Sunday, 15 April 2012

If humans were immortal...

Suppose you became aware that through genetic therapy almost all humans were now immortal (but not vampires). Not only that but disease virtually disappeared and tissue regenerated so that, over time, everyone appeared about age 25. We suggested this in our book series 'A Vested Interest '. What would be the effect?
  • The book suggests a lifetime of 1729 years. That's not immortal but assumes a human will stay healthy until killed by an accident, starvation, war, an 'Extinction Level Event' (ELE) or some other overwhelming event. According to insurance tables that would happen on average in 1729 years.
  • Damaged tissue would be regenerated. An amputee would re-grow a limb, hair would re-grow on the bald, lost teeth would be replaced and body parts lost through surgery would be replaced. That includes contraceptive surgery! Cosmetic surgery would be stable if it was to repair physical or age damage but would reverse if it were done to change appearance.
  • What would happen to the population of the world? The population could be expected to soar initially putting a huge strain on the food supply and the demand for resources and energy. Many millions would starve. However, gradually the desperate 'urge' driving us to reproduce and replace ourselves would be brought under control - we would, after all, have plenty of time for that 'later' when we felt more secure. Eventually the population would be brought under control at a level a great deal higher than it is now.
  • Food would be scarce initially but again this would be resolved as more areas became cultivated including sea farms, 'arid' areas and underground. It's likely that new food sources would be developed including bacterial cultures, fungal sources and direct synthesis. Cellulose from plants. Wheat straw, bamboo, kelp and grasses would be converted to edible food. Cultured meat would be produced on a large scale - that's real meat grown in a lab without killing the animal it was sourced from.
  • Water would be scarce in many areas for some time. A grid taking water from where it is plentiful to other areas would eventually be created.
  • The natural inclination would be to fight for food, land and resources. Initially that's exactly what would happen but we would eventually learn that cooperation produces better results.
  • Soldiers would think twice before fighting for any other principles - it is one thing to give up 30-40 years of life but an entirely different thing to give up 1000+ years. Those who didn't see things this way would probably not be missed!
  • A career would probably not be a lifetime decision. It would be changed many times. You would not want to stay in a hated job and would have plenty of time to learn new skills. The demand for education would be high as older generations go back to school to learn new skills. As far as normal K12 education was concerned the pressure would be off and there would be more time for 'fun' in school with lessons being devoted to leisure activities. K12 would become K15 or maybe even more?
  • Politicians would want to remain in power for much longer, the climb up the political ladder would be much harder. Maybe we would someday elect 'reluctant politicians' who would see it as their civic duty to serve for a time rather than out of a desire for power. After all; anyone who wants to lead a country is probably the last person you should give the job to!
  • Premeditated crimes of violence would eventually decrease. Those inclined to violence would, over time, be eliminated from the gene pool by that very violence. Crimes of passion would no doubt continue!
  • The urge to move to a better place would be overwhelming - even if that meant transforming a harsh environment to make it liveable.
  • Undersea and underground communities would be set up - anywhere there is space available. The Earth's surface might eventually become a park for leisure.
  • Space would be colonised; the Moon and asteroids first, followed by Mars, the satellites of other planets and finally other solar systems.
  • Raw materials and energy would be at a premium. Both will cause problems initially but will be solved as nuclear fusion, deep robotic mining and resources from space become available.
  • Waste heat would become a major problem. Much of it will be recycled though.
  • Recycling of waste would be a major industry.
  • Concerns about global warming would soar for a while then prove unfounded as people realise that sea levels just are not rising. and the temperature starts to fall around 2040 as we enter the next ice age. (Try reading Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear'). The drive to reduce carbon emissions would continue though since we wouldn't be able to burn fossil fuels needed as raw materials.
  • Technology will continue to develop at an ever faster rate. Computers and nanotechnology especially. Look forward to a personal computer you can talk to, carry with you, display within your eyes and hear through your teeth!
  • The average intelligence of the population would increase slowly. A surprising number of 'Darwin Award' candidates would fail to breed.
  • Most medical staff apart from those dealing with accidents and research would be out of a job. An end perhaps to the ridiculous hours they work?
  • Retirement and pensions would be a thing of the past. The working week would be shorter and holidays longer.
  • There would be less 'haste' in everyday life. You now have 'plenty of time'.
  • Leisure demand would soar.
  • Drug companies would mostly convert to biotechnology, go out of business or convert to supplying chemical resources and producing food.
  • People would have an increased awareness of natural disasters and put more energy into averting them.
  • Languages would be less of a problem, people would have the time to learn them and eventually we could see a common language developing from bits of all.
  • Euthanasia centres would be accepted. Who wants to live a long and unhappy life?
  • We would run out of fossil fuels and resort to biotechnology, nanotechnology and asteroid mining to replace them. Biofuels from products such as corn would prove to be a dead end since the raw materials would be needed to produce food. Algae farming would become important.
  • What about religion? Do you think it would last through 1729 years of life?
Is it possible? According to Aubrey de Grey the first person to live to 1,000 is probably alive now. How would this come about? Well reading my earlier blog post Bio-terrorism and the cure for the common cold might give you a clue but if you want the details, you'll have to read our books.