There’s been a lot of speculation about rejuvenation and longevity on the sites I’ve been reading during this month. Medical technology continues to relentlessly advance–today’s speculation, tomorrow’s reality. So what do I think about this? More accurately, since I’ve been thinking about it for a very long time, what have I thought about this?
Like many nerds, I grew up with an overdeveloped love of the future and early on I was very intrested in science and science fiction. In some stories I read, there were frozen corpses that were revived to active life by advanced technology. But it wasn’t until the late eighties, after I had just graduated from college, that I learned of the way this might actually be done: nanoscopic robots would repair the ice damaged cells, atom by atom. Anyway, this was a revelation to me and I began reassess my young life. Or more accurately, certain trends that I already begun had became more magnified.
I was always a very risk-averse person and the prospect of living long enough to see these rejuvenation breakthroughs only gave me a rationale for the rather timid lifestyle I had already chosen. I was already obssessed with the impact my life in the post-industrial world had on the environment. I had, as many young nerds often do, assumed that breeding in the suburbs just wasn’t the lifestyle for me. I began to think about the stories of I’ve read, the threats and cautions that were made.
The Risk of Overpopulation
I think this one is pretty hollow. First off, rejuvenation is going to be expensive and limited to start with. This means that it’s going to be limited to people who probably don’t breed a lot anyway. There is a very strong correlation between high standards of living and low birth rate, just look at the richer parts of Europe, North America or Asia. If most of your material needs, and desires, are met and, if you have the prospect for a very long and very healthy life, you might be less inclined towards making vague replacements for yourself. What may happen is the stereotypical disinclination towards commitment found in youth may combine with the stereotypical jadedness of adulthood. Making children requires both commitment and a vague faith that they will have it better than you did. These two motivations may be missing in long-lived, perpetually young people. They may remember what it was like to raise children and decide that it’s no longer that interesting. Their rejuvenated brains may not have the patience that child raising requires. I could be wrong but I think that population will stabilize and perhaps slowly begin to decline (Given disasters, war, etc.) after longevity and rejuvenation become common.
The Treatments will be Restricted to the Rich.
Initially this will be true but, costs will eventually decline. There is also a key thing that alarmists fail to note: social entitlements for the infirm elderly are expensive. Governments around the world will find it cheaper to subsidize rejuvenation treatments to the elderly then to continue stipends, pensions and other entitlements. “Well, you have two choices: Stay old and on the public dole or take this treatment and go back to work again.” Some may take the former for religious reasons but, I think many, perhaps most, will take the latter. Eventually most of us, even in the developing world, will have access to rejuvenation simply because it’s cheaper to have healthy young citizens than an aging, infirm population.
It will Warp Our Minds and Our Society
This one is tricky and has no easy answers. Sometimes the most pervasive and persistent effects on society are also the most subtle and unexpected. Who, in the XIX century, could have imagined the decline in birthrates as contraceptive technology, woman’s rights, women’s affluence and improved education became common? Will long life destroy ambition? Will the hormones of rejuvenated brains revert us to foolish show offs? Or will it just be more of the same? Will we go through centuries long phases making and discarding whole lifestyles endlessly? Will it turn us into nihilistic suicides? Will it make us so afraid of risk that technical progress stops?
But What About Me, Personally?
Well, I haven’t signed up for Alcor just yet but, then I don’t even have health insurance. At this point I think the later is more important for my survival than the former. Still, I’ve seen a lot of friends and relatives die of old age over these last forty years. What makes me hesitate in some of these choices is that I am afraid what my friends, family and strangers will think. Do I really want the controversy of Ted Williams? Will my friends think I am monumentally selfish for wanting this? Will it affect my employment prospects if my bosses learn of my eccentric choices?
So currently I am avoiding making certain decisions. This is a normal pattern for me. I continue to try to take good care of myself but I really haven’t publicly and loudly declared my commitment to belief that rejuvenation will be commonplace within the next few decades. I suppose if I were really consistent, I’d have myself sterilized and council others to do likewise but, I’m not much of leader or converter. I’m a ranter but these rants are mostly irritating, boring compliants lacking any personal commitment to fix the world. Making commitments and decisions is very hard for me. I fear and dislike giving up options. But I’ve known about these technological potentials for a long time and, now that things are building up, maybe it’s time I take some public and firm choices.
As said, I’m a nerd. I’ve been waiting for the future for a long time. Now that it’s beginning to show up, perhaps I should jump into it.