SHARING AMERICA'S TECH NEWS FROM THE VALLEY TO THE ALLEY
How’s this for a weekend conference: Some of the smartest people in the world are gathering in New York to try to figure out how to build lifelike copies of humans … to be eventually uploaded with the contents of a real human brain.
It’s the brainchild of a Russian multimillionaire, Dmitry Itskov. He says he’s perfectly serious, and that it could be accomplished by 2035.
Crazy? The New York Times gave Itskov a front-page profile on its Sunday Business page a week and a half ago.
Imagine this: A digital copy of your brain in a different life form that could live for hundreds of years and be replaced.
There are several stages to his proposal, including an early stage (Avatar A) where lifelike avatars (androids) are created, but without an actual brain in them. Instead you would be able to mentally “occupy” the avatar and would have the same sensations.
If you have ever seen the movie “Surrogates” with Bruce Willis, a 2009 film, this is the first stage. In that movie, Willis remotely moves around an android that is an optimized version of himself. He is in a darkened room and has a live telepresence of that avatar, including all senses.
Dmitry says that we could have the first phase—that will enable people to operate a nonbiological body—in the next seven years. And he believes that the concept can be proved to be viable in the next three years. He is talking about an artificial body with sensations—the sensation that you would be walking in the body.
The next phase (Avatar B) is brain transplantation. Instead of your dying, neurosurgeons isolate the brain and some of the spinal chord, put it in a life support system, and that is inserted into the android developed in Avatar A. The timetable: 2020-25.
In the next phase (Avatar C), you make the brain non-biological by uploading it into a computer. The timetable: 2030-35.
Sounds crazy? One of the speakers, Theodore Berger, will show how he has already replaced the hippocampus of a rat with a computer chip. The hippocampus is the part most heavily associated with memory — Berger has shown that rats implanted with these computer chips can have a memory without the original biological part.
The final phase (Avatar D) is replacement of the physical body with a nonphysical, hologram-like body. You are essentially living inside a computer, but you can physically manifest yourself as a hologram. Think Princess Leia in “Star Wars.” The goal: 2045.
Work has already started in Avatars A, B and C. These are parallel threads of scientific research, Itskov said.
Heady stuff indeed, but some impressive scientists from Harvard, MIT and Berkeley are attending the Global Future 2045 World Conference in New York City this weekend, a showpiece for Itskov and ideas around the concept of life extension.
Many investors are attending, including, according to the sponsors, Allen & Co.,Citigroup, Barclays, and several VCs and hedge funds. Credit Suisse, which has a heavy investment in a Swiss robotics lab along with the Swiss government, will also be there.
Why the interest from business? The intersection of humans and machines involves many fields with huge investment potential: robotics, defense, computers, anti-aging, genetics, prosthetics.
Uploading a human brain may be a couple of decades away, if ever, but along the way a lot of new, highly profitable technologies may be developed. Itskov will be unveiling a series of products that are immediately investable to the investors present.
(Read More: Spying Robots & More: The Coming Robotics Revolution)
IBM, for example, scored a huge PR hit when its Watson computer defeated the reigning “Jeopardy” champion. Watson is essentially a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence; it is now being tested for use as an advisor to doctors for medical diagnoses. The potential market: every doctor in the world.
Itskov acknowledges the importance of developing artificial intelligence, but his main interest is in allowing humans to develop their full potential—and that includes the options to occupy a new life form.
“The avatar is a transition for human beings … a transition which will allow us to stop aging … get rid of diseases … and finally to be almost immortal,” he said.
To show how far these technologies have come, Itskov plans to unveil a robotic model of his own head that will move and talk in tandem with his movements, built by Hanson Robotics.
Here is the conference agenda: http://gf2045.com/program/
—By CNBC’s Bob Pisani