TED talks this year included a doctor printing a human kidney on the stage, a man who spoke about intentional evolution through genetic modification, and a robotic exoskeleton that allows people who are paralyzed from the waist down to walk for the first time.
We have the ability to genetically screen fetuses for predisposition to certain conditions, the ability to use laser surgery to enhance our eyesight beyond "perfect," the ability to run faster on prosthetic limbs than we can on the originals. Aimee Mullins, who has a dozen pairs of prosthetic legs and can adjust her height six inches up or down depending on her mood, points out that Pamela Anderson still has more synthetic content in her body than she does. We speak blithely about life expectancies of 130, 150, 200 years.
Clearly, the question before us is no longer, "Can we?" And so the question before us must be, "Should we?"
Given the choice to live for 150 years, would you want to? Has technology improved our quality of life or merely focused our attention downward, toward our devices and away from the eyes of the person sitting across from us? Is it possible for Western society to embrace death as a part of the human condition, or will our technology R&D budgets remain dedicated to escaping it?
And, if you were to live forever, how would you spend your time? How would you find meaning? What would be the point?
These questions used to belong in the realm of a select few, generally old bearded men who didn't have to work and could afford to do nothing but think. But in a world of infinite technology and exponentially increasing capabilities, we are each obliged to become philosophers -- because, at some point, we will each be forced to answer them. The greatest challenge with these questions is the distinction between the macro and the micro, the point at which the abstract becomes not only tangible but personal. We might think it's a bad idea to double average life expectancy -- that the planet can't take it, that we don't have the resources, that an extended old age means an extended drain on the public system -- but who among us is ready to put her hand up to die earlier than necessary?
I do not have the answers to these questions -- no one does. But our ever-growing power to manipulate the world around us means we can no longer avoid thinking about them. They are the questions that are shaping our lives, and, if we don't at least consider them, we will have sacrificed any idea of quality in favor of artificially enhanced quantity.
I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on these topics. Please leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter. And may you live a meaningful life.