Transhumanism: an overview
In simple terms, transhumanism is ‘the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology’. It is often abbreviated to H+, which means Humanity+. Transhumanism is all about enhancing the human body with technology, something known as biohacking. Being able to upload your brain, digital immortality, is seen by many in the transhumanist movement as the end goal of the movement. Humanity+ formally defines transhumanism as the following:
The roadmap to immortality
One thing that is important to note is that very few people are designing this future and for most of us, there is only speculation. The steps below are not definite, as unforeseen factors may change them. There is already overlap with these steps, though the first actions in each are likely to happen in order.
Stage 1: Wearables and Medicine
Medicine has existed for a long time now. Many methods like antibiotics, pharmaceuticals and surgery are mature practices, though there is still so much room to innovate. Wearables, on the other hand, are a fairly recent innovation. Why are these precursors to digital immortality? Primarily, wearables (and mobile phones) are designed to bring technology closer to people. Also, medicine helps to increase the life of a person. These two things sum up what uploading your brain would bring, though at a much smaller level.
Stage 2: Bionics and Biohacking
The next level of this involves directly injecting technology into human bodies. We do already have this in some capacity, with artificial limbs, artificial organs and NFC RFID implants. With the exception of implants, these bionic enhancements have purely been medical. Contrary to this, implants pose a new frontier for bionics: voluntary integration. This area is still very niche, though there is significant room for growth, including integration with a person’s digital identity, banking accounts, medical monitoring and more. This represents the first steps towards making an artificial body. This could lead to cyborg-like people, potentially with artificial body parts, camera eyes and other hardware enhancements.
Stage 3: Cognitive enhancement and General AI
Representing the peak of man/machine hybridisation is software and AI responsible cognitive enhancement. The best example of this is Neuralink’s Neural Lace, an electronic mesh that would be injected onto the brain by a syringe. The neural lace would be able to detect brain activity and correlate that to software instructions. It would also integrate super-intelligent AI, something Neuralink’s founder Elon Musk says is necessary to avoid an AI catastrophe. Both cognitive enhancements and general AI are still many years away, but when neural laces with general AI are created, they could propel humanity forward. This would be a major step in bringing the software a digital being would run on up to scratch.
Stage 4: Mind uploading
Finally, we will arrive at the pinnacle of transhumanism: whole brain emulation. Whole brain emulation, more commonly called mind uploading, will bring about the greatest change in modern history. Uploading a person’s brain, combined with an artificial robotic body, is the poster child of beating people’s biological limits, bringing in the era of immortality. This will draw on technologies from many fields, including technology from the smartphone industry, the battery industry, the existing artificial limb industry and so many more.
How long will it take?
Nobody knows how far away uploading brains really is, though there have been multiple predictions. The most optimistic estimates reckon the technology will exist by 2045, whilst skeptics say it’ll take centuries, if at all. Personally, I think it is on the nearer end of that scale and someone entering adulthood around now would have about a 60% likelihood of being around when the technology is invented. Thankfully though, there may still be hope for immortality even if the technology takes a handful of decades.
Is there hope for older generations?
There are two main propositions to consider: cryogenics and life extension technologies. Starting with cryogenics, though met with considerable skepticism from the scientific community, cryogenics is a staple in science fiction. One company, Nectome, is promising to freeze customers’ brains cryogenically until digital immortality can be achieved, a service that would be fatal. It is not yet clear if this process would work or whether the brain would be damaged, though it is an interesting potential workaround.
As for life extension, there is always conventional medicine, which is always increasing life expectancy, but now researchers are developing methods of directly combating ageing. One of these methods involves senescent cell removal. In short, senescent cells are zombie-like cells that don’t work properly and don’t die. Removal of these cells in trials of mice increased life expectancy up to 30% with few negative effects on healthy cells. Another method involves taking a pill that combines with molecules in your body to create NAD+, a potential anti-ageing enzyme. NAD+ is important for normal bodily function but decreases as people get older. It is believed that replenishing it will help combat ageing. Finally, there are stem cell transplants. Stem cells make vital cells in the body, but as you get older they dwindle in number. Scientists and doctors think that transplanting stem cells from someone with an abundance of stem cells could help replenish healthy cell numbers and increase life longevity.
Although none of these will bring about immortality itself, it will help older people live longer, potentially long enough for brain uploading to become possible. If these breakthroughs can be achieved on a mass scale, there remains some hope for older generations, and would potentially represent an extra 15%-20% rise in the probability of having one’s brain uploaded to digital form.