I believe immortality is nearly within our grasp. I have mentioned this before, although it’s been so long that I blogged about it I can’t remember when it was. I also believe we need to start considering the issues related to indefinite life extension.
As I see it, there’s three ways one can live forever. The first, which is probably furthest off, is the development of an artificial body (an android, if you want to call it that) into which our entire nervous system is downloaded. This is problematic simply because the transference does not kill the original. In essence, there are now two of the downloaded person in existence. (Or more, if the transfer is done multiple times.) Now, some folks will be willing to commit suicide after they are copied, but I would think most would prefer to not die. The compromise is to make a copy on a regular basis so if the biological body does die, the artificial one can be activated (awoken?) with the latest copy.
The second approach is purely biological, and we are really working hard on this one. Recently, scientists grew and implanted new vaginas in some teenage girls who were born with deformed ones. The same group also did nostril tissue, but, well, I’m a dirty old man and that’s just not as exciting. Anyway, the point is they are making replacement body parts, even for stuff which came out bad to begin with. The implications are staggering. Sure, at first we’ll replace bad hearts and livers and things, which speaks more to the point of this blog in that it can potentially keep a body living pretty much indefinitely. If we can develop the downloading technology for the first method, we can transfer into a whole new biological body if the original dies.
It won’t take long before people want to replace perfectly good body parts just because they don’t like the old ones. Boob job, anyone? To hell with silicone implants, naturally oversized tits can be grown and seamlessly attached! Want to be a virgin again? We’ll replace your whole reproductive system! Which means yes, (1) older women can once again become pregnant and (b) transgender changes can be even more complete. Not to mention the advanced possibility of doing other engineering along the way like adding retractable claws or a tail or wings or anything else somebody can dream up.
The third route to immortality is something of a cross between the two. Somebody with keen powers of observation may have noticed I called the body in the first method an android as opposed to a cyborg. A cyborg, technically, is part human, part machine. The bionic experiments going on these days (forty years after the Six Million Dollar Man but still happening!) to give people prosthetic limbs that move by mental command of their owner, just like a natural limb would do.
Being who I am, I take this a few steps further. Sure, we could go down the custom body route again, that’s obvious. But I prefer to go down a microscopic trail to the much ballyhooed nanobots which science fiction has occasionally told tales about. I envision nanobots which keep a body free of disease and repair any damage done. This skips the lab and allows lost limbs, organs, whatever to be regrown on the body which lost them. This presents an interesting immortality concept: The body suffers a lethal wound, but the nanobots preserve the brain (and heal it if needed) while the lethal damage is repaired. Far-fetched? Yes. Might even still require the nervous system download / upload in extreme cases. But the foundation is being laid.
Now, consider for a moment the implications of all of this. You can have the exact appearance you want. You want die, at least not permanently. Women can get pregnant at any age. Population problem? Potentially. On the other hand, some of the problems attendant to overpopulation–hunger, disease, etc.–may be avoided by this engineering. Certainly, a pure cybernetic body would not likely need food or water, and the cyborg version might have ways of lowering the need for the same. There might even be an engineering purely biological way to reduce the need for sustenance. Or, by using the same technology, cheaply grow meat without growing full animals. (This is being experimented on, but there are strange ethical questions about it. I don’t get why people would shun eating lab grown meat, preferring to eat some slaughtered beast.) This might solve hunger problems in general, and certainly could to some degree mitigate some of the issues with overpopulation.
So living forever is potentially within our grasp. One scientist has stated the first person to live to be a thousand years old is alive today, and he said that a decade ago (give or take). Are you ready?