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Is extinction in your future?
Mike Treder   Jan 26, 2010   Ethical Technology  

In the next 24 hours, more than 150,000 individual humans will become extinct. Over the past three decades, upwards of 1.6 billion people have disappeared from the Earth forever.

Death is tragic, robbing us of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, teachers, artists, friends, leaders, and companions.

But it’s not just humans who are being lost:

“We are predicting the extinction of about two-thirds of all bird, mammal, butterfly and plant species by the end of the next century, based on current trends.” - Peter H. Raven (1999), former President of AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Of course, there is a difference between the actual extinction of a whole species and the individual loss of a human life. Whether you consider one more tragic than the other depends, perhaps, on how close you were to the person who died.

Beyond that, it is not just individuals who die—and not only species of plants and animals that become extinct—but also ideas and trends.

Here is an interesting chart that attempts to place a number of different extinction events, circa 1950 to 2050, together on one timeline.


(click to open PDF)

From SMALLPOX and the BERLIN WALL in the recent past, to POST OFFICES and GLACIERS in the near future, extinction is all around us.

But is there hope for the extinction of death itself? The chart includes DEATH as one of the things that should be expected to become extinct within the foreseeable future, along with COINS, KEYS, NATION STATES, and UGLINESS.

Unfortunately, there is no specific date listed for death’s departure. It’s still speculative as to when—or even if—we can put the grave into the grave. Will that time come soon enough to save you, or me?

Let’s just hope we won’t miss the boat.


Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


Will that time come soon enough to save you, or me? Let’s just hope we won’t miss the boat.

Mike, you and I are over 50. We will probably miss this boat.

Of course there is the possibility of unexpected acceleration fueled by new unexpected breakthroughs. If this happens, and if we manage to stay in good health until our 90s, why not. Or perhaps, we will be able to use cryonics to transport ourselves to a time where death is optional.

This may well happen. I am not very optimist though.

But this does not stop me from feeling happy for our children or grandchildren, who will have the option to avoid death and take part in a beautiful cosmic adventure.

I would tend to think that people accomplish more when they know their years are numbered. (Accomplish more per period of time, that is.)

I hate to sound negative and this is not the intention - is it possible that old age and death are intractable to science and these things are beyond scientific endeavor however much science develops, it will come up against its limit to what it can achieve in these and cryonised humans can never be revived nor normal humans kept alive beyond a limit of about 120 or so?

@Pervez: of course old age and death could be too difficult to overcome with current or foreseeable technologies, and we might have to wait millennia instead of decades.

But intractable to science and beyond scientific endeavor however much science develops? There are no such things, not if we want to be coherent with our science based worldview.

Note that more and more futurists (including recently WFS) put the longevity escape velocity around 2025, only 15 years away. So there’s still hope even for 50+ yo people. LEV is not end of death, but it’s a good stepping stone.
Nothing is intractable to science, and certainly not aging. Some species, who share a lot of genes with us, have longer lifespans, while others even closer to us have short lifespans.

Humans are infinite With the correct advancements humans will be forever biologically invincible.

>Unfortunately, there is no specific date listed for death’s departure. It’s still speculative as to when:or even if:we can put the grave into the grave. Will that time come soon enough to save you, or me?

A faint hope Mike.  The incremental biological approach to life extension can’t achieve anything other than small gains in health and longevity -  Past age 60, your continued existence is highly precarious, life expectancy tables show a huge drop in survival rates from 60-75, with 75 being the likely end of you.  Even if you eliminated the major dieases of aging and enjoyed a perfect healthy life-style (diet, exercise etc) you’d only get an extension of 10 years at best.  So even big medical breakthroughs can’t push the lifespan much over 85.  Past age 85, you are statistically an extreme outlier.

Only an astonishing breakthrough of extreme proportions could overcome death.  Basically, you’d need SAI (super-human artificial intelligence).  Without SAI there is no chance of overcoming death in our lifetime. But without unexpected extreme brilliance from a person/group , I think that the task of coding a super-intelligence will take us another 60 years at least if the normal course of incremental science proceeds (as is probable) .

Immortalists who think that cryo will save them are engaging in fantasy.  Even for those lucky enough to be signed up (difficult and expensive for anyone living outside the USA)  if death is sudden it is doubtful whether your body could be put in cryo fast enough, or if it would remain safely in storage long enough, immune to existential disasters , economic problems or social upheaval outside the cryo facilities. 

Mike, our lives will be lost.  All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.

I think all indications from scientific developments are that old age and death should be tractable to science but even if this is not within our life times it is a worthy thing for future generations. However it would be nice to see them do this to greater degree on animals not just yeast to make a convincing case. Nothing bigger than bacteria has had its life extended or been revived yet from freezing.

@Marc You are being very pessimistic. Current life expectancy is already higher than your figures. My grand-parents died at the earliest in their late 70s or early 80s, and one is still alive into her late 80s. Yet they lived through harder times (WWII, for one) with less advanced medicine or food recommendation. Barring some statistically low-probability incident, I should live at least as long as them, and with business as usual progress my own life expectancy should be around 90. This leaves a long time for breakthroughs in life extension (but also for existential risks).


Some transhumanists like to point to fit seniors (e.g George Bush senior for instance) but these examples, while offering some hope, are statistical outliers,  statistically it is very unlikely you will do as well.  The truth is most people have health problems of one sort or another after 70, which limits them to some degree.  85 or so is a strong natural barrier, some level of dementia is inevitable after this age, and the heart starts to fail naturally.

Most of the gains of life expectancy last century were due to reductions in infant mortality rather than actual life extension.  ‘Modern’ medicine is actually still quite limited, you are still largely at the mercy of your genes (‘playing genetic roulette every day’ to quote Bill Clinton).

Best be philosophical, watch this You Tube video:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die”

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