The Expensive Art of Living Forever
We asked seven transhumanists what they hope to look like when they transcend their flesh-covered bodies—and we commissioned images of those dreams.
By Elmo Keep / Topic
This past August, more than 1,000 people—each having paid several hundred dollars, and each hoping to unlock the fountain of youth before their numbers were up—gathered at the sprawling Town & Country Resort Hotel and Convention Center in San Diego for a weekend longevity gathering known as RAADfest.
RAADfest is the yearly meeting of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, a consortium of advocates pushing for the societal adoption of human longevity.
For many attendees of the convention—who are urged by the organizers to “take [their] place in the revolution against aging and death”—the idea that life has an expiration date is just a mindset, one they’d very much like to overcome within their own lifetimes.
The pursuit of radical life extension, or indefinite human longevity, has long been under the umbrella of a loose movement known as transhumanism. Taking root in the techno-utopian Silicon Valley of the early 1990s and drawing from the long history of science fiction, transhumanists see human immortality as the natural progression of technology and medicine working in tandem—an unstoppable force that will eventually lead to the end of all problems personal, political, and environmental.
Advanced artificial intelligence, they hope, will allow us to make exact copies of our minds that will live indefinitely in networked computer systems. Cryonics will allow our dead, frozen bodies to be revived in a future when medicine can cure every ill, including whatever it was that killed us.
People will meld with machines as cyborgs and command extensive physical and mental powers. Gene therapy and DNA-hacking will allow us to isolate and eliminate the biological causes of aging so that no one ever gets sick or dies again—and those same biotechnologies will create indestructible, enhanced human beings who can withstand the subzero pressures of outer space while they’re on their way to colonizing other planets.
Of course, scant attention is paid by transhumanists to what the real costs of living forever might actually be: the imminent collapse of established social orders, a quick depletion of the world’s scant remaining resources, and a doubling down on already out-of-control inequality, since only people who could afford to live forever actually would.
In a world where a growing class of retired Americans are living in poverty and perpetual, insecure, backbreaking labor during what should be their retirement years, transhumanist visions of a future of “infinite abundance” (We’ll just 3-D-print food! Everyone will move to space!) aren’t inspiring, but perverse. Transhumanists are also almost exclusively white, as is borne out by the older, moneyed demographic at RAADfest.
But the people who’ve paid to spend three days at the conference have not done so in order to be confronted with the horrible truths of old age under late capitalism. Quite the opposite: they’re here to escape the reality of death in a place where their beliefs are reinforced by a giddy sense of shared mission. Curious to learn more, we chatted with a few of the movement’s leaders and true believers, then commissioned original art to depict each transhumanist’s specific vision for a life beyond life.
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