Project Humai: should you get excited about it?

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After the hype over the head transplantation proposed by Dr. Canavero, things have been a bit quiet in terms of big ideas for developments in transhumanism. However, on January 26th, Humai’s website was launched as a shout out for all the enthusiasts and, still, it’s worth the doubt: should you buy it as real and look forward to real investments in life extension and mind uploading?

Humai was already news on Daily Mail in 2015 and the question whether this is a hoax or not was already there. Contacted by the website, founder Josh Bocanegra “has assured his critics that he is serious about human resurrection and believes it could be possible within the next 30 years” — more or less at the same time targeted by the 2045 Initiative. While using artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to “store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes and information about how a person’s body functions from the inside-out”, Humai would also get some help from cryogenics as a means to preserve one’s brain.

In this sense, nanotechnology would do the trick by cloning and restoring the preserved brains, so they can be brought back to life through an “implant into an artificial body”. This body would function according to the person’s thoughts, using their brain waves in a similar way that advanced prosthetics are controlled nowadays. According to Bocanegra, such development could “contribute to the human experience” and “those who accept death will probably change their mind”. In other words, would we be able to choose not to die and finally master the inevitable?

On an interview for PopSci, Bocanegra explained that Humai will be collecting extensive data from their members, several years before their death, via apps they are developing. “Every step we take toward understanding how to get your thoughts to control an artificial body will be a huge progress. I’m confident that in the process we’ll develop a technology that will even save lives. However, the ultimate test will be when we perform the first surgical procedure to implant a human brain to an artificial body”, he explains.

In fact, the first initiative Bocanegra launched in this field was Project Soul, a mobile app that would emulate the personality and the voice of a deceased person. While talking about it on an interview for Serious Wonder, the entrepreneur said he doesn’t believe “tombstones, photos, videos, or even our own memories are the best ways to remember someone who has passed”. Bocanegra thinks “an artificially intelligent version of your loved one, whom you can interact with via text and voice, is more desirable.” However, Project Soul was substituted by Humai’s current goal, indeterminably postponed.

be-right-back
Black Mirror’s episode “Be Right Back” discusses precisely about an app that emulates the protagonist’s deceased husband before she decides to buy a synthetic that would carry the simulation program

 

But now Bocanegra is trying to find ways to surpass human’s body limitations, as he believes we haven’t evolved enough and that we could still enhance ourselves via technology. Together with the other 15 people in his team, the entrepreneur does not take his endeavor as a fight against death, but as a negotiation to make it optional: “I personally can’t imagine why anyone would want to die but I respect their wishes”, he argues, but in fact, it is not too hard to see why some people choose death – maybe because they have either lost their desire or reason to live (therefore choosing suicide) or then because they are terminally ill and they don’t want to suffer anymore (then opting for euthanasia). But that’s not the point, since the fact is, even if someone wants to live forever, it’s (still?) not possible to choose so. Theoretically, Bocanegra wishes to offer the opportunity to decide whether you want eternity or not. But who is going to make this possible?

“Rather than visiting a grave, you’ll use software to interact with your loved one.” – Josh Bocanegra

A further look into Humai’s team

It is difficult to decide whether you believe and trust this project or not, even though your instincts and your hopes keep pushing you to be excited about the idea. But take some time to check Humai’s team and try to guess who are they. You will find active people in the field of futurism and technology, such as Kate Aquino and Eduardo Cabezón, but also some other professionals that you may never have heard about and that you will barely find any information online. Not that only famous people could make a change, obviously, but it is always good to know who is going to receive your donations.

First of all, if you liked their layout and found the main picture quite interesting, think twice. It’s nothing more than a portrait of their Marketing strategist, Jeanine Fuents, who has worked as a model, but also as a writer of stories about atheism and was part of Bocanegra’s previous project on a dating website called Loveroom.

Then you have Humai’s head ambassador Jerod Zavistoski, another pretty face that is also behind the book (and the brand) Modern Man, besides being someone who uses as his catchy phrase the following words: “The millennial speaker for the millennial generation”.

In addition to them, you also have Saikat Adhiskar, who doesn’t exist on Google with this name, but rather Saikat Adhikari — same for Andrea Gheorghit, who will actually be found as Andreea Gheorghiţă. More than typos, these errors make it even harder to find out who are these people, as they don’t have any resume or links for their CVs and portfolios available on the website. There’s nothing about their engineer Ciprian Regle, apart from a profile saying he is a student and that he plays games, and it’s even worse to find something about their robotics/AI specialist Francesco Marco or their behavioral scientist Melody Chen.*

Many other sources, such as IGN, Huffington Post and Telegraph, have been covering Humai, but there is still a mist of uncertainty surrounding the project. I fortunately had the opportunity to talk to Josh Bocanegra, so I could ask him directly the questions below:

ND: First of all, I have seen that you worked both on a dating website project and also writing about atheism. How did you end up interested in life extension and why do you think this is something worth investing?

Bocanegra: I’ve always been interested in life extension and have been doing independent research on technologies that may be able to extend life. Fundamentally, I’m passionate about social change. Every venture I start usually correlates with that passion.

The dating website I launched, LoveRoom, gained popularity a couple years ago because of the proposition we were offering. That is, an alternative way to traditional dating that sparked controversy because of misconceptions.

I also demonstrate my interest in social change in my writings about atheism, taboos and philosophy for Elite Daily.

As for any investments, we’re not focused on a revenue stream just yet. We’re more focused on research and forming partnerships.

ND: Humai’s marketing strategist Jeanine Fuents has worked with you on Loveroom and she also shares the same subjects you cover as a writer. What about the other members of Humai’s team, how did you select them?

Bocanegra: I believe Jeanine is excellent at marketing because she understands how to cater to different perspectives with words. So I’ve always chosen her to help with marketing strategy in any of my projects. We also share the same values and visions for the future.

The rest of the team submitted their applications to Humai. We selected our current team members from over 200+ applications we received from researchers, scientists and scholars.

ND: Still about your team, there is very few information on the website about who they are and some names are difficult to be found on Google. Are you planning to add a minibio or links for their CVs/portfolios any time soon?

Bocanegra: I’d like people to read about what each member is specifically working on at Humai. So yes, there will be mini bios and links for their CVs soon. However, we’re still receiving applications. We’ll continue reviewing applications until March. So our team will likely grow. For this reason, I’m going to hold off on adding more information until we’ve established all working relationships between our members.

ND: What happened to Project Soul? Why did you decide to abandon it for a while? Were you inspired by any fiction works?

Bocanegra: Project Soul, although I still believe is a great idea, was just too much of distraction towards our overall mission.

As for inspiration, I’ve ironically never been into science fiction at all. In fact, last week I finally watched the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back”, which some thought was a source for our inspiration. So I’m not really up to date with science fiction books, movies or show. Humai was purely inspired by the realization that by levering cutting-edge technologies, it’s possible to extend and enhance human life.

ND: Are you in contact with any of the other projects and people around transhumanism and life extension?

Bocanegra: I’ve talked to Zoltan Istvan, founder of the transhumanist party, about our mission and he has expressed support. We have partnered with Katie Metaverse, a popular futurist in the transhumanist community, to collaborate on the design for the Humai body. Her and her team at BodAi are doing inspiring work with synthetic bodies.

ND: Your plan is to make Humai a real service in 30 years, which is more or less the time targeted by 2045 Initiative too. How did you reach to this average time? And how much money do you think it will be necessary?

Bocanegra: It’s too early to tell how money we will need but I am very cautious about how much money we take and how much we spend. So I plan on accomplishing the most we can with as least as possible.

We actually answer the question of our timeframe in the FAQ section of the site. The development of technology in the modern world is happening exponentially. Moore’s Law says the power of computers doubles every eighteen months. Breakthrough technology available to the public by 2045 is a technological prediction shared among many based on the exponential technological growth we’ve seen thus far.

ND: You don’t really use the term mind uploading on your interviews about Humai, as the main concept is transplanting a restored brain into a synthetic body rather than using an AI to emulate a deceased person. Do you think this process would make it more possible to conserve one’s “self” rather than having a perfect emulation program? In other words, how do you understand the concept of the “self” and do you think it is mostly connected to the physical body (in this case, the brain)?

Bocanegra: It seems to me that the core concept of “self” is in the brain. Throughout technological history, we’ve transplanted hearts and lungs, replaced arms and legs with bionics and we’re moving closer to performing head transplants. None of which has ever effected our sense of self. If something like a “soul” resides anywhere in our biology, it does seem to mostly operate in the brain..

I think within the next couple decades, it will be more possible to conserve one’s “self” as the brain rather than having a perfect emulation program. However, although we’re not working on mind uploading, I do support the theory and consider our mission a prelude to that technology.

* Update on 4/02/2016: Saikat name was already corrected on the website and Andrea was taken out of the team now, as the agreement wasn’t finalized yet. Bocanegra explained that Tony Yates, Humai’s design advisor, is a senior designer at Microsoft and that most of their team members are “overseas and most don’t partake in social media” (sic). Three new members will be added to the list next week too.

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