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article imageOp-Ed: Russian Cyborg idea doable, but mountains to climb

By Paul Wallis     Apr 2, 2013 in Science
Sydney - Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov has restarted the trans-human debate of previous years and much earlier artificial life form theories with this project to create a real cyborg by 2045. The idea is fascinating, but the difficulties are very real.
The good news is that the possibilities are fantastic.
The Avatar 2045 Project is extremely ambitious. As you can see from the picture, there is a scheduled series of models leading up to Avatar D, in 2045. Avatar D is described as a "hologram-like avatar". In practice, that may be an understatement. Artificial prostheses, and brain-machine interactions will have advanced a very long way by 2045. It may well be possible to have actual autonomous artificial life in human form.
Mashable explains the thinking so far:
Itskov is totally serious about wanting to make humans immortal by merging them with machines, and he's been pushing the project forward since 2011 when he founded the 2045 Initiative, ostensibly the deadline for "substance-independent" minds to receive artificial bodies — what some scientists refer to as the Singularity.
(The Singularity refers to recreating human brain with silicon, and the Mashable link on the subject is to an article about the unpredictability of the human mind as obstacles to creating an artificial housing. It's almost diametrically at odds with the Avatar 2045 Project in so many ways it is a matter of opinion whether or not it was worth mentioning the singularity at all in the quoted article. It really would be nice if people would stop saying things are impossible and simply get on with doing them. Cynical? Me?)
…the ultimate goal is to be able to transfer a person's mind or consciousness from a living brain into a machine with that person's personality and memories intact. Freed of physical form, the person would exist in a network similar to the Internet and be able to travel at the speed of light all over the planet, or even into space.
Despite this description, it's a bit more complex than becoming a link with attached apps. If the goal is immortality, the goal had better be well defined. The idea of creating detached human entities into a quasi-digital form also involves a very large number of processes, technologies and, one would should be entitled to think, due attention to safeguards.
For example –
You are transformed into what is effectively an electronic entity.
Your lifespan is at least theoretically unlimited.
You are also subject to the opportunities and restrictions of technology.
Assuming as a detached entity you have full control over your access to technologies and can upgrade yourself whenever you like for the next few million years, imagine the possibilities:
• Software bugs.
• Hardware bugs.
• Malware bugs.
• Platform interrelationships.
• Operating system issue equivalents.
• Potential vulnerabilities from environmental factors, including environments that don't yet exist.
Yes, that is a sort of shopping list of problems that real life forms encounter every second. For an artificial life form, though, the fixes are anything but obvious. They may become even less obvious as the electronic entities evolve.
Imagine you're a multimillion-year-old electronic entity. You have naturally retained a lot of old software, and acquired a huge memory. You are able to exist in multiple forms as hardware, but you are effectively a network of yourself.
What are the vulnerabilities? Can the whole corporate "you" fall to bits as a result of some sort of integration issue? Can you literally lose part of yourself, as a result of a glitch?
The ethical issues
I am definitely not going to go into the rather soggy and stale area of definitions of a human being. The immortal phrase "I think, therefore I am" tends to overlook the fact that you don't actually have a hell of a lot of choice. If you think, there is a very real risk that you may exist. If you exist, you may accidentally think and give the game away.
As a cyborg, the parameters of being human must necessarily change. The ability of a cyborg to think shouldn't really be considered in purely the same terms as the current ability of human beings to think. That will be very reassuring to the cyborgs, but defining the capacity of a cyborg to think, particularly with access to vast amounts of information and processing capabilities, isn't likely to be very accurate process until somebody comes up with a working model.
"What about emotions?", is the next predictable question. Well, what about them? What sort of emotional framework would cyborgs with vast intellectual and experiential capacities develop? How the hell would we know? If the transferred intellect is an exact duplicate of the original, a cyborg will have at its beginning "normal" emotions. Those emotions are likely to develop in ways not previously seen.
What if someone doesn't want to become a cyborg? This is an interesting question, because there is a possibility for abuse here. It may be possible to "recruit" edited versions of human minds. Imagine a few million cut and pasted Einsteins or da Vincis, and you can see the problem. Ethically, there is no basis for compelling anybody to become a cyborg.
The problem is that the human race is not, and never has been, noticeably ethical. As usual, idealism has got in the way of practical thinking in terms of preventing abuses of technology.
Practical applications
The cyborg idea is far more flexible than creating a Terminator-type individual. In theory, the free mind could do almost anything. A cyborg could be an aircraft now and a submarine 5 minutes later. You could be a humanoid entity, or backhoe. You can search online at the speed of thought, and monitor multiple, perhaps thousands of operations at the same time, if you are actually able to handle that kind of processing.
The likely result is that cyborgs will default to preferred states of existence. Why have one virtual reality when you can have thousands of actual realities? Given that reality hasn't been particularly helpful to human beings in the past, this could be called poetic justice.
It is also likely to be extremely efficient. Retaining the experience and knowledge and intellectual capabilities of human beings has a lot to be said for it. Creating new fields of experience in application of human abilities is also particularly useful. The individual of today is severely limited by physical practicalities. There really is only so much you can do, in a comparatively limited timeframe.
The cyborg idea has a lot going for it, but it must include reassurances and incentives for human beings. The idea of becoming a cliché robot is unlikely to appeal to anybody. Create a cyborg with a sense of humour and give it the ability to have a lot of fun, and the human race might finally become interesting.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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