Stayin’ Alive

This week, let’s move to technology integration in a field that tons of people have an interest in study: biology and medicine. Everyone has a fear of dying to some degree, so let’s take a look at living. How long are we actually capable of living? The “maximum” lifespan of a human is thought to be 125, but will it be possible to go beyond that using technology?

One method would simply be some form of advanced cell repair. During death, cells are effectively dead: they cannot function anymore. If some form of rapid cell repair can be developed, death can be prevented on the moment and in the future with each failing body part. Unsurprisingly, while we are forming more synthetic organs successfully, they are not perfect. All of them have a high chance of failure; there is no guarantee of success yet. Nanotechnology has also not progressed enough to be able to able to rapidly repair cells, nor have medical devices progressed enough to form fully authentic organs. Synthetic organs also cannot replace some functions of the body; a synthetic brain is essentially a robot in a human shell.

On a different method, a possible solution towards living longer is a brain or full body transplant. A brain transplant puts the brain of one person into the whole body of another person. While this may not be able to directly extend someone lifespan beyond normal means, it can help someone with a life-threatening disease “continue” their life. In their new body, they would have the same personality and the same memories, but without any of the health issues. The slight problem is that a brain transplant hasn’t been accomplished yet – even in test organisms such as mice. The closest thing was a head transplant involving monkeys; however, the monkey still died after a few days. Work still needs to be done on this front.

Evidently, there isn’t a way to boost our lifespan (easily) via technology right now, but what about in the future? Cryonics prepares us now for that future. Cryonics is the preservation of living or recently dead humans or animals for a possible revival in the future. Cryonics focuses on preserving information in the brain, as supporters believe that the information stored within the brain is key for future revival. During cryonics, a body is drained of all liquids, filled with a sort of “anti-freeze” mixture, and stored at temperatures typically under negative 200 degrees Celsius in order to “freeze” it and prevent any information loss in the brain. From the information in the brain, a new “being” can be formed with all of the same information. Of course, currently, there is no way to “resurrect” someone who has been frozen via cryonics. Additionally, there isn’t a guarantee that the future conscious being will be the same as the one that is frozen. Would they lose their personality after their brain is not active for such a long time? In essence, they would be a newborn with lots of “knowledge” available to them?

Now, a discussion on boosting our lifespan wouldn’t be complete without talking about the ethics involved. Obviously, reviving someone or boosting a lifespan will cost a great deal of money, and if it doesn’t, it will likely be limited in some manner. For many people, overpopulation is an issue. Either way, the only people who will be able to live longer are either extremely wealthy or extremely powerful. There will be no way for the “average joe” to be able to live longer. It will be limited to a select few – the wealthy and powerful such as Donald Trump. In addition, life preservation will not be based purely on this, but on the political agenda. If someone who is extremely wealthy dies but isn’t supported by the political regime, their money may not be accepted for the life extension. Also, let’s not forget about the religious opposition because it might go against God’s word. Going against the “teachings of God” is an issue for many people. It’s one of many barriers that artificial life extension would need to pass.

About the Author

Mark Krupinski
Freshman Computational Science who explores the issues of integrating technology within society in "Technically Speaking" Current Outreach Chair
  • dkkk7

    The idea of overpopulation via longer life is a farce. Using simple mathematics anyone can deduce that not dying or perfect health is linear 1:1 ratio but out of check procreation can and often is exponential. Examples 2:10:100 and so forth. Even with death at an early post puberty age can lead to huge population increases as we see in 3rdvworld nations. So this article misses the point and wrongly questions living longer when this is a relative non issue.

  • dkkk7

    Even if cryonics revival is expensive. It will come down in price with time as all technology does. Look at tvs computers and cell phones. The beauty of cryonics is that you can wait for cheaper and better revival technology.