Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 21 June 2013

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Immortality is a topic that hardly ever comes up in polite conversation, mainly because even in households accommodating Sci Fi authors it's generally considered nonsense.  Of course we can all have a stab at leaving something behind that will mean we're remembered for generations to come, but outside of the odd Roman Emperor or founder of a religion, most humans fade into well deserved obscurity fairly quickly.

But there's a world of difference between being remembered for ever, or even for a time, and living forever.  That's a stretch of the imagination that most of us don't consider as likely.  However, a guy named Ray Kurzweil, thinks immortality is on the cards and pretty soon.  Ray is Google's engineering director and he believes that technology is advancing at a rate fast enough to allow us, the human race, to reach a tipping point where it is adding years faster than nature is taking them away.

There's no doubt that in the developed world humans are tending to live longer.  For example, I never met any of my grandparents, with the last to die doing so several years before I arrived.  From recollection their lifespans averaged just 60 years of age.  More importantly, they were pretty typical of their generation, as were my parents, with my mother passing in her early Seventies and my dad in his early Eighties, again typical of their peers. So in a generation the life expectancy in my family has increased by maybe eight to twelve years on average, although as sample sizes go it is a little small.

My generation is expected to survive into its Eighties pretty much as a norm and reaching the age of 100 or more is hardly a news item these days.  However one side effect of us living longer is that diseases such as cancer is deemed to be on the up, with a report the other day stating that 60% of us will suffer from it in our lifetimes, with half of those dying from it.  The report was warning us all that the increase in survivability means we will have to care for more and more oldies suffering from elements of cancer at home for extended periods, putting new strains on families.  Other side effects of living longer is that we all have an increased opportunity to experience Alzheimer's and other diseases that rob us of our mental faculties.  Suddenly living longer doesn't sound so great.

But Ray's contention is that in fifteen years technology will hit a tipping point, with cures and means to overcome these serious illnesses discovered.  He says that in 20 years life expectancies will go into 'high gear' thanks to scientific progress.  Of course, Ray works for the company that is struggling to keep its Nexus 7s going for more than nine months, so maybe there's a way to go with this technology.

However living forever, or even to 100, is only really desirable if your body and brain allows you to enjoy the experience.  I don't care how long you can extend my life, if it just increases the amount of time I end up dribbling down my shirt while chair bound in an old folks home then I'm not really gagging for it.  Or even if I can enjoy longer dotage years, tapping away at my aging RT writing blogs into the sunset and books for a few, if I can't afford to eat or heat my home because there's no real pension left and nobody wants to employ a  110 year old man for peanuts, then count me out.

Evolution being such a slow process to, well, evolve I'm expecting that the normal reproduction rates to continue for a little while after Ray has extended the lifespan of the population.  That might produce the odd problem going forward.

Now of course, if I can live a longer and useful life and the same can be extended to my descendants then I'm not going to look that gift horse in the mouth.  But I can't help wondering if we should be aiming to give everyone on the planet the opportunity to achieve the same life expectancy that those of us in the first world now routinely enjoy and expect?  Perhaps if we didn't resort to carnage on the battlefield or acts of terror in our cities, if children could have enough to eat to live until they are past their childhood, wouldn't that be great?  Of course another view is that we are heading for a population crunch on the planet, so how will that reconcile with some - I doubt Ray is talking about a universal extension to immortality for everyone - living forever?

Ray is 65 and apparently pops around 250 supplements a day and half a dozen intravenous therapies weekly in his quest to stay in good shape.  If I was popping 250 tablets a day I'd be hoping for some scientific intervention to alleviate the boredom of swallowing so many.  And I'd be really concerned about the risk of choking on one or two occasionally, so I don't think I'll take that route. 

By the time we reach Ray's predicted 20 years I'll be well into my Seventies, so might be able to report on the tipping point.  If it hasn't arrived I'll be looking at the last leg of my journey on Earth, but if Ray is right and the tipping point has been reached then at least it'll make a follow up blog post to write.  I may even have got my Nexus 7 up and running by then, so that's two blog posts scheduled.  I'll set up a diary reminder on my SkyDrive Outlook calendar right now, because unless Ray's really right I'll have forgotten my name, let alone his prediction, by then.  Look out for the post - I'll call it 'Who Wants To Live Forever - part 2'.


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