The Floating City Project by The Seasteading Institute. A very practical initiative for a big idea

A City Where Nobody Dies: Mood Elevators, Cryonic Castles and Other Simple Services

Russian writer and futurologist Alexey Turchin on human enhancement, immortality and possible futures

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An interview with Alexey Turchin

An interview by Natalia Shavkunova

We are used to categorizing citizens as children, adults, seniors and try to design and build cities according to their special needs. What if the infrastructure that different city inhabitants are using would turn out to be useless, since there was no such thing as young and old anymore?

Cutting-edge research in human enhancement and immortality suggests that we might be able to significantly improve our bodies’ resilience to aging by the middle of the XXI century. Transhumanist thinkers are those who study the emerging technologies that could help transform ourselves in creatures with much less human limitations.

Alexey Turchin is a Russian writer, futurologist and a member of the Russian Transhumanist Movement. He is the author of the books 'The structure of the global catastrophe', 'The war and another 25 doomsday scenarios' and a co-author of 'Futurology. XXI century: Immortality or Global Catastrophe'. He studies the issues related to the impact of new technologies on the survival of human civilization and is an expert on global risks.
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In your book ‘Futurology. XXI century: Immortality or Global Catastrophe’ you speak about the main dilemma of the future: either we reach physical immortality or expect a global catastrophe. What type of city could best encourage physical immortality?

There are several possibilities. The first one is that we will all live in emergency shelters preparing ourselves for the catastrophe or there could be a different post apocalyptic story, when we all wear gas masks as Mad Max. Generally speaking, if the catastrophe is really big, nothing will save us. If it happens, it doesn’t matter if we live in distributed settlements or in cities. If it all goes to ruins, then everything is in ruins. That is to say that on the one hand architecture is important, but on the other hand the questions of life and death are of a higher order: loved in a cottage or dead in a castle, you know.

If we secure immortality,what happens to the city in 70, 100 years?

Then it will be a space station on the asteroid belt. Because if we live for 100 years then we start to inhabit outer space, and if we travel in Solar System we decrease the chances of a global catastrophe that would kill us all. I mean that not the biological body will be immortal, but the cybernetic one, uploaded in a computer. We would be able to live in a completely different environment. And we would have absolutely different technological capabilities of life. We could even live just within the Solar System and not fly like in ‘Interstellar’. But there would be nanorobots that land on asteroids, modify them and prepare the stations for us to live, with artificial gravity.

The Earth could sustain ten times more people if it is operated in an optimum manner

Will the traditional city continue to exist?

The traditional city will last due to its physical momentum and psychological momentum of people. Most of the traditional cities will be preserved if we avoid a global catastrophe that would bring them to ruins. But even in that case they might also be rebuilt. As we know, Warsaw was rebuilt as well as many other bombed-​out cities. If people reach immortality they could live just as they live now. But they will not die.

Mansions of the Dead 1932 Paul Nash 1889-1946 Purchased 1981

Paul Nash. Mansions of the Dead, 1932. The drawing is based on the loose interpretation of Thomas Browne’s essay Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial that meditates on death and immortality. Source: tate​.org​.uk

How could the issue of overpopulation be solved in case we reach absolute immortality?

The biggest contribution to overpopulation is the number of born children, not life extension. If the number of children born per woman will be less than 2, there would be no overpopulation at all. We see that the population growth is happening in the poorest countries with the shortest lifetime. In Niger, Yemen there are 56 kids per woman, and in Germany there is almost no growth. They live longer and have 1.5 kids per woman.

Secondly, settlements in space, seas, skyscrapers will be built, since the Earth could sustain ten times more people if it is operated in an optimum manner. If we consider the Solar System as well, then a thousandfold increase of population could live on space stations. In the event that we upload our mind into a computer, meaning that we don’t live in physical bodies any more, an even larger amount of people could fit. Therefore: outer space exploration plus specific regulation. We will not sit on each other’s head and die of hunger. Overpopulation crisis is characteristic for primitive communities, such as lemmings, that are a type of gnawing animals that die out if their population rockets.

At a certain moment computerized centres of rejuvenation should appear. It would be as precise as car diagnostics

Does it mean that there would be a certain number of people that continue to live forever and only a limited amount of newborns?

Billions of people. But there would be a process of integration with artificial intelligence as well as integration of people with each other. Generally speaking, the process of evolution will be different. Individual minds of various persons, families, husbands and wives could be reunited. The singularity of human personality would not be necessary any more.

What kind of infrastructure could be developed in order to support that type of human enhancement?

Global artificial intelligence. An intelligence that operates worldwide as internet and state. It would take care of people, would not let them die, treat them. In a way it would have a paternalistic function. But it also has a function of surveillance, partially it already exists. It would deliver entertainment, information, be people’s partner in different games, recreation. Internet, artificial intelligence and state will merge in one omnipresent structure, but physically… Of course there will be robots walking around, but carriers of artificial intelligence could be very small. All connected to each other. They will be inside human bodies, like medical nanorobots floating in blood, performing continuous monitoring.

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Immortality Roadmap. Digital Immortality. A series of 7 roadmaps: Regenerative Medicine, Artificial Intelligence, etc. were created by Science for Life Extension Foundation and Art. Lebedev Studio in 2014

Are we talking about the very last stage of immortality?

These changes could happen very quickly, by the end of XXI century, or even quicker. If everything does not go down in flames, then this integral thing, this informational structure appears and becomes the most important one. Houses could be the same. To a certain extent informational architecture will be more valuable than physical architecture.

If we look at the prospects of 3050 years, would there be a new type of hospitals or other infrastructure to support longevity?

Certainly there will be hospitals that cure people from ageing. I think that in the future people will be vaccinated in childhood against aging, genetically modified. At a certain moment computerized centres of rejuvenation should appear, where it will be possible to get a simple service. Not as we have it now: you go to a doctor that says: ‘Well, there is something wrong with you, now we’ll run 20 tests, you’ll need to take 20 different medications’. Then it turns out he was actually wrong.

It would be as precise as car diagnostics. You will get connected to a computer and it will say what is wrong, and this thing gets accurately replaced. Oil is changed, organs are replaced, nanorobots are implanted. It could be done remotely at home or in a hospital. But I think that it would be different from the existing hospitals visually. Now they evoke negative emotions: fear, blood, terrible doctors. It will be different: as if you just need to measure your body temperature and everything is immediately clear.

What type of city infrastructure could be created to prevent the risk of death?

For instance a safer transportation system, traffic segregation and automation of transport in general, if it is computerized. But human automation is also possible, if a person will be wearing some type of exoskeleton or hoop that would give safety advice or there could be air pillows that would puff up and protect the person’s head from a brick that is falling on their head. And, of course, the architecture of cryoreservoirs, where people could be frozen. There is a project called Timeship, have you seen it? It is a fortress for research and storage of frozen bodies of dead people before they would be brought back to life. But when it comes to the fact that something needs to be done urgently, then any kind of architecture is suitable. Just like the first nuclear pile in the USA that was built under a stadium.

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Timeship Project by architect Stephen Valentine. It will be the world’s foremost laboratory for anti-​aging research and a castle of cryopreservation that will operate for 100 years. Source: Lehras​soc​.com

Can you imagine a city that would be specializing in creation of immortal people?

There is an idea called seasteading. An idea to build autonomous ships with different type of legislation on them. Now there are certain economic and legislative limitations. Ships are located in the sea, they are extraterritorial and more trailblazing experiments could be done there, such as head transplantation. Well, like ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’, it was extraterritorial, in a way. He could perform his experiments, while not being subject to any of the existing laws. For instance, the Bahamas are a biological offshore, not only economic, as we know it. Islands could become offshores for scientific experiments.

Will people be able to live in different environmental conditions?

Yes, even in outer space, if they would modify their bodies completely. Or in unheated apartments. It is possible, but it still is not the most important thing that will happen in future. It is the same as with profile pics on Facebook. People put there the most average photos. There are few people that create super incredible profile pics with the help of a designer. In a sense, people will be pretty conservative.

How should a person that is now pursuing immortality live?

In everything this person does she or he should decrease the possibility of death by all scientifically proven means. It is a different thing that this advice is clear, but hard to implement. There is not enough motivation. But it is important to survive until the moment technologies would be able to prolong life. One needs to be on top of the wave too. Be aware.

Islands could become offshores for scientific experiments

It means that you need to take care of your health all the time. No smoking, no drugs. Do people really have that much desire to live that they are ready to deprive themselves?

People have desires for pleasure. Food and drugs give immediate pleasure that they couldn’t get in a different way. I think that we need some kind of mood regulation. We already have antidepressants that should go to a different level, so it would be easier to motivate ourselves to do good and avoid self-​destructive behavior related to entertainment.

Can we say that one important issue related to immortality is the development of technologies, and the second one is self-​consciousness?

A person must be determined to become immortal. Because if they don’t need it, if they don’t have this idea and they want to, say, die, they will die sooner or later. I mean people commit suicide, behave in self-​destructive ways, which is a partial suicide. So we should expect some kind of help from cutting edge neuropharmacology to motivate a person to lead a healthy life.

Do you think that having global risks that in fact could destroy our planet and humanity at any point, the pursuit of immortality, longevity and preservation of intelligence is our only option?

There are two options, and we could choose a third one. Immortality is a conservative route and it could lead us to the destination. Or you could try to be the base for creation of artificial intelligence. This way is more radical: how to become a god quickly. It means that either you wait, wait, wait and wait, eat green grass and live until immortality is possible and then you start… Or vice versa, you could get admitted to a laboratory, become the first volunteer for brain scan in order to create the artificial intelligence that will rule the world.

Do you think that the selection of this brain could be random?

Not exactly. It might not be random and it is not a fact that the artificial intelligence will be created in this way. I think it is just one of the possible options…

For usurpation of power.

Yes, power over the universe. It is much riskier, and we don’t even know what laboratory should we go to, or will they take my brain or your brain. Will it suit them? Maybe they will tell us: ‘No, It’s a bad brain. Tainted’.