I think that I am going to live forever (or at least as long as I choose to). I also happen to think that you are going to live forever (or at least as long as you want).
Okay. So I am nuts, right? I must be part of some sort of whacko cult. Or maybe it’s just because I am a science fiction writer who has started to take his fiction a little too seriously?
Are you at least a little intrigued? No? Well, keep reading, because I promise that by the end of this post, you’ll at least have opened your mind to the possibility.
Okay, the first thing you have to realize is that, no, I don’t belong to any religion or cult. This is all about science. I promise. Here’s the scoop:
There are three overlapping revolutions in science on the very near horizon. The first is genetics. The human body is made of information, just like in your computer. Computers use 1’s and 0’s, and DNA uses G’s T’s C’s and A’s. Our genetic code is extraordinarily complex, and yes, far too complex for any one human to be able to understand it and manipulate it, but with our rapidly advancing computer technology, it has now become possible to understand some of the information processes in our bodies and even to reprogram them. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the U.S. government spent billions and fifteen years to map the human genome. Just this past month, it was announced that hospitals can now map a genome in a single day for just $1000. At this rate, the American Inventor’s Hall of Fame inductee, Ray Kurzweil, has projected that, as early as the 2020’s, we’ll begin seeing the first medicines that will allow us to reprogram our DNA away from aging and, eventually, death. If he’s right, the first de-aging (yes that is de-aging, not anti-aging) pill should be available in about a decade — that means a pill that actually makes you biologically younger.
The next revolution is in nanotechnology. This one should arrive in the late 2020’s but will really flourish in the 2030’s. With nanotechnology, we are talking about the introduction of robotic devices that are so small, they will be able to repair and maintain the body from the inside. Eventually, they will be so small that they will be able to repair cellular structures such as our telomeres, which are our cellular clocks. Telomeres shorten every time a cell divides. This is important because the telomeres have caps of what was once called “junk DNA” but is now referred to by biologists as “bumper DNA.” You see, when cells divide, there are always mutations. The longer the caps of the telomeres are, the more likely that those mutations will take place in the “bumper DNA,” meaning that the mistakes won’t affect an important part of your genetic code. However, as telomeres shorten with age, the important DNA becomes more exposed to mistakes, meaning that, each month, we begin to accumulate more and more errors. Enough errors and we begin to see the obvious and eventually debilitating outcomes of aging in the forms of mental and physical diseases. If nanobots were to repair our telomeres from the inside, we would be able to, essentially, prevent genetic mistakes and set our biological ages. Wouldn’t you like to be 29 for a thousand years? I know I would. And it should be possible starting in about 25 years.
So now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, maybe he’s right that we can have these nanorobots someday, but 25 years? He must be on crack!” Well, sir or madam, I will have you know that I have never smoked crack (not that I am being all judgmental about crackheads or anything). Indeed, I have an extremely good reason for thinking that such remarkable advances are just around the corner. It is actually possible for people doing very simple math, calculating the neurons in our brains, multiplying them by their connections, and then multiplying that number again by the amount of times a neuron can fire or “process” in a second, and come up with a rough estimate of the processing power of a human brain. The number is 10 to the 16th power. The processing power of computers works differently, of course, because computers have transistors on chips and we can’t fit as many of those on a chip as the brain can fit neurons — not by a long shot. The advantage computers have, however, is that while neurons can only fire two or three times in a second, transistors can fire ten thousand times in a second, greatly increasing their processing capability. And as we learn how to fit more and more transistors on a chip, we begin to approach a time when a computer will have the same processing power as the human brain. And when will that be? Well, according to no less than IBM, it will be 2019. Yes. In six years, a computer will have the same processing capability as you do. So what does that mean? It means that we will have the hardware to handle human-level computer intelligence. That doesn’t mean, however, that we will have human-level computer intelligence by then — indeed, it will take a few years to develop the software and “teach” a computer to think with the sort of complexity that humans exhibit, but with super computers that are vastly superior to the ones we have today (and the ones we have today are no slouches) it will be a rapid process. In fact, a computer that can fool a human judge into thinking that it is human, a test that is referred to as the Turing test, should be online by at least 2029.
And each year, this intelligent computer will at least double in capabilities and speed. This means that by very early in the 2030’s at the latest, our species will have access to intelligences beyond anything that humanity has ever seen before.
To understand the implications of this, consider this fact: Albert Einstein was not twice as smart as the smartest person alive today. In fact, Einstein was probably only smarter than Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, or Ray Kurzweil by a couple dozen IQ points at the very most. Yet, with this extra thinking and processing power, he was able to unravel Newtonian physics, discover what gravity was, imagine black holes, understand the relationship between time and space, and uncover the universal speed limit of light.
Imagine what a being twice as smart as Einstein could do. Then imagine a being ten times as smart. Then one hundred.
You get the picture.
Suddenly, nanobots and the full understanding of our genetic code doesn’t seem so implausible anymore, does it? In fact, it seems downright inevitable.
So, maybe I am wrong. The future, even with our mathematical models and our “gut feelings” has proven notoriously difficult to predict. But, hopefully, I have opened your mind to the possibilities just a little bit more than they were before — and hopefully I’ve convinced you I’m not a crazy cultist too!
Or a crackhead.
Post Human, a book by David Simpson is free for the next 24 hours! Be sure to check it out and get it for yourself. You can get it HERE.
The future should have been perfect. Microscopic robots known as nans could repair any damage to your body, keep you young by resetting your cellular clocks, and allow you to download upgrades like intelligence, muscle strength, and eyesight. You were supposed to be able to have anything you wanted with a simple thought, to be able to fly without the aid of a machine, to be able to live forever. But when a small group of five terraformers working on Venus return to Earth, they discover that every other human in the solar system has been gruesomely murdered. Now, James Keats and his four companions must discover what happened to the rest of humanity and fight back if they wish to avoid the same, horrifying fate. Welcome to the post-human era.
About David Simpson
DAVID SIMPSON is the author of Post-Human, his 2009 debut novel, as well as Trans-Human and The God Killers. He has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. He currently lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife Jennifer.