Quora – Problems of increasing life expectancy

What problems will an increasing average life expectancy cause for individuals and society?

The first thing to get, is that for most people, most of the time, not dying is a really good thing – worth all manner of “problems”. I am certainly in that class of people.

It became clear to me in 1974, as I completed undergrad biochem, that indefinite life extension was possible; and it certainly comes with many problems given all the many levels of biological and social systems we have evolved for living relatively short lives (70 years or less).

Extending life spans will, in the not too distant future, mean being healthy and with fully functioning bodies – so all the losses of function we currently associate with old age will disappear.

That does require some changes.

If we are to keep the population of people on earth to levels that allow everyone a reasonable standard of living, then we will need to reduce the average family size to one child per couple. At that the population would eventually double from the size it is when that policy is instituted. If we get really efficient about our use of energy, and do most of the heavy engineering in space using remotely controlled automated systems, then we could comfortably house about 20 billion people in what most today would consider a high standard of living (good food, safe warm housing, great healthcare, reasonable travel (a world trip every year), reasonable freedom etc. The technical issues to delivering such an outcome are trivially simple compared to the social issues of changing the way people behave towards each other and their environment.

To live in such a world, to have such security and choice and freedom, demands of every one of us responsible behaviour in both social and ecological contexts – and that becomes a very complex set of issues as we are dealing with many levels of awareness.

So in this sense, of increasing life expectancy to the extent that most people would have a reasonable expectation of living for thousands of years, then the major problem will be creating awareness that everyone must accept and protect diversity (far more diversity than currently exists, and exponentially increasing), and everyone must act responsibly in both social and ecological contexts – and neither of those things can be easily quantified – both will be eternal explorations of novel territory, and such exploration can never be free of risk.

So for many people, particularly those on the extreme end of the conservative spectrum in any dimension, it is likely to be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable.

Some people may retreat to conservative havens where the more novel entities are barred from entry unless they disguise themselves as conservative entities and behave as such while there. So the nature of the boundaries that are likely to evolve will probably be very complex, even by the standards of the most complex social structures present today.

And it does seem to be achievable, but not in a world where markets have any significant role in the measurement of value. The scarcity based nature of market values is not compatible with the abundance based systems that are both possible and necessary with fully automated systems, and that transition is likely to be very difficult for many.

[Comment Michael Finney wrote “Unfortunately,there are many other causes of death which have a greater chance of killing you than directly dying from old age.”…
reply 13/8/19]

Only sort of.

Part of eliminating the deleterious effects we commonly associate with “aging” is ensuring the immune systems is operating optimally. That actually counters most of the current causes of death.

And it is more complex than that.
Transport is currently risky and will become vastly less so.

So I suspect that we will end up with average life expectancy being about five thousand years, with some few going vastly beyond that. And that won’t happen “over night”.

[Comment – Michael Finney wrote …”but also consider the number of people who will not get treated — either because of religious reasons, financial reasons or some other reason.”…
reply – 14/8/19]

Sure, there will be a time when things like religions still hold sway over some individual’s minds.

And this technology, if it is to work at all, must be fully automated, and personalised, so that every individual has full control of their own personal version of this “thing”. So in that sense they require no group agreement, no asking permission of anyone else. It is their choice to use it or not.
Sure, for a time, religious traditions will continue to dominate some individuals. And most individuals have quite highly developed senses of what is in their own best interests.

When we actually have universal abundance of all of the essentials of life, then wider group cooperation becomes much more in individual self interest than the narrow group cooperation that scarcity incentivises. It is a very different “game space”. There is still a strong need for social and ecological responsibility, but it is inside of a context of reasonable abundance of all that most of us want and need. Nothing at all like our current scarcity based economic systems, and entirely possible with fully automated systems.

And transition is an extremely complex process.

Our current scarcity based systems do many levels of very important functions, so we will need to run both sets of systems in parallel for a decade or two until everyone has sufficient confidence that the new abundance based systems actually work in practice.

And writing as someone who has been interested in this topic for 50 years, and has run a software business for over 30 years, I am confident it can be done – and it will be the most complex and challenging development ever attempted – and that sort of thing generates a certain interest and excitement in the sorts of people who are capable of solving such challenges in a reasonable time frame – if they are given the resources and encouragement to do so.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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