You are on page 1of 3


emember Dr. Curt Connors from

The Amazing Spider Man? A
scientic genius, mad beyond
belief, who tries to re-engineer
humans to become virtually immortal.
He says, I spent my life as a scientist
trying to create a world without weak-
ness, without outcasts. I sought to create
a stronger human being, but theres no
such thing. Human beings are weak,
pathetic, feeble-minded creatures. Why
be a human at all when we can be so
much more? Faster, stronger, smarter.
Turns out Dr. Connors wish could be
closer to reality than we think obvi-
ously with a far less dramatic effect. We
arent far from the day when humanity
will get past the physical limitations of
our bodies, either by xing it beyond
any damage, much like lizards that heal
their epidermis. Research into undying
jellysh with regenerative cells is helping
scientists understand how to make the
body last longer than its shelf life. Hydra,
a jellysh species, repairs almost all
its cells and regenerates periodically,
without aging. James Vaupel, Director,
Laboratory of Survival and Longevity
at the Max Planck Institute for Demo-
graphic Research in Rostock, Germany,
claims its a fundamentally different
survival strategy than humans. In an
interview to the BBC, Vaupel explains,
Hydras allocate resources primarily
toward repair. Humans, by contrast, pri-
marily direct resources toward reproduc-
tion, its a different survival strategy at a
species level. This only means that we
cant self-heal without outside help. He
also believes that senescence or biological
aging can be slowed down rapidly in
humans and gives a 50 per cent chance
of close to negligible aging becoming a
reality in our lifetime.
But if all cells rust from oxygen
exposure and are going to suffer from
inevitable destruction, however delayed it
may be, what could be the next best thing
than harnessing the phenomenon of 3D
printing to print your tissues and organs
and theoretically continue to exist forever?
Scientists have succeeded in achieving
some amazing breakthroughs recently.
Tissue engineering research has led to
printing out a fully beating, three-dimen-
Jayesh Shinde
Our quest to harness the good things about technology to counter its
negatives on our health and well-being doesnt just stop at buying new
tness trackers or planning out a health regimen on your smartphone.
Far from it. Humanitys in this for the long haul, and has its eyes rmly set
on discovering the elixir of life and unlocking physical immortality. Heres
some of the steps to prolonging our health to a whole new level.
Cover story
68Digit | May 2014 |
sional, two-chamber mouse heart using a
modied desktop, inkjet printer. By lling
the ink cartridge with cells, theyve been
able to publish functional human kid-
neys. Were taking technology into places
thats truly unlocking the secrets of our
physiology like never before.
Just in the last few months, we have
witnessed scientic feats like growing
human ears on the backs of mice and
implant culture-grown lungs into rats.
3D printing ears, lungs, and even tissue
samples for use in humans. Thanks to
recent advancements in stem cell research,
British scientists have successfully cre-
ated articial blood that can be adminis-
tered to anyone, by growing RBCs from
broblasts that have been reprogrammed
into mature red blood cells in the lab. The
blood, developed by researchers at the
University of Edinburgh and the Scot-
tish National Blood Transfusion Service
(SNBTS), would be Type O negative, also
known as universal donor blood, which
currently comprises just 7 percent of the
blood donor pool.
Experts in the eld are unanimous in
their prediction that in the near future,
whenever we need replacement body
parts, whether its a tissue culture or a
major organ, well just use rejection-proof
articial organs grown in laboratories
using our own cells. By putting in the
parts you need, youll be able to extend
life by several decades, explains Anthony
Atala, director of the Wake Forest Insti-
tute for Regenerative Medicine. We may
even push that up to 120, 130 years.
Downloading memories
The above mentioned techniques on our
path to immortality have overwhelming
odds restricted by our physiology. Our
bodys programmed to degenerate. But is
that also true of our mind?
Less than a year ago, Berger and Sam
Deadwyler at Wake Forest University suc-
cessfully conducted experiments in which
they actually inserted memories into
the brains of rats by stimulating certain
parts of the hippocampus with electrical
signals. Berger said they have also been
able to disable the hippocampus, in effect
blocking the memory, and then electroni-
cally stimulating certain areas to create a
new memory. This has worked success-
fully in rats and monkeys, while human
trials are yet to begin.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Tech-
nology, Ed Boyden leads the Synthetic
Neurobiology Group, which is building
new tools to explore the brain. Boyden
and his colleagues have found a protein
in algae that is able to convert light into
electricity. When this protein, called chan-
nelrhodopsin, is introduced into certain
neurons, its triggered by light to create
distinctive patterns they can be trans-
lated into electrical impulses and then
mapped resulting in a computer code
of a memory. This opens up a whole new
range of technologies in the eld of brain
and memory research, digitizing data and
even ofoading it to some extent.
The biggest roadblock to downloading
memories right now is that they seem to
disappear when not in use. Unlike memo-
ries in a microchip which can be accessed
any time, if the human brain isnt actively
triggering a memory, one cant really
download or copy it, according to Ted
Berger, a neuroscientist at the University
of Southern California. And unless we get
past this hurdle, the reality of completely
ofoading the contents of our brain cant
be achieved.
Even Stephen Hawking believes that
downloading data from the brain is an
inevitable eventuality. I think the brain is
like a program in the mind, which is like
a computer, so its theoretically possible
to copy the brain onto a computer and so
provide a form of life after death, he said,
according to a report in Guardian last
September. However, this is way beyond
our present capabilities. But dont be
disappointed just yet.
The Avatar Project
This is the most ambitious endeavour
towards achieving immortality of the
mind, perhaps not the body. And it hints
Theres this whole other aspect of
intelligence which is new thoughts, new ideas,
creativity, these are things that we dont
even understand fully among us humans yet,
much less how to get that into a robot.
- James McLurkin, Asst. Prof of Computer
Science, Rice University, USA
3D printed or lab-grown organs and prosthetics will prolong our life
Cover story
towards cybernetics immortality, where
we create a neo-humanity and truly take
control of our evolution beyond the grasp
of natures biosphere. And that, according
to various schools of thoughts, is the only
true way for us to become truly immortal.
And the Avatar Project is the rst major
step in that direction.
The Avatar Project is the brainchild
of Russian billionaire, Dmitry Itskov,
who isnt unlike Peter Weyland from
the movie Prometheus both want to
be immortal. While Weyland looked at
the stars for answers, Itskovs putting
his trust in neuroscientists, neuroen-
gineers and futurists to allow him to
live forever. Not just him, but eve-
ryone. Eventually.
The Avatar Project seeks to conquer
death in four stages by 2045. Stage one
deals with the creation of a robot that can
be controlled by our brains (through a
brain-machine interface) by 2020; Stage
two takes things further when a human
brain can be transplanted into a synthetic
body by 2025; Stage three is where the
boundaries between humans and robots
blur, and it will be achieved after the con-
tents of a persons brain can be uploaded
into a synthetic one by 2035. The last and
nal stage of the project, slated to end by
2045, results with the completion of a
full-blown Avatar, a hologram that will
replace bodies completely and allow us
humans to live forever.
This may sound like a hoax, but it
actually isnt. Itskovs vision is backed
not only by his own deep pockets but also
other tech luminaries Itskovs ambi-
tious roadmap is supported by vision-
aries like roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro,
Googles director of engineering, Ray
Kurzweil, and chairman of the X-Prize
Foundation, Peter Diamandis. Even the
Dalai Lama has given his blessings and
endorsed Itskovs vision, when he said
in a press release, We should carry out
these experiments with a full sense of
responsibility and respect for life that will
only benet humanity, benet others.
Ray Kurzweil, Googles director of
engineering and a self-confessed futurist,
said at a WSJ conference recently that
Were going to expand who we are. Were
going to become more non-biological.
Calling the human body a software
process, Kurzweil believes that in the
future humanity will no longer be limited
to its physical form and be able to upload
our consciousness into a cloud and use
nanobots to recreate our physical bodies
at will. And as humans start becoming
more like machines, AI advancements
will make machines increasingly more
human. This convergence is what Kur-
zweil calls singularity.
Food for thought
So we are trying to achieve immortality
by slowing down biological aging of
the human body, by supplementing the
human body with fresh, new lab-grown
organs, and ultimately escape the con-
straints of our physical cage arguably
the best piece of intelligent life form that
evolution has produced to rule the earth
with and exist in the form of a digital
entity for eternity. And from the looks of
it, all this doesnt seem to be the stuff of
sci- at all.
So the question we put to you is this:
Excited or petried? And how will you
start preparing for your immortal life?
Visit to see how the Avatar Project is creating the stuff of sci-. Unbelievable.
Cover story