Is immortality a price worth paying?

We debate the consequences that an immortal population could could bring about...
14 April 2015

Interview with 

Dr John Troyer, Bath University; Garret Smyth, Cryonics UK; and Dr Michio Kaku, City College of New York


With a growing population and 7 billion of us on Earth already, can we cope with an immortal population? John Troyer, Garret Smyth and Michio Kaku debate the pros and Bear in the Skycons with Chris Smith...

Garrett - I don't particularly want to be vitrified or suspended.That's really my last-ditch thing to do. I like being alive and I want to stay alive. 

Chris - I mean, the only thing that's bothering me Michio with what you were saying is that, fine, you end up in a computer and you exist. Aren't you going to be sort of stuck with 21st century thinking?

Michio - Well, one danger of immortality is stagnation that old thinking may begin to dominate all of society. That's why we have to make sure that we encourage creativity, innovation, youthful kind of thinking or else, we will in fact stagnate as a consequence. But think of all the benefits that we could have. One thing that separates us from the animals is that we have a culture and that is, that we can hand down information from generation to generation. Mama bear does not teach baby bear how to hunt in the forest other than by behaviour. There's no culture among animals. However, this culture will be enriched once we have the ability, not just with information, but the entire personality being preserved. And so, I think that society, instead of stagnating could actually benefit from this. Our culture will be greatly enriched once we have this kind of digital immortality.

Chris - John, are you comfortable with this idea over the whole preservation of the body because of course, as I mentioned at the beginning, there are 7 billion plus people on Earth? We're expecting that number to exceed 10 billion by mid-century. Surely, preserving ourselves in silico - in a computer - is better than preserving ourselves in the flesh.

John - There's a key issue for both, let's say, methods of preservation which is both the revivification or the bringing back. But also then the long term support and then how basically do you keep everything from degrading. How do you keep the information itself from breaking down over time?

Chris - Well, the other important point is I suppose Michio, is there not a danger if you exist as a computer programme that someone might infect you with a computer virus? 

Michio - Yeah, there's always a danger of hacking as well. What happens if somebody hacks into the memory of an Albert Einstein and corrupts it? So all of a sudden, you get nonsense coming out. That's always a danger. However, I think the risks are far smaller than the benefits. We're talking about enriching our culture.

Chris - So, there you go Garrett. It looks like you're going to have to preserve yourself until such time as you can exist in a computer programme.

Garrett - I don't think that an animatronic Winston Churchill would really be Winston Churchill. So, I really do plan if it all works out, to come back as me, as a biological me. I think if I could agree - whilst, I don't want to be a robot and I know a lot of people that don't, I would like to agree with Michio on how people living longer, whether or not people are cryopreserved, the anti-aging research will go on. One of our problems in the world is that people forget what the history and what has happened before. So of course, they're doomed to repeat it. 

Chris - But that's what Michio is sort of saying, that if we have this sort of collective knowledge then actually, we can have Winston Churchill on tap or Einstein to help us solve problems and then we won't actually arrive at that situation. Do you agree Michio?

Michio - Yes, I agree because I think as I mentioned, what separates us from the animals is the culture that we hand down generation after generation. But why do we have to lose that generation when they die? All that wisdom and knowledge essentially evaporates when people die. Why should it be that way? Why not benefit from this? And so, why do we have libraries? We have libraries because we opt to benefit from reading about biographies of the lives of famous people. But why not actually interact with these famous people? Now at first of course, the first generation of the library of souls is not going to be very good. However, as the decades go by, once we have the entire connectome then it will be indistinguishable. The library of souls will be indistinguishable from the real thing. No experiment can differentiate between an Einstein and the Einstein that's been digitalised because the connectome is identical.

Chris - Michio, thank you very much and that's where we must leave it. Thank you very much to Michio Kaku, John Troyer and Garrett Smith.


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