Review of longevity technology in Passengers (movie)

This isn’t a film review, but a review of longevity technology in the 2016 movie. For those not familiar with the plot the film is about a totally automated interstellar craft with 5,000 “passengers” – humans in suspended animation on their way to a newly colonised planet. During the 120 year journey a fault results in one of the passengers being awakened 90 years early and raises the moral dilemma of would you wake someone else up to keep you company even if you knew they would die with you before arriving. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster so this interesting and realistic should-I, shouldn’t-I question is crammed into a disaster movie set on a nuclear fusion powered spaceship, though there is a great scene  where they lose gravity while someone is in a swimming pool and so suddenly finds herself swimming in a giant bubble with no up or down.
For full synopsis and trailer check out IMDB.

Longevity Technology References

My main criticism is that by the time human technology has advanced so far that interstellar colonisation is routine then aging would be a long distant memory. Even it hadn’t been possible to prevent death entirely it would certainly have been slowed enough that a 90 year inconvenience would be survivable. But given the entire plot and dilemma revolves around their inevitable death I understand the movie has to overlook this! And as a side thought, even when people do live forever they may still go into suspended animation for long journeys – perhaps to minimise boredom or save resources.

The interesting medical technology in the film revolves around the Autodoc – a diagnosis and treatment chamber along the lines of the reconstruction chamber in The Fifth Element but with a sleeker design. With a quick body length scan it was able to diagnose over 600 faults in one character and predict their time of death. For less critical patients (though in this case, already dead – don’t ask, it’s a fun sci-fi!) Autodoc is equipped with a range of robotic surgical instruments and injection devices. It’s control panel flashed up a couple of times listing available procedures with included stem cells treatments but it was too fast to read any more so will have to wait for the DVD 😉

Autodoc from Passengers film

With the Tricorder XPRIZE to be announced in a few months (which will automatically diagnose a set of 12 diseases ) I’m looking forward to an Autodoc being developed early in the 2030s – version 1 might not be able to fix everything but the majority of today’s illnesses really could be diagnosed and treated that quickly in the not too distant future.

Chip sandwich anyone? Human on a chip and chip on a cell

Two research announcements caught my eye today which show that healthcare has turned into a technology and is therefore improving exponentially.

Firstly the Institute of Microelectronics Barcelona have attached barcode chips to immature egg cells. Initially to be used for assisted reproduction when eggs need to be tracked and monitored, this could easily be modified to tag any cells which could then help with diagnosis – for example (and I’m totally guessing here) a batch of chipped cells could be injected or swallowed and then the whole body scanned to monitor where they end up – highlighted if organs are working as expected.

Then (on the other side of the chip sandwich) theres the human on a microfluidic chip. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology have created a 1:100,000 scale human being (the organs anyway) which allows drugs to be checked for toxicity and efficacy in a much more realistic environment than today’s simple tissue samples. A device like this potentially allows every organ in the body to be tested early in the drug development process, minimising the risk of problems that only occur when the drug interacts with a living human body.


And in case you’re thinking that’s still a lot of work to do all that testing – check out this video on the BBC News website showing not only automated testing, but a robot that always makes its own decisions about what to test to make it even more efficient:

Kurzweil v Hawking – good AI, bad AI

When I read Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity is Near, which was the seed for wanting to live forever, the only thing I disagreed with Ray about was his assumption that the inevitable super intelligent AI (due to the exponential growth in technology) would be benevolent and care for humans like pets or a scientific curiosity.

It looks like Prof Stephen Hawking’s view is nearer mine (BBC News – Hawking: AI could end human race) that it would treat us like vermin or with total disregard for our welfare – as most animals on this planet probably experience the human race. Worst case, it’s Matrix-style and somehow we turn into food for our own creation.

And how would we stop it? Let’s assume we have created a new super-powerful AI using neural network chips or quantum computers – would we even know that it had gained self-awareness? While we’re still studing it and running TUring tests, if it decides to be bad it would easily circumvent any barriers we had put in place to prevent it spreading – just think how many flaws hackers have discovered in apparently secure websites and then imagine what a super-mega-uber-geek could find. How quickly could it take control of every computer and network router? Then give it a few more hours of processing to figure out how to take over production plants to create its own real-world compatriates – robot armies are already in production, one day its likely we won’t be worrying about who has the biggest army but what?

“Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
― H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds