Life after life – how long will we live

Life after life – how long will we live

Life after life – how long will we live?

It depends on what you mean by ‘we’ and ’live’. We as mortal humans are already living longer than any of our ancestors, as far as we know. The number of centenarians has increased dramatically in my lifetime. I remember my father telling me as a child that I could expect to live to be 70. I’m already 86, more than 20% older than his prediction. Some of my friends are in their 90s. Some have already gone. Good luck, good genes, good care all contribute to a long life.

‘We’ will live much longer than we can imagine because ‘we’ are changing. Already partly bionic with our artificial knees, hips and heart valves, we are about to witness the first experiment of someone downloading his brain into a computer.There are big steps from there to keeping the brain working and from relating the external brain to the internal body. But we have taken big steps over the last century and we are going to take much bigger ones in the next.

Match medical progress with computer progress and artificial intelligence progress and what do we get? Intelligent robots. We already have those but they miss some of the essential ingredients of a human being. They may be able to ‘sense’ certain things like facial expressions, commands and smells but they cannot appreciate great art, lovely music, a wonderful landscape. If they cry, their tears are artificial. If they laugh, their humour is implanted not spontaneous. Sensing is a particularly animal thing that humans have refined by cultivation, education and practice.

Our lives without refined feelings would be poor indeed. We already sense how poor with the dismissal of arts from many young people’s lives in favour of education that pays dollar earnings. Education was supposed to bring appreciation as one of its benefits. When that appreciation is wasted on noise and discord we do not increase the nobleness of humanity, nor the joy of a human life. We merely provide instant satisfaction to our most primitive urges. That is poor living.

Our technological skills will create a new human species much more quickly than we imagine. Since, for the first time, we will be the creator of this species we had better think pretty hard about what we want. Merely to replicate humans in mechanical from would be wasting an opportunity that will only come once. When we start on the path of the next species it will be difficult to alter direction. We will pay those who improve the path we are on not those who wish to change it.

People sometimes dismiss the idea of immortality rather lightly. They either think it won’t happen, or, at any rate, not in their lifetime. My grandchildren may see it; my great grandchildren, the oldest of whom is now seven, certainly will. That’s less than three generations away. We are now educating those who guide the people who design the next ‘humanoid’ species. C’est formidable.

What are your criteria for this species?

Mine are simple. The species will have all the brain, speed, mental dexterity, physical capability that any species could want. That is a given. I want the new species to sense, to feel, to imagine. I want it to hear sounds beyond the range of the human ear, to see colours and shapes hidden from our eyes, to imagine and create beauty and style out of the reach of us present mortals. But I also want it to know the joys and sorrows that we know, to understand love beyond sex, to comprehend what is truly beautiful and what is unacceptably ugly.

Above all I want it to be able to admire a sunset for its breathtaking calm and to know that it is not only an end to today but also a promise of tomorrow.

If our new species can do that, it will be a glorious and rewarding success.

Good morning
John Bittleston