An eternity for life | Sunday Observer

An eternity for life

Younger and older women’s profiles
Younger and older women’s profiles

The year 2050 sounds so far away. Think again. It is only around 32 years away and many among us will still be able to see the light of day in 2050. As for me, I should be pushing 80 by that time, so it is a bit of a hit and miss target. But why the intense focus on 2050 ?

That is the year that immortality in some form or the other might become an option for human beings, according to many researchers and futurists. That will at least prove that well-known axiom wrong – that one cannot avoid death and taxes in life - most people manage to evade taxes anyway.

Immortality has always been a dream of Man, who has been pursuing it for centuries. Ancient Greek alchemists once tried to find a ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ to obtain immortality, but were unsuccessful. Many concoctions promise the elixir of youth, but none has been successful so far. But, here is the catch – I do not want to live for an eternity in an 80—year-old’s body and I am sure that the same view is held by many others. On the other hand, if I can somehow revert to the body (and organs) I had when I was 25, I might consider living for all time.

Viable option

Right now, the maximum age for a human is believed to be 120. The oldest person ever, whose age has been verified is Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) of France, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days. There are seven more people on this list, all of whom are women and the oldest of whom is Nabi Tajima of Japan, aged117 years, 208 days. (Women generally have a higher life expectancy than men). Scientists believe, the first person who will live till 150 years has already been born somewhere in the world. This is entirely possible with today’s (and tomorrow’s) medical science and technology.

Leading ‘futurist’ Dr. Ian Pearson now predicts that immortality might become a viable option by the year 2050. In a new report, he suggests, anyone born after 1970 has a good chance of achieving immortality, thanks to the rapid advances in technology.

However, he does point out that the rich and famous will get there first. The rest of us will likely have to wait until the 2060s or 2070s to be able to afford it. That probably leaves a lot of us out, but the future generations will have more luck.

That is the norm with any new technology. The few anti-ageing treatments and surgeries in the market today are costly. There are several ways to long-life and eventually, immortality. The first is making lifestyle changes, such as cutting down on smoking, alcohol and fatty foods and getting plenty of exercise.

A good diet is essential for living longer. Medical advances already enable us to live longer – I underwent a simple surgical procedure last year for a condition that would have been life threatening even 25 years ago.

A few years into the future, it will be possible to get entirely artificial organs – even eyes, blood and skin – so that we would be able to swap body parts and live longer. There will no longer be any need for human donors, alive or dead as 3D printers will be able to produce some body parts and others could be custom-created for patients by hospitals.

Cures or vaccines will probably be found for diseases such as cancer which are incurable now. Moreover, autonomous cars and intelligent roads will probably eliminate fatal accidents altogether by 2050, saving thousands of lives.

Perhaps, the biggest stumbling block to immortality is not the body per se. It is mental deterioration. We all know that mental alertness and memory fade with age. The human brain is a very complex organ and we are still a long way off from making it younger.

It is useless to live on without a sound mind. Of course, there will come a time when we might not need a body at all to live forever and our minds too can be rejuvenated and uploaded to the cloud.

Spinal column

If you have seen the movie Matrix, Keanu Reeves enters a virtual world where he can do anything he desires while his actual physical body is somewhere else. Much the same concept is explored in the James Cameron hit Avatar, the only difference being that the characters occupy another body (avatar). The Netflix series Altered Carbon explores similar ideas, with people escaping death by storing their mind, consciousness and memories in a computer chip called a ‘stack’ implanted in their spinal column. Pearson agrees, suggesting that in the future it would be possible to renew body parts that have given out or have your consciousness transferred into a Matrix-like virtual world.

Thus, the most likely path to immortality involves creating sophisticated Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) that link the entire brain to an operating system. By 2050, the system will be so advanced that we will be able to sit at home while interacting with our surroundings via remote-operated androids or human-like virtual bodies.

Yes, dangerous as it may sound, a link between Artificial Intelligence and our consciousness could be our ticket to living for all time. We might even be able to exchange points of view (see the world through another one’s eyes), a la Being John Malkovich.

It is already possible to live on even now virtually – Facebook will still maintain your account after you are gone and in the latest development, a Swedish funeral agency is looking for volunteers for an ambitious artificial intelligence project that will give the deceased digital immortality and pave the way for communication with the dead. The digital version of a person will be based on a chatbot and the communication will work similar to how humans currently chat with robots online.

Physical resources

But, the biggest problem with immortality, at least in the physical sense, lies with sharing the limited resources of Planet Earth. There will be around nine billion people on earth by 2050, the target year for the beginning of immortality. If everyone lives on in physical form, there will be an increased demand for the limited quantity of physical resources including food.

However, this problem will not arise if some decide to live on virtually, without an actual physical existence. Immortality might also create a new class divide, with the poor still dying but the rich living on, at least for the first 100 years or so. Man will be truly immortal the day this inequality is addressed.