Itskov modeled as an avatar at Russia 2045's 2012 conference, via its Facebook page
Dmitry Itskov wants to live forever. The 32-year-old Russian billionaire and media mogul thinks he can do this by building himself (and everyone) an android body by the year 2045.
There are a few flaws to Itskov’s idea, but that hasn’t stopped more than 20,000 people from publicly supporting the site outlining his plan of using android bodies for immortality. Dubbed the 2045 Initiative, Itskov is selling his idea as the "next step" in human evolution, or "neo-humanity," as he refers to it.
It doesn't stop with android bodies, either. The 2045 folks are also calling for a new religion and set of ethics because they don’t believe any of the current ones can handle the societal implications of living forever—as most of the current ones have you dying first in order to achieve immortality.
But let’s back up a second. How exactly does Itskov plan to become immortal?
"The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of [an] individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality," reads his site.
Itskov is calling his artificial "advanced non-biological carrier" body an "avatar," which is controlled by a “brain-computer interface.” It functions more or less like the fake bodies in the 2009 James Cameron movie of the same name. Did Itskov get his idea from watching the movie? The photo below, which I found on his public Facebook page, would suggest that yeah, he probably did.
But this isn’t just a hairbrained, movie-inspired scheme for Itskov. He’s really thought it through, and has an impressive cast of experts on board. He's even met the Dalai Lama and gotten his blessing for Initiative 2045.
“We are facing the time where the unconscious evolution period has almost finished, and we come to the new era, a new period of controlled evolution,” says Itskov in a video interview.
His future, that “new period of controlled evolution,” goes something like this:
By 2020, Initiative 2045 aims to make this avatar technology widely available and mainstream—never mind that’s seven years from now and a working prototype doesn’t exist yet.
By 2025, Itskov expects an “autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot." In other words, they'll have the tech for implanting the human brain into the robot. By 2035, a human should be able to upload their brain into a robot, and by 2045 our bodies will be replaced with holograms. When this happens, Itskov says we will become "a new species.”
The immortality timeline, viia 2045.com
Besides creating the technology needed for this kind of evolution, Initiative 2045 has a variety of “key” future projects beyond trying to start an “international social movement." Along with a social network called immortal.me, Itskov lists the projects he wants to start: a charity foundation called Global Future 2045, the “scientific research centre ‘Immortality,’” “a business incubator” with no further elaboration, a “University of ‘Immortality,’” and an “annual award for contribution to the realization of the project of ‘Immortality.’”
To help realize these goals is the Global Future Congress, which held its first meeting in Moscow last year. The congress will meet again in New York City this June, where it promises to unveil the most human-like robot the World has ever seen.
Conspicuously absent among all of Itskov’s writings, as well as among all the scientists, philosophers and spiritual leaders speaking at this year’s conference, are experts on cyber security and the Internet philosopher-types who love pontificating on the effects of connecting the brain to the Internet.
This is the biggest issue I've found with Itskov’s current model: he has completely ignored our Internet obsession. If we could implant the web into our brain and download skills, Matrix-style, we would. For good or bad, that's an area that can't be ignored. (For one, Itskov would probably get more support if he reached out to Google and tried to incorporate Google Glass into his avatars.)
Another curious omission is with the groups Itskov is currently working with: he's focused on transhumanists and philosophers, but as yet he doesn't seem to have tapped into the hacker world. There are a whole lot of people out there interested in mind hacking, and Initiative 2045 appears to be one of the first broad attempts at driving into that realm.
The main antagonist in the groundbreaking anime movie Ghost in the Shell is the hacker known as The Puppet Master, who enters people’s “cyberbrains,” wipes their memories, and then uses their bodies for his own specific purposes, like carrying out crimes. Since Itskov is in the habit of being inspired by movies, I’d say Ghost in the Shell is a must watch for him. It's an important cautionary tale, for even if Itskov does manage to build the future of his dreams, his immortality won’t matter if he loses his identity.
As weird and unnecessary as some of Itskov’s Initiative goals come across, his Global Congress conference has managed to attract the who’s who of immortality, robotic and cybernetics research, including Google's director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, and the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro. Spiritual types like the Archbishop of Ottawa and Lazar Puhalo are speaking as well.
Don't get me wrong, there are some practical implications for Itskov’s type of technology. Beyond medical purposes for creating replacement bodies, this type of avatar technology would allow you “work in dangerous environments” or “perform rescue operations,” writes Itskov on his site. Beyond that, the possibilities a drone body allows for are relatively endless, assuming they'll ever get off the ground.