been and done. It is the current best contemporary exemplification of what has always been the very best in us—the improvement of self and world. Indeed, the ‘trans’ and the ‘human’ in Transhumanism can only signify each other, for to be human is to strive to become more than human—or to become more so human, depending on which perspective you take.

So come along and long for more with me; the best is e’er yet to be!

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

Bibliography

Koene, R. (2011). What is carboncopies.org? Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.carboncopies.org/

Rose, M. (October 28 2004). Biological Immortality. In B. Klein, The Scientific Conquest of Death (pp. 17-28). Immortality Institute.

Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, N. (2008). Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap, Technical Report #2008-3. Retrieved February 28, 2013 http://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/3853/brain-emulation-roadmap-report.pdf

Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, Koene, R. (2011). The Society of Neural Prosthetics and Whole Brain Emulation Science. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.minduploading.org/

de Grey, ADNJ (2004). Escape Velocity: Why the Prospect of Extreme Human Life Extension Matters Now. PLoS Biol 2(6): e187. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020187

Neuronal “Scanning” and NRU Integration – Article by Franco Cortese

Neuronal “Scanning” and NRU Integration – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
May 23, 2013
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This essay is the seventh chapter in Franco Cortese’s forthcoming e-book, I Shall Not Go Quietly Into That Good Night!: My Quest to Cure Death, published by the Center for Transhumanity. The first six chapters were previously published on The Rational Argumentator under the following titles:
***

I was planning on using the NEMS already conceptually developed by Robert Freitas for nanosurgery applications (to be supplemented by the use of MEMS if the technological infrastructure was unavailable at the time) to take in vivo recordings of the salient neural metrics and properties needing to be replicated. One novel approach was to design the units with elongated, worm-like bodies, disposing the computational and electromechanical apparatus within the elongated body of the unit. This sacrifices width for length so as to allow the units to fit inside the extra-cellular space between neurons and glial cells as a postulated solution to a lack of sufficient miniaturization. Moreover, if a unit is too large to be used in this way, extending its length by the same proportion would allow it to then operate in the extracellular space, provided that its means of data-measurement itself weren’t so large as to fail to fit inside the extracellular space (the span of ECF between two adjacent neurons for much of the brain is around 200 Angstroms).

I was planning on using the chemical and electrical sensing methodologies already in development for nanosurgery as the technological and methodological infrastructure for the neuronal data-measurement methodology. However, I also explored my own conceptual approaches to data-measurement. This consisted of detecting variation of morphological features in particular, as the schemes for electrical and chemical sensing already extant seemed either sufficiently developed or to be receiving sufficient developmental support and/or funding. One was the use of laser-scanning or more generally radiography (i.e., sonar) to measure and record morphological data. Another was a device that uses a 2D array of depressible members (e.g., solid members attached to a spring or ratchet assembly, which is operatively connected to a means of detecting how much each individual member is depressed—such as but not limited to piezoelectric crystals that produce electricity in response and proportion to applied mechanical strain). The device would be run along the neuronal membrane and the topology of the membrane would be subsequently recorded by the pattern of depression recordings, which are then integrated to provide a topographic map of the neuron (e.g., relative location of integral membrane components to determine morphology—and magnitude of depression to determine emergent topology). This approach could also potentially be used to identify the integral membrane proteins, rather than using electrical or chemical sensing techniques, if the topologies of the respective proteins are sufficiently different as to be detectable by the unit (determined by its degree of precision, which typically is a function of its degree of miniaturization).

The constructional and data-measurement units would also rely on the technological and methodological infrastructure for organization and locomotion that would be used in normative nanosurgery. I conceptually explored such techniques as the use of a propeller, the use of pressure-based methods (i.e., a stream of water acting as jet exhaust would in a rocket), the use of artificial cilia, and the use of tracks that the unit attaches to so as to be moved electromechanically, which decreases computational intensiveness – a measure of required computation per unit time – rather than having a unit compute its relative location so as to perform obstacle-avoidance and not, say, damage in-place biological neurons. Obstacle-avoidance and related concerns are instead negated through the use of tracks that limit the unit’s degrees of freedom—thus preventing it from having to incorporate computational techniques of obstacle-avoidance (and their entailed sensing apparatus). This also decreases the necessary precision (and thus, presumably, the required degree of miniaturization) of the means of locomotion, which would need to be much greater if the unit were to perform real-time obstacle avoidance. Such tracks would be constructed in iterative fashion. The constructional system would analyze the space in front of it to determine if the space was occupied by a neuron terminal or soma, and extrude the tracks iteratively (e.g., add a segment in spaces where it detects the absence of biological material). It would then move along the newly extruded track, progressively extending it through the spaces between neurons as it moves forward.

Non-Distortional in vivo Brain “Scanning”

A novel avenue of enquiry that occurred during this period involves counteracting or taking into account the distortions caused by the data-measurement units on the elements or properties they are measuring and subsequently applying such corrections to the recording data. A unit changes the local environment that it is supposed to be measuring and recording, which becomes problematic. My solution was to test which operations performed by the units have the potential to distort relevant attributes of the neuron or its environment and to build units that compensate for it either physically or computationally.

If we reduce how a recording unit’s operation distorts neuronal behavior into a list of mathematical rules, we can take the recordings and apply mathematical techniques to eliminate or “cancel out” those distortions post-measurement, thus arriving at what would have been the correct data. This approach would work only if the distortions are affecting the recorded data (i.e., changing it in predictable ways), and not if they are affecting the unit’s ability to actually access, measure, or resolve such data.

The second approach applies the method underlying the first approach to the physical environment of the neuron. A unit senses and records the constituents of the area of space immediately adjacent to its edges and mathematically models that “layer”; i.e., if it is meant to detect ionic solutions (in the case of ECF or ICF), then it would measure their concentration and subsequently model ionic diffusion for that layer. It then moves forward, encountering another adjacent “layer” and integrating it with its extant model. By being able to sense iteratively what is immediately adjacent to it, it can model the space it occupies as it travels through that space. It then uses electric or chemical stores to manipulate the electrical and chemical properties of the environment immediately adjacent to its surface, so as to produce the emergent effects of that model (i.e., the properties of the edges of that model and how such properties causally affect/impact adjacent sections of the environment), thus producing the emergent effects that would have been present if the NRU-construction/integration system or data-measuring system hadn’t occupied that space.

The third postulated solution was the use of a grid comprised of a series of hollow recesses placed in front of the sensing/measuring apparatus. The grid is impressed upon the surface of the membrane. Each compartment isolates a given section of the neuronal membrane from the rest. The constituents of each compartment are measured and recorded, most probably via uptake of its constituents and transport to a suitable measuring apparatus. A simple indexing system can keep track of which constituents came from which grid (and thus which region of the membrane they came from). The unit has a chemical store operatively connected to the means of locomotion used to transport the isolated membrane-constituents to the measuring/sensing apparatus. After a given compartment’s constituents are measured and recorded, the system then marks its constituents (determined by measurement and already stored as recordings by this point of the process), takes an equivalent molecule or compound from a chemical inventory, and replaces the substance it removed for measurement with the equivalent substance from its chemical inventory. Once this is accomplished for a given section of membrane, the grid then moves forward, farther into the membrane, leaving the replacement molecules/compounds from the biochemical inventory in the same respective spots as their original counterparts. It does this iteratively, making its way through a neuron and out the other side. This approach is the most speculative, and thus the least likely to be used. It would likely require the use of NEMS, rather than MEMS, as a necessary technological infrastructure, if the approach were to avoid becoming economically prohibitive, because in order for the compartment-constituents to be replaceable after measurement via chemical store, they need to be simple molecules and compounds rather than sections of emergent protein or tissue, which are comparatively harder to artificially synthesize and store in working order.

***

In the next chapter I describe the work done throughout late 2009 on biological/non-biological NRU hybrids, and in early 2010 on one of two new approaches to retaining subjective-continuity through a gradual replacement procedure, both of which are unrelated to concerns of graduality or sufficient functional equivalence between the biological original and the artificial replication-unit.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.