Will Robots Inherit the Earth?
or extensive, constant treatment using future regenerative
medicine. In computer programs it is easy to install such redun-
dancy. Many computers maintain unused copies of their most
critical system programs, and routinely check their integrity.
However, no animals have evolved like schemes, presum-
ably because such algorithms cannot develop through natural
selection. The trouble is that error correction then would stop
mutation which would ultimately slow the rate of evolu-
tion of an animals descendants so much that they would be
unable to adapt to changes in their environments.
Could we live for several centuries simply by changing some
number of genes? After all, we now differ from our evolu-
tionary relatives, the gorillas and chimpanzees, by only a few
thousand genes and yet we live almost twice as long. If we
assume that only a small fraction of those new genes caused
that increase in life span, then perhaps no more than a hun-
dred or so of those genes were involved. Still, even if this
turned out to be true, it would not guarantee that we could
gain another century by changing another hundred genes.
We might need to change only a few of them or we might
have to change a good many more.
Making new genes and installing them is slowly becoming
feasible. But we are already exploiting another approach to
combat biological wear and tear: replacing each organ that
threatens to fail with a biological or artificial substitute. Some
replacements have already become routine, while others are
on the horizon. Hearts are merely clever pumps. Muscles and
bones are motors and beams. Digestive systems are chemi-
cal reactors. Eventually, we will solve the problems associated
with transplanting or replacing all of these parts.
When we consider replacing a brain though, a transplant
will not work. You cannot simply exchange your brain for
another and remain the same person. You would lose the
knowledge and the processes that constitute your identity.