Over the past few decades, human life expectancy has doubled from 40 years to 80. That’s nothing compared to what scientists want to achieve.
Many of them are working on ways to make us immortal. Even Google has hired a bunch of futurists for Project Calico, a death-defying initiative.
The Science Channel’s show with Morgan Freeman, Through The Wormhole, interviewed a bunch of physicists, futurists and scientists about technology they’re working on that could greatly expand our lifetimes and maybe make it so that we never die.
The key to immortality is tied to the second law of thermodynamics which states that everything must decay. Cells in our bodies follow that rule and deteriorate.
The reason our atoms and cells decay is due to entropy, which is the idea that everything must move from order to disorder. That process is hard to reverse once it's begun. Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York, likens the process to separating cream from coffee once it's been added.
'Nothing is immune to the power of entropy, not even the cells of our body,' Dr. Michio Kaku says. 'That's why we age and die.' But he says 'there is a loop hole to the law of entropy. There's a way to return order to disorder.'
One person who has found success reversing entropy in organisms is Valter Longo of the University of Southern California. He found two genes that cause deterioration and disorder, RAS2 and SCH9. When removed, Longo was able to extend the life of Baker's Yeast from 6 days to 10 weeks, which is equivalent to 800 human years.
Extending the length of our lives is only one immortality problem to tackle. As we age, we get frail and our bodies fall apart. Aubrey de Grey is a scientist who has dedicated his research to helping us live like 25-year-olds for an extended period of time.
Grey thinks we can extend our youth if we get rid of the 'trash' in our bodies that our cells store because they're unable to break it down. Grey and his team are digging for a microbe that can help us break down the waste in our bodies and rejuvenate us by examining bacteria that break down corpses.
'I think we're looking at the 1st generation of rejuvenation biotechnology,' Grey says. '(In other words), technology we can give to middle-age people and fix them up well enough that they won't feel like they're 60 or 70 again until 30 years later.'
Some scientists are trying to 'reprogram' bacteria in our body and 'rewrite' DNA strands -- like a programmer would write code for a computer -- to fight deadly diseases. 'As programmers we'd write out the exact function we want them to do and it'd be compiled into a DNA sequence,' one scientist said in the documentary. 'That's the dream.'
Greg Fahy is a cryobiologist who's working on something called 'cryogenic preservation' and 'vitrification.' It's like freezing organs, but instead of allowing ice particles to form (which moves cells out of place and ruins the organs), this process preserves everything exactly as is, so it can be unfrozen and used perfectly years from now.
The vitrification process combines water and chemicals then cools down the mixture to low temperatures that never freeze. Fahy's team at 21st Century Medicine has already perfectly vitrified a rabbit's kidney and part of a human brain.
In theory, vitrification could allow us to put an entire body on ice to be unfrozen tens of thousands of years from now. Brain freezing tests with part of the hippocampus have had promising results. 'Electrical activity sparks up in the brain tissue of a frozen hippocampus. It's as strong as it was in its original state,' Fahy's team states.
Preserving the brain is another important part of achieving immortality. 'If we could upload our brains and digitalize our very selves, our minds could go on living after our flesh has died,' the documentary states.
Olaf Sporns is a neuroscientist at Indiana University who's trying to figure out where our personality and consciousness reside in the brain. Once they're located, scientists think we'll be able to upload our minds to machines.
Sporns thinks our consciousness resides in the medial parietal cortex between the brain's two hemispheres. It's where a lot of 'hubs,' or places where information converges in the brain, are.
Humans might create artificial beings -- like quantum computers -- that live forever before we figure out how to extend our lives eternally. Like human brains, quantum computers can juggle multiple tasks at once. 'Many people think computers will be smarter than us and put us in zoos and throw peanuts at us,' the documentary states. However that wouldn't happen for many years as the computers still have very limited capabilities.
Frank Tipler, a mathematical physicist at Tulane University, is a futurist who believes in something called the Omega Point, or the end of the universe, which he believes is inevitable due to certain laws of physics.
'Mankind will expand throughout this planet and engulf the universe,' Tipler says of the Omega Point. 'Their knowledge and their power and computer capacity is increasing without limit. Laws of physics can convert matter into pure energy. Our decedents will use and gain control of (that energy).' His theory is a mix of religion and science, the end result being that humans will have 'omnipotence.'
Alexander Rose isn't working on a way to help humans live forever, but he is working on a way to help us THINK about living forever. He's the lead engineer on the Jeff Bezos-funded 10,000 year clock, The Clock of the Long Now.
BONUS: In 2013 Google announced its death-cheating initiative, Calico, led by Apple Chairman Art Levinson. 'Art and I are excited about tackling ageing and illness,' Page wrote in the release. 'These issues affect us all...And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress.'
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