Inspired by director James Cameron’s idea, a Russian businessman has launched his own Avatar project. Hundreds of researchers are involved in creating a prototype of a human-like robot which would be able to contain the human consciousness.
In creating the Russia 2045 movement, Dmitry Itskov did not mean to use Avatars to explore new planets. His ultimate goal is to make immortality possible by transplanting the brain and its personality into a robotic body.
The immortality project consists of four stages, and a team of researchers in the Moscow suburb of Zelenograd is currently working on the first one. About 100 scientists are already involved in the initiative, striving to bring the concept together, and Itskov is planning to hire even more during the upcoming stages.
So far, scientists are struggling to complete the Avatar-A, a human-like robot controlled through a brain-computer interface. Itskov served as a prototype for the machine, thus the robot was nicknamed Dima.
“It should fully resemble a real man,” explains chief designer Vladimir Konyshev. “It would be hard to tell him from a man both close up and from afar.”
According to the company’s website, the project consists of four stages.
Stage 1 – called Avatar – is aimed at creating a robotic copy of the human body, controlled though a brain-computer interface. This stage is to be completed by 2020.
Stage 2 – Body B – to create an Avatar in which a human brain is transplanted at the end of one’s life. This stage is to be completed by 2025.
Stage 3 – Re-brain – to create an Avatar with an artificial brain, in which a human personality or consciousness is transferred at the end of one’s life. This stage is to start in 2030 and to be completed by 2035.
Stage 4 – Hologram-like body – A hologram-like avatar. To be started in 2040, and completed by 2045.
Currently there are tests to fix the robot’s eyesight. Each eye is an individual camera that observes and remembers surroundings, obstacles and faces. Underneath the latex skin lies a complex system of motors and electronics.
In the next few months the group will demonstrate a robot that will be able to move around on wheels.
“The next step is to make a robot that can walk, controlled by the movements of a human operator, which we hope to do by next year,” Konyshev told RT. “If you want to see what our ultimate goal is you can watch movies like Avatar or Surrogates, robots controlled by human thought.”
The designers hope this robotic skeleton could also be the first step towards creating the next generation of artificial intelligence, perhaps even robots that think for themselves.
The Avatar-A project’s aim, Itskov says, is to create an autonomous system of human brain nutrition, preserving nerve connections so that the brain does not degrade or die.
“Unlike in the film, we want to create an android, and not a biological body,” Itskov told RT. “I think it will become available to people in just ten years in the exactly same form.”
The Russia 2045 strategic social initiative is regarded as a means of promoting the idea of humanity attaining cybernetic immortality. The movement is based on dozens of projects in different stages of development and hundreds of proposals from scientists, philosophers, public figures, and visionaries. The founders of the movement, Dmitry Itskov in particular, believe the initiative will provide the impulse to accelerate technological progress. Itskov is aggressively promoting the project to make it international. The team is now in the process of creating a fund in the US, which will look for and develop the technology necessary for the project.
The idea is based on work by US scientist Robert White. In experiments with chimps, White showed that a monkey’s brain can be taken out of the skull and plugged into a system that will keep it alive.
“Our main goal is to preserve personality and prolong life,” Itskov told RT. “Scientists say that if it weren’t for certain diseases and degradations of the cardiovascular system, our brains could live for two or maybe even three hundred years.”
Itskov says that this “avatar” will live according to completely different principles – it will not need food or probably even a home. The activist sees it as a way to combat nature.
“Our civilization is experiencing growing pressure in the form of natural and technological disasters – we’re becoming hostages of the technologies we’ve created,” Itskov says. “In the future, society will change radically, mostly because humans will move on to the next step of evolution.”
Not all of the projects being developed in Zelenograd sound like they've come straight out of a sci-fi movie. Some, like the robotic hand of the prototype, are actually being used to help people who have lost limbs.
So far, the hands operate separately from the head and the body, though the work on them is still in progress. Pneumatic muscles clench the fingers into a fist; compressed air forces them to contract.
“This definitely can be used to help disabled people. We already ran some experiments – a subject without a hand tried this technology. He said the hand worked for him. All it takes is to attach electrodes to the undamaged part of the arm so they can read the muscle activity,” software engineer Andrey Telezhinsky explained to RT.
Watch more in Peter Oliver’s report for RT.