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DEBATE: In the Future, with Radical Life Extension, will there still be Children?

Posted: Sat, May 18, 2013 | By: DEBATE



When people live for 1,000 years, will there still be children?

When Indefinite Life Extension is attained, will human beings still want to reproduce - will they desire to have children? 

Will the longing to make, train, and support babies disappear if people can live indefinitely? Or will it vanish, because the primary reason for spawning children is due to our desire to “live” into the future?

Will having children be discouraged or sanctioned against due to overpopulation?

Will the education of children be seen as a tediously slow and dreary way to advance intelligence? Or will we figure out a way to upload high intellect into baby bodies?

Or, inversely, if humans are “young” forever, will we all have dozens, or even hundreds of offspring?

We posed this question to Reddit’s “Futurology” - they’re discussing it HERE

Facebook’s “Singularity Network” discusses it HERE

KurzweilAI Forum discusses it, extensively, HERE

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Comments:

IMO there wont be children 1,000 yrs. from now; such is projecting this primitive life on the future. ‘Course, no-one can actually predict the future, but that includes smarmsters going on about their grandchildren (the more the old rubes go on about their grandkids, the more I wish their daughters-in-law would have their tubes tied).
Am sick to death of rubes and smarm—in that sense Giulio is correct: we have to be more assertive. They who yell get heard. I like that photo on Peg Tittle’s book, ‘Shit That Pisses Me Off’, it expresses the way to be heard.

What I do now is softly sing “I wish I were in de land o’ cotton, ol’ times dere is not forgotten” in public—they get the message! The sly way is usually the best.

By Alan Brooks on Mar 13, 2013 at 8:20am

I am all for exercising democratic rights and I would strongly consider voting for any party that would rationally constrain parenting, taking in to account the interests of the kids. Lets ask ourselves what parents, what environments and what kind of world is most suitable to produce our future citizens.

By Khannea SunTzu on Mar 13, 2013 at 5:35pm

It depends on how we will connect in the future. The connection between parent and child are so powerful I can’t imagine the desire for that bond to evaporate. I find that among the most intriguing questions about the future and transhumanism. How will relationships and our bonds to one another evolve?

By Allan on Mar 13, 2013 at 9:56pm

We love children now because they love us and need to be taken care of, I don’t see why that would change. Indeed, with genetic engineering we will be able to create children that are customized to be just what we specifically want; they’ll be far more ideal than the present chancy brats.

By Giovanni Santostasi on Mar 13, 2013 at 10:09pm

But 1,000 years from now? With all the change going on? Why would the word ‘reproduction’ mean the same as it does today? Why would ‘mean’ mean the same as now? If the debate was asking about a century from now—or 150 yrs—then sure. However an entire millennium, Hank?
That’s like people in 1013 (53 yrs. before the Norman Conquest)  attempting to imagine how things would be in 2013.

By Alan Brooks on Mar 13, 2013 at 11:49pm

Why does this article use the word ‘immortality’? They’re describing longevity, or perhaps ‘enhanced’ longevity. Immortality isn’t just ‘living a long time’.

By RandomAnon on Mar 14, 2013 at 1:51am

Making and raising children will assume the status of a hobby.  Just like now some people find joy in stamp collecting or morris dancing, some will get their kicks out of child rearing.  But i assume even of those, many will forgo the ‘pleasures’ of giving birth.  We have seen these trends develop for many years already without immortality.  But until we successfully create extraterrestrial habitats there may be a quota system implemented.

By René Milan on Mar 14, 2013 at 3:30am

Of course, the phrasing of this question assumes that Indefinite Life Extension (ILE) is going to occur. I do NOT see this as a foregone conclusion, by any means. Furthermore, EVEN assuming it does, it might happen some time over the next few decades, perhaps even in the lifespan of people who are 46 and in moderately good health today (ha ha! Dream on, Peter), or it might take centuries, perhaps because some kind of repressive régime has taken over the world (as in Bostrom’s “singletons”). I believe the answer depends crucially on what kind of scenario we’re talking about.

But, let’s be optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on which side of the “Is ILE desirable or not?” debate one is on), and assume that it will happen over the next few decades, and that the human condition has not changed significantly in other ways. (This is a HUGE and probably unsound assumption, but I think it’s a good first step to help us to think about it.)

I don’t think the urge to have a care for babies will suddenly disappear. I was observing two women with a baby (presumably one of the women was its mother) the other day in a café, and…no. It’s not like women wake up and think, “I would ideally like to live forever, and if I can’t the next best thing is to pass on my genes, so…oops, honey, did I forget to take pill? What shall we do now?) It’s just WAY more complicated than that.

Will having children be discouraged or sanctioned against due to overpopulation? Yes, quite possibly, I would guess. And of course this is also one of the more legitimate reasons to be sceptical about the desirability of ILE.

Will the education of children be seen as a tediously slow and dreary way to advance intelligence? By some it already is! But by others not, and we can expect such people to be among the most bitter opponents of ILE. Will we figure out a way to upload high intellect into baby bodies? Perhaps. I think others are probably better equipped to answer that kind of question than I am.

There are some other related questions that haven’t been asked, and which might affect the answers to those that have. For example, to what extent will the creation of babies be further decoupled from the miserable natural process? Will we be able to choose their genetic make-up?

What I like about transhumanism - in contrast, for example, to the utterly disempowering defeatism of anti-progress thinkers like John “Straw Dogs” Gray (though, interestingly, I found that book wonderfully liberating when I first read it in 2003) - is that it encourages us to dream utopic dreams about the far (or perhaps not so far) future. Gray (still) opines that such utopism (that’s probably not a word) only leads to gulags, death camps and various other forms of hell on earth, but simply repeating a point and illustrating it with examples (as he does) is not the same as making a robust case based on evidence.

Nevertheless, Gray’s pessimism (if not his defeatism) is to some extent salutary, and once we have overcome our learned helplessness and started to Dare to Dream, it’s something I frequently feel like injecting into these discussions. It may be, for example, that we WILL get through Lester Brown’s “bottleneck”, vastly increase Earth’s carrying capacity, discover new planets, and have dozens, even hundreds of biological offspring, while remaining “forever young”. Or perhaps some other utopia.

But the gulags and death camps happen when we become so wedded to specific Utopias - or even perhaps just to the idea that the future will be better - that we start filtering evidence until we have created conditions that are so bad that our illusions finally become unsustainable.

I look forward to reading more answers to these fantastic questions…let’s just also make sure we learn to make the most of our present, largely unenhanced experience.

By Peter Wicks on Mar 14, 2013 at 4:41am

Assuming the next one thousand years will be ones of exponential growth, there shouldn’t be an “overpopulation population” problem. Humanity will begin leaving the nest en masse within decades.

If anything, the further we migrate, the more scarce “our kind” will become. Having children—whether biologically, technologically, virtually or symbiotically—may become a resource necessary for extending the reach of the human-machine universal civilization.

By mikc on Mar 14, 2013 at 10:05am

One clarification regarding the “1000 years”: I was interpreting the question to apply also to the potentially near future when we have reversed or slowed the ageing process to agree that people essentially expect to live indefinitely, with putative life expectancies of 1000 years or more. Obviously, once that 1000 years have elapsed, so many balls are in the air that many, many other things will have changed as well.

By Peter Wicks on Mar 14, 2013 at 2:51pm

I am personalty fairly sure that people will still reproduce when immortality is attained. Simply because not everyone will be immortal, normal people will still exist and these peoples will keep reproducing.

Members of the “elite” might stop reproducing, but it won’t affect all the society. I highly doubt that everyone will be able to afford immortality, even in 1,000 years.

By G. Champagne on Mar 15, 2013 at 2:11pm

Immortality does not mean stop all the new, just imagine what would have happened if our fore fathers have done it. We would not have been here to discuss. stopping reproduction is selfishness and this itself is against immortality. Immortality does not mean only living physically. It should help ever expanding human experience taking everybody along and exploring the innumerable ways of happy coexistence.

By ivsprasad on Mar 15, 2013 at 6:41pm

@Hank - “We love children now because they love us and need to be taken care of, I don’t see why that would change.”  This is the anthropocentric view, and while true it presents only half the story.  Our genes whose only ‘interest’ is to proliferate and perpetuate make us first make and then love them to achieve their own objectives.  That we are about to determine our own evolution(s) by taking control of its current main engines (genetics and memetics) is the reason “why that would change” or at least why that will change for those who so desire.  Even today there are many who are not interested in child-centric lives and reinforce that attitude by simply staying away from kids.  I assume that many of those will not be able to maintain their resistance when cornered by an ‘innocently’ smiling baby.  But we will be able to switch off that weakness (without simultaneously switching off compassion for those truly in need).  It is not different from allowing or disallowing oneself to fall in love with an object of sexual desire, which can be, and is being, done without ‘technology’ but will be much easier with.

By René Milan on Mar 16, 2013 at 2:47am

@ ivsprasad - “We would not have been here to discuss” - and we would not, nay, could not care.  “stopping reproduction is selfishness” - this implies that it is wrong not to utilize every available egg cell for reproduction, and not to lament nature’s ‘selfishness’ in producing disproportionate numbers of egg and sperm cells.  Assigning a ‘right to exist’ to hypothetical beings is a far fetched idea.

By René Milan on Mar 16, 2013 at 4:15am

The points made by ivsprasad are important in my view. This does not mean I necessarily agree with them, but I think they go to the heart of the ethical, and to some extent also the practical, debate about immortality. The old making way for the new is indeed the primary way nature has ensured that sexually reproducing species will innovate and adapt. I have actually heard supporters of indefinite life extension repeating the adage that science progresses one funeral at a time without apparently even being aware of the irony.

One possible response to this is that this pre-technological engine of innovation and renewal, which indeed relies on people (and other animals) dying, is now being superseded by a new type of evolution, where the unit of reproduction is the idea (or meme), not the biological gene, and the analogy of “life-form” is, instead of (as biological life-forms) being a vehicle for the reproduction of genes, a vehicle for the reproduction of ideas (memes).

But then, if we take this long view, why should we get obsessed about our biological longevity? The answer, of course, is that our own concept of identity - which is itself an idea - currently depends on the maintenance and well-being of our biological self.

Now, the idea that stopping reproduction is selfish is itself an idea. I’m curious to see how that one fares in this new, non-biological evolutionary battle, the battle of ideas.

By Peter Wicks on Mar 16, 2013 at 4:22am

@mike - “If anything, the further we migrate, the more scarce “our kind” will become. Having children—whether biologically, technologically, virtually or symbiotically—may become a resource necessary for extending the reach of the human-machine universal civilization.”

That is very true.  But even after invading every suitable habitat within the closest 1000 star systems we will still be just galactic babes with slim chances of long term survival and by implication of attaining a status of universal, let alone multiversal, civilization.

By René Milan on Mar 16, 2013 at 4:34am

After the vzzmist keraxium of 2057, children were urthangled inby underhang reasons, so of course the vprudium xangst of the xenoch mitigated against such matterslanging.

By M.Q. Boyne on Mar 18, 2013 at 5:54pm

A great topic for an essay!

But my initial thought about this is:

1/ There probably won’t be any “children” as we view them today, i.e. freshly born humans who slowly grow and learn from their elders.

2/ Some post-humans might take the body form of what we know today as “children”, occasionally at least, because they find it “useful”, “interesting”, “beautiful”, or some other reason our weak intellects would not be able to fathom now.

3/ Considering that the galaxy is vast, and the universe even vaster, we might need some form of reproduction to populate it, but it will certainly not be any conventional form of reproduction as we understand it now. It may be something like bacterial division, with each person creating copies of himself and sending them in all directions.

http://immortallife.info/articles/entry/debate-forum-in-the-future-will-there-still-be-children

By Greg Anton on Apr 02, 2013 at 1:54pm

There will still be children, maybe not born or conceived in the traditional sense, as long as we need procreation to survive as a species. Even those with indefinite lifespans are not indestructible, and therefore we will need some form of procreation.  I think in this instance birth or creating new life will be rare, but will still happen.  Likely, it will be more difficult because the future human is likely to be transhuman and/or GMO, somehow enhanced.  I highly doubt our bodies will be used to carry the young, but who knows.  If we are biologically enhanced could we pass this down to the child?  If we are technologically enhanced with some sort of hardware we’d likely have to augment the newborn too as it will be born completely biological…although we may be able to do this in vitro using some sort of nanotech.
I doubt we’ll be freaking out about population since at some point in the very near future we will probably experience declines due to abundance, and if we become spacefaring this is a non issue.

By Roberta Scarlett on Apr 02, 2013 at 5:45pm


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