This article is a prelude to our article, ‘Why Immortality Will Not Cause Overpopulation’.
Human immortality; something that most believe impossible, is becoming progressively popularised as being inevitable, and maybe in as little as 20 years. A common reaction to such a possibility is: “No, we can’t become immortal because we will overpopulate”. Well, overpopulation is certainly a challenge.
Immortality on the Horizon
The recent surge in excitement about the possibility of immortality being just on the horizon, is due to the rapid speed in which we are beginning to notice our technologies are advancing. The rate of acceleration is described as exponential: Every 18 months the power of our computers doubles. The law of accelerating returns, is used to describe the effect that the increase in computing power has on other technologies; how they themselves advance faster due to computing power being more powerful. It is this law of accelerating returns that is bringing the possibility of immortality fast to our doorsteps.
Ray Kurzweil has been studying the trends of our technological growth since the 1980’s, when he set out predictions for the future. So far his predictions have had a stunning 86% accuracy rate (the remaining 14% of the predictions are said to be “essentially correct”), which sets him high on the scale of futurist reliability. He predicts that within 40 years, human intelligence levels would have been superseded billions of times over, through technological means. It seems incomprehensible, but so did his prediction that by 2010 computers would be carried in our pockets, and be billions of times more powerful (in terms of price-performance) than they were in 1980, which in 2010 became a reality.
As well as the law of accelerating returns, we also have the merging of industries. It is the merging of health care industries which, Aubrey de Grey, says is set to have an incredible impact on longevity. He says that within 20 years, we could reach “longevity escape velocity”: For every year that passes, life expectancy will increase by at least one year; the ticking clock towards death would finally stop.
For more information about all things immortality related, visit our central immortality page.
Dissecting the Argument
As we approach the immortalisation of humanity, the overpopulation argument will become progressively intensified. The argument that we will dissect below is the one which demands the requirement of slowing/halting the endeavour for indefinite life extension. First we list a selection of overpopulation arguments that are subsequently vaguely referenced.
Ploughing through the confusing plethora of debates concerning the overpopulation argument, has enabled the unearthing of a series of definable subsection arguments:
The ‘Space and Resources on Earth’ Argument
This is the most basic of arguments; it is the most common first thought of a person who is confronted with the possibility of immortality for the first time. The first worry is space, and the second is resources.
Some futurists also display this worry. The argument is present where futurists believe humanity will demand immortality access at a time when it is only possible through bioengineering means. Their argument does not consider the possibility of humanity becoming ‘digitally immortal’, at least for the foreseeable future.
The argument features Malthusian and Neo Malthusian theories, dating back to the 18th century. Malthusian theories though, both old and new, predict carrying capacity based on known trends. Whereas, history has proved, new forms of technology and social organization make carrying capacity a moving target, and a greater population generally equates to a greater incentive to discover new methods for maintaining adequate sustenance.
Further into the space and resources argument, we have the arguments of the how the problem could be further exacerbated:
The ‘Only the Poor Die’ Argument
This argument provides main focuses on the possibility that immortality will only be offered to the rich, which would cause huge divides between the rich and poor. The world that comes to mind is the one seen in the movie, Elysium. Overpopulation would theoretically be controlled by letting the poor continue aging. Should we foresee the possibility of our world becoming so cruel to the poor, we will see rapid progress from protest, to riot, to terrorism, to a complete war. The solution asserted in the argument is that we must make immortality available to nobody.
The ‘Halting Evolution’ Argument
This argument involves the phenomenon of ‘fresh minds = new ideas’, which is currently very much true. As people age they generally do so while holding on to their traditions, which eventually become outdated and out of sync with evolving modern culture. The force of change occurs with youthful perspectives.
It is argued that with more people holding on to traditions, culture will become stagnant, and humanity will fail to evolve. Without the ability to adjust to societal changes, we would fail to maintain adequate resources and would therefore overpopulate.
The Compulsory Virtual Reality’ Argument
Concern is not made regarding space and resources where the writer observes that people could be immortal through ‘mind uploading’. The argument that is attached though asserts that immortality should not be allowed until humans can exist in virtual environments. But then we have those who assert that they wouldn’t want to live in a ‘fake’ environment, and so they assign immortality as being pointless.
The ‘Alien Encounter’ Argument
This argument accepts that humanity can become immortal with there being enough space and resources for us to expand without the need to limit our growth. Where the argument kicks in is at the perceived time when we encounter an alien civilisation, who has also decided to expand in the same way. The threat displayed in the argument explains that we could encounter conflict will alien races, and the longer we go before conflict, the more human suffering it will entail, so we shouldn’t bother even starting on the immortal path.
Reality of the Argument
So, it’s likely that you were reading those arguments with a tonne of simple solutions racing through your mind. Before we suggest them though, let’s not be naive and wash the overpopulation arguments off as ‘never gonna happen’. We can’t ignore the problems. Problems like to stay out of sight, because that is where they can gain power and make their move. Just as the overpopulation argument dismisses immortality as something that could not become reality; all that causes is blindness to a possible future which could catch us off guard. Either sides of the argument ignoring the other will lead to that other argument becoming a surprising reality realised by its approach being made from the blind spots of ignorance.
Procative! Consider the professional aspects of all arguments and activate rational consideration of all possibilities, allowing proactive preemption of all possible problems. For overpopulation not to happen, we must plan for it not to.
Countering the Argument
To begin the balancing of the argument, we should display the possibilities which would prevent each eventuality that is asserted as inevitable in the various aspects of the overpopulation arguments. Part 2 of this article presents the reasons why the endeavour for immortality does not need to be hindered for fear of overpopulation.