Can transhumanists, biohackers and grinders live forever?
The answer is maybe soon — at least according to them.
Ok. So what’s a transhumanist?
Like some scientists, they believe that ageing is a disease, and they are not afraid of taking human evolution into their own hands by harnessing genetic engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.
Sydney-based IT innovation manager and self-described transhumanist Peter Xing says Australians aged in their 20s and 30s could now end up living long enough to live forever.
It is called “longevity escape velocity”.
“That means staying healthy for as long as you can until such a point that there’s the technology to enable you to live indefinitely,” Mr Xing explains.
Fellow transhumanist Meow-Ludo Meow-Meow (yes, that’s his real name, changed by deed poll) believes he could be one of the first generations of humans to live forever.
“I’m 31. I think with technology improving exponentially I have a very good chance of living forever.”
“We know a lot of the causes of ageing and we’re actively working on technology to address them.
“If we can increase our life span by more than one year for every year of our lives, then we become functionally immortal.”
The ultimate in anti-ageing
In the last couple of years, researchers have extended the life of mice by up to 40 per cent through various means including gene therapies.
Human trials are a long way off because of tight government regulations, but many researchers have started experimenting on themselves.
In 2015, American genetics activist Liz Parrish flew to Colombia to avoid US regulatory constraints.
Once there she says she injected herself with an unproven anti-ageing gene therapy.
Ms Parrish, the CEO of biotechnology company BioViva, is now known as Patient Zero.
She says results show the treatment rejuvenated part of her DNA, called telomeres, that shorten with age, and she claims her telomeres have now grown by 9 per cent, or about 20 years.
Many scientists question her claims.
Meet the Grinders
Grinders or biohackers are people who augment their bodies with technology.
This could be as crude as implanting magnets under your skin — a procedure that can be done at some tattoo and body piercing studios — or slightly more high-tech like getting microchips placed inside your body.
Mr Meow-Meow has a micro-chip implanted in his left thumb and has downloaded some smartphone functions directly into his body.
“I can open doors, authenticate myself to my credit card, activate my phone, activate drones and I can program the chip in my thumb from my phone anytime,” he said.
US grinder Rich Lee has more than seven implants, including magnets in his finger tips which twitch in response to electro-magnetic fields.
“You can feel it because all those nerves in your fingertips have grown around the magnet and it has a texture and you’re feeling this otherwise invisible world,” he said.
Mr Lee also has magnets in his ears which serve as earphones: “being able to hear through walls is cool.”
Isn’t there a huge risk of infection?
And Mr Meow-Meow warns would-be biohackers against trying to implant themselves with DIY kits.
“Anything that’s put under the skin provides an environment in which bacteria can grow,” he said.
“This is why it’s very important that you go and see a professional.”
Is this the dawn of a new species?
Aside from physical modifications, the race is also on to reach a new, super intelligence.
Billionaire Elon Musk wants to develop a neural lace which would layer onto the human brain and connect digitally to AI.
Without it, he says humans will risk becoming like a “house pet”, because AI will eventually outstrip human intelligence — perhaps this century.
Mr Xing says all this is vital so humans don’t lose their jobs to robots and it will also help us adapt to space travel.
“The question is at what point does the incorporation of all this technology make us a different species and what are the ethics behind that?”