Attitudes to life extension via genetic engineering

Peter Merel pete at
Thu Mar 2 18:23:30 EST 1995

okx at extro (Philip Rhoades) writes:
>pete at extro (Peter Merel) writes:

>: the other way is up into a world of peace and riches, control of resources
>: all over the solar system, boundless innovation and experience beyond
>: our wildest imagination. Star Trek seems a dull and stagnant fantasy
>: beside this prospect.

>This is over-optimistic - it assumes that the form of human behaviour that
>has come to dominate the earth (basically greed and fear) will not

I think that it is unfair to suggest that greed and fear dominate all human
activities, but I grant that they are very popular motivations and won't go
away soon. However they are not incommensurable with peace and riches.

>Even if what you say is correct wrt future technologies, what
>gives you the idea that it will be shared amongst all the world's

When houses can be built from the equivalent of Jack's magic beans, when
food can be constructed out of thin air, when living space, clean water,
medicine and plentiful energy are available in abundance, the only real 
poor will be the politically disenfranchised.

I don't imagine that all people will be enfranchised, nor that people will 
not hoard. Nanotech won't solve our political problems; it can greatly
alleviate their effects.

>If history is any indication (that's all we have) then there
>will be a continuing amassing of resources, wealth and power by the few
>and continuing impoverishment of the many. 

That's true, but if the technology means that the poor will still be better
off, then the technology is still of benefit to them. Nanotech is a cornucopia
because it permits digital replication of molecular arrangements; we are used
to the benefits of digital replication of information, and we are all familiar
with the nature of the information economy that this has produced; although
it allows developers to limit the use of the products they create, it has also
allowed them to distribute a great many useful products for free.

In other words, and not to be facetious, let them eat GNU.

>: There is no third path that I can see.  

>The third path is: reduction of world population (in the developed world 
>because it consumes most of the resources and produces the most pollution 
>and in the developing world so it doesn't exacerbate the problem as it 

I think that this is a desirable course in the short-term; the only
ethical way to do it, I think, is to modify human fertility. Not to
sterilize humanity as some have suggested here, but to reduce its
fertility to manageable levels.  We could perhaps modify Patrick
O'Neils' genocide virus to only alter human hormone levels so that no
one would be fertile until the age of 30, and so that no one would be
fertile after the age of 40. Of course the real problem with this is 
not how to engineer it, but how to introduce it without getting lynched
by religious fundamentalists ...

>minimise consumption of scarce, non-renewable resources; 
>re-cycle everything. 

If nanotech is as readily feasible as it seems, very soon we will have no
scarce non-renewable resources.

>Admittedly, this is a fairly unlikely scenario as 
>well (I am pessimistic about our ability to survive on the planet for to 
>much longer). 


>They are not engineering problems but sociological/behavioural problems. 
>New, spacey technology is not going to cure the fundamental problems of 
>equity, distribution etc.

Look at the information economy that exists now, and imagine what the world
will be like when the material economy takes the same form. That doesn't solve
all our problems of course, but it can solve any problem that is based on
resource scarcity - which is one hell of a lot of problems, imho.

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