Anders Sandberg's Letter to the Financial Times

Anders Sandberg - long-time contributer to the general verve of the transhumanist community and now a part of the Future of Humanity Institute - responded to a rather deary, dreadful pro-death-and-suffering column in the Financial Times with the following letter (via the IEET blog):

In his column "Why immortality would be a dead loss for humanity" (February 28) Richard Tomkins worries that a longer healthy lifespan would leave us in a boring, risk-averse society. Most evidence shows that the people who today reach high age tend to be interested in life and willing to do new things. It is unlikely that will change with better medicine except that more people will be healthy and vigorous. Longer lives might induce us to more long-range planning, but that is hardly a drawback.

Ageing and death deprives society of tremendous values and knowledge, while healthier lives provide society with increased experience, labour, consumers and producers. Longer lives would be a tremendous boon to economic growth. As shown in Measuring the Gains from Medical Research: An Economic Approach, the value of improvements in life expectancy is about as large as the value of all other consumption goods and services put together: the total value of the increased longevity that took place from 1970 to 1990 has been enormous, in the order of $2,800bn a year in the US. The sheer economic power of a more long-lived society might be a strong stimulus for adventure and growth, especially among the young who seek new niches rather than compete with their elders.

Even if successful anti-ageing would cause serious social problems, confound the religious, upset the current pattern of life (which is fairly recent, historically speaking) and cause more divorces, it might still be worth doing. Would these problems be so horrific that it is better to sacrifice more than 100,000 lives a day worldwide to avoid them? It seems unlikely.

As for life as a story with a beginning, middle and end, it is well worth remembering that there are short stories and epics. Would you rather be a Harlequin romance or Lord of the Rings?

If you like life and health, and I suspect that most of us do, more of both is a wonderful thing. We can hope that advocates for healthy life extension only have to repeat the stunningly obvious so many times before it sinks in - the ongoing toll of death and suffering is terrible, staggering, but we are entering an era in which we are within reach of preventing this horror. There is no need for self-protective justification of the inevitable any more; we should be moving towards working anti-aging medicine with the greatest haste possible.

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