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11/16/15

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The future is an exciting place. I write lots of silly sci-fi and fantasy stories that take place in implausible worlds, but the future of our real world is also of great interest to me.

In this post I’m going to be sharing some “shower thoughts” regarding the future of humanity and why I think it’s exciting (and also a little terrifying). These are the four areas I want to cover:

Healthcare
3D printing
Computers, technology, and AI
Space travel

Humans are advancing at an exponentially fast pace. Advancements in humanity used to take place over very long time periods, but those cycles of advancement are compressing quickly. Think about evolving from Stone Age weapons, to Bronze Age weapons, then iron and steel, guns, tanks, warships, bi-planes, stealth bombers, nukes, etc. Or rotary phones, to landlines, to clunky cell phone bricks, to smartphones. Horses to buggies to cars, and now autonomous drivers. Think of how long the cycles were at the beginning until now- it seems like there are new “biggest/fastest/best things” almost every year.

This cycle holds true for everything, including healthcare. We’ve got vaccines and drugs to cure almost all diseases. More and more people die from cancer every year because we are now living long enough to die from cancer! We aren’t getting wiped out by plague in our teens or sent off to die in a war fighting with iron swords in our 20s. The average lifespan of a human continues to grow, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by the time I’m a 90 year old man, the life expectancy in our country reaches 130 or 140 years or more.

Even two generations ago the life expectancy was 60-70 years old. Just look at the way retirement plans are structured. People generally only needed their retirement plans to cover them for 10-15 years before they died. Now? People need to live in retirement for 30-40 years and they’re still healthy! Just the other day I was reading about the world’s oldest man, who is like 119 or 120 years old or something like that.

That is incredible, but since our society and technology advance exponentially, we can reasonably expect that we’ll continue to live longer and longer as healthcare gets better.

At some point, it’s very likely that a cure for cancer will be found. Scientists will find a way to either keep cells from dying or they’ll discover a medicine that can re-grow dead cells at an accelerated rate. We won’t grow “old” in the way we do now, because dead cells with replace themselves with new, healthy cells.

Our bodies are already self healing, for the most part. You can’t re-grow tooth enamel or eroded gums yet, but if you get a cut on your arm, it’ll heal by itself. But the process isn’t fast. Once we find a way to give that healing process a little more juice, we’ll be able to heal injuries at a crazy fast rate. Like, Wolverine style.

At some point, when our medicine can replenish these dead cells at a fast enough rate, we would essentially become immortal (assuming somebody doesn’t put a bullet in our heads and we don’t destroy the planet before re-populating other planets).

But what about serious injuries, like having limbs blown off in war? That’s where 3D printing technology comes in. While we may not have the ability to re-grow limbs (at least initially… it’s possible that we could even develop that ability by studying lizards and such), our bodies would at least be able to repair the area enough that we won’t die from the wounds, and then we can have our limbs 3D printed. We’ll have some folks who are “more machine than man” but they’ll continue to live healthy lives with artificial limbs that work just as well as an organic body part.

We’ll get back to 3D printing in a bit, but I really think it’s a key part to humans achieving immortality.

Next up is computers, technology, and AI. 

Right now, we have digital selves in a limited capacity. We have profiles on facebook, twitter, Newgrounds, instagram, etc. We have google accounts and grubhub accounts and amazon accounts that track what we eat and where we go and what we buy.

We take personality quizzes online to find out how our brains work. When I was a wee lad, I had a gigantic clunky computer that had less than 1gb storage on it. Now I have a tiny cell phone that is even more powerful than that computer and I can store everything in the cloud without needing to use space on my own hard drive, and I essentially have an infinite amount of storage space. Computer technology is moving at an incredible pace, and each year we become more and more connected.

At some point, it’s easy to imagine that we’ll be able to upload our personalities to a computer. I mean, we’ve basically done most of the heavy lifting already. I think at this point I could comfortably allow an AI device to order my favorite food every Thursday, choose which new phone I’d buy, decide what I’d like to watch most on Netflix, and pick out my next video game.

Facebook and MySpace and Xanga (wherever they are now) all know my favorite books and movies. The personality tests know I’m an IJ or whatever the hell my letter combo is. It’s easy to see how we could create a “brain clone” or digital self within the next few decades that is essentially us…. online.

A fully autonomous version of ourselves capable of “thinking” and shitposting for us because we’ve programmed it by answering thousands of questions about our behaviors and thought patterns. “You come across a lost boy in the street who needs help, what do you do?” “It’s a Saturday night. Are you more likely to stay inside reading a good book or go out to the bar?”

With enough data collected, the AI could think and act almost exactly like us. It won’t be human, but it will essentially be you.

Now here’s the good part.

Our physical selves may die (planet gets wiped out, house burns down and you’re trapped inside, you get blown up, etc), but our digital selves would live on.

Remember that 3D printing? Now it’s time to push our tech to the limits- scanning your facebook and Instagram photos, or models of yourself that you’ve uploaded specifically for this task, you could have the computer 3D print YOU with a copy of your AI chip installed and…. viola. No more need for a physical body.

Now everything that “computer you” could do can be done in the real world by physical, 3D-printed you. Any time your body is destroyed, you simply re-download yourself from the computer and 3D print a new body. Since you are now an AI, all of your memories are always stored on the server in the cloud, so physically dying wouldn’t erase any of your knowledge or memories since they’re all backed up.

Which brings us to the final piece: space travel.

In order for humans (or whatever these digital copies of ourselves become) to truly be immortal, we MUST become a multi-planet species. All this tech does no good for anyone if we nuke ourselves in the next 5 years.

BUT Elon Musk plans to begin colonizing Mars by 2024, and if we can set up servers on the Moon and Mars, we’d be taking a huge step towards preserving our future AI immortality. If Earth is destroyed, we can re-print ourselves on Mars, or the moons of Jupiter, and continue to evolve as an incredibly smart race of supercomputers. We’d continue to develop space travel until eventually we could travel to other star systems, set up our servers there, and eventually expand beyond into other galaxies and eventually across the entire universe.

Having “human” servers across the stars would ensure that we would truly become immortal.

But…. is that a good thing?

Becoming immortal poses a lot of serious problems we haven’t ever had reason to consider.

A major thing is the way our society changes and views laws and crimes. Take the heroic conquerors of old, who discovered new lands and slaughtered the natives. Back when those events took place, they were lauded as heroes. But now, many people see them as oppressive conquerors, even villains.

Assuming one of those guys were alive today, would we charge him for “crimes” he committed in the past? Would he be punished for the deaths of all the indigenous people he killed in order to gain favor with his king?

What if our first generation of immortal people has a “Hitler,” who destroys an entire planet of aliens because he doesn’t agree with their society or religion? How do we punish him if he’s immortal? Even if we locked his code in a prison vault for a million years for the death of each person he killed…. he’s freaking immortal! He’s still going to be free someday! And then what? He’s just free? Can we ever delete his code if it’s been backed up on thousands of servers across the stars?

How do we handle punishments for horrible crimes (or any crimes at all) when the punishment is just a drop in the bucket of time compared to the expanse of infinity?

We’d need to completely re-work the way our laws operate and figure out how to deal with these crazy things as they happen.

But despite these issues… the future is kinda really exciting to think about.

What do you think? Will humans ever achieve some form of immortality? Is this possible in our lifetime? Of course, someone WILL try to accomplish this, but does that mean we should?

Does any of this sound plausible, or do I just sound like a raving nut to you? Let me know what you think!


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