Can AI make us immortal?
Can AI make us immortal?
The British satirist, Samuel Butler, famously quipped, “To himself everyone is an immortal. He may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead”.
Death. Ironically, death is life’s greatest enigma. It continues to vex mankind with its vicissitudes and whimsicalities. The supreme and infallible truth which has subdued every living being, death may finally start showing early signs of fissures. The age of artificial intelligence is heralding the promise of a possibility, hitherto scoffed at, to extend the longevity of human life.
Recent success comes from scientists at Stanford who have trained an AI system to predict mortality of palliative care patients with 90% accuracy. This prediction allows the patients to pass away peacefully, surrounded by family members in the comfort of their homes rather than at the hospital combating aggressive medical procedures. Another technique called “Trees of Predictors”, developed by UCLA researchers uses machine learning to accurately predict survival rate of patients waiting for heart transplants and to make informed choices in leveraging limited medical and life saving resources. These are scenarios where AI has successfully predicted what has always been unpredictable, with an astounding accuracy. It doesn’t stop there, rather, AI has an ambitious goal in procrastinating death.
Broadly, aging related AI research falls under two categories: -
Gene Manipulation - Treating aging as a disease and harnessing extensive AI analytics to selectively switch on/off the genes.
Consider the case of “Pulmonary hypertension”, a terminal disease with life expectancy of a year. AI researchers along with biotechnologists extract cells from the patient and induce “Protector genes”, replicate the cells exponentially and ingest them back into the body with existing DNA. These experiments at a laboratory stage have been successful in round worms, mice and have induced hopes in permitted clinical trials. The same concept can be extended to cure type-2 Diabetes.
The availability of embryonic stem cells is a limitation of this technique and it’s a topic of intense religious and ethical debate. However, the good news is that research is progressing and it’s at the cusp of becoming a medical reality.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that when the egregious bandit of South India, Veerapan was shot dead at an age of 54, his autopsy report indicated that his organs resembled those of a 24 year old adult, chiefly attributed to his diet and lifestyle. Gene manipulation techniques attempt to artificially simulate this pattern through a combination of analytics and gene therapy.
Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) – Whole Brain Emulation simplifies a human being as a piece of software (State of consciousness) and a degradable hardware (Body). It intends to download and replicate consciousness into a non-degradable digital construct thereby virtualizing the state of mind. Though it sounds like science-fiction on steroids, such trans-humanism-based experiments are gaining momentum. Dr. Hannah Critchlow’s research with IBM’s Sequoia supercomputer is marching in this direction and intends to recreate the human brain’s 100 trillion circuit connection in an artificial cognitive construct. This setup will immortalize a human in theory, as death is defined to be cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.
If these advancements sound absurd or a product of wishful thinking from Isaac Asimov or Le Guin’s novels, let’s consider that what we are discussing is serious business with billions of dollars getting pumped into it. Calico, an Alphabet company created in 2013 with sole intent of extending life and defying ageing is making steady progress. Investors such as Joon Yun has ongoing competition of $1Mn on Palo Alto championship on Longevity. Renowned scientists and erudite minds such as Pieter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) openly endorses HGH and proclaims his goal to live unto an age of 120. It’s not only the major corporates but also sprouting smaller startups which are deeply invested in this arduous endeavor promising to hack the “Life-Code”.
Once successful, this AI engine will completely disrupt the way we visualize the world, our lives and the impending fate of our overcrowded planet.
The concept of retirement and pension plans may have to be reimagined. Are we going towards a day where voluntary or mandatory self-destruction is possible and even regulated by the state? Wars will no longer be fought on the physical plane, but by planting insidious thoughts deep inside the digital copy of an opponents’ mind ( unfolding concept of inception !!) In essence, digital transformation beyond what is currently within the realm of human imagination …..
On affordability and accessibility, this outcome too will follow the S curve where this service will be available for a select few, the intrepid space travelers, rocket leasers and gazillionaires, gradually trickling down to the masses - case-in-point, the genome analysis used for Steve Job’s diagnosis cost millions then, but it’s available for the common man for a few hundred bucks.
In conclusion, to the pious minded, lauding the evolution of an intelligence that isn’t human or living is akin to blasphemy, but every recorded miracle has had a strong undercurrent of science. The parting of the Red sea to deliver the slaves from the fierce onslaught of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II was triggered by Moses, but scientifically it was driven by a strong east wind which bifurcated the sea into two huge water walls.
Continuing the spiritual parlance, AI could be the zephyr to cast away the excruciating pain and suffering of a terminal disease and to usher mankind into a future brimming with peace and hope.