Living Long as an Ageless Individual

The latest Rejuvenation Research journal issue is available online. Down a way in the contents list, there's one page commentary on gender that can be read in its entirety provided you're fine with small print:

Life span [will be] limited even in biologically immortal individuals. Death can still occur from causes other than aging such as accident, extrinsic disease, murder, suicide, etc. Due to these factors, the statistical probability of extending life by eliminating aging has been estimated to range from as little as 700 years to a few thousand. Because women tend to take fewer risks than men, estimates for their survival are double those for men. Some authors speculate that because of future developments in medicine and technology, the risk for death can be even more significantly reduced, making it possible to extend human life for as much as 50,000 years. This estimate is obviously the extreme, but for argument's sake let's say it may be possible for cautious, biologically immortal individuals living conservative lifestyles to survive for 10,000 years or so before succumbing to a deadly contagion or catastrophic accident.

Which initially suggests that a world of ageless individuals would be largely a world of women - though by the time agelessness is a going concern, I'd imagine that ad hoc gender transformation and selection will also be practical going concerns. Which is not to mention options beyond the traditional male or female duality, or elective alteration of mental traits such as appetite for risk, decoupling the mind from its biological influences. It's entertaining to take narrow slices of the future and ask how things would change is that one slice stood alone, but the future is a monolith - we'll get the potential for all of these outcomes of biotechnology at once, not one at a time.

From where I stand, the technology needed to reduce risk for a standard issue human far enough to enable 50,000 years of life free from fatal occurrences would have to be some fairly advanced stuff - or at least that is so if the individuals in question intend to live free-range and interesting lives. Safety devices and autonomous watchdogs guided by strong artificial intelligences with millisecond reaction times and long planning horizons spring to mind. That sort of thing will be emerging within a hundred years at the present rate of development, but alongside will come the opportunity to stop being a standard issue human - a fragile package of tissue. The most robust way to reduce risk with the foreseeable high technology of the century ahead seems to be, to me at least, to transform the body rather than strive to protect it.

Your risk of fatality for any given activity is a function of your human physiology. Once the research and development community has achieved the goal of practical biotechnologies for the repair and reversal of aging, that will give us all a few hundred years of life in comparative statistical safety. Technological progress will continue across that long period of time, and I can't imagine that much of the toolkit needed for the next step in long-term risk reduction will remain beyond the human civilizations of the 2200s. Your own personal preferences for that next step will no doubt vary, but I would get my neurons replaced - slowly, one at a time over time, to ensure continuity of the self - with some form of much more robust, easily maintained nanoscale machinery.


Physical distribution of the self across many disparate locations is in fact the key point when it comes to considering risk over the long term. Locations have much the same issues with time, probability and bad events as people do. Meteorites happen, as do landslides, earthquakes, war, and volcanoes. The way to reduce your location-based risk dramatically is to spread out. You might imagine a wireless brain, using whatever the most robust communications technology of the time happens to be, scattered in a thousand separate machine bodies or vehicles across a continent, or even the whole planet.


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Posted by: Joe at December 23rd, 2011 3:58 AM

The coming post-mortal society will be composed of ageless "young adults". It will be similar to SoCal in the late 80's or Tokyo in the 90's. At least it will be similar to the versions of these that I personally experienced. For all practical purposes, I have already lived in a "post-mortal" society and have been quite happy with it. The deathist bioethics people who think radical life extension is bad are way off base in their attitudes.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at December 23rd, 2011 8:31 AM

Mark Steyn and other social conservatives wax on and on about the "birth-dearth" problem, about how too few people are having kids to sustain the social welfare systems that have been constructed for "old age" entitlements. It seems to me that radical life extension will solve both the birth-dearth problem as well as eliminate the need for "old age" entitlements. It seems to me those who wax about these problems, like Mark Steyn, are like the people who complained about the accumulation of horse manure on city streets in 1900, not realizing that the automobile was just around the corner.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at December 25th, 2011 12:02 PM
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