Monday, July 04, 2011

Sorry, But Somone Has to Die

Oh, great!  Another report on how science is on the brink of delivering human immortality.

 If Aubrey de Grey's predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger.

A biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist of a foundation dedicated to longevity research, de Grey reckons that within his own lifetime doctors could have all the tools they need to "cure" aging -- banishing diseases that come with it and extending life indefinitely.

"I'd say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I'd call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so," de Grey said in an interview before delivering a lecture at Britain's Royal Institution academy of science.

So, what's wrong with this picture?   Plenty.  If we're going to keep your arse around for 150 or even 1,000 years, we're going to have to come up with 150 or 1,000 person-years of resources.  Right now the Earth is burdened with providing around 75-80 person-years of resources for you.   Then we're going to have to figure out what in hell to do with you for the extra 70 to 900 years?   

And suppose you do live to 1,000 years.  Who is going to pick up a millenium of pharmaceuticals?  And, doubtless, your longevity will become financially competitive and think of the dry cleaning bills you'll wrack up.   Supply and demand.  You'll need money to stick it out.  You're going to have to work your ass off to keep up.  Do you really think someone else is going to foot the bill for a century of nursing home care?   Then again, do you really want to be in diapers for the last hundred years of your life?  Baths twice a week and soggy, cold toast and tapioca pudding three days out of four?   And what if the mind refuses to become as immortal as the body?   And who is going to kill off all the people you need to displace to languish for a millenium?   Someone, no make that a lot of someones, has to die.

And, besides, if you're going to live a millennium, your odds of doing something really, really awful go up exponentially.  At some point you're likely to commit some nightmarish crime of passion, probably involving kitchen knives and the 43rd ex-wife, and what does life in prison mean then?   And then your kids and grandkids and great-grandkids and all the successive great-great-great-great-great-great - oh well, you know, grandkids will have to live with your disgrace and the family name will be ruined for everybody who, by then, will be in numbers large enough to populate their own province.

No, just because medical science can do it doesn't mean it should be done.  We've already got more than enough troubles living within our collective skin.


willy said...

the poor people will.

LeDaro said...

Only Bill Gates of this world will be able to survive that long.
At some point life can become burden and the profession of Dr. Death will thrive.

The Mound of Sound said...

But, of course, the poor people will have to die and the rich, capable of bleeding their estates, will get ever richer. And, finally, all those poor people will tire of it, take up their pitchforks - and get wiped out by the rich folks' private armies.

Purple library guy said...

Basically, the next generation has to mostly not be born. Immortality definitely worsens our already very bad overpopulation problem, and indeed worsens it mostly in the wealthier countries, precisely where each individual uses up more resources. Although it can also be overstated--solving aging doesn't mean nobody ever dies, just not of "old age". They can still die of lung cancer, or in a car accident, or whatever.

Most of the rest of your objections don't hold water for me, though. Especially the "horrible crime" one. Really, what the? If I die and someone else comes along, their chances of doing something horrible are just as great. The chances of atrocity are the same per person-year no matter which person is involved--maybe less for someone with a long track record of *not* committing atrocities than for a random new person with unknown tendencies.
More or less the same goes for all the rest. So I'll still have to work for a living if I live longer. So what? So would a different, younger person in my place. So I'll need pharmaceuticals. So what? So would someone else. If there's a real fix for aging, a very old person won't actually need more pharmaceuticals than a younger one. And so on.
I suppose it depends on the precise results, but these (probably exaggerated) claims don't seem to be talking about Struldbrugs, almost dead but refusing to die. Rather, it seems to be about a rejigging of the biological factors that cause senescence in the first place, leaving you with something more like a hundred extra years of being forty-ish. Personally, there are so many things I could do with near unlimited time, areas of study or expertise that I've thought of going into but realized that I wouldn't have the time to get really good at, from swordplay to learning different languages to going back to university for a different degree, in the sciences maybe.

So it's a pity, because very long life would be a really great thing. I'd enjoy the hell out of it. But the overpopulation problem does trump that.

The Mound of Sound said...

I totally agree with you PLG. The next gen really does need not to be born. Maybe we should just collect the best of the species, say the top 10% in every country, and allow them three kids per couple. Two generations and we'd be down to a very handy billion, billion and a half tops. There would be enough to maintain and even advance the best of our civilization without having surplus bodies to waste as cannon fodder.

LeDaro said...

Mound, be careful, this sounds like eugenics. Guess who else did that?

The Mound of Sound said...

I have your point, LD, but if this 'advance' was to come to pass there would be some sort of selection criteria, probably wealth, in any case. Only the select would be permitted to receive extended life because of the impacts on resources.