Here are answers to frequent social arguments and misconceptions against the prospect of radical life extension. Some of these answers involve radical technological developments, the advent of which will depend on targeted and endorsed efforts … for some of these technologies we are in the realm of a long-term time frame.
If the radical extension of life is one day possible, one must not imagine the technological advances which made it achievable as isolated breakthroughs. The whole field of technologies will have progressed to reach this stage, such as a tide putting all the failed boats afloat.
Criminals and despots will act forever
It is out of the question that individuals who are harmful to society may jeopardize the prospect of a radically longer life.
With regard to despots, in modern countries the renewal of leaders is done through a democratic process. This renewal is no longer the result of expiration by age as it may have been the case in the past. This trend is increasing and will be even more widespread at the advent of radical extension of life. Moreover, as modern history has shown during the Second World War and the Arab Spring, despots can be overthrown, dismissed, hunted and are no longer untitled to govern until their natural death.
For criminals, it will certainly be necessary to rethink the carceral system and its role in the society of the future. Note that if we reach the technological and societal stage of radical extension of life, many problems such as poverty will be at least diminished, which will lead to a decrease in crime. For prisoners benefiting from a radical life extension, who knows what tomorrow’s society will have in store? Perhaps, immerse the detainee in a state of biostasis to serve a long sentence of hundreds of years? Correct a cerebral peculiarity at the source of ultra-violent behavior?
These are only speculations and it will be up to the society of tomorrow to determine these issues democratically.
We do not want to live forever old, in poor health.
When the prospect of a radical life extension is evoked, some people imagine the prolongation of life in the state of those centenarians we sometimes see on television. These brave old people, ravaged by age, senile and suffering from many illnesses, are nothing but the shadow of themselves.
To prolong life in this state would have no meaning, it would even be a torture. No, this is not at all what it is about: the radical life extension would be lived at an age, or the return to an optimum age, equivalent to 25 years old, for example. It is at the summit of its vigor and without disease that one has to imagine living for hundreds of years.
No scientific proof that radical life extension is possible. Denial of the possibility.
A difficult argument to counter. There is indeed no evidence that radical life extension is achievable. Moreover, movements like Future Is Great make no promise. And it is generally healthy to avoid the veneration of tempting but unprovable prospects. It is this non-demonstrable aspect that holds back the enthusiasm of many people who are presented with the possibility of a radical life extension.
It is therefore a question of faith, but especially of ardent hope when this possibility is invoked. To be able to live as long as desired in good health is the dream of humanity, the consecration of medicine … it deserves that we try everything to achieve it, basing our hope on reason, science and technology.
Radical Life Extension Will Cause Overpopulation and Depletion of Natural Resources
Overpopulation is a legitimate concern when we talk about radical life extension. Indeed, if people do not die but continue to have children … we might face a population explosion.
Here are some specific considerations regarding this topic.
- The world’s population will decline
The fertility rate is the number of children per woman in a given population for the duration of one year. Below the threshold of 2.05 children per woman, population renewal is not assured; the population will decrease. And this is already happening in many European countries that are turning to immigration to offset this decline. In economically modern countries, such as Europe, the United States and Japan, populations are decreasing or about to. It is on the least developed continents with a high fertility rate that demography explodes. Africa is such an example. These continents will eventually modernize, and in doing so, their population will stabilize and eventually decline. The UN estimated that the world’s population would probably equilibrate at around 11 billion in 2100 (Esa Un source). It is quite possible that radical life extension will occur in the context of stabilized, even decreasing world population.
- The longer people live, the lower the fertility rate
It is in the countries where life expectancy is the shortest that fertility rates and population growth are the highest. If tomorrow people could live as long as desired … the fertility rate would drop dramatically: the number of births per woman/year would be much lower than it is today even in modern countries like Germany.
- End biological clock Tic Tac
If one could live 1000 years or more at an optimal age, women would no longer be subject to the horror of the menopause … vile phenomenon of our time. They would no longer be forced to procreate “while it is still time” and could decide to have a child for love, at the right time, with the right person. It could be well over 45 years before that happens.
- Birth control
The governance of the future, whatever it may be, will not stand idle. The fertility rate and the world population will most certainly be controlled by sophisticated calculations and recommendations in order to allow a viable growth of the population.
- Will there be enough space on earth to hold the entire population?
From a strictly demographic point of view … 7 billion people (the current world’s population) can coexist on a ridiculously small surface. If you take the population density of New York city in the US, you would need to expand the surface of this city to the area of 3 US states only to accommodate the world population. If you take the density of Paris in France, the city should be a little less than the size of this country to accommodate 7 billion people. In other words, if Paris was the size of France, it could accommodate the entire world population (Source). This is to say that human density is NOT a problem at all. Most of the earth is made up of areas of extremely low population. This does not mean, of course, that the resources necessary for the subsistence of this population should not be taken into account.
- The problem of resources
This population will have to be fed and supplied in energy.
In many cases, reality goes beyond the fiction of technological predictions, and humans are never as resourceful as when faced with existential problems. Thus, any prediction will probably be below the reality of a future technological context infinitely more advanced than the current one. One thing is certain: if our technological development abolishes aging, our understanding of life and its structures will be such that it will allow us to develop bio-solutions that we cannot even begin to imagine today. However, let us venture to predict better energy and food yields:
- Improvement of infinitely renewable solar energy yield. The amount of solar energy that strikes the earth each day is far greater than the consumption of humanity.
- Fission and cold fusion energy development, which would provide more than enough energy to power most of the planet.
- For food resources:
Artificial cultures of meat and other animal proteins, thus ending of expensive farming, pollutants, and animal suffering.
- Development of super-nutritious foods for a low production effort.
- hydro/aeroponics (growth of plants on neutral or above-ground substrates, with nutrient supply)
- No more pollution: see below; passage dedicated to pollution.
- No retirement, few diseases
A positive aspect of a population living indefinitely and in full health: the population is always active, productive. There is no longer a pension to finance, and the medical care being infinitely more efficient, there will also be a huge decrease in health spending.
- Opportunity of peaceful extraterrestrial colonization
The increase of the world population would be an extraordinary stimulant for an extraterrestrial expansion of the human species: colonization of the moon, as well as the establishment of habitable space bases. The growth opportunities are then endless.
Finally, it would not be ethical to let people die of disease and old age when there is a way to abolish these causes of suffering. We must be ambitious: we want to live as long as we want, AND solve the problems that this would entail.
Only the Wealthy Will Benefit From Radical Life Extension
It would indeed be illusory to imagine that a therapeutic advance such as the radical extension of life becomes accessible to all simultaneously. Such an advance might benefit the richest at first … but that does not mean that it will not then spread. Take the case of vaccination, which has helped to eradicate deadly diseases and thus save many lives. Having been popularized in Europe, vaccination has, of course, first benefited the richest inhabitants of this continent. But vaccination has also largely benefited poorer continents such as Africa: WHO (World Health Organization) has thus voluntarily undertaken global immunization campaigns, which has had the effect of eradicating diseases such as smallpox, the last case of which was detected in 1977.
Today, for some vaccines Africa is almost as well covered as Europe. Thus, vaccination rates against BCG DTP3 Polio3 MCV1 for Africa oscillate between 70 and more than 80%. In European and American countries, the poorest and the richest benefit equally from automatic vaccination at an early age.
The moral imperative to live is such that it is quite conceivable that progress in the extension of life will eventually benefit all the economic strata of the world’s population, as was the case with vaccination.
We will have to work indefinitely
At the time of writing these lines … a social debate focuses precisely on the threat posed to jobs by the development of robots and other weak AI… Because indeed many jobs now performed by artificial entities will disappear. But if the work is done by machines … there will be no need to work. At least for the most laborious and repetitive tasks.
To lodge, to feed, to heal oneself are the vital needs, will they be fully supported by the societal organization?
If in the society of tomorrow, we can produce infinitely more with infinitely less (which is a good definition of progress), if robots with a weak AI are able to replace humans in most tasks, if the cost of energy drops drastically in a post-oil world if a universal income is implemented… These are a lot of “if” indeed, but under these assumptions, it is quite possible that the necessity to work for survival becomes facultative.
Or each individual will have to allocate a small portion of his time to society … which would consist of working just a few hours a week for the common good.
The individual would remain free to work for his own fulfillment if that were his wish; it just would not be an obligation anymore.
The future of work in a technologically advanced society is highly speculative and the points raised are only hypotheses. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine, given the direction of current technological developments, that the amount of “vital” work will not ultimately diminish.
More than 99% of the species that have ever existed on earth has disappeared (wiki source), well before the rise of modern humans. Nature has never been a garden of Eden that Man would come to disturb. Biological life is de facto a permanent competition within a devastating environment whose outcome for the least adapted is a definitive extinction. The choice? Evolution or extermination. We are not enemies of nature. It is nature that is antagonistic to a continuity of life. The human has built civilizations in order to try to preserve himself, we cannot blame him for that. Developed societies must support and organize billions of people. Industrialization developed at the end of the 18th century to feed this mass, and if it is polluting, this industrialization is nonetheless a necessary, inescapable, but an intermediate stage of civilizational development.
Pollution is also a sign of technological underdevelopment, poor performance, waste and inefficient tools for dealing with matter. The shift to post-industrial era will be possible, in our opinion, only by the development of new technologies, which will serve the needs of humanity, without the counterpart of harmful side effects.
The solution is thus not in fewer technologies, but in more advanced technologies.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some long-term technologies that we should seek to accelerate development:
- Improved efficiency of captured solar energy: The solar energy that reaches our planet daily is much higher than our overall energy consumption. This energy is not yet transformed efficiently enough, and its storage remains mediocre. Here again, the development of new technologies could make photovoltaic energy more attractive and effective, which would reduce the consumption of fossil fuels by a good percentage.
- Development of molecular (nanotechnology) factories: capable of producing consumer goods, molecule by molecule, like a super 3D printer. The manufacturing of goods will then be perfectly mastered, will produce almost no waste and will no longer result from processing: no need for combustion, oil, use of solvents and other acids. Molecular recycling will be total: atmospheric carbon captured could serve as an extremely strong and lightweight material.
If radical technologies can definitely solve pollution problems while waiting for their advent, we must continue to push efforts in the field of immediate feasibility: reduce as much as possible the emissions of pollutants. No idyllic pretext can justify a lazy treatment of current environmental problems.
At the time of writing, humanity has “understood” that the planet must be preserved. We are far from the count, but efforts have begun: renewable energies, measures and reduction of CO2 emissions, cessation of plastic bags usage, cultivation of organic products containing less harmful particles … the trend is on the way towards a non-polluting era.
Even if we develop non-polluting materials and energies, there will be traces of waste produced in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We anticipate and wish for a real phase of global detoxification, during which waste will be hunted ruthlessly and eliminated, this time once and for all.
We will then arrive to a real phase of “restoration” of the planet: once the pollution is curbed and the waste eliminated, we will be able to restore an optimal ecosystem in which humanity will flourish harmoniously.
More on this: Eric Drexler
The past was better than today, so today is better than the future
No, it was not better before. Here are some facts:
- Malnutrition rate of the world population in decline:
The malnutrition rate was around 50% in 1947, it is below 11% today
Source: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
- Increasing life expectancy:
By the end of the 18th century, the worldwide average life expectancy was around 30 years. It is now around 70 years old. Excluding infant mortality: a child who had reached the age of 5 in 1841 could expect to live for 50 years. Today, this hope is 82 years old.
- Decreasing world poverty:
In 1820, 94% of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. Today, this rate is about 10%.
- Decline of violence:
In European countries, violence has declined considerably in the course of history. For example, per 100,000 inhabitants, the number of homicides per year in England was 23 in 1300. It is less than 1 today. It was 56 for Italy in 1300, less than 1 today. In the US the homicide rate remains higher than in Europe, but today is still dramatically lower than during the historic days of the colonial period. Today, this rate is around 5 per 100,000 inhabitants per year.
- Worldwide Literacy rate increase:
The literacy rate of the world population was about 12% in 1800. It is 85% today.
The number of countries practicing slavery has been steadily decreasing, and women’s voting rights are growing all over the world. Even the emissions of pollutants, although they are still too important, are beginning to stabilize on the most modern continents such as the USA and Europe.
(source: Ourworldindata 1, Ourworldindata 2)
So why is the vision of the future commonly considered in discussions or in movies so negative?
First, because the positive advances cited have developed on a time scale greater than that of a human life: impossible to realize during an existence. The advent of technological progress, however, tends to accelerate according to an exponential growth; nowadays, everything happens faster.
Then because in our info and ultra-connected age we have the means to realize all that is wrong, and what remains to be accomplished. We are aware today of many problems to be solved. An 18th-century European peasant was not informed in real time of Asian climate disasters.
Let us also mention the human propensity to focus on what is wrong … natural anxiety generating reflex useful for anticipating and avoiding negative events.
The two world wars, chronologically not so distant, have also dented our optimism and faith in the future.
Whatever the worries and pessimism, nothing seems to stop our evolution towards the radical technologies that will solve once and for all our societal problems. We can accelerate the emergence of these solutions through a committed, focused and optimistic development… Future Is Great aims to raise awareness about the possibility of a radiant future, because the more people are convinced, the more commitments toward this future will be numerous.
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