Should we pursue human immortality or are the obstacles to avoiding death simply too large? Aubrey de Grey and David Brin had conflicting answers when I asked them in which decade they think medicine will enable a human life expectancy of 200 years.
Aubrey de Grey – Aubrey is the Chief Science Officer of the SENS foundation and editor of Rejuvenation Research. Many of you will know him from TED.
I think we have a 50% chance of achieving medicine capable of getting people to 200 in the decade 2030-2040. Presuming we do indeed do that, the actual achievement of 200 will probably be in the decade 2140-2150 - it will be someone who was about 85-90 at the time that the relevant therapies were developed.
There will be no one technological breakthrough that achieves this. It will be achieved by a combination of regenerative therapies that repair all the different molecular and cellular degenerative components of aging.
I estimate that the Methuselarity* will be reached with medicines that get people to live 30 years longer than they otherwise would, i.e. that push the maximum lifespan out to 150. There will be a small "cusp" - a small period when we can get people to 150 but no further - and that will translate into a small number of people who reach 150 but still die of old age because we couldn't QUITE rejuvenate them fast enough. So the first person to reach 150 will almost certainly not reach 200. But the first person to reach 200 will have a pretty good chance of reaching 1000.
David Brin – David is an award winning author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is also a consultant to NASA, and explorer of the future at davidbrin.com. Have a glance at his article Do We Really Want Immortality.
I do not expect this any time soon. There are way too many obstacles.
First, there is no low-hanging fruit. Simple switches, like the ones that are flipped in many animals, by caloric restriction or celibacy, are there to give creatures a delayed chance at reproduction, if it cannot happen earlier.
These switches have already been thrown in humans. All of them! Because we had genuine darwinistic reasons to evolve longest possible lifespans. When the lore held by grandparents helped grandchildren to survive, we evolved a pattern where the tribe would always have a few grandparents around, who remembered stuff.
Let's be plain. I am the first on this planet who made the "monastery allegory." (I know this pretty sure.) That allegory is simple. Across the last 6,000 years, there have been countless religious monasteries and hermitages. Most practiced some form of ascetism, as a way to discipline their holiness. Many different dietary regimes ranged from merely frugal/spare all the way to near-starvation, and every variation in between. If any of these monks stumbled onto a path to capering around for 200 years, wouldn't we have noticed?
All advances to date have involved allowing ever-greater percentages of humanity to hit the "wall" at age 100, and maybe coast a few years beyond. Getting beyond that will require either;
1) THOROUGH nanotechnology, applied down at the INTRA-cellular level, or
2) genetic recoding to enhance repair capabilities in new ways (good news for our great grandchildren, maybe, or
3) gradual replacement of failing parts and systems with prosthetics, or
Oh, I am willing to be proved wrong, but all of these seem much harder than the zealots think.
a) The intra-cellular world is the next frontier. It now seems huge, complex, involving massive amounts of computing. Will you flood the INSIDES of cells with nanomachines? Good luck.
b) We haven't a clue how to do #2.
c) #3 will happen in phases. But when the brain fades... well,... see #a
c) re #4 -- see #a
Many ask if life would not become boring after a couple hundred years. I say this world becomes more interesting every day, and I would love to see as much of the future as I possibly can.
What about over-population? Surely, we will find a way to accommodate more earthlings, but even this cannot go on indefinitely. So at some point, we’ll have to choose either high birthrates and death rates, or low birth rates and death rates. Aubrey de Grey has said that decision is not for us, but for future generations to make, and that it is our moral obligation to prevent death because it kills people!
What do you think? Would you say yes to immortality if you had the chance? Is pursuing immortality the only moral option?