Sunday, November 14, 2004

Business Plan for the next 500,000,000 years

1. Physical Immortality
2. Interstellar flight
3. Where to leave your brain

1. Physical immortality is key to all future business planning. It's what makes long-term business planning possible. John Maynard Keynes, the fabled economist, is often quoted, "in the long-run we are all dead." But what if we weren't? What's stopping any of us from living forever, or at least a heckuva lot longer? Couldn't it be possible for a man to be cloned, the genes of his clone modified so that the clone would be born without a brain - just a brain stem to sort out the vital functions - and the clone put into a high-speed incubator where fed by growth hormones and special nutrients it would become fully grown in less than a year? Then the brain of the man could be removed from his, say, 85-year-old body and transplanted into the fresh clone body. The nerve connections could all be made with the help of nanotechnology. The nerves in the brain would be matched up with the nerves in the brainstem. Once the brain has been successfully transplanted, period of physical therapy would be in order, to be sure. It might takes some years - decades even - for the whole process to be fully successful. That is, it would take some time to sort things out before an old-timer could quickly, safely and effectively begin a new life in a freshly cloned body. But such is the case with technological development. The fact remains, phyisical mortality is the most pressing health issue facing humainity. Of course it's solution should be sought with all the resources we can possibly muster.

It's not as daunting a challenge as would first appear. It might well require a good deal of animal testing, thereby causing their suffering and sacrifice. But laboratory animals from fruit flies to white mice to colts to monkeys have been and continue to routinely sacrificed for the sake of medical research geared toward saving, prolonging and improving the lives of people. Naturally, the less animal sacrifice and suffering the better. Once the project is properly managed, with grants and institutes set up to perform:

+ genetically modifed cloning
+ high-speed gestation and maturation
+ nanotech-aided nerve identification and matched connection-making
+ new body adjustment therapy

. . .then the scope will seem less like science fiction and more like the sort of large scale health research projects that take place today. Just a few years ago, an HIV+ diagnosis was a death sentence. Today it's a treatable condition. Phyisical immortality is of a different scale, sure, but do-able with the reach of known technology. What's more, with the most affluent of the world's population now starting to approach maturity, old age, the potential for private sector funding is enormous. And like the space program before it, the benefits of spin-off technology would be immense: spinal cord repair, organ farming, new insight into pathology and immunology, to name but a few.

The work of Harvard graduate Dr. Peter White demonstrates the feasibility of this concept:

In the 1970s, Dr. White demonstrated for the first time that a primate brain could be removed and kept alive if it was quickly attached to the circulatory system of another monkey. Although attached to the living body of another rhesus monkey the transplanted head, once the anesthesia wore off, was alert and aggressive in its expressions. The eyes even tracked the nurses and doctors as they moved around the operating theater. The monkey survived for eight days.

"With the significant improvements in surgical techniques and postoperative management since then, it is now possible to consider adapting the head-transplant technique to humans," Dr. White wrote in an article published in Scientific American magazine in 1999. - Volume 2, Number 48 - April 27, 2001


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