My brother-in-law recently died after a brutal fight with cancer. At 48 years of age, he left behind two young children, a loving wife and a thriving real estate business he built himself. After the funeral and burial of the body, I was given some of his best suits and jackets to wear. I took them not only to use them, but possibly to give them back to him in the future.
As a secular transhumanist—someone who advocates for improving humanity by merging people with machines—I don’t believe in death anymore. At least, I don’t believe in biological death’s permanency the way most people do. Most people think that after death, the buried or cremated physical body decays into earth and stardust—the same stuff from which it originally came. They are correct.
But earth and stardust can also be forged, arranged and ultimately 3D-printed to create life. After all, humans and their brains are mostly just meat. What makes a human—and the three pounds of gray matter we all carry on our shoulders called a brain—be able to fly to the moon, play Mozart’s 5th Symphony and admire sunsets is how subatomic particles in that meat interact and play off each other. The jury is still out, but many futurists and technologists like me believe the subatomic world is just discernable math—a puzzle of numbers (and possibly some unpredictable variables) waiting to be calculated by super sophisticated microprocessors we will inevitably have in the next 30 or so years.
The quagmire here is that if computers can one day calculate complete realities, including a specific moment in time of an entire physical human being, then all we have to do to resurrect the dead is 3D-print them out. Given that scientists are already having success 3D-printing biological tissue, some people believe we’ll be able to do this with the dead in less than 50 years. This mind-blowing field is called quantum archaeology.
Before we delve too far into real-time technological resurrection, it’s important to understand the driving force behind such radical technology, as well as the anti-death landscape of the burgeoning transhumanist movement—a movement which leads the quantum archaeology charge. Most transhumanists’ number one goal is to become immortal through science.
The history of transhumanism mirrors the history of the microprocessor. Quietly, behind the daily noise of Trumpian politics, bickering world religions and dark environmental warnings, an unquestionable civilization-changing phenomenon is occurring: The 50-year old microprocessor continues to evolve, exponentially. While the human brain approximately doubled in size over the last 200,000 to 800,000 years, the microprocessor doubles its speed every 18-24 months. Some experts think in just 15 years time, our smartphones will be more intelligent than we are. In three decades, they will almost certainly be hundreds of times smarter than we are.
Transhumanists hope to merge themselves—both brains and bodies—with these super smart machines to both survive indefinitely and to thrive in the future world. In fact, if people don’t merge with computers, humans may soon become an unintelligent species compared to the machine intelligence that will exist. But humans will directly merge with technology; already, hundred-million-dollar companies in California are working on neural prosthetics designed to connect our thoughts to computers. Various universities are working on robotic eyes to give us Superman vision that will also stream Netflix directly, and social media into our optic nerve. Others, like myself, already have implants that can start cars, open doors and pay for things. Some biohackers even want to cut off their limbs and replace them with robotic ones—synthetic body parts which in a decade’s time may be better than our own biology. I believe the future is already set. Many humans will electively put significant tech in their bodies that make them more productive while also increasing their survivability.
When transhumanist friends hear of my brother-in-law’s passing, they tell me how doubly tragic it is—given that humans stand a good chance to overcome the dilemma of aging, death and disease in the next 25 years because of coming radical technology. Transhumanists consider this the most important period in human history—because if they can survive the next few decades, they will likely be able to survive forever with the help of science.
Along with various medical professionals, like leading gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, I agree that by around 2050 we have a good chance of overcoming most of the ways people face biological death. Already we’ve had success with genetically engineering some diseases out of our body; we can 3D-print parts of new, healthy organs; and we can slow aging down with various drugs and technologies.
But the evolving landscape of transhumanism’s life extension goals is not just the traditional medical ways people are trying to overcome death. Some people are trying to upload their memories and personalities to machines to create a lasting virtual self that is identical to their real one. Others use cryonics to freeze themselves to be brought back in the future when technology improves enough. Still others want to use AI to help immortalize their Facebook and Twitter accounts by continuing with original posts after they’re deceased—giving friends and family the feeling they are still there.
I even have friends who want to program their lost loved ones as holograms that can wander the house, say things and greet them when they come home from work. And it’s only a matter of time before those holograms can fully interact with the living—as U.S. company Magic Leap is working on holograms that may soon read books to children and even play hide-and-seek.
It gets even weirder: Robot look-alikes of loved ones also may be coming soon. I’ve spoken with the some of the world’s most sophisticated robots, and already some can carry on actual conversations and show basic emotion. The anthropomorphizing of robots’ appearances have significantly improved recently, and making one that looks nearly exactly like a deceased family member that cooks dinner, joins you on vacations and meets your friends at the mall with you may one day be commonplace. Even sexuality for lost spouses will be possible, taking a cue from the 100 million dollar robot sex industry.
A lot of this tech may seem bizarre and even creepy to the layperson, but much of the innovation is already here and available to consumers, even if still very costly. The bigger question is: What will be available once the microprocessor is 100 times more powerful than now, as it could be in 10 years’ time—especially with coming quantum computing? And what will it be like in 20 or 30 years’ time? I’m guessing it’ll be enough to completely astound us—especially in regard to modern physics.
Already, physicists are having an incredible decade of discovery, having teleported parts of energy from one location to the next (Star Trek anyone?) and discovering the so-called God Particle in the Hadron Collider at CERN, which won the 2013 Nobel Prize. Some of the discoveries have reinforced astrophysicists’ views like that of Neil deGrasse Tyson, who recently argued that it’s likely we are living in a simulation—possible proof the universe is precisely hardwired and mathematical, even if it seems to contain some randomness to our best theories now.
Much of the amazing physics research in the 21st century is now being applied to the field of nanotechnology, which allows us to construct molecular and atomic formations. This will ultimately lead to the improved 3D-printing capabilities for quantum archaeology.
Some well-known physicists and mathematicians, like Columbia University’s Brian Greene, are now even saying time travel may be possible to some extent. But quantum archaeology is not about going back in time to revisit the dead (though that’s another possible option, too). It’s about re-creating the dead here—in the present. Once we have the computational power, we can reverse engineer parts of our galaxy or even nearly the entire universe to determine every little spark of energy, movement, moment and thought that has ever happened in it, including the complete personality, mind and life of my brother-in-law.
The configuration of such math is not as big or complex as it sounds. Mike Perry, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science and is a part of the Society for Universal Immortalism, thinks an approximate nine-square-mile-wide memory bank could likely hold all the data of every person who has ever lived.
Nine miles of walled computer hardware may seem huge and conjure images of the Death Star, but the vast server farms China is already building may soon be larger in size than the Empire State Building. And the sheer computing power of these server farms will not be deterred from crunching the numbers necessary to configure various points in history of every subatomic particle. Then it’s just a matter of pushing the print button on 3D printers to configure a certain portion of one—that of a human body. Then just apply EKG shocks and CPR, and the human is alive again.
Critics will say we could never print something as complex as a human being. They fail to grasp that the 3D printing industry (and 4D printing, where printed objects can move themselves later) is literally in its infancy—and is growing exponentially every year. One day, in probably 30 years, we’ll be able to print anything, including human cells, DNA and even memories—something scientists already did with mice in 2017.
After all, everything is matter and energy. And human life, human thoughts and human existence are mathematical, determinable calculations of that subatomic world of matter and energy. This is the essence of nanotechnology and what’s possible with it. We are not just parts of the universe. We are universe builders, and therefore creators of human life—past or present.
The strangest aspect of quantum archaeology might be the humanitarian part. For the last 10 years, I have considered stopping aging and overcoming death as the world’s most humanitarian aim—because if we can stop aging and death by the year 2030 versus 2050, we will save 1 billion lives from perishing. But now I realize a greater goal is possible: perfecting quantum archaeology. Why only save those that are here living on Earth? Why not save those who have already died, especially those who died prematurely or in tragedy?
As a result of this idea, some transhumanists and longevity groups—on humanitarian grounds—now support bringing back every living person that has ever lived. But there are obvious problems with this. For starters, some people will not want to come back, and they may be furious that we brought them back. Others will find the current world too different than what they once knew—with former spouses having married others, estates changing hands and jobs being lost to robots, among the myriad of potential issues. Suicides may rise sharply, and wills will be required to possess a “Do Not Resurrect” clause (I have the opposite: a “Please Resurrect” clause on mine).
Overpopulation will be another major problem. So will social security. And what age would we reanimate people at? Though I’m guessing if we can resurrect the dead, we’ll have the tech to solve all the other problems too, like adequate food, suitable housing, money and aging—if those are things that even exist anymore in their current forms.
There’s no question that quantum archaeology is thorny for a multitude of reasons. But, fascinatingly, that hasn’t stopped most of the world’s population from embracing similar outlooks via their religious beliefs. The more than 4 billion Christians and Muslims in the world see the afterlife in nearly the same way as the transhumanists who want to bring back their loved ones to this life. And the approximately 1.6 billion Hindus and Buddhists are even closer to this quantum archaeology worldview with their ideas of reincarnation.
As someone who disbelieves in formal deities like the Christian God Jehova—but was formally raised a Catholic in my youth—I can’t help but ponder if the microprocessor is the real savior of our so-called souls—and the baptism of it can only be achieved by code.
Only in the last few years have such ideas like Christian-inspired transhumanism and quantum archaeology even become possible to contemplate without total public mockery. But the world is often gasping, staring wide-eyed as technology seemingly yearly transforms our very existence, from marrying robots to getting bionic hearts with WiFi to using driverless cars that choose who to kill and save in an accident. There is no doubt we are becoming a transhumanist species. In 100 years’ time, we may be practically unrecognizable to ourselves today.
The microprocessor and its improving intelligence capabilities are growing so fast that reconstituting the dead as living persons in the present will become a distinct future possibility. The big question is not whether my brother-in-law will be back, but once he is whether he’ll care to remain his old self anymore. By the end of this century, humans will likely be able to transform into virtually anything, including robots, cyborgs, different biological species and even pure data. My brother-in-law may even tell me to keep his old suits and jackets because he doesn’t need them anymore.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist and ran in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as a candidate of the Transhumanist Party.