Dr. Alexander Bolonkin
Professor of the Institute of
Technology, New Jersey, USA
Senior Researcher NASA
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY - THE BEGINNING OF HUMAN IMMORTALITY

       Dr. Alexander Bolonkin is a well-known scientist in the field of aeronautics, computer technology and mathematics.  Currently he is working on the book "Twenty-First Century:  Human Immortality and the Advent of Post-Human Civilization."  These are some excerpts from the book.
 

          Immortality is the most cherished dream and the biggest wish of any person.  People seldom think about it while they are still young, healthy , and full of energy.  But when they get some incurable disease or become old, then there is no bigger wish for them than to live longer, put off the inevitable end.  And no matter what heavenly existence in the after-life is promised to them by religion, the vast majority of people want to stay and enjoy life here, on Earth, as long as possible.

                     Medical Science and the Issue of Immortality
 
          A great many of doctors and scientists are currently working on the problems of health and longevity.  Substantial means are spent on it, about 15-25% of all human labor and resources. There are certain achievements in this direction: we have created wonderful medications (e.g. antibiotics); conquered many diseases; learnt to transplant human organs; created an artificial heart, kidneys, lungs, limbs; learnt to apply physiological solutions directly into the blood stream, and to saturate blood with oxygen.  We have gotten inside the most sacred organ - the human brain, even inside its cells.  We can record their signals, we can agitate some parts of the brain by electric stimuli inducing a patient to experience certain sensations, images, and hallucinations.
          We can attribute the fact that the average life span has increased two times in the last two hundred years to the achievements of modern medicine.
          But can medical science solve the problem of immortality?  Evidently, it cannot.  It cannot do that in principle.  This is a dead-end direction in science.  Maximum it can achieve is increase the average life expectancy another 5-10 years.  An average person will be expected to live 80 years instead of 70.  But what kind of person will it be? A very old one, capable of only existing and consuming, whose medical and personal care will demand huge funds.
          The proportion of the elderly and retirees has increased steeply in the last 20-30 years and continues to grow depleting the pension funds and pressuring the younger generation to support them.  So it is hard to say whether the modern success of medicine is a blessing or a curse from the point of view of the entire humankind, even though it is definitely a blessing from the point of view of a separate individual.
          Humanity as a whole, as a civilization, needs active, able to work and creative members, generating material wealth and moving forward technology and science, not the elderly retirees with their numerous ailments and a huge army of those tending to them.   It dreams not of the immortality of an old person, but of the immortality of  youthfulness, activity, creativity, enjoying life.
           Now there are signs of a breakthrough, but not in the direction the humankind has been working on all along, since the times of the first sorcerers to modern-day highly-educated doctors.  Striving to prolong his biological existence, man has been chiseling, so to speak,  at the endless stone wall.  All he has been able to accomplish is only a dent in that wall - increased life expectancy, conquering some diseases, relieving suffering.  As a payoff, the humanity has received a huge army of pensioners and retirees and gigantic expenditure on their upkeep.
          Of course, one can continue chiseling at the dent in the wall further on, make it somewhat bigger, aggravating side effects.  But we are already approaching the biological limit, when the cause of death and feeblemindedness is not a certain disease which can be conquered, but general deterioration of the entire organism, its decay on the cellular level, when the cells stop to divide.  A live cell is a very complex biological formation.  In its nucleus it has DNA - biological molecules consisting of tens of thousands of atoms connected between themselves with very fragile molecular links.  Suffice it to say, that temperature fluctuation of only a few degrees can ruin these links.  That is why a human organism maintains a certain temperature - 36.7 C.  Raising this temperature only 2-3 degrees causes pain, and 5-7 degrees leads to death.  Maintaining the existence of human cells also presents a big problem for humanity involving food, shelter, clothes and ecologically clean environment.
          Nevertheless, human cells cannot exist eternally even under ideal conditions.  This follows from the atomic-molecular theory.  Atoms of biological molecules permanently oscillate and interact with each other.  According to the theory of probability, sooner or later the impulses of adjacent atoms influencing the given atom, add up, and the atom acquires enough speed to break loose from its atomic chain, or at least to transfer into the adjacent position (physicists say that the impulse received by the atom has surpassed the energy threshold which retains the atom in in its particular place in the molecular chain).  It also means that the cell containing this atom has been damaged and cannot any longer function normally.  Thus, for example, we get cancer cells which cannot fulfill their designated functions any more and begin to proliferate abnormally fast and ruin human organs.
          This process accelerates manifold when a person has been exposed to a strong electromagnetic radiation, for instance, Roentgen or Y-rays, a high-frequency electric current or radioactive materials.
          Actually, the process of deforming of the hereditary DNA molecule under the influence of weak cosmic rays can take place from time to time, leading sometimes to birth defects, or it may turn out to be useful for the survival properties.  And this plays a positive role for a particular species of plants or animals contributing to their adaptability to the changed environment and their survival as a species.  But for a particular individual such aberration is a tragedy as a rule, since the overwhelming majority of such cases are birth defects, with only few cases of useful mutations.  And human society in general is suspicious of people who are radically different in their looks or abilities.

                      An Unexpected Breakthrough

           An unusually fast development of computer technology, especially the microchips which allow hundreds of thousands of electronic elements on one square centimeter, has opened before the humanity a radically different method of solving the problem of immortality of a separate individual.  This method is based not on trying to preserve the fragile biological molecules, but on the transition to the artificial semiconductive (silicone, helium, etc.) chips which are resistant to considerable temperature fluctuations and do not need food or oxygen and can be preserved for thousands of years.  And, most important, the information contained in them can easily be re-recorded into another chip and be stored in several duplicates.
          And if our brain consisted of such chips, and not the biological molecules, then it would mean that we have achieved immortality.  Then our biological body would become a heavy burden.  It suffers from cold and hot temperatures, needs clothes and care, can be easily damaged.  Itís much more convenient to have metal arms and legs, tremendously strong, and which are insensitive to heat and cold and do not need food or oxygen.  And even if they break, itís no big deal - we can buy new ones, more improved.
          It may seem that this immortal man does not have anything human (in our understanding) left in him.  But he does, he has the most important thing left - his consciousness, his memory, concepts and habits, i.e. everything encoded in his brain.  Outwardly, he can look quite human, and even more graceful: a beautiful young face, a slim figure, soft smooth skin, etc.  Moreover, one can change the look at will, according to current fashion, personal taste and the individual understanding of beauty.  We are spending huge amounts of money on medicine.  If we had been spending at least one-tenth of this money on the development of electronics, we would get immortality in the near future.
          According to the authorís research, such transition to immortality (E-creatures) will be possible in 10-20 years.  At first it will cost several million dollars and will be affordable only to very wealthy people, important statesmen, and celebrities.  But in another 10-20 years, i.e. in the years 2020 - 2035, the cost of HEC (human-equivalent chip), together with the E-body, and organs of reception and communication, will drop to a few thousand dollars, and immortality will become affordable to the majority of the population of the developed countries, and another 10-15 years later, it will be accessible to practically all inhabitants of the Earth.  Especially when at first it will be possible to record on chips only the contents of the brain, and provide the body for its independent existence later.
          On October 11, 1995, Literaturnaya Gazeta (The Literary Gazette, a popular Russian weekly) published my article "If Not We, Then Our Children Will Be The Last Generation Of Human Beings" devoted to electronic civilization.  The editor Oleg Moroz reciprocated with the article "Isnít It High Time To Smash Computers With a Hammer?" (November 22, 1995) in which he discussed the ethical side of annihilating rational electronic creatures to preserve humanity.
          But if the cost of the HEC drops and the procedure of reincarnation into the E-creature before death (transition to immortality) for the majority of people becomes affordable, then the situation deserves a second look.  Indeed, the first to perform such transition will be very old or incurably sick people.  And to pummel computers with a hammer will be equal to killing oneís own parents and precluding oneís own possibility to become immortal.
           Once, the host of an American television program whose guest I was, asked me, "Will the electronic creature be entirely identical to its parent, with his feelings and emotions?"  The answer was, "At first - yes!"  But the development of these creatures will be so fast that we cannot really foresee the consequences.  If a biological human being needs dozens of years to learn science, foreign languages, etc., an E-creature will acquire this knowledge in fractions of a second (the time needed to record it in its memory).  And we know how different college-educated people are from, say, pre-schoolers, in their cognizance.  And, since the first E-creatures will be contemporary middle-aged people who will, at least initially, preserve their feelings towards their children (contemporary younger generation), in all probability, there wonít be a mass destruction of humans by E-creatures.  For some time they will co-exist.  Itís quite likely that the birthrate of humans will be curtailed or it will be dropping due to natural causes, and the living, as they become old, will be transforming themselves into E-creatures.  That is to say that the number of E-creatures will be growing and the number of people diminishing, till it gets to the minimum necessary for the zoos and small reservations.  In all likelihood, the feelings that E-creatures may have towards humans as their ancestors, will be fading away, in proportion to the growing gap between the mental capacity of humans and electronic creatures, till they become comparable to our own attitude towards apes or even bugs.
          Another thing is quite obvious, too - that biological propagation will be so expensive, time-consuming, and primitive, that it will go into oblivion.  Each E-creature can reproduce itself simply by re-recording the contents of its brain to a new E-creature, i.e. propagate practically instantaneously, bypassing the stages of childhood, growing up, education, accumulating experience, etc.  But, of course, this mature "offspring" will be completely identical to its parent only at the first moment of its existence.  In time, depending on the received information and the area of expertise, this E-creature will be alienating itself from its ancestor, and, possibly, even become his enemy at some point, if their interests cross or go in opposite directions.

                      Contemporary Research

          The cognitive abilities of man are defined by his brain, to be precise, by ten billion neurons of his brain.  Neurons can be modeled on the computer.  Such experiments have been conducted by Professor Kwin(?) Warwick, head of the cybernetics department of Reading University in the south of England, one of the biggest specialists in robot technology in the world.  The results of these experiments were presented at the International Conference on Robotics.  Professor Warwick has created a group of autonomous self-propelled miniature robots which he called "the seven dwarfs."
          A group of scientists headed by Rodney Brook from the laboratory of artificial intelligence of MIT, are working on an unusual project which they called "Cog."  The researchers want to model the mental and physical capacity of a six-month old.  Their robot has eyes, ears, hands, fingers, an electronic brain and a system of information transmission duplicating human nervous system.  By this kind of modeling, the researchers want to gain better understanding of how  human beings coordinate their movements, how they learn to interact with the environment.  The realization of this program will take ten years and will cost several million dollars.
          They have already built a couple dozen humanoid robots which are moving autonomous machines with artificial intelligence.  They are capable, through the sensors, to receive information about the environment, generalize, and plan their actions and behavior.  Thus, for example, if a robotís leg bumps against an obstacle and receives a blow, the robot acquires a reflex to withdraw it quickly.  They have already developed several dozen of such reflexes in their behavior, which helps them to safeguard and protect themselves.
          Brook says that in the course of human evolution, the human brain has developed thousands of conventional solutions to everyday problems such as optical and audio discerning and movement.  All this needs to be studied.  One cannot instantly transform a bug into a man.   That is why our program will take ten years.  I will consider my work completed when I create the smartest cat in the world.
           It should be noted that the most powerful supercomputer can only model 40-60 million neurons, i.e. it is 200-300 times weaker than a human brain.  But this gap will be overcome in the near 3-5 years ( In December 1996 the "Intel" company created a computer whose power equals one teraflops.  It cost 55 million dollars).
          Not long ago "The Russian Advertisement" newspaper re-printed the article of Igor Tsaryov first published in the newspaper "Itís Hard to Believe."  He writes that for several years the U.S. Ministry of Defense has been secretly working on a unique project "The Computer Maugli" (Sid).  When a thirty-three year old Nadine M. gave birth to a boy, the doctors established that he was doomed.  He was on a life support for a few days.  During that time his brain was scanned with special equipment, and the electric potential of the neurons of this brain was copied into the neuron models in the computer.  Steem(?) Roiler, one of the participants of this project, said at the computer conference in Las Vegas that they had managed to scan 60% of the infantís neurons.  And this small artificial brain began to live and develop.  First only his mother was informed.  She took it calmly.  The father was horrified at first and tried to destroy this computer creature.  But later both parents started treating him as a real child.  The computer was connected to the multi-media and virtual reality systems.  These systems allow not only to have a three-dimensional full-sized image of Sid, but also to hear his voice, communicate with him, and "virtually" hold him in hands, so to speak.  But when a special committee decided to open some results of the project, and "The Scientific Observer" published some data, one of American computer whiz-kids managed to decipher the secret code and copy some files.  Sid got a defective "twin." Fortunately, the whiz was quickly found, and the first in human history attempt to steal electronic children and duplicating copies of electronic creatures, was severed.  At the present time, both parents take care of their "childís" health and demand that the researchers install up-to-date programs of defense from computer viruses and burglars.
          Unfortunately, and I am sure they have reasons for that, Americans keep secret the important details and results of the project - for instance, how they copied the potentials of the neurons, how the first E-creature is developing, what are the conclusions of the scientists.  And probably, they are right, not willing to let the genie out of the bottle.  More so because modern virtual reality systems are able to create false objects, e.g. model the image of any dead person or leader.  It is possible to show on television how he is making a speech today, has a press-conference, talks to people, spends time with his family, etc.
          But one cannot keep any secret for long, especially in science.  The very possibility of a breakthrough stimulates other scientists and other countries to work in this direction.  And sooner or later, the results will be repeated.  Letís remember, for instance, that there havenít been a bigger secret than the production of an A- or H-bomb.  But more and more countries re-invent them, gain expertise in nuclear technology and start producing their own nuclear weapons.

                        Intelligence in Space

          Since E-creatures will be made of super-strong steels and alloys, their brain will be working on radio-active batteries, and power will be supplied by compact nuclear reactors, they will not need air, warmth, water, food, clothes, shelter, good quality environment, etc., which is the main concern of humanity and consumes 99.9% of its time and energy.  This also means that E-creatures will be able to travel freely in the desert, the Arctic and the Antarctic regions, sub-atmosphere, mountain summits, the bottom of the ocean.  They will be able to live, work and travel in space, receiving their energy directly from the sun.
           Besides, as organs of feelings, E-creatures can use the whole arsenal of highly sensitive apparatuses created by the civilization, i.e. not only the visible light and sound, but also radiolocation, infra-red, ultra-violet, roentgen and Y-rays, ultra- and infra-sounds, audiolocation, environment sensors, etc.  All this information can be received instantly through radio, satellite and cable network.
          Moreover, since E-creatures (just like humans, for that matter) are nothing else but information recorded in their brains, and re-recording of this information from one chip to another (unlike human reproduction) does not present any difficulty and can be realized through radio,  cable network, or a laser beam, they can travel on Earth, as well as in outer space, without their actual  physical movement, simply by re-recording the contents of their brains into the chips on the Moon, Mars, or Jupiter.
          Which is to say that E-creatures will have the ability to move EXTRA-CORPORALLY with the speed of light - the maximal possible speed in the material world.  This will be, indeed, like an incorporeal soul which can travel, so to speak, from one body to another, or, to be more exact, from one chip to another.
          The expansion of E-creatures (E-civilization), first in the solar system, then in our galaxy, then in the entire Universe, will be fast.
          To achieve this, it is not necessary to launch huge spacecraft with a large crew, as it is depicted in science-fiction books.  It will be enough to send a receiver to this or that part of the Universe, which will receive information and re-produce E-creatures.  Then the speed of the expansion of E-civilization on some planet will depend only on the rate of production of robots and chips, and the speed of the transmission of information.  It is quite obvious that the reproduction of E-creatures will take place in geometric progression and will only be limited by the natural resources of the planet.
          Thus E-creatures realize in practice the idea of EXTRA-CORPORAL travel with the speed of light.  Why, indeed, should an E-creature travel hundreds or thousands of years to a certain planet, when, with the help of a laser beam,  it can transmit with the speed of light, all the information stored in his brain, to another chip, on another planet.
          And if a planet were to meet with an ultimate catastrophe, like a collision with a huge meteorite, another planet, or the explosion of the sun, E-civilization can arrange transporting E-creatures to another planet or another solar system.
          One more thing is of interest.  A light beam can travel to other galaxies for millions of years, so this, in a manner of speaking, "incorporeal soul" can exist for millions of years as an electromagnetic field and "resurrect" as an E-creature through a receiver.  This can occur even without a special receiver, as the high energy electromagnetic oscillations can yield material particles, and their energy (frequency) increases the closer it gets to a strong gravitational field, e.g. near a "black hole."  And since it will not be hard for an E-creature to produce a DNA molecule, it means that it will not be hard for it to bring biological life to any suitable planet and control and  develop it in the necessary direction, for example, to create a human being.

Alexander Bolonkin
1310 Avenue R, #6-F, Brooklyn, NY 11229 USA
Tel/Fax: 718-339-4563
E-mail: Bolonkin@aol.com
Home pages: http://members.aol.com/Bolonkin/index.html   and   http://Bolonkin.narod.ru/