Some futurists believe we are not far from a time when technology and medicine will be so advanced that humans need no longer die of old age or other natural causes.
Immortality, of the desirable kind, usually brings Heaven to mind. A great place to live, if the details are a bit obscure. But, as far as I have been told, the only technology involved is doing what God wants you to do, and then dying. So has Apple or Microsoft come up with a better way of getting to Heaven?
No, getting to Heaven isn’t the kind of immortality the new technology is all about. And immortality doesn’t quite mean eternal life either. It’s living on earth for a very long time --- until squids evolve to climb trees, as one writer put it.
People have two basic things in mind, plus various combinations. One is improved bodies and body parts --- livers that don’t wear out, brains that don’t blow up or slow down…. that sort of thing. In theory, at least, with biological improvements, a person could live on indefinitely.
The other technology is computational ---- we somehow upload ourselves into a computer, and techies keep us going indefinitely.
I think I would enjoy being in Heaven, looking down at all my “immortal” computer science colleagues, probably stuck in a warehouse in Hayward --- where Stanford keeps library books that aren’t read very much ---rather than on a cloud with a harp like me. A tech guy comes over from Stanford once a month to replace transistors, at least until the grant runs out. And maybe, just maybe, occasionally someone comes by to ask what they’ve been thinking. Or if they remember where they put the key to the boathouse. In the meantime, I’m playing my harp…
Okay, maybe there being a traditional heaven, much less me taking it there, isn’t too likely. Being uploaded and living on as a computer still strikes me as a terrible fate. How about the biological alternative?
I think it's a terrible idea, too. One thing the world isn’t short of is people. There are already too many. More are coming; the current biology seems quite adequate to keep up the supply. And the new ones are children --- cute, cuddly, teachable children. We’re supposed to quite having children, to make room for narcissistic old people? Let’s focus on feeding and educating children and making their eighty or ninety years on earth as happy as possible.
Maybe you agree that developing the technology of immortality is a bad public investment. Still, letting yourself think selflishly for a minute, wouldn’t you like to live forever? Or at least for an extra hundred years or so?
Well, frankly, I wouldn’t. What does that mean? In 2115 there would be someone occupying this body, full of or improved organs, having experiences and the like. I’m all for people having experiences in 2115. But I could care less that they are connected with this body. So let’s suppose in addition this someone will have vague memories of doing Philosophy Talk, even vaguer memories of growing up in Nebraska, and memories of putting forward long philosophical views that will have been refuted and/or forgotten by 2115. Why would I, now, care whether some person in 2115 has such weird memories?
In this scenario someone in 2015 meets the criteria for being someone who was born in 1943. But those criteria of personal identity are the basis of a concept for dealing with life as it evolved and as we know it. It’s silly to apply them in this altered scenario, and suppose they should have the same meaning for us.
I just want eighty plus years here on earth, hoping to move on before the Singularity or the Zombie Apocolypse, which may amount to the same thing. Call me a grouch.