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2045 Initiative Shoots for Android Surrogates, Immortality

By Wesley Fenlon

Will we be able to download our brains into synthetic bodies 30 years from now?

Russian millionaire Dmitry Itskov is trying to do something terrible: Bring the movie Surrogates to life. At least, that's one way to interpret his 2045 Initiative, which, according to the New York Times, " envisions the mass production of lifelike, low-cost avatars that can be uploaded with the contents of a human brain, complete with all the particulars of consciousness and personality." As the name implies, Itskov hopes to achieve his goal in the next 30 years.

And we're not talking about digital cyberspace avatars, to be clear--we're talking about walking, talking android avatars to replace our feeble human bodies--or, perhaps, let us live forever as digital brains. It's actually a common plot element in sci-fi--alongside Surrogates, the novel Altered Carbon hinges around humans downloading themselves into different bodies, some mostly flesh, some entirely synthetic.

But could we actually have those kinds of bodies by 2045? The first obvious challenge, which may seem insurmountable unless you ascribe to Ray Kurzweil's vision of the Singularity, is to somehow digitize human consciousness. The second challenge, of course, is building the avatars themselves. The New York Times' profile on Dmitry Itskov doesn't delve too deeply into either challenge, but does provide interesting insight into the man behind the 2045 Initiative.

Itskov views the project with a certain idealism--it's not just about living forever. He mentions that avatars could solve world hunger, since they would never need to eat, which is almost plausible if the costs of production drops enough. A big moment for the Initiative is fast approaching in this month's Global Future conference, where Itskov plans to unveil a robotic recreation of his own head featuring 36 motors for controlling facial expressions and so on.

Some of the topics set for the conference--"extending ourselves beyond our brains," "we are evolving into meta-intelligence group-minds," and "immortal minds are a matter of time"--sound far more like science fiction than scientific reality. But Itskov is putting millions of his own dollars into the Initiative, and robotics will almost certainly see some enormous developments over the next 30 years. Crack the whole "brain" problem, and we'll be most of the way there.