Russian plan for immortality [link]

post by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-08-01T20:49:41.319Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 40 comments

The nice thing about Russians (I'm from that neighborhood originally) is that they are absolutely crazy and will try just about anything. They also probably have/had second-best science culture behind US (though they suffered significant brain drain as huge numbers of educated Jews left in the last 25 years). They have less regulation and quite a few rich people with ideas. Seems like a worthwhile group to keep in touch with.



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comment by Grognor · 2012-08-01T23:00:20.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The poll results are intriguing. 35% would want cybernetic immortality at any and all cost! And yet I don't see 35% of people who can afford it signed up for cryonics.

Replies from: shminux, JenniferRM, selylindi
comment by shminux · 2012-08-01T23:08:49.728Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because cryonics is not even close to "certain immortality now".

Replies from: Grognor
comment by Grognor · 2012-08-03T22:41:38.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Any and all cost" would subsume low probabilities if it were true (which, of course, it is not).

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-08-03T22:49:12.769Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see how. To me cost is what you pay, not what you get. If the poll said "an unknown but probably extremely small chance of cybernetic immortality", then it could be comparable to cryonics.

Replies from: JGWeissman
comment by JGWeissman · 2012-08-03T23:08:51.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If an expectued utility maximizer is willing to pay a cost C to get a benefit with probability ~1, it should be willing to pay p*C to get the same benefit with probability p. If C is unbounded, then so is p*C even for very small p.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-08-04T00:01:35.782Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it should be willing to pay pC to get the same benefit with probability p.

This was about real people, not ideal utility maximizers. Even if one agrees with "it should be willing to pay pC to get the same benefit with probability p", which most risk-averse people won't, "Any and all cost" does not mean infinite cost to most people (sacrificing their firstborn is probably not on the list, neither is killing the rest of the humanity).

Replies from: JGWeissman
comment by JGWeissman · 2012-08-04T02:36:50.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to question the assumption that's fine (I agree that people don't really want it at literally any cost), but don't complain that I gave the explanation you said you didn't see of how the assumption implies the conclusion.

comment by JenniferRM · 2012-08-02T00:37:05.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

35% of people who read the article and took the quiz right after reading. Admittedly the numbers are larger than I naively expected to get past each stage of filtering. I was thinking maybe 300 people taking the poll total and its over 30k now, with over 10k answering "at any cost". (I would love to see the log files for that page... referring URLs, IP addresses, etc.)

comment by selylindi · 2012-08-06T15:53:18.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hey, I'd be more than willing to sign up for a couple hundred years of indentured servitude if that's what it took to pay for several thousand subsequent years. But I can't afford cryonics, and the fact that no one is willing to take up that offer of indentured servitude as payment for cryonics is very strong evidence against cryonics having a noteworthy probability of success.

comment by Gastogh · 2012-08-02T06:42:55.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can anyone with a better historical perspective on these things tell me if there's a single recorded occurrence of the year 2045 being mentioned as the magic deadline for some cool futuristic thing before Permutation City was published? It just seems like I'm seeing that date a whole lot in these contexts.

Replies from: skeptical_lurker
comment by skeptical_lurker · 2012-08-02T13:03:02.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't it Kurzweil arguing that the singularity is going to happen in 2045 and who cares about confidence intervals?

comment by Suryc11 · 2012-08-02T05:35:12.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This was posted to Reddit earlier in the worldnews subreddit. Given that this subreddit is comparatively large, there are some surprisingly (at least to me) positive responses to this--relatively little "death is good because it helps me live life better" nonsense.

Replies from: Slackson
comment by Slackson · 2012-08-02T12:09:09.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quite a bit claiming that consciousness is incapable of being copied, however.

Replies from: Suryc11
comment by Suryc11 · 2012-08-02T18:06:35.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah that was somewhat frustrating to read, especially with upvoted comments just asserting that and not advancing an actual argument.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-01T23:07:29.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Step C (upload) seems the most far fetched:

2030-2035 Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness onto an artificial carrier.

Replies from: David_Gerard, Yuu
comment by David_Gerard · 2012-08-03T00:20:58.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The rest is pretty out there. Brain transplants - into an android body, no less - within 13 years.

comment by Yuu · 2012-08-02T07:05:15.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They have another interesting plan on their site:

It is supposed that as a result of the planned work at the end of 2015 the project’s team will elaborate the full detailed description of the mechanisms of human brain. It will be possible to use this description to make (in yrs. 2018-2020) a full scale working analog of the human brain, based on technological (not biological) informational elements and devices.

So, just wait a bit, and you can get electronic brain. ^^ This reminds me of the predictions about number of genes in human genome:

Only a decade ago, most scientists thought humans had about 100 000 genes. When we analysed the working draft of the human genome sequence three years ago, we estimated there were about 30 000 to 35 000 genes, which surprised many.

After project was finished, scientists found only about 20 000 genes.


comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-03T23:14:24.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A quote from the about page of this initiative's website makes it clear that the "holograms" being proposed here feature "controlled matter". Thus it seems highly likely that Itskov is referring to programmable matter along the lines of claytronics or utility fog.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots will become affordable and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however: humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover, prerequisites for a large-scale expansion into outer space will be created as well.

(emphasis added)

comment by DanielLC · 2012-08-01T21:37:00.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is a "hologram-like avatar"? Do the figure that a robot body isn't good enough, and they want one that A) can't interact with the world meaningfully, and B) is physically impossible?

Replies from: jhuffman, lsparrish, None
comment by jhuffman · 2012-08-03T17:26:29.443Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I interpret this as pandering to people who cannot presently comprehend how you can be alive without a body. I doubt it is a serious plan. But I think its more likely there is no plan to do anything but get funded.

comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-03T19:52:51.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By "hologram-like" I think they just mean that it would be 3-dimensional and based on simulated physics. Probably what they have in mind is bodies generated with a smart material like Utility fog.

That anyone is claiming the bodies would be hologram based is an extremely uncharitable interpretation. Obviously the physics of holograms does not provide a reasonable framework for human body replacements (at least, outside of Star Trek). But that doesn't mean physical bodies generated by simulated physics are not like holograms in a certain sense.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-03T17:08:13.075Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have not read the article yet but this immediately makes me much more suspicious of their intentions and odds of success. Solving hard problems like immortality is tricky enough, there is no point throwing in technical constructs which do nothing to advance this goal- unless you believe that having holographic bodies is somehow more important than living forever.

comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-02T00:20:16.956Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is most encouraging to me about this is how well it seems to be marketed. The person pushing it seems to be a wealthy (not sure if billionaire but certainly rich) person with a background in media.

Main site: 2045

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-08-02T07:38:04.728Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is most encouraging to me about this is how well it seems to be marketed.

Thus the world will even closer associate futurism or immortality with crackpots and fiction.

Replies from: lsparrish
comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-02T17:05:27.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thus the world will even closer associate futurism or immortality with crackpots and fiction.

Does he actually come across to you as a crackpot?

Replies from: David_Gerard, Dolores1984
comment by David_Gerard · 2012-08-03T00:19:20.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, he actually comes across as a crackpot at best, con-artist at worst. Mind uploaded into "hologram body" (whatever that is) by 2045? Claiming this will be a saleable service? Brain transplants within 13 years? Even as science fiction this is at the comic book level.

Am I really the only person in this thread who thinks this reeks of fraud?

Replies from: lsparrish
comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-03T01:20:45.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mind uploaded into "hologram body" (whatever that is) by 2045?

"Hologram-like avatar" seems like an attempt to dumb down the concept of virtual reality embodiment for the average person. Note that in Star Trek the term "hologram" is abused in a similar manner.

Claiming this will be a saleable service?

I don't see how that's any different than claiming that prosthetic arms will be a saleable service, for example.

Brain transplants within 13 years?

Over-optimism, to be sure.

Am I really the only person in this thread who thinks this reeks of fraud?

What is the specific fraudulent business plan that this smells of?

Replies from: David_Gerard
comment by David_Gerard · 2012-08-03T13:53:22.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Am I really the only person in this thread who thinks this reeks of fraud?

What is the specific fraudulent business plan that this smells of?

It's not clear to me that that's a sensible question to respond with. It's certainly not conventionally the case that one is expected to be able to describe a precise fraudulent business plan when one's inbuilt other-people-evaluator flags a proposition as being dodgy as hell. Positing that as being a reasonable expectation strikes me as setting other people up for exploitation.

Replies from: lsparrish
comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-03T16:50:39.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Focusing on the specifics is a step that I find helps a lot in narrowing down the source of people's discomfort. (I work in tech support.) However the way I phrased that was probably not the best. Are there any specific fraudulent business plans you are aware of in your experience that pattern-match to what this guy is doing? Various famous cons are well documented on wikipedia. I would guess that if this is a fraud it is unlikely to be an original new kind of fraud.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-08-02T20:59:36.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The hologram thing is sort of puzzling and not especially comforting in that respect.

Replies from: lsparrish
comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-03T19:28:44.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think he's probably thinking of Utility Fog, but trying to avoid having to introduce new nomenclature. The general public is familiar with "holograms" from Star Trek, which are clearly not anything like actual holograms. This could also be a reference to virtual reality based bodies which would have three dimensional (and thus hologram-like) properties.

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-08-01T23:05:17.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not this nonsense again. Setting aside the "immortality" confusion, the people who predict radical breakthroughs in mere "life expectancy" by such a such a date in this century don't understand what the term means. We determine life expectancy of populations retrospectively by gathering statistics on when individuals in the groups under observation die. In addition to that, humans already live longer than other mammals, so how can we learn in a time-efficient way that an alleged "life extension" therapy works to extend the maximum life span beyond 120 years, as opposed to squaring the survival curve, and with a quality of physical and cognitive health you would want to have?

We can't, obviously. Instead a feasible life extension experiment which won't make scientists and other rational people laugh at it would require institutions to conduct longitudinal studies of the experimental group, with the resources and commitments to gather data over many decades, rather like the Harvard Study of Adult Development or the Framingham Heart Study. Several generations of scientists and physicians would have to devote their careers to gathering the data, and then some time in the 22nd or 23rd Century the researchers active at that time would have enough information to draw conclusions about the experiment.

Of course, cryonics research has one huge advantage over chasing "anti-aging" mirages: We can conduct experiments in the here-and-now which can generate useful data about brain cryopreservation, or about other ways of brain preservation if you prefer those. Thomas Donaldson explains the difference in this article:

Why Cryonics Will Probably Help You More Than Antiaging

Notice Donaldson's comparison of aging research with the history of astronomy. It took the efforts of generations of astronomers, over a succession of civilizations, before some astronomers active in 17th Century Europe had enough data to formulate an adequate mathematical model of planetary motion. The real breakthroughs in understanding aging which would allow for effective interventions might not take thousands of years before the equivalent of Kepler, Galileo and Newton arrive on the scene, but they will probably take longer than our current life expectancies, despite the foolish transhumanist talk about "immortality by 2045." In the meantime, cryonics offers a way of making progress on a timescale which might do us some good.

Replies from: lsparrish
comment by lsparrish · 2012-08-02T01:37:00.285Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I agree that cryonics (in particular action taken towards its improvement) should be considered more credible than these competing approaches, I wish you would not exaggerate their weaknesses by labeling them complete nonsense. Cybernetic life support and uploading have a lot more experimental science going for them than they did a few decades ago, much as cryonics does. They also serve as helpful thought experiments to people who are still having a hard time grasping that they might survive and thrive as "frozen corpses".

There is room for respectful disagreement and dialogue between camps, and it's worth considering the possibility that this "2045" initiative has a better chance of reaching and changing minds than the visible literature on cryonics -- and will probably serve indirectly to recruit more new cryonics advocates over time.

Some caution and distancing are understandable and advisable. I don't expect this guy to actually succeed at uploading by 2045, and I don't think it would be good for the cryonics community to endorse this claim. However that doesn't mean it isn't a smart marketing strategy for the concept being conveyed (technological life extension) as long as the certainty for them isn't overstated to the point where fun can easily be poked at it.

Specific numbers, scenarios, etc. are well known marketing strategems designed to account for and exploit certain well established cognitive biases. A cursory review of your junk mail should demonstrate that the high pulling ad is the one that says "$1000/day" not "lots of money". Vague hand waving about the dates and scenarios is something that actually makes people more skeptical, at least when we're talking about the initial bid for their attention.

Replies from: Dr_Manhattan
comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-08-02T13:39:42.595Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...I wish you would not exaggerate their weaknesses by labeling them complete nonsense. Cybernetic life support...

I agree with you and actually think that cybernetic life support it quite undervalued as possibly the best short-term solution to life extension (or at least the one with the least variance). If it works, the life expectancy would be the one of head/brain rather than being bottlenecked on heart/lungs/liver.

The reason I think it's the best is because head transplants have already been done and sustained head's life for few hours, in 1960s (that's 50-year old medicine, those crazy Russians again At that point all that was apparently needed is sufficient blood oxygenation. I wonder what kind of extension would be possible with modern medicine. There are obvious and huge life quality issues, but they are theoretically not different from those of neck-down paralysis cases, and might still score above "being dead forever". On the plus side BCIs are hitting pretty incredible strides and it seems quite conceivable that good amount of sensory input and "natural-feeling" (vs computer-mediated as in "walk 5 steps") body control can be recreated. I think this is a very serious strategy and people should be looking at it. You can always freeze yourself at the end anyways.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-08-02T10:03:08.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Japan has nearly the same population as Russia. The register much more patents than the Russian. Why do you consider the Russian science culture as more advanced?

Replies from: shokwave
comment by shokwave · 2012-08-02T10:58:28.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see how number of patents is correlated with science culture.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-08-02T16:22:19.172Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you actually mean what you just said?

How many patent get registered in Africa? How many patent get registered in Western nations? Which group has the better science culture?

See there's your correlation. The fact that a correlation exist should be really easy to see.

Replies from: ewang
comment by ewang · 2012-08-02T17:28:23.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Similarly, internet usage is indirectly correlated with life expectancy, although the correlation isn't anywhere near strong enough to make reasonable judgments of one from the other.

comment by shminux · 2012-08-01T23:16:00.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On an unrelated note, this exodus from Russia is yet another test of the popular (some places) lore that Jewish contribution is essential for national success, at least in science in technology. Germany seems to have done OK without, and Poland is not in total ruins, either.

Replies from: Dr_Manhattan
comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-08-01T23:56:33.784Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jews is just a a group of humans with certain statistical properties. Science could "exist" without them, no test necessary - they are not a magic ingredient. They did constitute very significant part of Russia's science establishment (despite quotas) and Russia was arguably #2 science producer in math and physics, and this % of their scientists and teachers leaving might plausibly knock them down a few levels. But Russians are certainly plenty smart - Mendeleyev, Kolmogorov, Gamow, etc. etc.