Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The two challenges

As I mentioned earlier, at least one theoretical approach to reverse death seems to exist. Notwithstanding  the vast technological barriers to overcome in order to achieve it, preserving the core values of humankind across thousands or millions of years might be the harder challenge. Caring about long gone past lives of humans from aeons ago will require future descendants to be fundamentally the same as us, only better.

Technology is known to be continuously improving, in big leaps and small steps. Provided humankind will continue to exist, we can expect to see our capabilities of handling energy, processing information and manipulating to increase.

The "humanistic" part of humankind, that is, an ability to see good and evil and be a force that does more good and less evil  is progressing much more slower. Our moral and ethics code is still dominated by the philosophy of  Ancient Greece and early Christians. While these values were developed by the best and brightest of their time, they are getting outdated eventually. We now know more about both the Universe and human nature, so we should come up with a better set of ethics that is better suitable for the XXI century and beyond. Also, we know with good certainty that there are no supernatural forces acting in the observable Universe. We are on our own. We have to become our own gods and forge our own afterlife for our ancestors.

There is a need for a spiritual, but non-religious movement for the present era, uniting the people on Earth. It should be based on humanistic values and it should become a  guiding light for the many generations to come. With that light, we should expand beyond Earth and ensure we will persist until we are able to reach every corner of the Universe.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How can we defeat death?

My mother has passed away two months ago. She was fortunate to live long enough to see her children succeed and receiving end of life care in first-world country.

When she was alive, she did everything to help her children, even to her own detriment - just like my father. She deserves a better destiny than vanishing into eternal night, into nothingness. Just like my father does, who died thirteen years ago.

So now I can see at least one method of reversing death within the limitations of present-day physics.

Two assumptions must hold true for that method to work.

The first one is a requirement for "unbounded but finite" amount of computational power. Something like Kardashev Type II or even Type III civilizations will be able to reach.

We know, as a fact, that information about past state of our Universe is accessible to us in the form of Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. This information essentially tells about initial distribution of mass and energy from which modern galaxies and stars evolved and eventually Earth and humans.
There is also 21-cm hydrogen radiation and neutrino backgrounds that give the same information from even earlier epoch.

From that information we can build an increasingly more precise model of earlier Universe, and then run a simulation to see how it will evolve. Another, virtual Universe, of sorts. With enough computational power and accuracy in simulating physical laws, we can simulate it to any level of detail and see galaxies, stars and planets form, together with any lifeforms evolving on those planets.

Now, this simulated Universe is not guaranteed to evolve in the same way as our own one. Stochastic or chaotic behavior in simulation rules may drive it to some entirely different state after all.  But with "unbounded, but finite" amount of computational power we can run more than a single such simulation.

Furthermore, we can check the discrepancy between any simulated Universe and our own using the (partial) information we know about past states of real Universe (like expected distribution of galaxies, mass and other properties of simulated Earth vs the real Earth, genomes of virtual lifeforms vs the real one etc). Such information fragments that are identical between the real and virtual Universes can be called "checksums" or "hashes" and can be used  to select among the multitude of simulated Universes the version that is closest to our real one.

These "checksums" can include  known information about the humans as well. Their memoirs, their known biography details, their writings, photos, videos and other data. Everything we know about their lives. The selection goal, ultimately, is to have a "lagging" timeline of our own Universe as a copy in virtual form.

Now here comes the second assumption. Assuming we are able to select a virtual Universe where every known piece of knowledge about every human ever lived in our real Universe is completely identical to ones in our Universe, we assume that the other parts of that virtual Universe (like internal mind states of all humans ever lived at the moment of their deaths) will be identical to ones in our Universe as well. And therefore we can capture all these mind states and transfer to our Universe where we can design all kinds of afterlife (or simply a continuation of their lives) for them.

Now, this is a pretty big "if" to state those assumptions will hold true. Access to "unbounded, but finite" amount of computation power seems like the easier one, at the very least, humanity must persist and expand beyond the home planet, eventually colonizing Solar System and reaching nearby stars. But the required amount of calculations for precise virtual Universe simulations may demand to use supermassive black holes or even artificial quasars as energy sources. This may take many thousands or millions of years to reach.

As for the second assumption, there is no obvious solution to confirm that humans in virtual Universe will have the same mind states as their originals in real ones. The best "checkpoint" data available to us are the cryogenically preserved bodies and brains in cryonics labs. If all those brains are ever scanned to atomic level and their internal structure is found completely identical to their virtual copies in simulated Universe, we can say with high confidence that any other brain in virtual Universe is the same as their original in real Universe.

Implementing all of this project is not a trivial task and may take millions or even billions of years. Required technology may even be not that hardest part, remembering and caring for long gone loved ones for all that time might be the harder challenge. But so what? If death itself can be defeated, would not this be the greatest achievement of humankind ever?

Among the endless night, a ray of light now shines for me.

P.S. Some notes on computation requirements for such a simulation . We probably do not need to simulate entire Universe at the same level of details. Causally unconnected events in the remote galaxy a billion light years away didn't have much effect on people in Ancient Rome. So we only need to simulate those areas of Universe at high enough resolution to replicate the observable events, such as Crab Nebula supernova.

For simulating Earth, the full  resolution is required only for the thin shell centered on Earth surface, say +/-15 kilometers from geoid average. Nobody really is affected by how exactly Earth mantle is simulated as long as accurate plate tectonics is achieved and known volcanoes erupt on the right dates.  Also simulating other planets in Solar System as single points of light would be sufficient until telescopes appeared. The dark side of Moon doesn't need to have any features until 1959, etc, etc.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Climbing higher

If we ever to expand beyond our home planet, we need to find suitable places to colonize first. There is no lack of plans for future missions, such as return to Moon, missions to Mars, exploration of Venus or near-Earth asteroids.

However, these environments are less hospitable for humans than ice deserts of Antarctica or Everest summit and also is much harder to reach. Such remote destinations on Earth are visited only by small number of scientists and explorers with even smaller o number of permanent residents.

Other locations within Solar system appear to be no more hospitable to human beings, lacking earth-like atmosphere, gravity or radiation protection, leaving the future of space colonization uncertain.

For humans to expand beyond their home planet, they have to find satisfactory answers for the following three questions:

  • Why should humans colonize space? 
  • Which destinations should be selected for colonization programs? 
  • How exactly should colonies beyond Earth should be developed?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life, death and afterlife

Every now and then every one of thinks about death and what is beyond it. You may wonder if the death is truly the end to your existence, if there is any chance to avoid it and if there is such thing as afterlife. People who have various religious beliefs can please themselves with tales of heavens or possible reincarnation. However, if you consider yourself an atheist of any kind, you know that real answer is rather unpleasant and painful.

The entirety of your personality, memories and dreams is contained within your brain, in the vast network of neurons and their connections. Your brain is the only container of all the information that is you. And what happens when this container is destroyed after your body ceases functioning? Pretty much the same as happens to any other information container that is destroyed, like a CD being thrown into the document shredder. There is no more chance of your personality spontaneously reforming anywhere in the Universe, then for the above mentioned CD to reform itself from scattered shards in the landfill. When you die, you disappear from the existence forever and you are not going to ever return. There is no afterlife for you and your current life is the only one. Such is the reality of existence and dying is the worst possible things that can happen to you or your loved one.

But death is no more natural than smallpox was. People currently see death as inseparable part of reality only because there is no way to avoid it. There are no unresolvable mysteries or supernatural reasons for death that science cannot explain and even possibly prevent at some point in future. People and other life forms die when their bodies are too damaged to properly function, either from accidents or from accumulated wear from the old age. Is there any hope for death to be defeated? We can try to preserve as much as possible of ourselves by using cryonics. There is no guarantee that you’ll be ever revived but your odds for any type of afterlife life would be better than if you left your body to be cremated or decomposed. You can also hope that at some point in future, medical science will be advanced enough that at least senescence is prevented and physical immortality will become reality and there is a slight chance you may live long enough to reach this point yourself.

However, even if people ever become immortal at some future time, this doesn’t offer anything for countless billions of human beings who didn’t live long enough to see that day. Being dead may not seem so bad if you lived to hundred years and died in your sleep, having accomplished all your life goals and remembered by your children and grandchildren. But what about those less fortunate? Those who died too young, alone and in terrible pain? What about those who sacrificed their own lives to save someone else? They are all gone, their dreams, personalities and memories forever erased from existence. Don’t they deserve something better than complete oblivion?

Our present state of knowledge about the Universe is sufficiently good to understand that there are no gods or other supreme beings that are capable of providing any sort of afterlife for those who are gone. So we have to take care of our dead ourselves. What would be the desired solution? Remember, our brains are nothing but containers of information that represent our personalities. To bring dead person back to life we either need to physically retrieve person at the last moment he/she was alive in the past or recover just enough of this information (map of neurons, their connections and electrical activity down to molecular or atomic precision) that would be sufficient to recreate the person in such a way so he/she would not notice any change in himself.

Now here is the obvious first question – is there any verifiable, scientific method to achieve these capabilities (even if only in theory)? The obvious answer is no: neither the travel back in time seems possible, nor the full recovery of past information state from the certain location in space and time in present. I’ll skip the details here, but in short, general relativity doesn’t allow causality violation and therefore time travel to the past, and physical and chemical processes are generally irreversible (they do not preserve information about past states) at least until the quantum mechanical level. So our present level of science gives a definite “no” for this question. But have we reached the ultimate limit of scientific knowledge and technological powers? Hardly so, the stream of scientific discoveries and inventions is not stopping or slowing down. There might be some unknown property of space or time that can change the outcome of this question. There is nothing fundamentally prohibiting us from continuing to increase our volume of scientific knowledge and technological capabilities. We don’t know what powers human civilization can possibly harness in another thousand (or million) years of development.

Now, here is a second question. Is there a certain future level of science and technology that can be possibly reached by our descendants in this Universe, where it would be possible to reverse death for all those who died before? The answer could only be “yes” or “no” and therefore does exist, but we don’t know what that answer would be. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain for our deceased ones if we try to find the answer to this question. Here is my third and last question. What can be done here and now to improve the odds of ever finding this answer?

Two conditions have to be satisfied in order to find the answer to the second question mentioned earlier.

First, we should become able to find this answer, by reaching the peak level of science and technology possible in the Universe.

Second, our future society should be willing to find this answer. Our descendants should care enough about people deceased long ago to bother making any efforts to find out if it is possible to bring them back to life.

The last question of the previous post can be now restated as following: what can we do today to improve the odds of ever reaching these two conditions? The answer how to reach the second condition is long and complex enough for me to delay the explanation until much later. The solution to reach the first condition, however, can be explained more easily and I will show the details below.

To ensure that we can eventually reach the highest possible science and technology level following assumptions must hold true – human civilization must survive as long as the Universe will, while our scientific and technology powers have to continuously increase. Only two outcomes are possible in this scenario. We will either run out of time available in our Universe, while still climbing higher in the quest to reach the ultimate limit of knowledge and technology powers. Or we will hit the said limit before the end of Universe existence and therefore will have some time left to produce the desired answer.

Now, how to make those assumptions hold true for the foreseeable future? Our planet will remain a comfortable environment for us on geological timescales (likely, millions of years, environment problems and global warming notwithstanding). However, this state is not guaranteed to last indefinitely. A possible asteroid impact or any other natural or man-made disaster of unusual magnitude can destroy humankind. Even without catastrophic events Earth will become inhospitable when our Sun evolves into red giant phase in the far future. But our Universe will not end with the end of our planet and we should find a way to continue to exist beyond this point.

What about being able to ever increase humankind’s science and technology level? Very roughly, this level is correlated with the total available energy, matter and information processing capability (as sum of computing resources and intellectual power). We are not yet using all of the Earth’s energy and raw materials, we have not yet exhausted its capacities to support further human population growth. However our planet is finite and so there is a limit to the amount of available resources we can use and energy production planet environment can handle and how many humans (and computers) can populate it. We should find a way to go beyond this limit if we want to continue unbounded growth in these dimensions.

Limitations described above are pointing to the need of expanding beyond our home planet if we ever want to reach our goals. However, this is not an easy feat and multiple obstacles are present on this path. But this is another story altogether.