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Wednesday, May 14, 2014


The human trek: from crude beginnings to an immortal future
By Dick Pelletier

   Historians place the beginning of culture about 10,000 years ago, when our early ancestors abandoned hunter-gathering in favor of settling into communities, cultivating crops, and domesticating live stock.
    Ancient life was brutal. Medicine nonexistent; life expectancy hovered around puberty. But even with fears of danger, hunger, and starvation haunting their minds, these hearty cave-dwellers still survived.
    When the shift from hunter-gathering to farming began, world population was a mere one million. We've advanced through the ages rapidly though and change is rising exponentially. For example, during the 20th century, Earth population rose from 1.6 to 7.1 billion. Did this cause a food shortage? No, creative scientists modified genes in crops and animals, increasing food supplies to satisfy higher demands.
    Other technologies also advanced during the last century. We evolved from hand-cranked telephones to cellphones, horses to cars and freeways, silent films to 3D movies, and dictionary books to the Internet.
    Human health has undergone changes too. In Why The West Rules -- For Now, Stanford historian Ian Morris believes that our bodies have improved more in the past 100 years than the previous 100,000.
    Average life expectancy now pushes 80 in developed countries. Many people live 30 years longer than their great-grandparents did, allowing them to enjoy an extra decade or two of healthy life.
    Today, scientists are poised to wipe out; or at least make manageable, most diseases. In addition, people will soon be able to replace aging muscles, bones, and organs with brand new healthy and more youthful ones, thanks to stem cell research, re-writing DNA, or the latest techno-craze, 3D Bioprinting.
    And the human mind is not forgotten in this rush for new breakthroughs. Scientists at Intel's Human Brain Project plan to build a wireless system that can transmit thoughts direct from brain to machine.
    Forward thinkers predict this technology could, by mid-century or before; scan mind images into a machine that converts thoughts to 'brain-ready' content, to then send through the Internet to another mind, creating brain-to-brain thought-talking. Once people become comfortable talking with their thoughts, experts believe this may become the most preferred and widely used method of human communications.
    Before thought-talking can be fully developed though, scientists must learn more about consciousness. And National Institutes of Health researchers hope to do just that as they look forward to what is referred to as a 'Manhattan Project' ten-year $3 billion proposal called the Brain Activity Map, designed to improve knowledge of neural network activities and determine the causal role these circuits play in our behavior.
    Another brain research effort includes the International Swiss Blue Brain Project. Scientists believe within 10 years, they will build an artificial brain that can simulate human-like consciousness. This silicon marvel could replace clinical trials, which would lower drug costs and shorten research-to-patient times.
    Blue Brain Project director, Henry Markram admits creating the human brain in silicon is challenging. Each neuron connects to others through thousands of synapses. The human cortex has about 22 billion neurons and 220 trillion synapses. Clearly, building the silicon equivalent of those connections is a huge undertaking, but Markram is confident that with expected computer advances, the project will succeed.
    As we move deeper into the 21st century, we will shed more and more of our biology. Each step of the way will bring humans closer towards a secure life in a strong 'super body' with enhancements that make life more enjoyable. Transitioning into this non-bio body will finally signal the end of all unwanted deaths.
    To understand this concept more clearly, best selling author Ray Kurzweil predicts that by mid-century or sooner, brain scans could be possible, allowing the transfer of mind, memories, and consciousness from a worn-out, damaged, and decrepit body, into a powerful new self-repairing body.
    This future will mean new ways of living, thinking, loving, and being born. It may mean the end of all these things and the dawn of a new world. Admittedly, much of this article may sound like optimism gone wild; but if you can stay positive, this wonder-world might one day be yours to enjoy. Comments welcome.
    This article appeared in various print publications and on-line blogs. Comments always welcome

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