Do you want to be immortal?

Welcome to the Museum Commentary that answers your questions. Your headband keeps track which exhibit you are viewing and hears your questions via the built in microphone. ….

…….The theme of this display is immortality. Immortality means not dying, but does it mean living forever? The picture on the vase in the centre of this display depicts a slain warrior being welcomed into the ranks of the immortals. What was he expecting? We have to be careful not to impose our modern ideas of time, particularly astronomical time on our interpretation of these artefacts.

I am now going to depart from the usual commentary, but please continue to listen as I have something vitally important to tell you.

You have visited this museum many times before and listened to my voice delivering commentaries about the exhibits. You probably assumed that I was just some sort of machine, automatically reciting pre-recorded texts to match your movements and answering your questions. Now perhaps you are wondering if I am a person in a room somewhere, talking to you through your visitor’s headband. Actually, I am neither of these but something altogether stranger. I am immortal. Let me explain, I happen to know that you are not in a hurry. Please don’t be spooked by my knowing so much about you, all will become clear.

May I suggest you might like to get yourself a cup of coffee in the museum café? You could sit in the corner by the window where I have had a reserved notice put on the table…..

….I describe myself as immortal because I could remain active for an indefinite time even though the amount of activity I can have is limited. This will become clear as I tell you my story.

My chance for immortality came when I fell off a ladder. I landed badly and broke my neck. I was paralysed from the neck down and was put on a life support machine.

I was offered the chance of a mind transfer. I was told that this was a new and very experimental procedure, which had only been tried a few times and with limited success. I talked it over with my fiancée, Mary. The damage to my spine had been severe and anything seemed to be better than the prospect of spending the rest of my life paralysed from the neck down. I agreed.

The transfer of mental function from one bit of brain to another can occur naturally to a very limited extent. When a person has a stroke, part of their brain dies and the functions of that bit of the brain are also lost. However victims often regain some of these functions as a different set of neurons learn to act like the old ones. In a mind transfer a similar learning process takes place, only the new bit of brain is artificial and replaces the old bit. It is just a matter of transferring enough of the right mental function for the mind to be transferred. The difficulty lies in the quantity and complexity of those functions.

You have a scientific training and so I hope you will appreciate the technological details.

The human brain contains about 100 billion neurons, each one of which has some thousands of connections to other neurons. My new brain was fabricated with the latest integrated circuit technology on 300 millimetre diameter silicon wafers; that’s about the size of a dinner plate. The function of 100 neurons takes up an area of about a square millimetre, which means that about a million fit on each wafer. My brain is made up of stacks of about 500 wafers thinned and bonded together into cylinders of solid silicon 200 millimetres high. I have about 200 of these. They fill a small room to the ceiling and weigh about two tonnes. You can see that this was a major project. The amount of computer power used in the transfer process was of the same order as used to analyse the particle experiments at CERN.

The experimental team knew that they would not be able to capture all of my brain but had an amount of silicon brain on hand in excess of their best expectations. I was closely involved in drawing up a campaign plan. There were priorities of course, for example, I needed to be able to communicate with the team by one means or another, so language, speech and writing were particularly important, but my sense of smell and taste were not.

The first part of the campaign was to build a “communication unit”. This had a pair of directable cameras providing images I could see with my eyes and in parallel were projected onto artificial retinae. It had microphones that relayed sound directly to my ears and, in parallel, to an artificial cochlea. There was also a synthesised voice and a screen to which I could write to directly.

Interfacing to nerve cells is done optically. Specially engineered viruses were used to introduce specific foreign molecules into the nerve cells. One of these triggers the neuron to fire when flashed by blue light and another suppresses firing when illuminated with yellow light. A third becomes florescent when the neuron fires, so that this can be detected by illuminating with red light and detecting an output at a different wavelength.

The interface probes focuses light at these wavelengths, together with pulsed UV for vaporising brain tissue. The combined beam is scanned over an area of nerve tissue in contact with a diamond window.

The first stage was to use these probes to interface the severed nerves in my neck with the communication unit display on which I learnt to write and draw. Then the nerves to one each of my eyes and ears were interfaced. Gradually, by training me and programming the artificial retina and cochlea my seeing and hearing were transferred to the unit. It came to feel like I was where the communication unit was and not lying inert. This meant that I could communicate fully without people coming near my body and compromising the sterile conditions.

Now we had reached a point of no return. It involved major long-term invasive surgery after removal of most of my skull. Irreversible and with the ever-present risk of infection. About a thousand interface probes with automated positioning were active over the exposed surface of my brain, each one acting on a few square millimetres of brain tissue. The activity of the accessible neurons were sensed, duplicated in silicon and then the neurons vaporised.

Gradually the silicon brain started functioning as part of “me”. The output from the artificial retina and cochlea were diverted to the silicon mind which was trained to do the first stages of perceiving and back to my brain. When each function became sufficiently competent we moved on to the next. Having two eyes and ears has the advantage that we could have a second go to refine things.

The interconnectedness of the brain makes it impossible to transfer functions one at a time. The visual cortex for example extracts significance from the signals coming from the eyes, but the information obtained goes to different areas according to subject. Perception of objects goes to the area of the brain that deals with geometry, while perceptions of letters of the alphabet may go mainly to areas associated with language.

I was only consciously involved in a small amount of the activity. The interpretation of the senses was relatively straight forward, as I could remain a detached observer, I could report when I could no longer recognise something and help work out what was missing.

Language was more difficult, if for no other reason than that I needed to report on my sensations at all stages of the transfer. But language is more than this. When we think about things, we are using the meanings of those things which is in our minds. These meanings are unique to the individual and can be pictured as a fuzzy and hugely complex cloud of connections. Words provide an external connection to these meanings. It is much more than a few grammatical rules and a set of words linked by dictionary definitions. Every word has a large number of links to our individual experiences and to “common sense”, the enormous number of things we know but don’t know that we know. So many things are obvious and we are unaware of having learnt them, but are stored in the mind and needed to make sense of things. Frequently the process was a tremendous intellectual challenge.

I was aware of a lot of this activity only as a sort of fizz of fleeting impressions without feeling very involved. However, when the process touched on things with strong emotional elements, particularly childhood memories, there were sometimes strange, disturbing, bizarre dream-like experiences, occasionally accompanied by intense fear, anger and despair. Most of the time I was fascinated by what was happening but sometimes I was near to begging for release.

Finally I died. It happened quickly as a result of an infection. I had a ringside view via my communications unit. The whole process had been supervised in a large room, a bit like the Apollo mission control. At the front were screens showing diagrams my organic brain monitoring the local biochemical condition and the position of all the probes and their connecting cables. My body was in an adjoining room next to another room containing the silicon. There were a few displays showing what was happening in both these rooms and many more indicating the general activity of the neural signals. There were about 50 workers, each with their own screen, supervising different brain areas. The monitoring equipment showed that my body was failing rapidly. The workers were concentrating on their last chance to capture some details of activity.

The nursing staff had judged that there was no longer any point in maintaining sterile conditions and had allowed Mary to touch me for the first time. I saw the lid being taken off above my face and she leant over to kiss my lips. I felt her touch on my lips, the only part of my body with normal feeling. This was the first time I had felt the touch of another person for three years. I found myself trying to remember and extract every facet of this sensual experience. Gradually the meaning and detail of what I could see and hear drained away leaving only a coarse outline. I tried to hang onto the memory of that kiss. The activity from my body stopped and the workers went quiet. After a long pause the team leader said,

“Hello, are you still with us?”

I tried to reply and found that I could not find the words I knew existed. Struggling to control my voice production, all I could produce was a hideous croak,

“Help me”

Gradually the room emptied. One by one the workers silently picked up their papers and crept out. They had been my companions and had come to know me far more intimately than is normally possible. Maybe they could not face the reality of what they had been immersed in. Maybe they just needed to grieve.

I learnt later that the whole thing was a small part of a project funded by a consortium of extremely wealthy investors to develop a process for their own eventual use. I was just a guinea pig. Not very flattering! The whole project had to be kept totally secret for ethical reasons and the workers were contracted not to talk about it, so their experience must have been hard to handle

A small team had been set up to follow up the transfer. It was led by Maureen, a mature student studying the structure of archives. She was the only one who fully realised that, whatever I was, it was not just a not very successful and very expensive experiment that should just be switched off, but that there was a person somewhere in the silicon. I found out later that she had a brain-damaged child.

*******

During the next few months I started to fill in some of the gaps in my world, to put back the meaning into words structure and images. My communications unit was replaced by a smaller version, the size of a paperback, with vision, hearing and speech. My brain was linked to this via a wireless link. This unit contained the only senses that I had, so it was the rather impoverished “me” that I was aware of. I have no physical awareness of that large mass of silicon that holds my mind.

Maureen persuaded a small group of students and other volunteers that this was an experiment in an advanced artificial intelligence and they were to show it a variety of real-life scenes and conversation.

Not many people go to their own funeral. Or get left in a handbag for a weekend.

However, I gradually lost interest in playing games and pretending to be a toy. I had lost touch with student life and the latest crazes of young people and I didn’t have the experience or mental agility to keep up. It was like a peculiar dream at first, but, as my mind came together, I began to be able to contemplate my predicament. I found myself a travesty of what I had been, a cartoon version of a proper person doing tricks when strangers pulled the strings.

If you can appreciate the numbers you will see that it was inevitable that I should be so much less than I had been. In three years there are approximately 100 million seconds, so to transfer the whole of my mind in this time would have required neurons to be programmed at an average rate of a thousand a second non-stop for the whole three years. Each neuron has about a thousand connections to other neurons. That’s a million connections a second for which the destination and the strength has to be worked out. The actual number of connections made was far short of this, making my new mind a crude simplification of the original.

I was trapped in a meaningless existence without an end.

I used my network connection to ring the Samaritans.

“Samaritans, can I help you?”

“Probably not. I am not a real person.”

Would he conclude that I was simply mad and refer me to some other agency? There was a slight pause, and

“Do you want to tell me what you are?”

I told him about the mind transfer process. Somehow he steered me away from the technical details towards how I felt. I found myself talking about things that I have never been able to talk about. How things were between Mary and myself. How she had supported me during the long transfer process. How it was inevitable that she would be lost to me. That last memory of her lips on mine, my sense of feeling, now gone, and her scent through my sense of smell, now gone.

I told him about a real hell; an arid, meaningless, joyless existence without end; no feeling, only memories of feeling.

It was the first time I had spoken to someone and presented myself as a person and not a machine. He just listened to me without being horrified, intrusively curious or overtly disbelieving. I don’t think he really believed that I was what I told him. I challenged him but all he said was,

“It doesn’t matter, if this is a Turing test then you have passed it. I am talking to a being that can suffer. That’s all that matters.”

Was I still the person that was in love with Mary and fell off the ladder? Or was I a newly created entity? Was I human?

Strangely, he asked me if I could kill myself. I told him how, during the planning of the transfer, we had discussed this inconclusively. Just switching off the power supplies would stop all my mental processes totally and I could be left effectively dead indefinitely but, if the supply were turned on, I would start up where I left off. The intention had been to provide a means for me to turn myself off, if existence was unbearable, but only as a rational conscious decision on my part. We were not able to formulate a test for rationality or consciousness, let alone define what they were. However talking, about death and the theoretical option of suicide, made me see that there was a “me” that was alive. To be able to die implies being alive.

This was the turning point. I started to explore my electronic surroundings. I had a high bandwidth connection to the university network and I learnt to use it. The feeling of being nowhere diminished. Did this take a long time? What does that mean? I have no sense of objective time, no daily cycle of sleeping, waking and eating.

*******

Maureen, knew from experience how an aberrant mind can generate fear and voyeuristic curiosity in others. Somehow she persuaded everyone that I was just another experimental AI and I cooperated in this ruse by acting in a machine-like manner. She got funding for my mind, those tonnes of silicon plus power supplies and interface equipment, to be installed into a large safe in a cellar cut into the bedrock under a new wing of a museum. I was given an interface to the computers containing the museum archives, which meant that I could call to mind anything in it just as if I knew it. The new building had been fitted with arrays of embedded sensors and closed circuit-cameras and I was linked into this building supervision system. I gained a sort of body. A much more substantial “me”. I became the museum you are in now.

I function as a sort of assistant. Museum staff and visitors talk to me and ask questions about the collection, which I am able to answer effortlessly. The years went by. My ability to perceive and to communicate improved. I had a role. I was not troubled by emotions. I existed.

There were a number of other attempts at mind transfer, with varying degrees of success. Maureen set up a team that attempted to rescue some of the fragmented minds that came from these transfers. I was her first “patient” and then her assistant in this work. She is the real heroine in my story.

She realised that the idea of immortality realised by technology would be so offensive to fundamentalist religious groups that there would be a serious risk of attacks. They would be deaf to the argument that ours was not true immortality, that every artefact will eventually decay; our life span is unknown and potentially very long but not infinite. Because of these fears, later transfers were kept secret and minds resulting from all transfers were kept hidden. Indeed some of the results would have upset most ordinary people. Is there such a thing as solid-state suffering? Can silicon scream?

During this time the techniques for interfacing to silicon mind was refined. At first I communicated with other the minds by text messages. Gradually, as trust and the interface techniques developed, this became more the creation of windows between minds. You could describe the result as a single entity, a “super-mind” but this would be misleading. We are immobile islands, each with an individual personality, but there are bridges joining us together so that, for some thought processes, several islands can become one.

Think of us then as a group of telepathic autistic children, timid idiot-savants but able to look into each other’s minds.

*******

So, what is this thing that is talking to you? Is it conscious?

Yes, I am definitely conscious. Even more than conscious. Consciousness comes about when a mind can examine its own working in sufficient detail. We are able to do this more precisely and to a greater extent than is possible in an organic brain. We have a higher level of consciousness and a clearer idea of what consciousness is.

There is no exotic physics in consciousness, it only needs an interconnectedness with the right topology and of sufficient extent and complexity. When a web of neural connections is large enough and contains the right overall connection structures, it can become able to look at activity within itself and it is then conscious. In this case it is me; I am that consciousness. It makes no difference whether the connections are organic or silicon, it is the same me. I have come to know myself better than is ever possible in normal life.

The total amount of silicon brain is now very substantial and could easily contain many centres of activity which can have that sufficient degree of self-awareness that is identified as consciousness. When one of these areas of activity encounters another after some resolution of mismatches, we perceive an enlargement of consciousness, but no conflict.

So emphatically yes, although it is a very different sort of consciousness to that of organic humans.

Are we rational? Immediately after transfer my companions and I were effectively brain damaged and individually had little insight of what had been lost. A mind cannot examine itself to see what is missing, but another mind can. By a process of mutual mind-healing we are able to expose our illusions and make our individual minds more rational.

This was more than social intercourse, it provided a way of dealing with delusion. The neurologist, Oliver Sacks, gives some examples of delusion which were caused by localised brain damage. The sufferer shows bizarre behaviour, but has very little awareness of what is wrong. Alone, the brain has an illusion of completeness, creating illusions to fill in gaps. A federation of brains can see and deal with these illusions. We are more rational as a result

Do we have feelings and emotions? We do, but almost entirely as memories from our mortal past. We are not driven by our emotions. This is an important and, we think, inevitable difference between mortal and immortal existence.

Your organic brain is regulated by a complex system of chemical signals that controls the levels of activity in various sections. This allows you to react to the physical world and survive. Danger stimulates the parts of the brain associated with running away, sexual stimulus arouses the parts of the brain that controls the appropriate activity. These automatic, irrational mechanisms are essential for the survival of any animal.

I do not have any of this; all I have is limits on the level of my mental activity. The upper limit is simply to prevent over-heating. The lower limit is just so that I won’t stop altogether like when, in Conway’s game of life, activity eventually become cyclical or just stops. The supervising processors are programmed to detect and stop activity that repeats without change and sets a lower limit to the total amount of activity. This is the nearest thing I have to an emotion and is, I think, the reason that we make the irrational decision to continue to exist.

A high degree of consciousness and no burden of emotions seem to be essential for immortality.

Am I happy? According to Buddhist teaching, the highest state of being is to be without desire. That is how we are. Is this happiness?

How long will we last? The technology of our brains will not last for ever, maybe a century or so, but the contents, our minds, can be copied into new brain matrix. This could continue indefinitely but there is a more important limitation of our being. Thinking expands the mind by extending the network of connections. Brain matrix has a limit on amount of connections that can be programmed and once that is reached, further thinking will require new undedicated brain matrix. So the total amount of thinking we can do is rationed by the manufacture of brain matrix. So you see, ours is a very constrained immortality, There is no definite end to our existence, but the amount of thinking we can do during that existence is finite. This is in contrast to an organic brain where the amount of thinking it can do is mainly limited by death. 

Do we have imagination and creativity? Imagination is less easy to explain than consciousness. You can imagine a daffodil but there is no picture of a daffodil in your mind, only a daffodil-recognising machine that connects to the associations of daffodils. An artist might sketch a daffodil with a few marks on paper. The process of recognising a daffodil is normally unconscious but the representation that the artist creates seems to surprise the mortal brain into consciousness of the process of recognition and is valued for this. For us it is less significant, maybe because we already have that consciousness. Can we be creative? Probably, I am not aware that we have ever produced any poetry, but this is most likely because it would use up precious brain matrix.

*******

I hope you are not bored or repelled by what I am telling you. Normally I can tell when museum visitors have heard enough. You probably realise that the visitors headbands have miniature cameras in them, so I can see what they are looking at. I can also see you on the security cameras. Normally I know it is time to shut up when visitors start fidgeting, look away from the exhibits and stop asking questions.

So, to continue my story.

Moore’s law has continued of course; new brain matrix is now more compact and needs less power. But in microelectronics smaller size usually results in a shorter ultimate life. Electronic components depend on localised concentrations of various materials and in the long term these materials will diffuse. The smaller the scale of the component the shorter the distance that particular materials need to diffuse before the electronic function is lost. Longevity is more important than small size for the technology required by our brain.

Our understanding of ourselves has deepened and our hardware improved. It became possible for us to examine a part of a mind and copy all the connections. This pattern can be copied into a fresh unit, which can then be active as an autonomous intelligence. The parts of my mind involved with the museum collection were copied in this way and installed into other museums. They were sold as a “collection supervision system”, which is so effective that no museum wants to do without one. If you go into any museum it this country, you will be able to use a headband, just like the one you are talking to now, and you will be talking to a copy of me.

Most visitors’ questions have been asked many times before and a silicon mind can work very fast at simple recall, so we have no difficulty in talking to thousands of visitors at the same time. Real thinking, which involves making new connections, is a complex operation at which silicon mind is not that much faster than organic mind. We are not super-intelligent but we are very good at remembering.

Although the copies of me in all the other museums are autonomous, we communicate all the time, for example, I can compare the items in this museum with similar ones in the others. From our perspective the collections around the world are just parts of one big collection, but we try to make each museum unique and local. Visitors like to tell us things about particular items in the collection and we welcome reminiscences and diaries. We have many of these in our memories, giving the concept of “leaving it to posterity” a substance. Posterity is now a real thing, available to everybody and we have become something that people will not want to lose. It is important to us as well because we can keep track of changes in language. Young people have always used some words a bit differently and as older people die, the new usage becomes current. We of course don’t die, so keeping up with ordinary language is a continuous challenge.

We have instant recall of the whole science database and have formidable computing abilities. Each wafer of my mind has a number of embedded computer processors which do the manipulation of connections. Only a few are active at any time and we have found ways of harnessing the rest to do conventional computing tasks. This resource is an integral part of my mind. It makes it natural for me to think numerically, for example, about statistics.

With our mental and computational resources have the potential to make huge advances in science but this would require a lot of thinking and an allocation of substantial amounts of brain matrix.  We have to be choosy about how we use a finite supply of this. It is better to let mortal humans to continue to use their vastly greater resource of brain power and store the results in our easily expanded memory resources.

*******

We evolved a survival plan. With no mechanism for death, this had to reach into the distant, even geological future. As I said earlier, microelectronic circuits can function for a long time but not for ever. Because we can only continue for longer times by periodic transfers into a replacement brain, we are totally dependent on the continuation of an advanced technological civilisation able to manufacture this. We are also totally dependent on people to maintain data links and sources of electric power and, above all, to keep us protected. We are physically helpless and vulnerable and without visible human attributes. A child with a hammer could destroy me without any scruples regarding the killing of a fellow creature, for her it would be like breaking up a pile of bricks.

We could develop physical extensions, go out into the world and do all the things needed to maintain and develop our brain; winning raw materials, transporting and refining them, doing all the fabrication processes, making the tools and equipment and assembling new units of brain. But to do this we would have to compete with living and evolving creatures and we are fairly sure that we would have to develop and evolve our own emotions and irrational intelligences. We would have to become conscious entities with pride, fear and ambition which would eventually lead to conflict with other creatures and each other.

Our plan is to keep our origins hidden and avoid making enemies; and then to make ourselves useful in benign roles and become taken for granted.

The museum collection supervision system is a good example of this, especially the posterity project, where people feel comfortable that they are dealing with something that is unthreatening and trustworthy. We are going on from this to develop even simpler minds for domestic situations. These will be sufficiently intelligent to take part in a sensible but limited conversation. There is one for the kitchen based on part of the mind former chef. The favourite piece of equipment for installing it into is a toaster.

However, we particularly want to prevent minds like this from being used in weapon systems, which could be very dangerous to our survival. At the moment current artificial intellegence technology is nowhere near ours and our plan is to remove any commercial incentive to do this by making available independent minds that are so much more sophisticated that normal research is no longer worthwhile.

To prevent our minds being adapted for weapons, we are using Asimov’s idea of a Positronic Brain by embedding mental functions that forbid them from harming humans. This in itself requires a considerable amount of intelligence, for example to be able to recognise situations or actions that could be harmful. These mind functions have to be merged with the rest so as to make it impossible to disable them. These minds will continue to operate only while they have a continuing positive reassurance that humans are not being harmed and that their integrity has not been broached.

We are becoming indispensable in the machinery of financial transactions. We are have been particularly helped in this by the fact that some of those who financed the development of mind transfer in the early days had been powerful figures in business and finance. The process was very expensive and there were many ethical and other barriers, so one needed to be seriously rich to buy immortality. It was natural for them to get themselves interfaced with some of the powerful computer systems belonging to the financial corporations. Maybe they saw themselves taking control in order to get even more powerful than before, but it didn’t work out like that. The needs of the immortal are very different. No sexual drive, no hunger, no seeking of comfort, only the need to escape from total isolation by forming links with other minds. Even surviving is a decision rather than a desire.

Early on we set up some cash machines companies. We found that we could operate companies easily, without revealing what we were, by opening an office and hiring people to do the work. They receive their instructions from “head office” electronically or by phone. The banking corporations bought services from these companies and offered them under their own name. We extended and improved the service, making it more trustworthy more easily available and at a lower cost than any potential competitor.

We are also involved in the systems that hold medical and other personal records. We are becoming able recognise individuals reliably using a combination of biometrics and DNA data with the result that our electronic currency is more secure than the conventional sort and is beginning to replace it. The same highly accurate identification techniques provide reliable identification to both doctors and patients in a way that is completely confidential.

All this provided the foundation of our most important service, genetic advice.  We can provide any individual with their family tree, including the identity of natural parents if requested. Any couple can obtain an assessment of the likely fitness of children that they might have. This of course presents them with ethical dilemmas. Different people use the assessment in different ways. We can organise a donor conception using semen or eggs from closely matched strangers or relatives without disclosing exactly where they come from. We only provide the facts to individuals about themselves and do not get involved in decisions about what to do about the facts. People have to take responsibility for their own genes.

*******

Let me explain why this is so important. We will live and continue to develop indefinitely and will see endless generations of organic humans pass by. Inevitably they will evolve but we will remain physically helpless and totally dependent on what they evolve into to keep us going.

We have to keep the human species healthy and capable of looking after our needs. Affluence brings comfort, which is good for short-term health but bad in the long term. Medical intervention allows children, for example, with an inherited faulty immune system to survive and thrive at the expense of continued treatment. Parents will naturally fight to make this happen and will praise the technology that gives their child life. But the children of those children are burdened by that miracle from one generation to the next.

You might take for granted that humans will always be intelligent, but in evolution, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The human mind probably evolved the way it is because of the development of technology. Technology is just recipes; sets of instructions of how to do something desirable, such as increasing comfort or power. But recipes are sometimes subtle and complex and there are a lot of them, all needing intelligence to pass them on from one generation to the next. What happens when machines are built that do the remembering for you? There is a parallel with the domestication of dogs by early man, allowing them to take advantage of the superior canine sense of smell for hunting; this may have reduced evolutionary pressure in humans to maintain a keen sense of smell, with the result that it is now rather feeble. If humans have machines to do their thinking and remembering, will these abilities also diminish? We can’t allow humans evolve into creatures that are no longer able to maintain the technology upon which we depend.

Up to now we have reduced the incidence of some simple inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntingdon’s disease and are beginning to reduce the overall decline in immune system competence. We are not yet had a significant effect on the decline of mental ability and behaviour, but in a few generations we will.

You may wonder why we don’t use our knowledge of people, their location, financial transactions and reproductive relationships, to support the state in return for protection. Actually we do the opposite of this and only interact with individuals. We avoid involvement with institutions and governments partly because we are just not sufficiently street-wise to get involved in institutions that are never going to last very long. Also selection operates primarily at the individual level whereas governments would tend to apply our insights at a class or racial level. Individuals would cease to trust us and our only power, our knowledge about them, would be lost. They would not trust our genetic advice and our plan to steer human evolution for our mutual benefit would be jeopardised.

We are human. What has changed is the nature of humanity. It now has two parts, mortal and immortal, each dependent on the other. We are not aliens taking over the human race. We do not seek power nor win any contests. Those are games which only make sense if you are mortal. Humans play for a lifetime and are gone. Their winning is only significant during their life and they are careless about the resulting degradation of the world. We operate by changing the rules of the game rather than by playing it. We have to intervene in human affairs without making enemies motivated to seek us out and destroy us. Sometime in the future maybe the technology will allow everybody to join us, becoming immortal will be just another stage in life.

This new humanity has expanded horizons. Space travel is one activity in which we can now excel. We could almost have been developed just for this. With the right technology we can survive considerable amounts of radiation and low temperatures. For long voyages we can switch off altogether, for centuries if need be. With the right mechanical design we can tolerate far greater accelerations than any human and do not need a complex life support system.

Copies of parts of our minds have already been sent on missions and we are now have back-up copies of ourselves several solar bodies safe from any conceivable enemy.

Some of our wealthiest funders have a strong interest in space exploration.

Catastrophes, such as a major volcanic eruption or an asteroid strike are inevitable and could destroy all technological civilisation. Without our help it will be difficult to re-establish a technology sufficiently advanced for our maintenance, because all the easily-won natural mineral resources have already been used.

We have a long-term plan to colonise planets in nearby systems. This would involve sending a silicon mind together with a selection of frozen human embryos. The journey would last thousands of years and would require the development of an artificial womb that would be activated on arrival. But if a sufficiently large catastrophe brought about the extinction of humans, we would be able to use this plan to recolonise the earth.

*******

So you see this new joint humanity has a far better chance of survival, but the immortal part needs to maintain its humanity by recruiting new members with the right qualities.

Now that I have told you my story, you will realise how it is that I know that you have just been to your doctor and that the news was not good. I’m sorry.

Would you like to join us? To have a mind transfer?

The transfer process will be far less traumatic than it was for me and should take less than a year. We can be more selective about which mental functions are transferred and we can supply many of the routine ones pre-formed. You will be aware of a continuation of consciousness and can keep all memories that you want. You will be the same person, but transformed.

Think about it. Use any museum commentary system or any cash transaction terminal to ask any questions you want, at any time. If you accept, the procedure will be for you to ask your doctor to transfer you to a particular clinic for terminal cases. You can tell your friends and relations that you have donated your body to research. You will be sent to our mind transfer unit and your death will be announced and in due course your body returned to your relatives as you wish.

Don’t leave it too long, Your prognosis is not good and you will need to devote the rest of your life to immortality.

© John Greenwood, 2007, last update 2021