A billionaire in the tech industry has paid ten thousand dollars to be put on a waiting list so that his brain can be uploaded online—the process, by the way, is fatal.
The billionaire entrepreneur’s name is Sam Altman, and he is one of 25 people on the waiting list at Nectome, which is a startup company that has promised to upload its clients’ brains into a ‘cloud’.
The 32-year-old man hopes to have his mind eternally preserved. In order for that to happen, he will actually have to die as a result of a process that is considered ‘similar to physician-assisted suicide’.
The co-founders of Nectome—Michael McCanna and Robert McIntyre—are aiming to preserve the brains of human beings in “microscopic detail”. They intend to do so using what has been described as a “high-tech embalming process”.
That uploading process involves the brain being ‘vitrifixed’, which is the company’s term for turning a person’s brain ‘into glass’.
According to media reports, the ‘Brain Preservation Foundation’ has already awarded Nectome two prizes. The first prize, which was awarded in 2016, was for preserving the brain of a rabbit; the second prize, which came in 2018, was for preserving the brain of a pig.
Nectome has stated that it plans to connect those with terminal illnesses to a machine; they will do so in order to pump the company’s mix of ‘scientific embalming chemicals’ into the neck’s carotid arteries while their clients are still alive.
Altman, the aforementioned billionaire entrepreneur, has said that he is relatively sure that human minds will be ‘digitized’ during his lifetime.
He told Technology Review that he assumes his brain will be uploaded to the cloud. He said that there’s a lot of philosophical debate, but to him a simulation is close enough—and that’s worth something to him.
He added that there’s a humanitarian aspect to the whole thing. Right now—he said—when a generation dies, the collective wisdom of that generation is lost. He said you can convey knowledge; however, he pointed out, it is harder to transfer wisdom—which is learned.
Altman said that was all fine at one point; however, he said, we grow more powerful with each passing generation. The massive potential of what we can possibly do may increase, but the wisdom doesn’t.
People are dying today, and they’re not interested in waiting for all the facts to be in. It’s easy to lampoon #Nectome, but people who want it, should have access to our best guess of what might work. And in the meantime, this accelerates learning.
— T. Dalton Combs (@TDaltonC) March 13, 2018
Technology Review said that the Nectome team demonstrated just how serious their intentions were back in January— McCanna, McIntyre, and a pathologist apparently spent ‘several weeks’ waiting to buy a freshly deceased body in Portland, Oregon at an Airbnb.
According to Technology Review, they managed to acquire the corpse of an elderly woman. They were able to start preserving her brain just 2.5 hours after her death. That was the first demonstration of their technique—which has been named aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation—on the brain of a human being.
Aeternitas, a company that allows people to donate their bodies to science, provided Nectome with the body—according to Fineas Lupeiu, a founder of the company. He disclosed neither the age of the deceased woman, nor the cause of her death. He also did not disclose how much he charged for the dead woman’s body.
The idea of uploading one’s mind to a cloud or the internet—often referred to as whole brain emulation (or WBE)—isn’t exactly new. For example, the director of engineering at Google—Ray Kurzweil—has claimed to know that people will be able to upload their brains to computers by 2045; by doing so, he claims, they will become ‘digitally immortal’. He has been making this claim since 2013.
The uploading of minds is considered by many to be humanity’s best option for life extension and the preservation of the species—should a global disaster occur. Futurists consider it a logical endpoint for various fields of study regarding the human brain.
Many supporters of the idea believe that the technology for mind uploading actually exists already or is actively being developed. There’s even a nonprofit organization called Carbon Copies that promotes the research of mind uploading.
Even if brains are one day uploaded into a cloud, will the emulations truly be ‘human’? That’s a question that may never be answered.