A number of emails, articles, and recent announcements came together that made me again revisit the notion of man’s dream of physical immortality. What if there were developed a pill that would genomically and/or proteomically rejuvenate a person, and taking such a pill every so many years would keep him going indefinitely? It seems to me that such a pill, or even a more complex rejuvenation procedure, would put the continued existence of humanity at risk.
A friend and former colleague, Dr Keith Dutton, just informed me that the company that he coufounded – Lively - was successful in closing a second round of funding, and is now off to the races. Lively offers a system that enables single older folks to continue living alone and maintaining their independence over a greater span of their life, thereby fulfilling a basic desire by all of us to maintain the homeostasis of normalcy for as long as possible. Nevada County probably has a lot of customers for such a system.
Then there’s all the buzz on how education delivery is moving online (see RR posts on MOOCs and all the universities starting to offer their curricula over the internet). The more important part of that is the efforts of older workers and even retired people who are enrolling in these courses to keep learning more stuff, develop additional skillsets to sell in the workforce, and to continue the never-ending pursuit of fulfillment. The age cutoff for retiring from a stimulating life seems to be rapidly disappearing.
My old pal Dr Larry Press at CSUDH (professor of information technologies) has been a longtime promoter of all things internet and networking. His blog is a good resource for keeping up with the latest in everything from network applications to distance learning. Apropos to living a longer and much more productive life, Larry’s 23sep13 entry introduces us to FutureLearn, a collaboration of a group of UK universities. “Their slogan is 'Learning for life', indicating a focus on students who are not seeking credit and degrees. That audience may turn out to be more important than traditional university students -- more lucrative and more beneficial to society.”
During these pre-Singularity years the pursuit of life extension (cum immortality) is reaching the entrepreneurial levels of business activity. Early evangelists like Ray Kurzweil are now being joined by start-ups like Calico (California Life Corporation) which Google has announced as its latest business venture (more here). Actually, since Kurzweil joined Google, their investment in Calico is probably his doing.
Lazarus Long is a virtual immortal who rejuvenates by the functional equivalent of periodically taking a pill. In Time Enough, as a multi-millennial, he finally wants to die. Long belongs to a secret society that owns this technology, and thereby expands a lively discussion of what would happen to humanity were this technology known to and then demanded by the great masses. Not a pretty picture – after all, if children are to be born then the old are to die, otherwise there will be insurmountable problems. In some ways we are approaching similar problems with our universal and ever expanding welfare system, as the part of America that no longer even seeks work continues to grow while enjoying a quite acceptable quality of life being supported by others.
In Childhood’s End we see the reaction to enforced global peace and dissolution of human creativity, utopia manifest, and the termination of all reproductive rights – and wrongs. The last generation of the world’s children leave their parents and humanity behind as they prepare to join the galactic (cosmic?) Overmind. Such an existence and pointless future becomes unbearable for the left behind adults, and some intellectually advanced communities begin committing mass suicide. Be careful what you ask for?
But both Clark and Heinlein considered extended existence and materially abundant life only in the context of a human mentality in stasis – people with the perceptions, needs, and wants with which we all are familiar. But under various belief systems and studies of esoteric knowledge, Man has already demonstrated that he can radically change his perspective of what is, and change his lifestyle accordingly.
As machine and Man continue melding their minds – a process already well under way with ubiquitous internet connectivity – our mentality will be in anything except stasis. At a minimum, this can be said for the cognitive class that understands the current art of the possible, and recognizes the vast experiential fields that will open as we get ever closer to the Singularity.
In the advent of all this, the old order will not depart quietly. And yet, how can it co-exist with the coming immortals whose universe will not be the one in which we have always lived?