Here’s a little Google project. Search for life extension technologies and start reading comments about what people think about living five hundred or a thousand years? Some are completely in favor of the idea but you’ll find legions of naysayers that are deeply disturbed that the “natural order” of things will soon radically change. Objections run the entire predictable gamut. The religious go on about how this is not part of God’s plan. How would they know? Marxists and bitter lefties complain that only the rich will be able to afford life extension. It never occurs to them that such technologies might be cheap. How many of you thought you would be carrying inexpensive 64 bit super computers in your pockets twenty years ago? Environmentalists whine about how this will increase one’s lifetime Carbon footprint — seriously — and start mumbling about abuses to Gaia. Paranoid and suspicious types boldly assert that “the government” will use access to life extension to “control us” and pollute our pure bodily fluids. It seems more people want to live short ordinary lives than long extraordinary ones.
Personally I don’t have a problem with life extension. I’m in the Woody Allen camp. “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” Not dying, ever, is a mighty big order. If you place any credence on current Big Bang cosmologies it looks like the entire universe is mortal. In a mere 10100 years the universe might be completely dark with a temperature that is physically indistinguishable from absolute zero. All the stars, galaxies, black holes and unstable elementary particles will have long since decayed. You might find a free electron every few million light years or so if you’re lucky. Such a universe is beyond dead as far as sentient beings are concerned. Religious end-times are for pussyfied wimps, metrosexual girly-men, and fat feminists. Plausible universal end states are vastly more terrifying than any Last Judgment or Ragnarök. I don’t expect life extension to produce lifetimes of 10100 years; I would be happy if we eke out a few millennia. There are thousands of trees, deep-sea corals, and freaking sponges that are many thousands of years old? If a sponge can hack a thousand years I really don’t think I’ll have a problem.
My one serious objection to human life extension is simple. Most of us are dumber than fence posts and even the intelligent have brains infested with patently stupid ideas that deserve immediate and total deletion. Most of us aren’t worth preserving until next week let alone the year 3000. I don’t exempt myself from this harsh judgment. I’ve always assumed that if I can understand something it’s inherently trivial; that if I can do something it’s no big deal; that if I can hack it cannot really hurt. Yet I am constantly amazed at how many cannot meet my pitifully low standards. Do you really want to be surrounded by your grunting, ignorant naked ape neighbors for a thousand years? It’s hard to make a more cogent argument for mortality. I know what you’re thinking. “That’s not fair; people learn and change.” Oh, if it were only so. I know people who have never changed their minds about anything. They are the true walking dead; after the mind goes the body is just pus and who wants to extend the life of pus?
Greatly extending the lives of horribly flawed and limited people will only perpetuate our screwed up world. Minds do not change, they die. If Caesar was still up and about we would probably still be throwing people to the lions, worshipping Greco-Roman sky fairies and marching off to war every spring. We have to get a lot smarter to use thousand-year lifetimes. Fortunately the singularity is coming.
Ray Kurzweil has absorbed lots of abuse. His book, The Singularity is Near, has been mocked as rapture for nerds. My own view is that his thesis is sound but his timeline is whacked. I don’t think the singularity, the emergence of superior trans-human intelligence, will happen in my lifetime. I doubt it will happen in the 21st century but it’s almost inevitable in the 22nd and 23rd. We are entering an end-time of sorts. Standard Homo sapiens will, in a few short centuries, be extinct.1 We will either be eliminated by trans-humans as a dangerous pest species2 or we will voluntarily become trans-human ourselves. I agree with Kurzweil that we cannot predict how truly superior beings will live but I’m willing to bet my Bitcoin stash that they will outlive sponges! The singularity is not near enough.
1. This is why I don’t worry about Global Warming.↩︎
2. They may keep a few of us around like we keep grizzlies in national parks.↩︎