This immortality thing worries me

Can we live without death—that great escape from debt, tedious social plans, even pants?

This immortality thing worries meImmortality! Gilgamesh strived to attain it. Indiana Jones had it briefly in his grasp. And I’m sure Madonna’s plastic surgeons are trying their best—but come on guys, gross.

According to one renowned futurist, the goal of living forever may no longer be the fevered dream of whoever keeps jabbing Botox into Sylvester Stallone. Ray Kurzweil says our understanding of genetics and technology is expanding at such an exponential rate that within two decades we will have “the means to reprogram our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, aging.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sex and the City XXXVII: Samantha’s Bawdy Bicentennial. Enjoy the threesome with Betty White.

The key to eternal life? Nanobots: microscopic robots that will be injected by the millions into our bloodstream. Yes, the presence of machines in our bodies will erode our humanity and quite possibly compel us to put the moves on our toaster. But they’ll also keep us young, healthy and not dead.

Kurzweil envisions a future in which heart-attack victims will “calmly drive to the doctor for a minor operation as their blood bots keep them alive.” Additionally, nanobots will help advance our mental capabilities to the point that “we will be able to write books within minutes.” (This confirms what many of us have long believed—Danielle Steel is an immortal.)

Eventually, says Kurzweil, these nanobots will replace our blood cells and do their job thousands of times more efficiently. The result? Within a quarter century, we’ll be able to run for 15 minutes without taking a breath. We’ll be able to scuba dive for several hours without oxygen. My God, Kirstie Alley may even be able to eat without sweating. Truly our world will be a paradise.

My gut instinct is to welcome the opportunity to live forever. It’s hard not to cheer a scientific advancement that will bring us a big step closer to defrosting Ted Williams’s head. Plus, I’m on record as saying that given a couple of thousand years I would definitely get around to finishing The Matrix trilogy, and mark my words noww I’ll ttlly doo itt. (Forgive the mistakes—I was typing with my fingers crossed.)

Think of how the pace of life will change with the Reaper out of the picture. No longer will we feel so early in life the pressure to succeed. We could stay in grad school until the age of 180, then bum around Europe for a century. We could take the time to hone our skills and talents. Consider all that our artists will achieve given the luxury of life without end. Give him a couple of thousand albums to work on it and it’s even possible that Ron Sexsmith will learn to sing.

But if nanobots do indeed hold the secret to eternal life, society will soon be confronted by a number of vexing ethical questions, foremost among them “Who gets priority access to these tiny miracles?” and “How do we stop Star Jones from getting any?”

After all, there are plenty of potential downsides to immortality, such as the threat of overpopulation, famine and more Rob Schneider movies. And let’s face facts: as humans, we can already get pretty sick of other people, often in a matter of months, sometimes in a matter of seconds (Dane Cook only).

Can you imagine how bitter everyone will be after 400 years of disagreements, disappointments and personal grudges? Andy Rooney’s commentaries will consist of nothing but profanity and eyebrows.

Sure, it would be a blast to watch the inevitable first ministers meeting held to debate which level of government will have to pay for our immortality treatments—and not just because Quebec would ultimately opt out and use the money to finance all-nude fringe theatre. But think of the impact on our political discourse. Children will no longer be our future. We will be our future. And that’s just messed up.

Consider also the economic costs of an immortal society. The disappearance of mid-life crises will decimate industries devoted to sports cars, hair weaves and hookers. Paying alimony to 30 ex-wives will wipe out Larry King and Lindsay Lohan. And just wait until Wall Street dreams up risky ways of bundling and securitizing your 200-year mortgage.

Come to think of it, immortality may be more trouble than it’s worth. Sure, you get to live forever. But so does the guy who draws Garfield. Frankly, it’s hard to see how that balances out as a positive. Besides, death has its upsides. It’s the ultimate escape, freeing us from credit-card debt, tedious social obligations, Mackenzie Phillips, and—so far as I understand how the afterlife works—the need for pants.

It even offers us relief from the company of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong: there’s no one who thinks I’m greater than I do. I love me! But in my heart of hearts, I’m not sure I want to spend eternity on earth with someone who knows all the words to that Everybody Wang Chung Tonight song.

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