Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yound Bodies and Old Spirits

A month back Michael Anissimov wrote about the connection between immortalism and existential risks. After all, if aging can be reversed and all disease prevented, our lifespans might stretch out into thousands of years ... unless, of course, something like a meteor (or a nuclear war, or a plague of killer nano-machines, or a superintelligent AI that happens to take a disliking to us) happens. In which case, everyone dies at the same time, and your shiny new immortality just isn't so great anymore.

Anissimov thinks people should take this kind of thing more seriously, and you know, I think they will, very quickly and likely in the bare nick of time. Once medicine progresses to the point that it's obvious to everyone that aging and disease are a thing of the past (two things that could happen very rapidly, possibly even near-simultaneously), the parts of their brains that assess risk will be left with little but the existential ones. After flailing about for a while, and finding that none of the old risks are really around any more (because any breakdown in the body up to and probably including death are eminently fixable), they'll settle on the existential risks as being, well, pretty well the only game in town.

And what a terrible game it is, because we're talking here about things that can kill everyone - perhaps even everything - and in a very short time. The effect this will have on society will be interesting to see. It will be a massive - perhaps even the dominant - influence on mass consciousness. Universal fear will be universally shared.

I sometimes wonder if perhaps progress won't come to a slow crawl at some point. A planet full of immortals who are desperately afraid of being killed by something they can't control is likely to be a conservative place indeed. With thousands of years ahead, there's no need to rush, and every reason to take every additional step into the unknown as cautiously as possible. Earth's people will all have the bodies of twenty-year olds, but it will be a culture of old women at heart. Nanomachines can't keep your soul from getting old.

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