SMOKE: Forever Young

Originally published: 16 February 2005

As you probably know I'm not fond of the concept of dying, despite having to dodge a tall dark bloke with a scythe every time I drive down Lansdowne Rd.

I've written about immortality before and have suggested that the only real option for me when I die is to be cryogenically preserved for a future reawakening.

One of my most vivid high school memories is of sitting on the wall that surrounded the school one afternoon while waiting for my mother to fetch me, and hearing someone playing Forever Young by Alphaville in a nearby house.

For some reason I couldn't help crying when listening to it, and I think I had a big old teen moment in which my useless life suddenly stretched before me all bleak and shit, and I realised I wanted to live forever.

Teens. Gotta hate 'em.

Forever young, I want to be forever young
do you really want to live forever, forever and ever
Forever young, I want to be forever young
do you really want to live forever? Forever young

Alphaville, 1984

Not the most challenging of lyrics by any stretch of the imagination, but they struck a resonant chord in my troubled young breast. In response to the song's question: yes, I do indeed want to be forever young.

As do most folks, I think, which is why a story I read yesterday caused a quickening of the senses, an erratic pulse and of course a magnificent, undisputed erection.

It was an Associated Press feature about one of the leading inventors and scientists in the world, Ray Kurzweil, who is working on technology he says will allow humans to become immortal within the next 20 years.

It involves tiny robots - called nanobots - that are the size of blood cells and which will be implanted in the body and zoot all over doing repair work on muscles, bones, arteries and brain cells. He reckons you will even be able to improve your genes by downloading upgrades from the Internet.

Within 20 years tops. Have you finished laughing yet?

While it's true that Kurzweil's claims are fantastic, it is just as true that he is one of the most respected and admired geniuses of our time.

He's not just some fat quack trying to make a few bob off the gullible millions - Kurzweil has been awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize, which is considered the Oscar of inventing awards.

He also won the 1999 National Medal of Technology Award and has been published in Time and Wired magazines. He was described by Christian Science Monitor - one of the leading scientific publications - as "a modern Edison", and he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002.

I hope that establishes his bona fides - the guy is no fruitcake. He's a serious man, and one who wants to live forever.

Naturally he has his detractors, but two things nobody faults him on - his track record and his brilliant mind.

Whether or not his endeavours will ever produce what he says they will remains to be seen, but I have to admit that it's a pretty appealing idea.

Not the bots bits - I'm not sure how badly I need an army of bots travelling the length and breadth of my body. I have enough problems as it is without them, thank you very much.

Also - what happens if the bots become intelligent? Newer bots will discriminate against older models and within no time I'd have a full on robot war happening inside my kidneys or lungs. Or ass.

And boy would I have a hard time getting into Florida - those okes have some serious metal detecting shit going on.

*Beep! Beep! Beep!*

"Hey! Grab that guy and search him! The metal detector is off the scale, man! What you carrying, homeboy? Where's the piece? You got a knife in your shoe?"

"Uh, no ... you see ... well, there's no easy way to explain this, sir, but I have an army of bots inside me and they're currently engaged in a life or death battle somewhere to the south of the Valley of Intestines."

"Jesus H. Christ, Pete - getta loada this guy. Reckons he's got an army of robots in his ass."

"Yeah, well, he's going to get a lot more than robots in his ass where we're sending him to, Bud. It's off to the pen for you, terrorist. Maybe they'll feed you some anthrax and see how you like it, commie scum."

It's probably best if I stay away from the technology myself - it's bound to lead to problems.

But I have to say I'm impressed merely by the fact that Kurzweil has made it his life's work. He's so serious about achieving it before he dies that he's formulated a super-diet to keep himself as healthy as possible.

When he was in his 30s he was diagnosed with diabetes, just a few years after both his father and grandfather died of heart disease, and he decided to take control of his life in order to extend it.

He cut out most fat from his diet and according to the AP article he "ingests 250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea (daily). He also periodically tracks 40 to 50 fitness indicators, down to his 'tactile sensitivity'. Adjustments are made as needed."

Maybe that sounds nuts to you, but his own solution means that he is able to control his diabetes without insulin. Not so nuts after all, then. I'd certainly do all that if it kept me alive a while longer.

However - thrilled as I am that scientists and inventors are working on such cool projects, I doubt Kurzweil's invention would be accepted by governments the world over should it actually become a reality. There are too many negatives to prolonging the natural cycle of human life, and the world - and society as we know it - would be forever changed.

All religions would need to re-examine their beliefs, because if humans can become immortal then how are they different from God? There would be social divisions between those who chose to use the technology and those that didn't, and the planet's resources would run out smart quick.

Death, unfortunately, is a part of life, and if the natural cycle became distorted it would have grave consequences for our continued survival as a race. Old age wouldn't kill us, but we would sure kill each other for that last blade of grass, wouldn't we?

It would be quite a trip if it worked, though. You could comfortably live for a thousand years and be the most knowledgeable and valuable person in the world. You would see people evolve, you would see the planet and weather change before your eyes and you would live through countless lifetimes of those who are mortal.

So while I hope Kurzweil's invention succeeds I doubt it would be all that practical, and maybe he'll have to save it just for himself.

Makes a cool party trick.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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