DEBATE FORUM - Will “meatbag” bodies ever be immortal? Is “cyborgization” the only logical path? -

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DEBATE FORUM - Will “meatbag” bodies ever be immortal? Is “cyborgization” the only logical path?

Posted: Wed, March 20, 2013 | By: DEBATE

Many people have abandoned hope that biology can produce an organism with an indefinite life span. 

Russia’s “2045 Initiative” is an example of this - they want humanity to escape fragile flesh and seek “cybernetic immortality.”

Others disagree - for example, Aubrey de Grey / SENS, and the International Longevity Alliance

A hybrid option exists - humanity can evolve into metallic beings with an organic brain safely ensconced inside.

What’s your opinion? Does POV depend on one’s specialty? Are physiologists optimistic about retaining the present form?  While AI and robotics researchers are eager to move into android physiques?


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I think it obvious that people must abandon meatbodies in favour of cyberisation, if they are to life indefinitely. On a long enough timescale, the universe is going to become impossibly hostile for lifeforms like humans as we know them today.

Maybe it is possible that we will have the capability to colonize other solar systems using spaceships, so we might be able to outlive our own Sun. But eventually, all the stars in the universe are going to run out of material with which to drive their nuclear reactions. How can fleshbodies survive in a universe in which there is no longer any sunshine? And, on an even longer timescale, either this universe will end in a Big Freeze, Big Rip, or a Big Crunch, and these are definitely not conditions that human beings can survive.

Actually, even if we were to become software, we would could not survive the Big Freeze and probably not the Big Rip (I do not know enough about the kind of universe this leaves to say for sure).  If Frank Tipler is to be believed, the Big Crunch, if steered on the right course, could provide conditions that would enable consciousnesses emulated in software to live forever. But, in doing so, conditions in the universe would become totally uninhabitable for any kind of ‘physical’ life, and would certainly mean the death of fleshbodies.

By Extropia DaSilva on Mar 20, 2013 at 4:53am

I for one feel that they all may work. It will, in the end, depend on your personal preference. I see a future of vast morphological alterations between Posthumans, I also feel that no one Posthuman will be the same as any other one, we will have so many options to choose from for how we want to evolve that we will see many subspecies of the same Posthuman species spring up. This would force us to be a much more tolerant society.

By Brandon King on Mar 20, 2013 at 12:58pm

Hedging our bets seems good to me. But for the moment I’m too attached - physically, emotionally, and with regard to me (psychologically constructed) identity to my very own meatbag to want to abandon it just yet, or take alternatives (including cryogenics) particularly seriously. I just want it to stop degenerating.

By Peter Wicks on Mar 20, 2013 at 2:16pm

An encouragable optimist, I personally feel that advances in biological and technological forms of immortality shall be as variable as there are perspectives on the planet.
It becomes irrelevant in the short term forecast, as people shall gravitate toward what is the most comfortable for themselves as individuals.
I feel that in the longer term, the line between biological and technological life extention adaptions shall render the “either/or” scenario obsolete and irrelevant.
The inclusion of galactic scale variables is a mute point, because it is nigh impossible to state with any certain degree of probability what humans will look like a hundred years from now, to say nothing of millions and billions of years from now. We shall deal with those issues as they become something we actually have a degree of influence upon, but for now remains a somewhat pointless endeavor.
I would personally appreciate enjoying a hybrid state of tech and bio for a significant point of time, before making a more absolute decision for myself. Coming down to personal choice, as it should be, would increase the range of sentient diversity we spread throughout the accessible regions of Earth and space.

By Terra Bosart on Mar 20, 2013 at 3:19pm

We can not make statements on the era of “cyborgization”. What the article premises almost instantly implies take off in terms of artificial intelligence. In other words - at the very earliest stages of cyborgization the modifications will allow some form of intelligence augmentation (and that’s many years before actual uploading would even be possible) and that throws the proverbial match in the gunpowder - bwamma Singularity.

Once a Singularity occurs all bets are off. It’ll be a new situation completely, for better or far much much worse.

By Khannea SunTzu on Mar 20, 2013 at 4:34pm

I see no reason why Peter should not be able to maintain his meatbag for millions of years to come, provided we can deliver the necessary technology to enable that! The scenarios I was talking about are billions of years into the future. If we are truly seeking immortality, we will have to face them eventually. But for the first few million years it should be sufficient to end ageing and maintain the biological substrate.

By Extropia DaSilva on Mar 20, 2013 at 5:09pm

With nanotech becoming better every week, it’s only a matter of time until it will be capable of repairing anything in meat bodies including damaged DNA.  Still there are some cyborg enhancements that may be better than what the nano machines can do. 

I would expect a blend, self-repairing bodies with enhancements to augment the usual senses and abilities.

By James Smith on Mar 20, 2013 at 6:14pm

It is already the case that many human beings are combinations of biological and non-biological components. Prosthetic limbs, artificial heart valves, and (in some cutting-edge cases) entirely artificial organs are a reality today. However, as biotechnology advances, biological modifications will become as sophisticated as non-biological ones, and neither will wholly predominate over the other. Rather, both approaches will be utilized in the specific areas of augmentation that they are best. For instance, genetic engineering and additions of biological brain cells may occur side by side with electronic augmentations that allow for instantaneous computer-like recall of data or the performance of billions of mathematical calculations per second.

Amidst such enhancement, the key question is one of the continuity of the core of the individual’s being – a person’s vantage point, or “I-ness” – as I call it in “[url=” “]How Can I Live Forever: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self[/url]”. As long as the physical bodily processes that sustain life are able to function continuously (without complete interruption), the I-ness is preserved. Non-biological components can be integrated into a person and begin to constitute that person’s I-ness, provided that their addition is gradual and does not replace or copy the biological body wholesale while discarding the original. Replacing one biological neuron with an artificial neuron would not, for instance, diminish I-ness if the artificial neuron plays the exact same role in the processes of the brain. However, taking out an entire brain all at once and replacing it with a cybernetic brain made all at once would certainly put an entirely different person (with a different subjective vantage point) in control of the body. I note that any non-biological preservation of I-ness would only work in the context of bodies that are at least roughly similar in their physicality and interrelationship of parts to what we have today. Our self-awareness is an emergent property that requires certain spatial configurations of matter and the processes that are made possible as a result. Therefore, I do not think that “uploading” a mind would preserve the same I-ness. It would, in effect, create a whole new virtual person. If the upload is destructive, the original “I-ness” of the biological, tangible person would be extinguished. Therefore, great care is required in this area. There is merit in creating artificial intelligences and even in replicating the thoughts, memories, and personalities of historical humans – but the people who start out biological will not be able to become virtual; the virtual people will start out as entirely different persons on their side of this divide.

Then there is the question of esthetics. As far as my preferences there go, I favor a consistency of appearance insofar as it can be maintained – so my own use of both biological and non-biological enhancements would be to eradicate defects, halt senescence, enhance durability and faculties (e.g., strength, endurance, intelligence), and otherwise preserve an external form very much like the one I have today. If I have my way here, my appearance in a future of indefinite life extension would be one to which today’s humans could relate – but the inner workings would be greatly improved.

By Gennady Stolyarov II on Mar 20, 2013 at 11:35pm

As I have pointed out previously, “meatbag” bodies actually have numerous advantages over “metal’. First and foremost, the elements needed to repair organics can be found nearly universally, are among the most commonly available elements in existence, and do not require a highly technological base to process.

The point most often overlooked is that fully developed nanotechnology will eliminate the “difference” between “organic” and “Inorganic”, allowing us to integrate “cybernetics” directly into the DNA and create organic bodies with all the advantages of “cyborgs” while still retaining the advantages of organic biology. We will completely redesign the interior for far greater durability and efficiency, but still retain those external features we value, and find appealing. And yes, nanotech could allow a “normal” human to live indefinitely by rejuvenating their cellular structures without altering the basic biology.

Essentially, I see this as a false dichotomy It is only applicable in the short term, basically the next 15-20 years, but becomes moot once fully developed nanotech/biotech becomes commonplace. after that, it’s a matter of personal preference.

and red foxes are still orange.

By Valkyrie Ice on Mar 21, 2013 at 4:11pm

@ Valkyrie You make excellent points.  I suspect it might be somewhat longer before nanotech is advanced enough to incorporate the cyborg/cybernetic advantages into the DNA, but it’s still a very good goal.

I once read that the advantages of using humans for things is you can have a 150 lb computer (this was in the days of the IBM 360 that took up a large room) that can be produced at low cost by unskilled labor. .

By James Smith on Mar 21, 2013 at 7:30pm

If we’re talking far future, the benefits of non-biological approaches to life-extension will win out over biological approaches due many to their comparative advantages and because they will offer experiential and functional modalities categorically unavailable to biological systems. That being said, I think that the distinction between non-biological and biological systems (especially if Drexlerian nanotech – that is, using mechanosynthesis – is implemented) will increasingly dissolve. If a system exhibits the structural, functional and operational modalities of cell, yet consists of wholly inorganic materials, is it not closer to a biological system than to what we typically consider a non-biological system? Either the distinction between the two will eventually dissolve, or we will use the term “biological” to designate systems exhibiting the structural, functional, and/or operational modalities of biological systems, rather than designating systems made of specific types of material, such as organic or inorganic.
In the penultimate installment of my 9-part essay, I make a distinction between life-extension therapies and indefinite-longevity therapies. Life-extension therapies extend longevity, but for various reasons fail to make it indefinite. Often it is because they aren’t comprehensive – a given therapy solves one contributing factor of aging, but not all of them. Others, like SENS (which I’m in no way discounting), fix the major causes of damage, but use a different methodology for each; the drawback of this is that if previously overshadowed causes of aging now, in the absence of the more predominant causes, begin to make a non-negligible impact on aging then we have no methodology to combat it. Because each strategy is tied intimately to the cause it seeks to ameliorate, the techniques can’t be applied to the new source of molecular damage.

Indefinite longevity therapies, on the other hand, use one comprehensive approach to mitigate all sources of aging. One example is Drexlerian nanotech (and to a shared but somewhat lesser extent Robert Freitas’s nanomedicine - only because it has specifically-tailored strategies in addition to the more comprehensive ones). This approach fixes not the source of the damage but the damage itself, iteratively, and can thus be used to combat any source of molecular damage. With such therapies we don’t need to come up with a second wave of strategies to combat those sources of aging that might crop up in the future, and which remained unnoticed until such a time only because their impact couldn’t be seen while the first wave of sources was still predominant.

Another potential means of indefinite longevity is “Mind-Uploading”, more recently known as “Substrate-Independent-Minds”, and what I’ve referred to as “(gradual) substrate replacement” to signify a broader designation that denotes both computational and physically-embodied (e.g. via electromechanical or molecular systems) varieties of substrate-replacement. In the computational approach, all relevant physical processes become informational; thus replacing potentially-destructive processes, or augmenting them appropriately, becomes a methodological rather than technological problem. It entails now a reorganization or rewriting of information, rather than a specific technological system or process to enact physical changes meant to negate or replace destructive processes. This applies both to sources of damage heretofore unnoticed, as well as to completely new sources of damage. However, such informational processes are necessarily instantiated by physical hardware, which lacks this advantage (namely, of potential sources of damage becoming a methodological rather than technological problem), and so sources of damage to such physical hardware still necessitate physical and technological systems for their negation/obviation. This state-of-affairs is still more hopeful than the requirements for negating biological sources of structural damage and procedural distortion, which necessitate a comparatively larger and more capable technological infrastructure (i.e. the technologies and systems required to implement the repairs required to ameliorate such damage). The organizational architecture (i.e. the relative location and connection of components relative to eachother) is in such cases completely known to us, having been designed, whereas in biological systems there are multiple sources of ambiguity - both because it wasn’t designed and so isn’t already known, as well as because the current lack of precise, non-damaging and non-distortional in-vivo measuring/data-acquisition techniques necessitates that our ability to explicate those inner-workings as comprehensively as the inner-workings of the non-biological hardware is limited.

By Franco Cortese on Mar 22, 2013 at 10:46am

Moreover, such non-biological physical hardware would already be designed so as to be iteratively replaced. Thus it would already have systems and procedures in place for detaching a given component, exporting it out of the system, and subsequently importing and installing a corresponding replacement component; such systems would already be in place. Rather than constructing a new system and importing it into an existing biological system that wasn’t designed with extra space for such external technological systems in mind, or with the optimal conditions of those external systems in mind (which increases the requirements of such systems, which now need to navigate inside a biological environment while neither damaging them nor distorting their operation beyond the tolerance ranges allowed by a given emergent functionality, or in order words the operational variation allowed for a given functionality to be maintained). In the case of non-biological hardware, such extra space and optimal conditions are already present in the system. This means that in regard to non-biological approaches, physical sources of damage are, for these two reasons, more amenable to maintenance, repair and/or replacement, to the amelioration of physical sources of damage and to workable solutions than biological systems are.
Thus while approaches to indefinite longevity often need to satisfy more requirements (as they need to embody more functional modalities) and thus necessitate a larger technological and methodological infrastructure for their successful development, verification and implementation than do approaches to life-extension (due mainly to being more comprehensive, and thus needing more capabilities) and thus losing more lives in the interim, at the cost of 100,000 per day, their greater comprehensiveness means that if a second wave of unacknowledged sources of aging (i.e. molecular damage) does come up, we may save the lives that otherwise would have been lost while we waited for the development, verification and implementation of the second wave of life-extension.

On the other hand, certain means of both life-extension and indefinite longevity (like Drexlerian nanotech) have an advantage over certain approaches to indefinite-longevity which replace biological components with non-biological analogues, like Mind-Uploading or gradual substrate replacement more generally, because they don’t enter into concerns of subjective-continuity. The lack of a quantitative measure for identifying “subjectivity” or a subjective sense of self means that a gradual-substrate replacement procedure will always incur a chance of replicating the functional modalities of subjectivity (i.e. all the outward, empirically-verifiable indicators of subjectivity) while failing to replicate subjectivity in actuality, because we have no way of identifying which attributes (if any) facilitate or instantiate (and thus are required for) subjectivity, and thus no way of verifying if non-biological system incorporate or exhibit such attributes. While I’m optimistic about the chances of retaining subjectivity (instantive subjectivity) and subjective-continuity (temporal subjectivity) through such gradual-replacement procedures, the possibility of unwittingly losing our subjectivity is still present and so should be taken into account when considering the best approach to life-extension. Drexlerian nanotech is not necessary exempt from this. Varieties of indefinite longevity through nanotechnology (usually) comprise either the upkeep and maintenance or the iterative replacement of a.) the cellular components themselves, directly, or b.) the genetic material responsible for the correct protein transcription, synthesis and transport of such cellular components (thus maintaining them vicariously). They are less likely to cause subjective-discontinuity because by replicating the structural organization of the existing biological system using analogous components (as opposed to replacing them with non-biological analogues that embody the same functional modalities but via a different operational modality), they would presumably preserve whatever properties or attributes form the basis for subjectivity, which we know exist (because we possess subjectivity, which is not synonymous with a stable and static, central “selfhood” module, and thus doesn’t go against claims on the “illusion of the self”) but which we cannot verify for lack of a quantitative measure of subjectivity. In such a case we would be changing neither the existing functional modality (i.e. emergent effects) nor the existing operational modalities (i.e. how specifically those emergent effects are generated), whereas in the gradual-substrate-replacement approach using non-biological replacements we are likely to use a new operational modality to achieve a given functional modality, unless specific precautions are taken to avoid using alternate operational modalities.

By Franco Cortese on Mar 22, 2013 at 10:49am

avoid using alternate operational modalities.
More often than not (though not so rigorously as to be considered even a statistical law), systems and procedures for indefinite longevity require a more comprehensive methodological and technological infrastructure; they are comparatively more complex and require more capabilities (which seems to be a result of using one universal technique to fix multiple alternate sources of damage; a useful intuitive analogy is that AGI are more complex to create than narrow-AI, specifically due to their generality). This means that they are likely to be more costly, and to require more R&D time, than source-specific life-extension therapies. Thus they may be likely to come after source-specific life-extension therapies.

However, due to their comprehensivity, indefinite-longevity therapies could work as a tenable solution to multiple alternative sources of damage. We should then consider the possibility that we could ameliorate the sources of aging faster by funneling funding and effort, previously reserved for (or considered best allocated to) separate life-extension therapies aimed at alternate sources of molecular damage, into a single indefinite-longevity therapy that can fix all such alternative sources of damage. In this way we might both be able to ameliorate such damage faster and with less cost and effort than we would have by developing each separate life-extension technique, and avoid the possibility that a new wave of source-of-damage lie in wait, and which require a categorically new set of life-extension techniques to combat them. However, this approach does have a drawback. By putting all our eggs in one basket we lessen the evolutionary diversity of candidate solutions. The more potential solutions we have for a given objective or problem, the likelier that one will succeed, because if one fails we have a new approach to try. As to whether the potential benefits of this one-size-fits-all approach supersede the drawback of lacking evolutionary diversity remains to be seen, but the potential benefits of this approach warrant our investigating the matter further, and our formulating an analysis comparing such potential advantages to the known drawbacks.

It is also worth noting that, considering how conservative most of the world is (a travesty, considering that consistency and conformity is antithetical to Man), we might be more likely to garner widespread desire and support for life-extension and/or indefinite-longevity by promoting biological approaches, rather than non-biological approaches, due to the aesthetic and pop-culture connotations gravitating around the word and concept of cyborgs, which appear to be dehumanizing, alienating, and of dystopic potentialities to a lot of people. I for one am enchanted by both aesthetics – Man is at most his is mind, and a body of fleshy billows is just as beautiful as one of light-slivered streamlined silver to me.

By Franco Cortese on Mar 22, 2013 at 10:49am

Anecdotally, Gennady raises some concerns (i.e. the inability of uploading to preserve what I’ve called “subjectivity” or more precisely “instantive subjective continuity”, and what Gennady calls “I-ness” due to spatiotemporal continuity, which he holds to be a prerequisite for subjectivity) that further emphasizes the need for clarifying the term “cyborgification”, and for dispelling some common (though admittedly easy to make) misconceptions stemming therefrom. This, to most people I think, broadly denotes both uploading (thus replacing biological components or processes with virtual, 2nd-order-embodied components or processes) and the replacement of biological systems with physically embodied (i.e. 1st-order embodiment) prosthetic systems. There are varieties of cyber-immortalism (that is, using non-biological techniques for indefinite longevity), that gradually replace the brain with physically embodied, non-biological systems and processes (both varieties of electromechanical system as well as molecular systems), and which thus have the potential to maintain spatiotemporal continuity through the gradual replacement procedure. While this falls, along with uploading, under the broad designation of cyber-immortalism, it should also be considered a separate category from more normative forms of uploading. And indeed, Gennady’s concern may be a result of the problematic (or perhaps divergent is more appropriate) aspects of current paradigms of computation – namely their seriality. By being serial, they only instantiate one component or procedure-part one at any given time – whereas in the biological brain all parts coexist and are instantiated at the same time. In the 2nd installment of my 10-part essay introductory essay series at, I describe how massive parallelism may solve the problem of spatiotemporal discontinuity in current computational paradigms, as well as other potential solutions to other problematic aspects created by the nature of current computational paradigms.

I don’t think the term “cyborgification” necessarily implies uploading, or a hard-takeoff Singularity. Cyborgification could include prosthesis (including neural prosthesis) completely disassociated from computational hardware, embodying rather electromechanical or molecular systems which replicate the functional modalities of neural regions without strict computational emulation (or if you like, which fascilitate computation via 1st ordered embodiment, rather than 2nd order embodiment). Neither do I think it necessitates augmentation, though neither does it preclude it of course; the gradual replacement of the biological brain with non-biological (prosthetic/physically-embodied or simulatory/emulatory) analogues, while adding no new experiential or functional modalities, no categorically new skills or varieties of perception/experience/thought, and still be called cyborgification. While the term is a bit loaded,  and may indeed create such connotations, they aren’t necessarily inherent in the term.

By Franco Cortese on Mar 22, 2013 at 10:52am

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