Longevity and the Singularity

Consciousness in the cloud? Where science fact and fiction collide.

While the principle focus of Longevity is undoubtedly the extension of healthy human lifespan, there remains the question of whether technology can enable life to continue beyond the physical limits of our existence. This may sound like the realm of science fiction TV series, such as Amazon’s new Upload, Hulu’s Devs, or the thoughtful “San Junipero” episode in season three of Black Mirror – but it’s perhaps not as far-fetched as you may think. Many people now believe that technology developments like the cloud and AI will one day lead us to a form of non-corporeal immortality.

Longevity.Technology: The Singularity is the hypothetical idea that technology will one day reach the point where it surpasses human intelligence, leading to the world being changed beyond all recognition through the use of superintelligence to solve human problems. Many so-called ‘singularitarians’ believe that one of the ultimate consequences of the Singularity will be human immortality, with medical and technological advances protecting us from the effects of aging.

The concept of the Singularity has long been the subject of discussion, beginning with John von Neumann and I.J. Good in the 1950s and 60s, but things really took off with Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book The Singularity Is Near. The book raised the prospect of continued exponential growth in computing capacity and revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics leading to an exponential growth in human evolution.

Along the journey, Kurzweil believes that we will be able to connect our neo-cortex (the thinking part of our brain) to the cloud by the 2030s. In one form or another, companies are already investigating the concept of digital immortality – from the more extreme approach of Nectome, which is working on digital brain preservation techniques that require participants to be euthanized, to the much less controversial Hereafter, which has developed an AI system that allows you to have “conversations” with loved ones who have passed away. In 2011, Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov founded the 2045 Initiative, with the goal of “transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.”

Singularitarians such as José Luis Cordeiro, author of The Death of Death, predict cures for the majority of cancers and Parkinson’s disease by 2029, along with commercial cloning of human organs from patients’ own cells. By the 2030s, even greater advances are proposed, including the eradication of malaria and HIV, as well as brain-to-brain data transfer, before we achieve Singularity by 2045.

While Kurzweil himself is optimistic about the benefits of the Singularity to humans, leading figures have expressed caution, with both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk linking the Singularity and AI to future human extinction. Musk, who interestingly is also the founder of brain-machine interface company Neuralink, has repeatedly called for the development of AI to be regulated in order to ensure its safety.

Kurzweil is currently completing his new book The Singularity Is Nearer, with publication expected in 2021, and it will be interesting to see how more recent developments in Longevity AI, robotics and regenerative technologies factor in to his latest observations of our progress towards the Singularity.

Watch out tomorrow for an interview with James Vlahos – the founder of Hereafter – who shares his vision for using digital technology to help people cope with the loss of a loved one.

Noted singularitarian José Luis Cordeiro, author of The Death of Death, spoke at our recent Longevity2020 online conference. VIP members can watch his presentation here.