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Will Humans be Immortal by 2045?

Immortality sounds like science fiction to us, but there are those who have dared to date it: 2045. It is the plan of the Russian businessman and millionaire Dmitry Itskov, who defends that in just over 20 years we will be able to dream of eternal life in the form of avatars . The plan is to download your brain, make a digital copy of it, and turn it into a computer simulation. That is, resurrect and live again on a data server. Before calling this entrepreneur crazy, it should be said that there is a team of scientists behind it willing to try. The same horizon predicts Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google.


There are even companies that have been born for this purpose, such as the American Nectome, founded by MIT graduates and with the economic support of the Silicon Valley Y Combinator incubator. Their goal is to preserve brains using a high-tech embalming process so that the mind can be downloaded into a supercomputer in the future. An opportunity also to have within our reach the wisdom of previous generations.


Brain conservation is a recurring theme in the seventh art, futuristic literature or television series. One of those that best captures the ideal of these visionaries is Upload (Amazon Prime Video), which premieres its second season on March 11. Set in the year 2033, it tells the story of a young programmer who suffers an accident with his car and, in order not to die in the operating room, decides to download his mind and insert it into a virtual environment that has made immortality possible.


Transhumanism may be in danger of becoming a kind of technological religion that takes advantage of our fear of dying, but there are those who assume that immortality will come someday (even if it is very far away).


In both fiction and real life, the scariest part of the process – at the moment – is that the embalming of the brain is lethal, but the brain must be alive, so the plan is only viable in the case of assisted death in the terminally ill. And it is at this point that all the alarms start to go off.


MIT itself, which originally approved funding Nectome research, got out of the picture four years ago with a statement. “Neuroscience has not advanced enough to know if any brain preservation method is powerful enough to preserve all types of biomolecules related to memory and the mind. It is also not known if it is possible to recreate a person’s consciousness “.


But it is precisely in the uncertainty where these companies hide. What’s going on up there is as mysterious as the contents of a black box. So, if the way our brain works is something that neuroscience has not yet been able to explain… Why call something impossible?


Our brain integrates some 86,000 million neurons, interconnected cells specialized in receiving stimuli. It is the organ that allows us to contemplate and have knowledge of the world and of ourselves through consciousness, but understand its mental activity through its structure.


Biology remains a mystery. The reason? That each brain is unique, as is its way of storing information.


The initial phase is an automatic registration, but its subsequent coding is not: from everything that we are sensorily capable of capturing, we select and interpret that reality according to past experiences, ideas, beliefs… In this process that modulates what, how much and how we remember, can influence even the hours of sleep or if the person has had a bad day.


“The brain is our essence. Everything is there. Abstraction, imagination, thoughts… Everything is a product of the brain and its circuits and connections, but how all this gives rise to that cognitive process is a mystery,” Javier explains. by Felipe, a neuroanatomist at the Cajal Institute of the CSIC in Madrid and coordinator of the Cajal Blue Brain program, part of the Blue Brain Project, an initiative of Swiss origin founded by Professor Henry Makram in 2005. The objective, based on the brain of a rodent and ending in the human, is to produce the most detailed digital model to date of brain architecture and function.



The first challenge is to map that process and know exactly how we get from that physical substrate of interconnected cells to our mental world, our feelings and our memory, because those connections are what define who we are. But is it possible to replicate the complexity of a human brain, is it possible to encode beauty, love, sadness, intuition, the way you enjoy a sunset?


“Every man is a sculptor of his own brain, you adapt to new circumstances and generate new connections, everything changes. The information in the brain is dynamic. How do you store something like that?” De Felipe asks.


According to Randal Koene, scientific director of the Russian Itskov initiative, “the brain converts information inputs and sensory data into responses, into our behavior. And it does so through computation.” That is the starting point of the theory of transferring brains to a supercomputer.


“Our brain is a machine, yes, but created by nature. It is true that much progress has been made in brain reconstruction in a very short time, technologies and techniques are emerging that 20 years ago were thought to be a dream. What was science fiction two decades ago is now a reality”, defends De Felipe.


The problem is that progress in this field is slow. The human connectome project can be compared to the human genome project, which was achieved in 15 years, but neuroscientists have it somewhat more complicated than geneticists, due to the volume of data and because almost everything that is known is based mainly on animal experiments.


Neuroanatomist De Felipe’s laboratory is one of the few where the neurons of the brain, the synapses, are being studied at a microstructural level… Right now they are reconstructing the brain of a mouse and in a few weeks he will travel to Switzerland, where they are beginning to reconstruct a human cortical circuit based on autopsy data, mathematical models and simulations that are reproduced in an in silico circuit.


“The cortical column is a functioning unit of the cerebral cortex barely 3 millimeters long by 1 mm wide, and there are thousands in the brain”, explains Manuel Martín-Loeches, Professor of Psychobiology and head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Section of the UCM-ISCIII Joint Center for Human Evolution and Behavior. “It may be that many of the connections are dispensable or redundant and that a good simulation of a brain does not need all of them, but we are very far from being able to put the minimum necessary totality of a brain in a computer, there is still not enough support for so much data It may be possible to have a person’s memories or wisdom in a computer, but it’s a long way off,” he adds.


Approaching research in an interdisciplinary way is key, as is sharing data globally. Thus, it is no coincidence that firms such as IBM are very present in projects such as Blue Brain, active in several European countries. Enormous computing power is required, as is the sum of other disciplines: imaging engineers, mathematicians, physiologists, anatomists…


But even solving all these challenges, could we wake up in a virtual world and feel ourselves? Some of the greatest researchers in the field of consciousness, such as Christof Koch, argue that if the Internet were even more complex, it could generate conscious processes.



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