Do Billionaires Crave Eternal Life?

Though a sucker may be born every minute, few grow up to be billionaires. But maybe one’s enough.

That seems to be the business model behind today’s wacky story about a Russian entrepreneur who wants the world’s billionaires to fund a project to find the key to immortality. The entrepreneur, Dmitry Itskov, expects the first fruits in about a dozen years, when a human brain is to be transplanted into a robot body. The resulting “avatar,” as he calls it, will “save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged.”

It’s a rather convenient timeline. Although Itskov is only 31 years old and can wait a while, the billionaires he’s canvassing on Forbes magazine’s annual list have an average age of around 66 years. Those guys can’t wait forever.

A brain in a bot is just a way station to Nirvana, which would ultimately involve downloading the brain’s contents into a computer. That and other tweaks to the technology will take a few decades, Itskov says, which is why he calls his project the 2045 Initiative. It held its first meeting in Moscow in February and has just opened an office in San Francisco. It is planning a big meeting in New York’s Lincoln Center in June 2013.

In ages past, those who would cheat Death generally talked of an elixir, but nowadays their line of patter tends to run in a cybernetic vein. Maybe digital technology is hot, or maybe it just seems to offer greater security. A brand new body can get crushed by a 500-pound anvil that may fall on it, as anvils are wont to do. Once it’s downloaded into a computer, your mind is safe from anvils, pandemics, and even planet-destroying asteroids (as soon as its mirrored onto interplanetary networks).

Where have we heard all this before? Ah, yes, the Singularity, subject of our award-winning special issue a few years ago. And indeed, the Singularity has attracted the fervent interest of at least a few rich people—Ray Kurzweil, for one.

And where else have we seen rich people running after fool’s gold? Ah, yes, the asteroid mining company!

A fool and his gold: There must be a Russian proverb like that one.

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