We all know that technology in the medical field has prolonged our lives and made ageing a less frightening experience. Yet fear of death still seems to be daunting for many. New developments might kill this grim reaper and grant us eternal life. By reversing cell-ageing, nanotechnology introduces a way of achieving immortality in the not so far away future. But should we rejoice at this development or rather be more afraid?
Immortality might seem like a utopian dream. Decrease of sickness, eternal life – what could go wrong? However like every innovation it does not come without its risks and issues.
The first problem with such new technology would be the division it would cause between rich and poor. Due to a potentially high demand, prices for such treatment would skyrocket, therefore only making it available to the richest few. And these people might not be the ones we would want to live forever. The thought of some of our current Forbes list living forever sounds like a scary dystopian future to me. Since the prospect of immortality seems quite appealing, people would go to extreme lengths to afford it for themselves and their loved ones. Mass-prostitution or slave-like conditions might follow for those who don’t possess enough cash.
Another potentially problematic area is the kind of immortality technology could provide: If the alterations were only biological, not mental, this eternal life might not be as fun as you may think. An immortal with dementia does not sound very appealing, or even a lesser problem with memory could still take from the experience. Our minds would still age, thus making eternal life challenging and perhaps not even worth it. But at least you would forget your poor friends who died because they couldn’t afford treatment.
If more than just the privileged few could afford the technology, we would also have to deal with the issue of overpopulation. The Earth’s resources are already stretched to breaking point with the number of people alive today. If the population begins to rise even faster due to immortality, then this problem will increase rapidly as well. New rules about procreation or maybe even “breeding programs” could be adopted. As terrifying as it sounds, this could have to become a reality. If humanity does not address this issue in time, immortality will be solved when Earth becomes uninhabitable.
It is also unclear how an eternal life would alter our personalities. In an optimal scenario, people might become more conscious about sustainability and policies could actually aim at long-lasting solutions since people would be alive to see them unfold. But if we live forever, everyday life might lose its value. Sometimes the finite nature of life makes experiences precious. We take risks and try new things because who knows how long we have. Immortality would put an end to this. (Even with new technologies, people could still be killed by violence or accidents, but we tend to ignore this possibility.)
As we can see, immortality will create many new problems. However, innovation cannot be stopped, so we will have to learn to live with it one way or another.
[Christina Schröck – @bookmagnolias]