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Life Extension

wrote in Mind Childrenthat, “Many people today are alive because of a growing arsenal of artificial organs and other body parts. In time, especially as robotics continue to improve, such replacements will be better than the originals. So what about replacing everything, that is, transplanting a human brain into a specially-designed robot body?”

But when I spoke with Dr Moravec about this idea, he told me, “I think of that as kind of a frivolous thing to do. I think we’ll do it for amusement, but it won’t have a serious impact on the future. It sort of strikes me now as building a car by starting with an ox-cart – and the ox-cart is us, the old design. Then you replace the wheels with rubber tires, the ox with a motor, and the sideboards with sheet metal panels. And when you’re all done, you still don’t have a very good car, right? Now, if you were to design a car from the ground up, then you could build a much better car than you could by replacing the ox-cart.”

But that doesn’t mean that robots of the distant future can’t help us live even longer. Dr Moravec suggests a way that robots may be able to help us survive many accidents. He envisions that “bush robots” will eventually be able to repair virtually any type of damage to the human body, and that “even the most complicated procedures could be completed by a trillion-fingered robot, able, if necessary, to simultaneously work on almost every cell of a human body.”


Fig. 1. Bush robot
“That’s a long-term project,” Moravec told me, “although I just completed a report for NASA on bush robots called ‘Fractal Branching Ultra-Dexterous Robots’ to actually study that idea. A bush robot is a branched hierarchy of articulated limbs, starting from a macroscopically large trunk through successively smaller and more numerous branches, ultimately to microscopic twigs and nanoscale fingers. We built two models. You can find it all on my Web page (www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm).”

How will longer lifespans effect us? At the very least they will force us to re-think our long-range goals, and to question many social and political institutions. But living much longer will also cause us to re-evaluate the very nature of our existence, and to redefine our relationship with the universe. Living for hundreds of years sounds like great fun to me, which is why I’m doing everything that I can now – cultivating a positive mental attitude, getting adequate amounts of exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and taking proper amounts of nutritional supplements. As we cross the threshold into the new millennium, the first truly effective life-extension modalities and benefits are already available to us, and new and better tools to dramatically extend human life are on the way.

The interviews that I did for this article will soon be available in their entirety on my Web site:www.levity.com/mavericks

References

 

  1. Drexler KE. Engines of Creation, Doubleday, New York, 1986.
  2. Drexler KE, Peterson C, Pergamit G. Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution, William Morrow and Co, New York, 1991.
  3. Moravec H. Mind Children, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1988.
  4. Moravec H. Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999.
  5. Mao C, Sun W, Shen Z, Seeman NC, “A nanomechanical device based on the B-Z transition of DNA.”Nature, Jan. 14, 1999, 397:144-146.
  6. Slusser G, Westfahl, Rabkin E. (editors) Immortal Engines, The University of Georgia Press, London, 1996.
  7. Winfree E, Liu F, Wenzler LA, Seeman NC. “Design and self-assembly of 2-dimensional DNA crystals.”Nature, Aug 6, 1998 394:539-544.

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