Earlier this week, a scientist named Aubrey de Grey (that is such a drag queen name) made waves by announcing to the press that the first person to live 150 years has probably already been born, and that it may not be long before human beings are able to live 1,000 years, if not longer, thanks to genetic engineering and research:
I'd say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I'd call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so.
de Grey has been in the news before, largely in association with The Singularity movement, which is a bunch of people who are theorizing that, very soon, computers will achieve levels of intelligence so vast and so incomprehensible that they will merge with humans, either in robot form or cyborg form or Borg form or Julie Chen form. No one really quite knows yet. All they know is… computers are probably gonna own your shit.
Now, I wrote a book about curing aging, and the basic idea of it is that the world already has enough trouble supporting humans at their current lifespan. If we start having the ability to live for hundreds and thousands of years, then things get… well, they get really shitty. But that's assuming that age-defying humans will still elect to remain humans. And, frankly, that probably isn't going to be the case.
Here's the more likely scenario for living forever: At some point, you will be able to upload the contents of your brain (and yes, your spank bank as well) into the cloud, as you would your iTunes library or whatever else is clogging up your laptop. Then, once "inside the Matrix," as it were, you'll be able to prance about fully realized digital landscapes of Earth (and any other world programmers see fit to construct), and those landscapes will look and smell and feel as real to you as they would if you were hanging out around them in human form.
Consider that Google has already mapped out most of the entire Earth, down to the block. Well, what's to keep them from taking that information and constructing a full scale simulated model of the planet that you can virtually reside in? What's more, what if this world was, frankly, better than the one we currently live in? There's no reason that Earth can't be improved upon. Imagine logging your brain in online and being taken to place where hookers are REALLY good looking, and crazy cheap. A place where you can't get fat. A place where, actually, you can look any way you wish. You could turn yourself into a fucking frog, for all anyone cares. You could fly. You could teleport (no Big Telportation bothering you this time!). You can be ASS RICH. You could do magic. Fuck watching Harry Potter do shit. With a fully realized digital avatar of yourself, you can BE Harry Potter. It's basically heaven, only digitized, and you don't have to pretend a bunch of shit about Jesus is true to get there.
That's really where the idea of immortality is going. You can see it now any time you walk out on the street. When someone is staring down at their iPhone, they aren't in this world. They're not here. They're in THERE. They've elected to take themselves out of their immediate environment. So it only makes sense that the digital experience would evolve into something even more immersive, and so all-consuming that it really does consume you, body and all.
And while that sounds like some fucked up Heaven's Gate-type shit, you're unlikely to be worrying about that much when you've uploaded yourself and you can cruise around the universe on a fucking jetpack. Maybe it isn't technically real, but to your brain it is. And really, what's the difference at that point? Your brain is the totality of your world anyway. Everything you see and do and experience is based upon what goes on inside your brain: the sounds it discerns, the images it projects… that's the sum of your existence. Your body is just the breathing machine that keeps it going. If computers can find a way to digitize things as complex as dreams and emotions and sensations, then life as a ghost in the machine won't feel any different.
Imagine being a quadriplegic, or someone who's very old and in chronic pain, or someone suffering from AIDS. Imagine then being offered the choice between keeping on the same track and then dying, or being uploaded into a world where all your afflictions are instantly alleviated. Your body is dead (or incapacitated), but you won't know or feel the difference. What choice would you make? FUCK AND YES you go to digital heaven. And chances are, so many people will be having a good time playing around in digital heaven, that the remaining people walking the earth will decide that they're suckers for staying in tangible form and make the same leap. It could be that, eventually, the world will be just a bunch of humming servers scattered about, with robots around to maintain them and have robot fights because robot fights are cool so long as Hugh Jackman isn't involved.
There are a zillion ethical quandaries that come into play here. Obviously, the whole idea of family and children is gonna get all weird. If you're still technically alive and your grandpappy Skypes you from his digital afterlife, and he's 40 years younger and surrounded by porn stars, that's gonna be awkward. And if you're in a digital world where nothing is technically real, then perhaps you'll feel free to murder hookers and shit, as you would in "Grand Theft Auto." Trying to establish rule and order and ethics in a world where they don't or can't apply is impossible, and I'm sure there will be any number of douchey political columns to address the issue. But if you look at the Internet now, it's already self-governed in ways that the world itself is. There are lawless sectors and there are more civilized places, and you're free online to explore what you like and shun what you don't.
So while there's most definitely a Lawnmower Man-type creepiness to all this, it's still not an outlandish possibility. Remember, there's only so much oil and other natural resources left on Earth. And the reason those resources keep dwindling is because our bodies need to consume them so we can live our lives, or at least live them enjoyably. But if our bodies didn't need to consume anything because we no longer bothered with them after converting our brains to software, if all civilization needed to keep going was enough power to keep the servers on, then all those annoying environmental concerns could potentially go away, which would be nice because I'm getting a little tired of being told how fucked we are. I just want to live forever inside a computer and fight off vampires with my twenty-foot bazooka penis. I don't think that's such a crazy dream to have. And if you're totally turned off by the idea of living inside the Internet, it's worth pointing out that you're already in here now, aren't you? All it takes is one more step.