I came across this lecture given by science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer on his views of the future, particularly transhumanism and the future of humanity. The talk was called “Humanity 2.0” and I thought his views were interesting and I might almost agree with some of them, especially given my own science fiction universe.
But I don’t.
Now he talks a good game and makes a lot of interesting points about the mechanics if living forever. Given the current rate of medical advancement, within the next 30-50 years it should be technically possible to give mankind effective eternal life, where you can fix the degradation of the physical person faster than it can fall apart and maintain the body at some optimal level of operation. I’m not disagreeing with that, it’s clear that it will happen at some point, in fact, in my sci-fi universe, it’s been possible for people to live effectively forever for a very, very long time.
However, what I think that Sawyer and many other transhumanists don’t recognize is that most people just won’t want to live forever. In fact, I think these people misunderstand just how long forever actually is. Even 1000 years is a very, very long time to be around. Mostly, I think they take a very Utopian (read socialist) view of the future, where people don’t actually have to do anything, they don’t actually have any responsibilities, they don’t have to work, they can just go wherever they want and see whatever they want and do whatever they want and the money to do so just comes out of some magical purse, probably provided by the government.
Yet I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I think man is going to have to continue to work, continue to earn a living, no matter how far into the future you go. Instead of someone working 25-30 years of their lives and retiring, you’ll have people working forever. Can you imagine working at your current job forever? Forever is a mighty long time. Would you want to work there forever? Or even for a millennium? How about a century? Even assuming that you can, and almost certainly would, move around to many different careers throughout your eternal life, eventually you’ll run out, after all, we are talking about forever here. Then what? Even if you could just travel around and see the universe, you’ll still eventually run out of things to see and do. You will get bored. Boredom leads to loss of zest for life. Eventually, you’re going to want to die.
That’s what I realized when effective eternal life became possible in my universe. There are drugs that people can, and do, take that extend their lives virtually infinitely. The drugs, combined with integral nanomachines, will lock your body down at the age at which you start taking them and so long as you continue to take your dose (and there are a variety of ways to get them, including an automatic surgically-installed pump that keeps them going effectively forever). If you start taking them at 25, you will be 25 for as long as you want to be 25. If you want to be 35, you can stop taking the drugs, wait until they flush out of your system, age to 35, then start taking them again. People can live for as long as they want to live.
The thing is, the average “natural” lifespan in my universe is between 200-250 years. I say “natural” because people certainly die younger due to accident, etc., but those who live full lives and die of natural causes, 200-250 is the average lifespan. Why? Because people get tired of living so long. They run out of things to do or see or learn. Sure, you get a relative few who go on longer, there are some who make it to 500 or 1000, but virtually none beyond that, mostly because the most reliable technology hasn’t been around all that much longer than that. On average, people kind of give up after a while, stop taking the drugs and either life out the rest of their natural lives, or kill themselves when they get really tired of living.
I honestly don’t think that the majority of transhumanists would act any differently if they were really in the situation they claim to want. Their eyes are bigger than their metaphorical stomachs, they think they want to live forever, but they’re looking at it from the standpoint of a species that lives an average of 85-90 years. Sure, they want to live longer, I just don’t think they want to live forever and ever.
If you’re interested, here’s Sawyer’s talk, it’s just under an hour and he’s a really interesting speaker. Take some time to see what he says.