”Number 89757, a machine that imitates human beings, the real skin has temperature and can even breathe. 10 seconds to clean your room, 3 minutes to drive downstairs to wait for you…” The
widely sung popular song “Number 89757” depicts 1000 Years later, the human body disappears, the memory exists, and the consciousness continues, and the robot with a human-like brain works for the human being. If our physical body can’t travel through the future, can our brain consciousness be preserved into the future through high technology and enter and perceive the world in 3018?
The American startup Nectome recently launched a business, claiming that it can use the “aldehyde fixation cryopreservation technology” to preserve the microscopic details of the living human brain in the form of frozen glass, and finally realize the “consciousness upload” service. Feasibility is controversial in the global neurological community.
Is consciousness uploading a naive fantasy of sci-fi fans, a money trap for geeks, or the only way for mankind to go to immortality? Can the human brain really “travel” into the future?
for eternal life
In the Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster “Time Machine” released in 2002, the young engineer Alexander took his own time machine to the earth 800,000 years later, and found that after the catastrophes such as the fragmentation of the moon and the ice age, the earth has already happened. With earth-shaking changes, human beings have been differentiated into two races living on the ground and underground, and human technology has almost disappeared. However, Alexander happened upon a holographic “virtual man” Vaux in a valley. “He” looks exactly like a real person, with human emotions and memories, but in fact, “he” is a “large database” powered by nuclear energy. Coincidentally, Alexander realized that he had seen Vaux in the New York library in the 21st century, which meant that Vaux, who had witnessed the destruction and rebirth of mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, was the “immortal man”.
This film is not a fantasy. Throughout history, human beings have never stopped longing for “eternal life”. Emperors believe in alchemy in order to seek immortality, while scientists hope to prevent cell replication and proliferation through freezing technology, or repair tissues and organs through nanotechnology and gene repair technology to prolong life and achieve immortality of the body and soul… In order to get rid of human beings Fear of death, has been painstakingly pursuing progress in related disciplines such as bioengineering, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, brain science, quantum science, religious studies, etc., and is optimistic about “immortality”.
With technological progress and the output of scientific research results, emerging technology companies in some developed countries in recent years have aimed at the goal of human immortality, trying to achieve breakthroughs from the industry. In March 2018, an article in MIT Technology Review pointed out that Nectome, a Silicon Valley company whose founders are all MIT alumni, hopes to realize the digital immortality of life through “consciousness uploading”.
It is said that Nectome was incubated by Y Combinator, a well-known business incubator in the United States. There are more than 20 people on its customer list, and many industry leaders are among them. To advance this service, Nectome has successfully raised more than $1 million in funding and is conducting drug discovery and research into brain preservation, imaging and analysis technologies under a pre-defined “five-step” plan.
While Nectome’s “brain preservation” business has yet to go public, its technology for successfully preserving pig brains has won scientific awards worth $80,000.
Consciousness uploading is not easy
In 2005, the American “Science” magazine published a list of 125 of the world’s most challenging scientific problems on the occasion of its 125th anniversary. “What is the biological basis of consciousness” came second on the list. Thirteen years later, most of the problems on the list, including this one, are still unsolved puzzles.
To date, the concept of consciousness uploading has more often appeared in science fiction or science fiction movies. It is an envisioned futuristic technology whose goal is to create a replica of the human brain on a computer with the properties and functions of the brain, closely related to the level of development of techniques such as brain scanning and its detailed cell-specific simulations.
Jiang Tianzai, director of the Brain Network Group Research Center of the Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “Up to now, the question of ‘what is the essence of consciousness’ has not progressed. How can it be possible to achieve ‘consciousness upload’?”
Jiang Tianzai’s views represent the majority of neuroscientists , the scholar’s point of view. They believe that neuroscience has not yet been fully developed, scientists do not yet know what kinds of biomolecules need to be preserved in order to maintain information such as memory and self related to consciousness, and humans have not yet been able to measure enough of the entire neural circuit. Distribution and species of biomolecules.
”Consciousness is an endogenous philosophical concept, and consciousness uploading is a technique full of unsolved philosophical questions. The complex information in the brain cannot always be refined, measured and imitated, although a broad spectrum of things can interfere, But it is theoretically futile to specifically implant memory or capture a certain consciousness in humans,” said Xia Yang, a researcher in the molecular and cell biology direction of the University of Cambridge.
Stan Linnathan, a researcher at the Kairulinska Institute in Sweden, believes that “human self-awareness, emotion, and intelligence are products of the quantum level, and cannot be replaced by computers and databases. The capabilities of computer technology in this regard are greatly exaggerated. Because we cannot map biomolecules in sufficient detail, and we cannot simulate brain neural circuits with high precision, humans have not been able to directly quantify and create consciousness.”
“Essentially, after extracting memories from brain tissue, The technology of reconstructing consciousness in computers is at least a few hundred years away from us, and it may never be possible to do it completely.” Xia Yang said.
”Consciousness is the result of 100 billion neurons in the brain working together, a pattern of electrical activity between the brains, not fixed connections. The brain changes nerve cells through changes in nerve cells’ action potentials, neurotransmitters, and synapses. The activity of the brain produces the interaction between the brain regions, so consciousness arises. There are countless electrical signals constantly being transmitted between hundreds of billions of nerve cells every moment. It is impossible to store this static information. To truly replicate consciousness, a frozen brain can only be preserved as a ‘specimen’,” said Qiu Zilong, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The digital imagination of the brain
If Nectome’s “Aldehyde-Fixed Cryopreservation Technology” proposes to preserve the microscopic details of the living human brain and ultimately achieve “conscious uploading” is not feasible, then what are the possibilities of taking other paths to digitize the brain?
The “Avatar Project” established by Dmitry Itzkov, the initiator of the “2045 Future World Conference” and a Russian technology entrepreneur, proposed that its ultimate goal is to liberate human beings from the shackles of the physical body and prolong human life. .
The idea proposed by Itzkov is that in order to realize the “immortal body”, the brain and consciousness are first transplanted from the body, so that it can survive in the machine substitute, and then determine how to upload the thinking and consciousness to the computer. He and his supporters believe this digital immortality will be achieved by 2045.
At the “Future World 2045” held in 2013, technology entrepreneur Pete Damandis, inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil and others boldly predicted that computers are now accelerating the mapping of simulated human brains progress; in theory, the human body begins to act more like a machine. This means that the digitization of life is likely to be realized within a hundred years.
It is worth mentioning that since 2017, some breakthroughs have been made in the digitalization of the brain. According to foreign media reports, scientists and programmers from all over the world have launched an “open source worm” project. The roundworm’s nervous system has been successfully modeled and replicated in a Lego robot that is said to be able to move independently and avoid obstacles. At about the same time, a functional digital copy of the mouse brain’s somatosensory cortex was successfully created.
Some scientists with cutting-edge innovation consciousness believe that with the advancement of brain-computer interface, brain-implanted electrode related theories, and the advancement of technologies such as microsystems and whole-brain simulation, in the future, consciousness uploading is likely not just out of reach. sci-fi.
Some scientists have proposed that, in theory, consciousness uploading may be accomplished through the following two routes: one is copy-transfer technology, or the replacement of artificial neurons through microsystems and nanorobots; the other is based on high-precision scanning and simulation. .
Ken Hayworth, a scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said that in order to achieve “upload the brain” and other similar plans, it is necessary to first find out how to chemically process, fix with heavy metals and encapsulate the whole brain with resin; A thick-cutting machine for nondestructively cutting the brain into 20-micron slabs suitable for imaging; in addition to developing a mass-produced electron microscope to simultaneously image 20-micron slabs.
Raymond Kurzweil, famous for successfully predicting the birth of many inventions, predicted that in the next 20 years, nanotechnology will replace many vital organs of the human body, and scientists will realize the dream of “immortality”. Kurzweil claimed, “I and many other scientists believe that in the next 20 years or so we will have the ability to reprogram the ‘software’ of our still ‘Stone Age’ body to make us stop Aging, even rejuvenating, nanotechnology will ensure that we live forever, forever.”
Some scholars believe that the realization of consciousness uploading must be based on the fact that human exploration of related technologies has accelerated exponentially. As written in the book “Singularity Approaching”, the time required for doubling the technological level is constantly shortening. When this exponential growth curve reaches a certain critical point, the rise of technological level will show a blowout acceleration. Technological progress that took 20 years to achieve will only take 10 years, 5 years, then 2.5 years, 0.75 years.
We, perhaps, are approaching this tipping point?