Friday, 8 March 2013

What if science discovered a way to stop and reverse ageing?


If humans were immortal...

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Let's suppose a medical research team did discover a way of reversing old age and the effects of illness, effectively making people immortal. What should they do with their 'fix'?
  1. Should they sell it at a huge price so that only the rich could afford it?
  2. Should they make it freely available to everyone by using a life virus to infect everyone it comes in contact with?
  3. Should they make it available for a small fee to anyone who wants it on condition they are sterilized first?
  4. Should immortality be reserved for those who have proved they deserve it?
  5. Should they hide their discovery in fear of the chaos it would cause?
I think you'll agree that option 1 is just simply wrong. The only way it would be successful would be for the discovery to remain a top secret. Once the knowledge got out - and it would get out - those who had benefited would be universally hated and would die at the hands of a mob probably.
Option 2 takes away the right of people to choose. There would be some who would say that this was playing God and was just wrong. Expect riots from these people. Another group would resent their lack of choice and would press for assisted suicide programs - who wants to live a long and unhappy life?
Can you see option 3 being popular? What if the 'fix' undid the sterilization. Would people pay to have this reversed once they were immortal?
Who chooses the 'worthy' in option 4? What if you are a worthy individual but never got a chance to prove it?
Would any doctor agree to option 5? Isn't the whole purpose of medicine to extend human life? Do people have the moral right to hide such a discovery?
In our book A Vested Interest - Immortality Gene the story chooses option 2. If the story in 'A Vested Interest' were to become reality, just 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 I found 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. No longer would we feel the need to have children to help us in our old age. 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. Meat would be cultured from cells taken from living animals.
  • 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 might 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?
  • 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 colonized; 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 realize 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 or nullifying their effects.
  • 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 centers 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.
  • Meat (and leather) would be grown from cells extracted from living animals rather than from slaughtered animals. It would cost less and be better for the environment. Those animals still seen in the countryside, would be there to keep open grassland.
Is it possible? According to Aubrey de Grey the first person to live to 1,000 is probably alive now.

What's your view? Which of the five options above do you think would be chosen - or can you think of a sixth?

3 comments:

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