There has been some renewed interest again by various online media outlets about the use of nanotechnology to greatly extend the human lifespan. It has even been said by some futurist commentators that the possibility is there for such advances to be made within the next 30 or 40 years.
Looking into this more has certainly given me far greater incentive to start living a healthier lifestyle I have to say – because in the end, I may not just be adding three or four years onto my life span by doing so.
Of course, things aren’t all positive when one considers the world of nanotechnology. Firstly, it is incredibly difficult to properly judge just how quickly progress will be made in these areas, as it is often the case that further insight and knowledge brings with it an understanding that the problem is even more complex then initially anticipated.
If we look past the relatively short time frame given by people such as Ray Kurzweil though, then we can be pretty sure that such technologies will eventuate – we just don’t really know when. This brings up a whole lot of ethical issues and possible downsides that need to be considered.
There are a whole plethora of possible consequences that could emerge from widespread use of nanotechnology. A good article I found today over at The Miami Herald highlights quite a few possible scenarios and concerns, and is well worth a read to familiarise yourself with them. The thought of such technology being used for warfare or terrorist activity is truly frightening, as are the ‘robots on the rampage’ type scenarios like the one used by Michael Crichton in his book Prey.
But we’ve got plenty of time to explore such things in later posts, and I certainly will be doing so. So what about immortality in particular then? Would you, given the chance, want to accept such an existence?
Obviously, the use of nanotechnology cannot make us invincible – so there certainly would still be many deaths from accidental trauma, violence, suicide and other such avenues. Even then, however, the population explosion will quite clearly be a massive cause for concern. I’m not just thinking environmentally here either, because I do presume that advances in technology will greatly decrease humanities impact on our environment as a whole. I’m thinking along more social cohesion lines.
Think of the impact that a greatly extended lifespan would have on aspects of our lives such as family, friendships, work, life satisfaction. The more I think about it, the more changes that I can foresee having an absolutely huge impact.
Divorce rates are already rising to very high levels in many parts of the world. If our lives were extended three, four or even five times then we can be assured that the common idea of marriage for life will quickly become outdated as fewer and fewer people will actually achieve such a thing.
Consider now what a drastically increased lifespan would do to our prison and legal systems. How much of a deterrent is a three or four year stint in prison for a crime going to be if we can live to be 500? Will prison sentences be extended accordingly, and if so what happens then when the numbers of those incarcerated increases as a result? With true immortality, the prison system will have to be completely overhauled.
The effect on our spiritual traditions will be immense, and indeed there will no doubt be quite a large backlash from many religious movements that will see any such long-term extension of the human lifespan as unnatural. So what happens with the divide between those who accept such bio-therapies and does who do not?
At first, it seems like a simple matter of free choice. If you wish to live life unassisted by modern medical advancements then you will be allowed to do so – but how do you compete at a job interview with somebody who has 150 years more experience then you? This is just one very simple example of the difficulties that are going to arise between those who extend their lives and those who don’t (or possibly even can’t).
The whole exercise of considering these implications has really gripped me, as it will truly make a staggering amount of difference to the very core of our social fabric.
Will you be the first in line for such technology when it becomes mainstream? Or are you more skeptical about it? Personally, I just hope to live long enough to get to make the decision…