Friday, February 24, 2006

Superlongevity is coming and it will be good

Superlongevity is coming, argues transhumanist philosopher Mark Walker, and it will be good.

In his recent paper, "Universal Superlongevity: Is It Inevitable And Is It Good?," Walker crunches the numbers and qualifies his claim.

He predicts that the initial preference for radical life extending technology will be somewhere at in the 30 to 50% range. He suspects that there will be some initial opposition in the first generation from those who are unaccustomed to it. However, writes Walker, for the first generation that grows up in a world where there are superlongevitists, the preference rate will likely jump up dramatically to about 80% or more.

Eventually, argues Walker, there will be fewer and fewer people over time who opt out of radical life extension. Consequently, there will come a day when the immortal will outnumber the mortal by a fair margin. "To the extent that it is possible to predict the composition of the future population of the world," writes Walker, "the most likely scenario is that (almost) everyone will choose to adopt technology to live hundreds of years, perhaps indefinitely. Further, ethically speaking, this seems like the best option for our world, for such a world is one where there are higher levels of happiness and achievement." Walker cites the philosophical perspectives of both welfarists (Bentham and Mills) and perfectionists (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and Marx) to demonstrate that life extension is desirable to achieve both happiness and greater achievements.

Given that superlongevity is technically possible, and this is starting to look more and more the case with each passing year, Walker believes that our descendents will opt to use this technology and that it is, morally speaking, a good thing.

In terms of the inevitability of adoption, Walker dissects counter-arguments to radical life extension, including overpopulation issues and cost. He also tackles the issue of maintaining a population given the finite resources of our solar system. Walker writes:
As a long-term hope for the continuation of a mortal population, the obvious difficulty is that our solar system will support only so many persons (Bostrom, 2003). To support a single person requires some minimum quantity of matter and energy, and so at a doubling rate the resources of our solar system will quickly reach its carrying capacity. Looking speculatively to the future, we might imagine traveling to uninhabited solar systems as a means to continue the population expansion. However, even if some leave for other stars there is a finite amount of resources around this sun to underwrite such adventures, and for every such voyage there will be that much less matter and energy for supporting those that remain. So, even if intergalactic travel is possible, the finite nature of the resources of our solar system leads to the prediction that the number of inhabitants born in our solar system is finite. So, our model predicts that mortals will all but disappear from the local population around the sun.
Walker also addresses sociocultural issues surrounding superlongevity. There will come a day, for example, where there will be great tension for people when choosing not to suffer from some debilitating disease, and not wanting to opt for superlongevity. Eventually, given the maturation of life extending technologies, refusal to receive intervention will result in a self-imposed death, which may consequently be regarded as suicide. As Walker writes, "If we think of suicide as ‘voluntarily ending one’s own life’ then any death that results from refusing to use superlongevity technology looks like an instance of suicide."

Walker's paper makes for an interesting and provocative read as he touches upon most of the major issues. I would have liked to have a seen greater emphasis on the legal and constitutional issues surrounding superlongevity. When all is said and done, religious or cultural inhibitions will be trumped by individual rights and the rule of law (at least in democratic states).

Regardless, however, Walker's conclusions appear quite sound I would highly suspect that many of his predictions will hold true.

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