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FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

Technologies for Immortality: A study of Human Futures

Alternative title: Teknologier for udødelighet: en studie av den menneskelige fremtid

Awarded: NOK 11.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2021 - 2025

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We have recently co-authored a paper called Cryonics 2.0: From Immortalism to Indefinite Lifespan, which will be submitted to Science as Culture. The article discusses major changes surrounding cryonics: the rare practice of storing human bodies at ultralow temperatures in liquid nitrogen once they are declared dead, with the hopes of being revived or recreated by future medical science and technology. Our research suggests that cryonics has become much more mainstream than previous research revealed, which partly accounts for its growth and the spread of cryonics facilities to three new continents over the past ten years. Part of this spread is owed to the association between cryonics, high-profile tech giants like Peter Thiel, and Silicon Valley culture, but broader changes that we have studied have also popularized cryonics. These include: the mainstreaming of other once-fringe anti-aging treatments; the global spread of ideologies like the Californian Ideology and Fourth Industrial Revolution ideology globally (both premised on technological solutions to political issues, while the latter rapid advancements in biology and computerization that may transform the definitions of human life and death); and more recent ideological movements like Rationalism, Effective Altruism, and Longtermism, spreading especially through internet culture and younger generations. All these have combined to make cryonics more mainstream and, in turn, cryonicists have mainstreamed and moderated their public discourses to avoid alienating people with earlier concepts, like Immortalism.

Technological innovation in human-computer interfaces, breakthroughs in biotechnology, and the emerging notion that aging is a disease seriously challenge established understandings of what a human being is, or might be. A substantial reason for current popular interest in emerging technologies is the possibility of living forever; the prospect of human immortality. This project will explore contemporary pursuits of immortality in order to enhance our understanding the social and cultural basis for these developments.We might distinguish between three different approaches to the field of immortality, taking three different questions as a point of departure: Firstly, what is possible, through technology and science? Secondly, what is the social and cultural significance of it, and thirdly: is it desirable? The first question is an established research area in biology (anti-aging medicine, bio-technology etc) and AI (humanoids, "mind transfer" etc), and the third question is often dealt with in the field of ethics, mainly from philosophy, religion and theology etc. The second however, is only to a very limited degree developed. With this project we want to explore the socio-cultural significance of the immortality movement, looking specifically at kinship relations. How are relations developed and imagined in contexts where mortality is sought overcome? Concretely, we propose with this research to develop comparative analysis of ethnographic case studies of immortality practices in Russia and in the US. Due to particular historical contingencies rooted both in the histories of the late nineteenth-century religious modernism and experimentation, and the Cold War technoscientific imaginaries and science-based competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, these are the two locations where immortality projects like the ones described above are most developed and vocal.

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FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

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