Depending on your age, religion, philosophy or personal beliefs, this story may sound like the best news ever or an absolute horror show. Still, with the continuing march of scientific advances it’s a subject which our younger readers may need to be preparing for in their own lifetimes. Will medical science soon allow you to become immortal, or at least live vastly longer than anyone has up until now outside of Biblical times? According to Ray Kurzweil, such a thing may be right around the corner. (Yahoo News)
When rock band Queen asked us “Who wants to live forever?” back in 1986, we interpreted it as standard lyrical rhetoric. But now, three decades and what feels like light years in technological, medical, and scientific advances later, the answer to that age-old question may have changed. And according to Ray Kurzweil, the famous American inventor who has been described as the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” we’re nearing immortality.
As the man responsible for the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer, and much more, Kurzweil has a knack for spotting trends and anticipating the future. And if history is any indication (and his word stays true), we may be in for a long, long lifetime.
In an episode of PBS’s News Hour last week, Kurzweil noted that death, which he describes as “a great robber of meaning, of relationships, of knowledge,” will soon be conquered. Indeed, the futurist notes, our species will soon be able to defeat disease and degeneration, and live “indefinitely.”
I hear a lot about these developments in alternative media sources and the debates are epic. One of the biggest questions we should all be asking is whether or not this is simply a vision of medical science where all disease is eliminated or if they can actually stop (or even reverse) the aging process. If the former, then you may not get sick, but you’re still going to be very, very old with most of the problems that entails. And what about brain function? Would you want to live to be 200 years old and beyond if you were effectively senile?
And even if the aging process can be halted, at what point will we be able to do it? Stopping aging when you’re in the prime of life probably sounds wonderful, but would you want to live forever as an octogenarian? Something tells me I wouldn’t enjoy that very much.
But even if we could all stop in our twenties or thirties and go on forever and ever, would you want to? It just seems to me that aging and death are simply the way life is designed and the end is every bit as natural as the beginning. Wouldn’t you eventually get bored? The religious implications are obvious as well. What do you believe happens next after you die? (If anything) Are you willing to miss out on that and would such an escape hatch be considered sinful in the eyes of your Creator? I might have answered these questions differently as a young man compared to my attitude as I approach the sixty year mark, but I find it all quite unsettling. And don’t even get me started on the overpopulation problems which would arise, not to mention questions of whether this would be available to everyone or only the rich and powerful. This could be a disaster in the making.
Also, I still have to wonder if we’re standing on the shoulders of giants and diving into things which we may not yet fully understand. (And even some of the accepted assumptions we’re working from may turn out to be wrong.) How much do we really know about our own genetic structure at this point? Sure, we can draw a map and provide identification in criminal proceedings. In a few cases we can even identify a tendency toward certain diseases and attempt to ward them off early. That’s all great, but there’s the equivalent of trillions of bytes of data hiding in our DNA and the best scientists in the field admit they don’t know what all of them do or how they interact if we mess around with them. Just recently we saw one lab determine that we actually have at least 19 segments of non-human DNA in our operating system. (You’ve also probably got a fair bit of Neanderthal DNA mixed in you as well.)