Like all writers, I welcome death, because if you ask me, life is a lot more trouble than it’s worth. But if you’re not like me—waiting for unending oblivion while you blog about cats for 25 cents a word—then perhaps this will excite you.
We’re getting very, very close to never dying again.
Before I trench forward into the dregs of psuedo-scientific futuristic proselytizing, I’d like to direct anyone reading this to go pull up Isaac Asimov’s short story The Last Question. It deals mainly with the concept of entropy, but it covers a lot of what I’m about to get into, and who am I kidding, Asimov is a slightly better writer than I am.
If I, Robot was based on an Asimov short story does that mean Dostoevsky’s The Gambler was the basis for Wild Wild West?
Chances are, if you’re alive, you probably think about eventually not being alive. It’s a constant and troublesome thought—one that people deal with in all kinds of kooky ways. But at the same time, imagining being alive without a discernible end is equally uncomfortable. In a lot of ways, that fleeting, transient element gives life it’s beauty. It’s also what makes choking yourself with a belt while you have sex so erotic.
The cure for aging is a pretty buzzed about topic these days. Every day it feels like we’re getting closer and closer to figuring out how to halt the aging process genetically. Plus, there’s always talk about a future where nanobots float along our blood stream doing daily maintenance. Hell, the concept of living forever has become so generally accepted as not crazy that this middle-aged lady-blogger at the Huffington Post is even putting her two cents in about it. Apparently loudly proclaiming that you’re never going to die isn’t just for high school seniors seconds before a drunk driving accident in a 1980s Public Service Announcement anymore.
As far as trying to talk about immortality scientifically without people thinking you’re a psychopath goes, futurist (sweater-wearing pothead) Ray Kurzweil is pretty much unparalleled. As you may know, at Motherboard we write about him a lot. And chances are, if you hear a statistic about living forever in the mainstream media he’s somehow involved, and I’d like to imagine, smoking a fat blunt in his living room while building a megacity out of legos.
Imagine seeing this smug bastard’s stupid face for all of eternity.
He’s pretty damn confident that people are going to stop dying pretty soon. In February, TIME did a piece on him and his theory that the end of the end of life is right around the corner. He puts it at 40 years away.
Kurzweil’s predictions are based around his Law Of Accelerating Returns, which is the idea that computing power grows exponentially, which causes technological innovation to grow the same way, and in this case, leading to an explosion of anti-aging research that finally cures it. In 40 years people will stop getting old and dying, most likely reducing the population of Florida into nothing but backyard wrestlers and Cuban nightclub owners. Simply put: if you ever had a Myspace page, remember how easy it was to get new friends after you hit a thousand? It’s kind of like that, except not really at all.
“Hey new friend, want to buy some dank ass nuggs? Real cheap. Also, did you know that the anti-aging gene has been located in mice and can reverse cell deterioration? F4F and PIC4PIC???”
The Highlights For Kids version of the “We’re All Going To Be Immortal In The Future Argument” breaks down into 5 key steps:
1) Enhance our lifespans medically with gene therapy, or more likely, nanobots tinkering away, improving our bodies
2) Become cyborgs in the sense that we’re made of both living tissue and robotic parts.
3) Colonize space.
4) Digitally imprint our consciousness onto machines and just ditch the whole human thing and become robots
5) Live forever in space.
Now, keep in mind, this is at the less-crazy end of the ‘we’re never going to die’ futurism spectrum. Then there’s the concept of quantum immortality involving a many-worlds interpretation of the universe, which doesn’t do anyone who isn’t stoned any good.
But it makes sense: Space is like, totally super big, bro and to get out there we’re going to need longer lifespans. Plus, being a creature that depends on oxygen to live and is easily poisoned by radiation probably isn’t the best thing to send into an endless oxygen-free vacuum that’s full of radiation, right?
There have already been a lot of steps made in the direction that both Kurzweil and other researchers see as inevitable. Step one on the path to living forever is already well under way. Researchers are reporting that the first 1,000 year old human has already been born. I’d like to hope it’s me, but I think I lost that lottery when I forever ruined my heart and liver the day I drank six Four Lokos at Comic Con and verbally accosted the chick from My Life As Liz (I think she said her name was Liz).
Step two, the one where we all become cyborgs is too far fetched either, considering how good prosthetics are getting.
This is Aubrey de Grey and he has a lot of interesting ideas about immortality, all of which are eclipsed by how insane he looks. #futuristproblems
We kind of crapped the bed on step three, because no one really seems to care about going to space anymore. But step four, where we upload our brains into a computer isn’t that crazy anymore either. Because, oh my god, holy crap, IBM made a microchip that’s as strong as a human brain. This is where I put my obligatory joke about robots killing everybody because this is a science website on the Internet and it’s required by law when writing about advanced robotics.
Of course, the real joke is the idea that the robots are going to be separate from us. Turns out we’re going to be the robots in the robot uprising: “The Future,” directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
But there are some things that you need to imagine when considering your new permanent lifespan. For one, if you can figure out how to last forever, the Earth hasn’t, so that’s kind of a problem. Also, imagine if you lived forever and had a never deteriorating memory too. Imagine living for a thousand years while constantly remembering the time you approached Liz from MTV’s hit show My Life As Liz drunk at Comic Con, yelled at her about Star Wars, and forever ruined your chances of hooking up with her. Can you imagine that type of unending agony?
After being alive for billions of years I don’t even mind that you think a Parsec is a unit of time and not a unit of distance.
Possible Future numero uno:
A genetic aging cure leads to a flood of interest. Nanotechnology gets exponentially better. Nanotechnology combines with increased interested in robotic body parts. We become cyborgs. We leave Earth. We explore the universe. We digitally upload our consciousness. We live in space. The stars burn out. The universe reaches heat death. We all figure out that no one lives forever. Our bad.
Possible numero dos:
The above future is pretty cut-and-dry. It is exactly what’s going to happen and there’s really no way around it. But that’s not to say the period spanning from now until when the singularity really gets cooking isn’t going to be absolutely horrible. Maybe it’ll start with aging-reversal class warfare, with the wealthiest one percent hoarding the technology from everyone else (they’re always trying to do that, aren’t they?). Maybe mutilation and death as entertainment. Organized sports, where you could repair your body instantly? Football would just devolve into people ripping their bodies to pieces while we watch and eat nachos. Imagine what bars would be like. If we had nanobots repairing our livers constantly, people would just drink to the point of blacking out constantly. It’d be like going to PennState, but everywhere!
Between everybody not dying and going into space, there are going to be some serious population problems, which most likely means death centers. And while I’d like to think most religions would cease to matter in a world where we can’t die, let’s face it, even in a world where people really, truly, need to die, there will be religious protesters. So, yes, we’ll eventually get into space as ageless robots, but it’s going to be a real hassle and most of us probably won’t live to see it. So in that sense, we, as in all of us currently alive right now, except for that 1,000-year-old, are all doomed.