My coworkers found some online test that asks you bunch of questions about you health, lifestyle and habits and then tells you how long are you going to live. Everyone was taking it, and then bragging and/or bickering about how much longer they are going to be around than everyone else. So you had people walking around the office and asking:
“So, how log are you going to live?”
I told them that my plan is to live forever. Well, not forever. I mean, you can’t live forever, because entropy is a bitch who ruins everything, and whenever we try to figure out how to reverse it there is insufficient data for a meaningful answer. So we probably won’t crack that one, but if I’m lucking I want to be around when humanity huddles around the last dying star, sharing stories of how awesome this universe used to be back in the day. Or at least, that’s what I would like. Chances are that we will probably not discover a fix to the aging problem while I’m alive but one could always hope, no?
“But you can’t live forever. Nothing lives forever.”
Bullshit, Turritopsis Nutricula jellyfish lives forever. And if one species can do it, there probably isn’t a biological reason why a similar mechanism could not be applied to another. The way I see it (biologists, feel free to yell at me for oversimplifying things or being flat out wrong) but aging is sort of an evolutionary “advantage” that was selected for very early in the history of life on Earth. Cells have a hard coded division limit which prevent them from multiplying indefinitely. This is a fail-safe mechanism that prevents cells with broken or malformed DNA from running amok and ruining the whole neighborhood. When something goes wrong with that fail-safe, you get what we call a tumor. So in the most overly simplistic terms, cancer is basically bunch of rogue cells saying “fuck your laws and regulations, I’m going to be fruitful, multiply and live forever!”.
So, technically aging can be stopped in reversed. It is just a matter of figuring out how to apply whatever mechanism the damn jellyfish are using, to more complex animals. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but I have faith in science. In fact I think the only thing holding us back at this point are the anti-intellectual assholes who claim that science somehow does not agree with their culture, ethnicity or religion and thus they choose to ignore and/or boycott it. Well, that and folks like me who are just to lazy to meaningfully contribute. Yes, I’m part of the problem. I should be getting my PHD, and doing AI research, but instead I sit here playing video games and reading SF books about singularity rather than making it happen in real life.
So after I give people a crash course on singularity, they think for a second and go on with question among the lines of:
“But how would that work? Wouldn’t you get overpopulation?”
Well, not necessarily. You have to keep in mind that we have such a thing as demographic-economic paradox according to which birth rates are inversely proportional to given regions overall welfare and economic wealth. Rich, educated and well off countries tend to end up with aging populations. If and when we figure out this whole immortality thing, it will probably be introduced in those countries first and they probably won’t just drop everything and start making babies. After all, most people are done with the whole parenting business after one or two kids. And if it becomes possible to rewind your biological clock, people will become much more choosier about who they reproduce with. So likely there would be no population explosion – rather a slow population creep. Which is still undesirable, but we can fix that too. Since we are disabling aging, we probably be able to disable fertility as well. I mean, most people will probably realize that you can’t have a cake and eat it too – if you want to live forever, you have to stop churning out babies every 9 months. Those who do not comprehend it will have to be somehow coerced into getting their proverbial shit together – likely with fees, sanctions or even mandatory sterilization for habitual offenders. Anyways, handling this mess will be a problem for lawyers, lawmakers and sociologists. There is no point in denying ourselves something as awesome as immortality just because some folks might refuse to stop all the baby making. Lets first invent an aging cure and worry about overpopulation later.
“But who would want to live forever?”
Who wouldn’t? I mean are you seriously going to sit here and tell me you would get bored of living? Sure, if you talk to elderly people they will usually tell you they have lived a full life, and that they have come to terms with death. But I’m willing to bet that most if not all of them would instantly jump at a chance to live another 20 or 30 years in good health. Yes, you can probably get bored of here and now – but there is no reason to stay in one place doing one thing for a whole eternity. We already have a very mobile workforce in most developed countries. Immortals would probably move around every few decades to shake things up. Move to a new place, pick up a new profession, go back to school and learn something new, etc..
I really think that the people who think they would get tired of living, are the same folks who are terrified of having free time. I guess their minds are just not wired to comprehend stuff like, you know – fun and being a master of your own destiny. But even if you are one of those sad cases, and a concept of living for an eternity fills you with unspeakable dread, I don’t see why would you want to deny everyone else that option. I mean, I doubt anyone would force you to stop aging. I’m sure people would respect your wish to wither away and die.
I usually tell people to read Down and Out in Magic Kingdom and Turncat to see how a theoretical society of immortals could work. If nothing, then just to glimpse Cory Doctorows unique insight onto this problem: people who do not want to live forever will eventually die out and become extinct. It’s true – think about it.
Let’s say some demographics will refuse anti-aging treatments on religious or cultural grounds. What will happen to them? They will get old and die, while you and your friends continue enjoying your apparent-20-something looks. Their children will grow up in a world in which aging is something you choose to do, rather than a force of nature. Perhaps they will continue respect the values of their parents and choose to die young, but at least some will probably break away and pick immortality instead. No matter how strong their religious or moral convictions, their numbers will likely continue decreasing with each generation. Eventually you will end up with tiny packets of these people – maybe small towns, or neighborhoods which will end up being tourist attractions. People will actually go there to “politely” gawk at the elderly, because they won’t be able to see them anywhere else.
But of course this is just a tip of the iceberg. You have to realize that eventually we might figure out a way to digitize human consciousness which will likely remove the sticky problems of breeding, overpopulation, resources and even life-weariness. Eventually people might actually be able to migrate from the physical world into some virtual environment, offering them existence that lies beyond our wildest imagination. Imagine worlds that defy laws of physics, imagine being able to share information faster and more efficiently than before, imagine being able to meld minds with your loved ones, and share bond that is deeper and more intimate than anything than we can imagine right now. Right now, ancient wisdom tells us that every man is an island. That every man dies alone in the end. But we can fix that. Both the dying part and the alone part.
Do you ever get into these sorts of conversations?