When I was much younger, the fact that one day I’d be here, and the very next I would just disappear without any trace (maybe a little one) would keep me up at night. While it still does, it is largely overshadowed by much more pressing thoughts such as my mathematics semester exam performance. And for any of you out there that have experienced the same (no, not the mathematics part), this article might help put things into perspective.
Silicon Valley for some time now has had a love affair with immortality, and is spending millions of dollars on finding a fix to our eventual date with the Grim Reaper. So if they do succeed, how would it transform our society?
That would depend on the nature of immortality in question. The two types of immortality that seem most likely are medical immortality and digital immortality.
An anti-ageing form of immortality would indicate that medicine evolves to such an extent that no one dies due to natural causes such as old age or diseases. This would go against the notion of immortality present in all of our minds though, as we could still die from unnatural causes like murders and accidents.
Medical immortality though, wouldn’t be available to everyone since it would definitely be the most valuable commodity. Only the richest of the richest would be able to afford it, hence only widening of the gap between the rich and the poor.
There would be no reason for the people responsible for auctioning out immortality to decrease its price, since people would be willing to pay any amount to prevent their death and the deaths of their loved ones, leading to absurd and eternal debts. Restricting its access to only the richest would surely lead to mutiny by the middle and lower classes. Death by war would be an ironic end to those endeavouring for immortality.
For the sake of discussion, let us assume that somehow a benevolent inventor manages to make immortality accessible to all. What would happen then?
People now work their entire lives in order to save money so that they can enjoy the later part of their lives. But when there is no “later” part of life, when there is no impending doom, would anyone show up for work or worry about money? Our current system with money as its cornerstone would collapse, leading to a new system unbeknownst to us.
Murder, accidents and crimes would have an added weight to them, since otherwise the person could’ve ideally lived forever. Prisons, except for death and life sentences, would lose their value. Overpopulation and dearth of resources would become prevalent issues with Earth pushed over its breaking point. But would we even reproduce if there wasn’t a need for it? Evolutionarily speaking, it is highly likely we’d even lose the organs as they do not serve any purpose anymore, over generations.
The issue lies partly in the fact that people tend to underestimate how long forever is. Eternal life becomes a burden beyond a point, and would drive most people mad. Little do they know, there are much worse outcomes than death.
Human beings are very fragile in nature. Our systems and organs wear out easily and are very susceptible to damage over time.
If we were to replace our organs with machines that performed much better, we could enhance the longevity of our lives. Better yet, what if instead of replacing our parts one by one, we transferred our conscience to a robot/machine? This is exactly what digital immortality is about.
This however, gives rise to a much more fundamental question. Where do we draw the line between being alive and dead anymore? Are we “alive” if our conscience is the only thing that’s present?
Are we “alive” without even breathing, growing, reproducing, metabolising, or having hereditary traits?
We could end up as a society of consciences, or a single higher being that is an assimilation of human minds similar to the AI in Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question. The possibilities are endless.
Mortality in a way gives our life and experiences meaning and purpose. It gives us the incentive to go about life doing different activities, and achieving goals. If you still want to achieve immortality, the best you could do right now is preserve yourself in a box of ice hoping for the best (cryonics, I’m looking at you).