Inequality and Threat

Those that can afford cleaner housing and nutritional diets already live longer than those who can’t. Those who can afford vaccinations live longer than those who live in countries where the already vaccinated would need even more vaccinations to visit. Within a big group that share the same genetic predisposition for lung diseases, it is still the ones that live in densely populated, dirty or damp conditions that are affected by lung conditions more often. General health, cleanliness and medical solutions exist that are not helping everyone equally.

With life lengthening technology there is an undeniable chance of seeing the inequality between rich and poor polarise to extreme. Where the rich will live decades longer and be much healthier throughout their life from riding off the backs (lungs, and kidneys) of the poorer populations. Populations who are used like body farms to cultivate the healthy organs, and the controlled genetic diversity that is needed to sustain long-life. To enhance the systems of genetic modification, lower the risk of viral spread and generally enforce life-preserving environments then physical segregation could make this polarisation even more caricatured. There may have to be super-sterilised, biologically controlled communities that house the people who can afford the enhanced life. It may actually even be domes that gate them off from the filthy, bacteria-ridden masses. Inside the domes it is Logan’s run and outside it is Mad Max. This stretching of the divide between rich and poor will intensify the dangers we face from what is already immediate, global threats.

The first major threat is geo-political, simply how to sustain or manage massive populations of outside-the-domers. Displacement could be caused by the sterile hubs being built in areas where the masses already live. One scenario is a need to use existing infrastructure, this would mean literally pushing millions of people out of current metropolitan areas to make space for the domes. Another scenario is a need to build on areas where the conditions are warm more constantly. This would push people out of areas that are more rural but are also already more affected by poverty, causing a humanitarian crisis level of migration because of a lack of support or any place to go. Also, the increasing effect of climate change (potentially nudged by the emissions of monumental, meticulously mechanically controlled cities) is going to make the current migration of poor populations away from spreading desert even worse. Outside, food and water systems would fail when the controlling groups close themselves off to their own, secured microcosms. What is the long term effect on health from drought, hunger and mass produced, synthetic ‘beef-inspired meat product’?

Next, nuclear war! When ageing and illness is no longer going to kill people, violence becomes one of the only things that can threaten your immortality. Will this make people more friendly and trusting, or even more ready to destroy the only other people with weapons of mass destruction? Bearing in mind, the people with their fingers on the buttons are literally domed off from each other waiting to hear a siren that says they have had their eternal life stolen from the other one.

Another potential threat is Super-Plague. It won’t necessarily be like the plague but it needed a scary name. In response to current hospital sanitation, infectious diseases responded by developing into super bugs. Antibiotic resistance is now putting us in danger of medieval sicknesses returning. What will be the response to doming people off and genetically building them from vacuum-pack, sterilized organs? Even if there isn’t a massive video nasty epidemic, the relative squalor of the people outside the dome will become so dangerous to the rich that they will want to stay as far away as possible. The image each group has of the other will become maliciously negative. A few filthy rich spoilt to the point of immortality, and many just filthy.

And this brings up the final threat, global class conflict. Another massive economic collapse and the divide between those going in the domes and those outside will be set in stone. Will inequality speed up when everyone organising and owning our institutions are hermetically sealed off for biological longevity? Will those outside be happy with this? Will a mass population become sick enough of their situation to see they are literally cordoned off from the good life? Revolution and war has followed sharp rises in inequality in the past.

Britain’s welfare system and NHS is thought of by some as (intentionally or not) key to preventing mass protest among the poor following the widespread deprivation of the recently industrialised societies and wartime need. These socialist stop-gap pacifiers are fading. Private health care is taking the place of the NHS. Maybe it is true that global ‘peace’ is reaching a significantly longer amount more time than any other time in history, there is certainly discontent around the globe about inequality. It is easy to see global threats as more of a worry, especially if the gap between rich and poor is going to stretch even closer to being literally the gap between life and death.

… Although, some say over-population is the biggest threat right now because it causes all the other threats. But maybe living longer (for some, whilst leaving billions out in the dirt) will solve this. If disease doesn’t wipe out a generation then maybe the men, women and children outside will fight among themselves, maybe even over the thankless jobs of maintaining the domes. The majority would die out and then small groups would support the domes and everyone would be living off very little resources for a long while. History has shown time and time again that those without well-rounded and challenging school systems or diverse cultural opportunities can fail to see what the groups in the domes are keeping from them, and so they continue to fight among themselves.

Guest post by Arnie King – Completing Sociology Msc at University of Bristol

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.