Would you like to live forever? Well, some experts say you might.
Last week, a former Google engineer said he believes that humans will achieve immortality within the next eight years.
Ray Kurzweil – who has an 86 per cent success rate with his predictions – thinks that advances in technology will quickly lead to age-reversing ‘nanobots’.
While it sounds far-fetched, scientists have been looking for years into ways we can regenerate our cells, or upload our minds to a computer.
MailOnline takes a look at the strangest ways humanity could attain eternal life.
The idea of uploading your mind to a computer has been theorised for many years now, but it has mostly remained the stuff of science fiction.
Nectome, a US-based startup, is trying to change that by devising a way to preserve the human brain so that its memories can be uploaded to the cloud.
The firm has figured out a way to preserve the human brain in microscopic detail using a ‘high-tech embalming process,’ according to the MIT Technology Review.
It uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass.
‘You can think of what we do as a fancy form of embalming that preserves not just the outer details but the inner details,’ said Robert McIntyre, Nectome’s cofounder.
Speaking to prospective customers, Nectome positions its service as: ‘What if we told you we could back up your mind?’
But the key to being able to recreate a person’s consciousness involves accessing the organ’s ‘connectome.’
A connectome is the complex web of neural connections in the brain, often referred to as the brain’s wiring system.
Nectome, which has been referred to as a ‘preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it’ company, has figured out a way to embalm the connectome as well.
However, in order for the technology to work, participants have to be willing to be euthanized, which led to it losing a contract with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2018.
The prestigious institution claimed the technology is in its infancy and there is no guarantee that they can recreate consciousness.
Despite the setback, that same year, a prominent futurist predicted that ‘electronic immortality’ would be available to humans by 2050.
Dr Ian Pearson said that human intelligence, memory or senses could be connected to external technology.
Rather than creating a backed up copy of your mind, most of your intelligence would simply be running from a place outside of your physical brain.
In a blog post, he wrote: ‘One day, your body dies and with it your brain stops,’ he wrote in a blog post.
‘But no big problem, because 99 per cent of your mind is still fine, running happily on IT, in the clouds.
‘Assuming you saved enough and prepared well, you connect to an android to use as your body from now on, attend your funeral, and then carry on as before, still you, just with a younger, highly upgraded body.’
He adds that this type of immortality has dangers too, as it would require the use of a purchased or rented android and cloud space ultimately owned by a tech company.
These companies could thus ‘enslave’ workers after their deaths, by maintaining ownership of the mind for their own benefit down the line.
‘Maybe the cloud company could replicate your mind and make variations to address a wide range of markets,’ the futurist wrote.
‘Maybe they can use your mind as the UX on a new range of home-help robots. Each instance of you thinks they were once you, each thinks they are now enslaved to work for free for a tech company.’
Freezing the brain
Some companies offer the opportunity for people to have their brains frozen after they die, in the hope they can be brought back to life in the future.
One of these is Russian cryonics firm KrioRus, which currently has 91 human ‘patients’ stored at -320.8°F (-196°C) with the aim of protecting them against deterioration.
This is cold enough to stop all cellular function and preserve a body’s state until defrost
This is so that they can potentially be revived in the future when science advances enough to cure any illness they may have had, including death itself, says KrioRus.
Their brains, or full bodies, are all currently floating in large vats of liquid nitrogen and housed in a corrugated metal shed outside Moscow.
It costs at least $28,000 (£22,500) to be cryogenically preserved with this company.
It claims the service gives people left behind by dead relatives a ‘peace of mind’ and hope they will see them again.
They also freeze pets, and currently store 58 dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, rabbits and a chinchilla.
But, the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences’s Pseudoscience Commission, Evgeny Alexandrov, described cryonics as ‘an exclusively commercial undertaking that does not have any scientific basis’, in comments to the Izvestia newspaper.
It is ‘a fantasy speculating on people’s hopes of resurrection from the dead and dreams of eternal life’, the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Valeriya Udalova, KrioRus’s director, had her dog frozen when it died in 2008, she says it helps people deal with loss.
She said it is likely that humankind will develop the technology to revive dead people in the future, but that there is ‘no guarantee of such technology’.
This is by far the only company offering such a service, and there are thought to at least 500 bodies frozen in this way worldwide.
Another prominent company is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona, USA, which had 199 patients as of October 2022.
There, full bodies are stored in large cylindrical chambers alongside three other full bodies. Brains can be stored in shelves, with five fitting into a slot for one body.
After a person dies, doctors must work fast to preserve the body and get it into storage.
Comparing the process to organ harvesting, Max More, CEO of Alcor, said in a 2020 interview that the first step was draining the body of its blood and liquids.
They then pump it full of an antifreeze-like substance. This is to prevent cells from becoming crystallised and damaged during the freezing process.
People who invest in these services are often desperate to reunite with family in the future.
The youngest known Alcor patient is a two-year-old Thai girl who died of brain cancer. Her family hopes to reunite with her down the line.
But cryogenic freezing also attracts the rich and eccentric. Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney chose to have his body cryopreserved after he died from complications related to ALS in 2014.
There are serious ethical and moral concerns about the practice which has been touted for decades but remains a pipe dream.
The high prices of this preservation can often drain a person’s estate, and will often consume a massive portion of their life-insurance payout – which could have instead benefited their family down the line.
Mr More admitted during an interview in February 2020 that his firm does not know when technology needed to wake up their patients will exist.
However, he is hopeful that this technology will exist and cited recent success in stem-cell research and lab-made organ growth as starting to pave the way forward.
Dr Michael Hendricks, a biologist at Canada’s McGill University, wrote in 2015 that what makes a person’s personality, sense of self, decision making and day-to-day mood are small connections between nerve cells.
But current technology has no way of perfectly storing these cells across the body, and changes to them would fundamentally change who a person is.
Many scientific breakthroughs have been made with regards to stem cell injections, which have been found to be able to rejuvenate cells.
Stem cells are unique because they can differentiate into different types of cells in the body, such as muscle, bone or nerve cells.
When injected into the body, they can integrate with damaged tissues and help to repair and regenerate them.
In 2016, stem cell injections reversed the scar tissue in a trial of 11 seriously ill patients who had suffered heart attacks, reducing scarring by 40 per cent.
Similarly, in 2019, Cambridge University researchers regenerated lost heart muscle and blood vessels in rats with damaged hearts after transplanting stem cells from a human heart.
Stem cells are found everywhere in the body, especially the bone marrow, standing ready to morph into the 200-odd types of cell that make up humans to repair damage.
But their numbers fall as we age, leaving older adults lacking the same regenerative capabilities as their younger peers.
Some creatures, like flatworms and hydras, have stem cells throughout their lives so are always able to regenerate lost body parts.
Dr Steven Cohen, who owns wellness clinics in California and London, says that stem cell therapy could be the key to extending the human life expectancy to up to 150.
Last month, he said his technology, which involves injecting people with exosomes, small vesicles that are naturally produced by stem cells, is just five years away.
The hope is that the exosomes – bursting with essential proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and others – will flow into organs and help to ‘de-age’ them, allowing someone to live longer.
A paper published last year found that more exosomes in the body boosted brain function, while another from the same year suggested they could reduce frailty and help someone live longer.
Other scientists have suggested people could one day live to the age of 200 and are exploring technology like pills to flush out ‘zombie cells’ and ways to tweak DNA to extend someone’s lifespan.
These cells stop dividing like others but start to spew a cocktail of harmful chemicals, damaging and degrading those around them.
Pills that flush these out are already in human trials with scientists saying they could hit the market in as little as 10 years.
A 2016 study from the Salk Institute in California claimed that the key to halting or reversing ageing may lie in cellular reprogramming.
This is a process in which the expression of four genes, known as the Yamanaka factors, is induced, allowing scientists to convert any adult cell into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
Like embryonic stem cells, which are derived from early-stage embryos, iPSCs are capable of dividing indefinitely and becoming any cell type present in our body.
The researchers found that when cellular reprogramming was induced in mice, their cells looked and acted younger.
Reanimating the brain
A technology that was developed to help scientists study brains in three dimensions could also provide the key to eternal life.
In 2019, scientists at Yale University restored the circulation and cellular activity in a pig’s brain four hours after its death by pumping it with oxygen-rich artificial blood.
Neuroscientist and lead author Dr Nenad Sestan said it is possible the brains could have been kept alive indefinitely and that additional steps could be taken to restore awareness, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review.
But he added that his team chose not to attempt either because ‘this is uncharted territory.’
Chemicals added to prevent swelling during the procedure would likely prohibit consciousness indefinitely.
This means it may not be possible for the team to resuscitate brains that can still ‘think’ using their current methods.
The experiment’s success provided a new way of studying the structure and function of the intact large mammalian brain.
‘Previously, we have only been able to study cells in the large mammalian brain under static or largely two-dimensional conditions utilising small tissue samples outside of their native environment, said co-first author Stefano Daniele.
‘For the first time, we are able to investigate the large brain in three dimensions, which increases our ability to study complex cellular interactions and connectivity.’
The team hoped these future 3D brain studies could help doctors find ways to salvage brain function in stroke patients, or test novel therapies.
But scientists also said it may one day allow humans to become immortal by hooking up our minds to artificial systems after our natural bodies have perished.
Nottingham Trent ethics and philosophy lecturer Benjamin Curtis said that this may lead to humans being locked in an eternal ‘living hell’ and enduring a ‘fate worse than death.
‘Even if your conscious brain were kept alive after your body had died, you would have to spend the foreseeable future as a disembodied brain in a bucket, locked away inside your own mind without access to the sense that allow us to experience and interact with the world,’ Curtis told The Conversation.
‘In the best case scenario you would be spending your life with only your own thoughts for company.’