Printed: 2019-06-16

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Will you die?

Mike Treder

Ethical Technology

August 18, 2011

About 150,000 people will die today. You might die tomorrow. Or, perhaps, you will end up living for a very long time.

What are your personal expectations for lifespan prolongation? Will technologies for radical life extension arrive soon enough to keep you alive for centuries or more? If they don’t, are you counting on cryonics to resurrect you someday? Or are you resigned to a permanent death within a more or less normal human lifespan?
Throughout the entire era of human existence—a hundred thousand years, give or take—every person who has ever lived has had to face the prospect of death within, if they were lucky, threescore and ten years. Many died much sooner than that, of course.

nanobotsAs medical technology has advanced, and as education, nutrition, and sanitation practices have improved, the average human lifespan has gradually lengthened, especially within the last century or so. But still today, the longest that any person can aspire to live, if they get all the breaks, is barely more than a hundred years.

Is that enough for you, or would you like more? Do you expect you’ll get more?

The hope for transhumanists in 2011 is that the science of biogerontology—potentially combined with rapid progress in techniques for using smart ‘nanobots’ to clean out our arteries or fix our degraded cells—will soon lead to a new era of widely available radical life extension. IEET Fellow Aubrey de Grey, a leading expert in the field, has predicted that the first person to live to be 1000 years old will be born in the next twenty years.

If that doesn’t happen quickly enough for you or me, then maybe we can have our bodies (or just our heads) cryonically “preserved” and possibly reanimated at some point in the future.

Another hypothesized route to immortality is the idea of having your personality “uploaded” to a computer before you die, so that the essence of you will live on for centuries or for eons. You might, theoretically, be able to have your mind implanted into an advanced robot, giving you a superior body that can be upgraded and made to last for a very long time indeed.

Perhaps, though, you regard yourself as more of a realist. You might think you already are too old and that none of this will arrive soon enough for you to benefit from it. Maybe after hearing these exciting promises for such a long time, you’ve concluded that all they are is promises, which probably never will be realized.

Which are you? A hard-headed realist or a dreamy optimist? Are you fatally resigned to death and oblivion? Or do you believe science and technology actually will give you a chance to achieve functional immortality?

We’ve just opened a new poll for IEET readers that asks these questions and that divides the audience into two groups: those under 35 years old, and those over 35. It will be interesting to see whether expectations differ significantly depending on how old you are now.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837