Longevity and coping with an ever increasing population

As technology allows us to live forever, or even just significantly longer, short of government enforced euthanasia we’re going to have to find somewhere for the ever increasing population to live. This can be broken down into 3 options: we find more places to live on the planet, we each take up less room on the planet, or we find some more space off of this planet.

Perhaps we can squeeze more people on the Earth; maybe we’re only scratching the surface of occupying the planet. Many a science fiction film shows cities growing high into the air, and others with humans digging down to benefit from the warm interior. So there is plenty of volume available even if it would require significant engineering such as directing sunlight through fibre optic channels to grow food on multiple levels, or as even that is limited it may have to wait until we have mastered nuclear fusion to give us unlimited energy to produce our own mini-suns wherever we need them.

If we do run out of space, can we then take up less space and resources than we do today? Again, maybe. Possibly we will all volunteer to live in a Matrix style world where we can be crammed onto the planet taking up little more room than a coffin each – happily leaving in a virtual world where we can experience more than ever possible in the physical one. Ray Kurzweil is predicting we will be able to upload ourselves by the 2030s so what need would we have for physical space after that?

The final option is to find more space elsewhere in the universe. This may seem like a radical and almost impossible feat, but with improving technology it might still be an option. NASA’s Advanced Space Transportation Program is aiming to reduce lower Earth orbit launch costs to $200 per kilogram by 2025. To remove the 75 million people currently being born every year from this planet would cost in the region of 1.2 trillion dollars which is about 1-2% of global GDP. Sounds a lot, but it’s about the same as the world spends on defence so is achievable with the political will. Obviously there would be more costs to create habitats in space or other planets but in a few more decades the costs would likely fall keeping it a feasibility.

This is an extract from an article written by Adrian Cull for the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies – the full article can be read here: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/cull20150704

Doomsday virus – it could happen to us in the blink of an eye

I came across an article this week in New Scientist – mystery disease claims half world population of saiga antelopes.

In less than 3 weeks almost half of the world’s population of saiga antelopes has died – that’s over 100,000 of them. The animals die through severe diarrhoea and difficulty breathing with a 100% mortality rate, that is, if you get it, you’re dead. There are several candidate causes, including a usually innocuous bacteria and a mosquito transmitted virus, but we don’t actually know yet.

Imagine what would happen if such a potent killer appeared suddenly in the human population.

Doomsday virus - it could happen to us in the blink of an eye

There is nothing special about humans which mean it couldn’t happen. No special rules which say bacteria and viruses aren’t allowed to wipe us out. Yes we have procedures in place to limit the impact of a pandemic as demonstrated with the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa earlier this year.  But remember, Ebola is difficult to transmit and only kills half of the people it infects. How hard will it be to convince health workers to risk treating people where its more likely they will pick up the disease and if they do they are guaranteed to die?  Even with the best equipment and training in place mistakes can still happen as I noted my concerns during the outbreak in my blog post : A worrying mystery of Ebola infection.

The Black Death killed half of the European population in the 14th century and less than 100 years ago Spanish flu killed up to 100 million people – that’s 5% of the population at the time.

So nothing really new to report here, just a reminder that we as a species, and hence all of us as individuals are still living at nature’s mercy. Hopefully the amount of work going into anti-ageing research will also help our understanding of all natural diseases and allow us to fight back should one mutation too many suddenly turn a bug into a doomsday killer.

Image of saiga antelope courtesy Seilov.

Living Forever – an absolutely abhorrent aberration?

I’m currently reading Bryan Appleyard’s 2007 book “How to Live Forever or Die Trying” – half way in and so far it’s been mainly philosophical about the meaning of life, what “I” means to someone who can’t remember most of what they have done and whether the quest for immortality is morally correct.

Generally I don’t focus on these subjects for the Live Forever Club as it is aimed at people who have already decided they do want to and are looking for useful tips on how to make it possible. However I was chatting with a friend last night who falls into what I would call the “totally normal” camp. The term “radical life extension” means nothing to him, he’s not religious, and so has no preconceived views on living forever so I was very interested in his reaction on me setting up the club.

We went through the usual steps of is it possible, who would want to, but what if it was with your 20-something body, etc. After a few moments where I thought I’d tempted him he concluded that it would just not be right… an aberration of nature was the term he used. Basically to most people I’ve spoken to it doesn’t seem right that people might live forever.

But being a totally normal person, he also raised a couple more interesting points.

1. Many people, including non-religious ones, believe there is something after death and therefore aren’t trying to prevent it. I suggested that that is a big gamble as you don’t get a second chance, however he pointed out that I am also taking a gamble that there is not something beyond death which immortalists will never discover.

2. Are we already past the moral argument of radical life extension? Compared to the average life expectancy just  a few hundred years ago we already are. In the future will there be 200 year old people saying it’s immoral to live past 1000 even though they’re already benefiting from medical and technological improvements to have lived past the “natural” 100-ish years biological limit.

And his final parting comment – having said all that, ask me again when I’m on my death bed, as then it’s no longer a hypothetical argument.