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Indefinite lifespan in our future; experts ponder responses
Dick Pelletier   May 25, 2014   Ethical Technology  

To begin this article on living longer, we focus on a fascinating TED talk where science writer David Duncan poses questions based on "When I'm 164".

 Next, popular futurist and resident 'smart guy' Ray Kurzweil sums up how technologies play out over the next two decades with this claim: "If you remain in good health for 20 more years, you may never die."

    Kurzweil looks at today's trends to piece together a convincing picture of what science hopes to accomplish in the future. He believes we will eliminate most disease, pain, and forgetfulness. "If you live well for the next 20 years," he says, "you may be able to live in perfect health for as long as you wish."

    Although accidents, crime, and other forms of violence, may still cause death in this future time, nobody will die from heart problems, cancer, diabetes, or most of the other age-related diseases.

    This future is not surprising considering the current speed of medical innovations. It seems just about every week, we hear researchers make fresh discoveries, or begin clinical trials for a new therapy; and over the next 20 years, experts say, healthcare breakthroughs will occur at even faster rates than today.

    In a recent Technology Review interview, Harvard genetics professor George Church forecasts a bright future for regenerative medicine using stem cells. Involved in the Personal Genome Project, a massive effort to sequence the genes of 100,000 people, Church sees an increase in doctors using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) to create replacement organs and tissues between now and 2030.

    These wonder cells could one day regenerate nearly every part of the human body, Church says. At first, the process will be used to make sick patients well, but it will soon become clear that people, who enjoy good health, will want these procedures to enhance and strengthen their already healthy bodies.

    Nanomedicine author Robert Freitas recently described the development of tiny nanorobots that can roam through our bodies and repair cell damage. "The hard part is building the first one", Freitas says; "although the progress may seem slow, nanorobots will one day become reality."

    Freitas compares nanomedicine development to the computer industry. It took 60 years of market-driven research to bring computers to their present state with today's 'smart' cell-phones, laptops and tablets; and we will see a similar, but more rapid progression with medical nanorobots.

    "This revolutionary nanoscience," Freitas says, "is in beginning stages of producing bio robots now. Next will be hybrid robots built from engineered structural DNA, synthetic proteins, and other non-biological materials. Finally, by early 2030s or before, researchers will produce completely artificial devices: nanorobots capable of protecting every cell in the body from disease, injury; and even aging."

    In just 20 years, seniors and 'boomers might look in the mirror wondering, "Who is that gorgeous creature?" Their reflection would reveal a perfectly-shaped body with natural hair color, wrinkle-free skin, real teeth, and a powerful body with reinforced muscles.

    Even though our lives will improve immensely, extending human lifespans beyond what some consider 'natural' may evoke controversy. Religions hold that death is inevitable; that living a good life sends believers to an afterlife paradise, and memories of lost loved ones live on in the hearts of descendents.

 ‚Äč   Science essayist G. Stolyarov II discusses the future of religious worldviews in a society where human longevity increases indefinitely and death is no longer perceived as inevitable. Stolyarov argues that religions evolve, too, and; to survive; they will need to adapt to the reality of radically longer lifespans.

    Nevertheless, experts believe this controversy will not stop efforts to extend health and increase human lifespan. Demand from citizens who believe they deserve improved health and longer, happier lives, will drive this future forward; and it could become reality in time to benefit most people alive today.

    Will abilities to extend life progress like this? Stem cell advances, genetic breakthroughs, and nanotech discoveries are occurring almost daily. Humanity's dream of immortality could be just around the corner!

Images:
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Time-160158880
http://www.deviantart.com/art/time-45690159
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Time-174763345


Dick Pelletier
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.



COMMENTS

Sheesh, once again I have to become the voice of reason about this: “Indefinite lifespans” cannot possibly arrive in this century because every year between now and 2100 lies within someone’s current life expectancy. You can’t tell if you’ve achieved a breakthrough any faster than the rate at which humans already happen to live.

Yet transhumanists keep publishing these completely nonsensical forecasts that we’ll “become immortal” by arbitrary dates like 2045. I feel pretty confident in saying that “immortality” doesn’t mean living to 2045. You really need to look up actuarial tables and figure out how they work, because 10 year olds have the lowest probability of dying per year. If you could stay 10 years old indefinitely, actuarially speaking, you could have odds of 1 out of 2 of living about 7,000 years. That sounds impressive, but it doesn’t mean you’ll “live forever.” Though we have no way of knowing now if this figure makes any empirical sense unless it eventually happens thousands of years from now and someone makes note of the fact.

Immortality sounds great, but not in this world. At the age of 64, I am a reformed optimist. Back when I was a teenager I couldn’t wait for the 21st century to arrive ( Star Trek enthusiast).  Well, we are in the 21st century and I must say it’s as bad, if not worse, than the last. So, I have no desire living forever in the world as it is. Mankind is determined to continue down the road of corruption and violence that it has for thousands of years before it. No thanks!
Next is, it’s just plain stupid. Unless you have incredible population control, you would have a massive amount of starving people and in time no place to live or grow food. Again, one more reason to have nothing to do with this idiotic idea. Can we all say government dictatorship??!
Lastly, God has a plan for real immortality where the only people around will be transformed people who love one another will live in peace with each other. As for the ones who decide to reject His plan, sadly they just won’t be around.



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