Dmitry Itskov is perfectly sane.
The Russian multimillionaire and former media magnate appears to be like any other 32-year-old man — even rather reserved by most standards — but with a rather unique hobby. Itskov pursues immortality through the development of avatars which carry the entire contents of the human brain. He calls it the 2045 Initiative.
Basically, Itskov dreams of continuing conscious life outside the biological sphere in the form of a relatively inexpensive non-biological carrier. Despite the fact that this goal aligns with some of the most popular sci-fi hits (think Avatar), this Itskov has some heavy-weight supporters in the scientific community, including scientists from Harvard, M.I.T, and Berkeley. Later this month, roughly 30 of the scientists who see at least some rationale in Itskov’s pursue will speak at the second annual 2045 Global Future Conference in Manhattan. This conference, much like the ones featured in the Iron Man movies, are more of a technological showcase than actual conference. Tickets go for $750 a piece.
Most of these researchers are not looking to upload our brains contents to computers through a complicated theory of the “quantum nature of consciousness” by Sir Roger Penrose, but the idea of artificial intelligence replacing biological forms sparks questions about the nature of life itself.
Itskov truly believes this project harbors altruistic measures. These avatars would not feature some of what we refer to as disabilities or limitations; there would be no congenital heart defects or missing limbs. He believes that avatars will ultimately reduce world hunger (machines only need maintenance) and that charities will eventually be structured to provide inexpensive avatars to the poor. It’s a nice dream, really; one filled with longevity.
But is that what we really want?
Do we define life as mere consciousness? Most biologists would argue that we would not. Additionally, what does this mean about our relationship with technology? While many casually exaggerate that they are ‘addicted’ to their smart phones, in the case of avatars or robots, we would literally depend on machines to keep our thoughts and conscious presence meaningful.
In my opinion, a key part of our time on earth are the things we feel and the relationships we cultivate. It’s about wiggling our toes in the grass and enjoying the sun on our skin. It’s about building our families, learning new ideas, and experiencing culture that can’t quite captured through a camera lens. It’s about the faith we feel, or don’t, and about forcing ourselves to live in the present because we never know when we’ll have that moment again.
Either way, the rapid pace at which technology develops and the financial resources available mean that this idea could potentially become a reality for the mega-rich in the next 50 years or so. Itskov now spends most of his time traveling to meet new scientists who may be able to help him with his mission, and speaking to the public about what he views as his solution to the end of suffering. When he is not traveling, he meditates and claims to live like a monk.
What do you think? Would avatars be the best way to eliminate future pain and continue the human race? Or is this idea too much of a real-life science fiction blockbuster?