Immortality has been nothing more than a very popular sci-fi and fantasy trope in pop culture. Fountains of Youth, cyborgs, and computers have been a few of the many ways humans have been able to get away with endless lives. Up until now, the only real way to achieve immortality is to do something grand and leave behind a long-lasting legacy so people won’t forget your name. While in these cases, “immortal” doesn’t necessarily mean living like Achilles with few to no weak points. People can still die of certain ailments, but living to be 100 years old may feel like still being 20.
With that said, why would anyone want to live forever? If there’s anything film and television have taught us, it’s that the number one hardest part about eternal life is watching loved ones pass away. The experience of being alone is too much to bear, faking your death under aliases is tedious, and there isn’t much to do once you’ve seen everything. Unless you’re a fictional character, the entire world would be full of people like that; people who will never die, which eliminates that negative aspect from the list.
While it’s still a bit of a ways away, there’s still time to consider all the pros and cons from the list, think about the laws or regulations that may need to be added to make sure nothing goes wrong, and consider what immortality would help humans accomplish. That being said, with the amount of money and research being poured into it, many experts are saying we can expect to see more immortals walking the earth within the next 25 – 30 years.
15. Working Around the Telomerase Enzyme
It’s simply human nature: over time, the human body slowly deteriorates. Skin loses elasticity so it becomes wrinkled, bones become weak and frail – the list goes on. Naturally, because this has been happening to all humans for centuries, we think that it’s simply the way it’s meant to be – but that doesn’t mean that it will always be like that.
At the end of chromosomes are telomerase, an enzyme which is used to keep them safe and prevent unravelling. When humans are young, they work perfectly fine, however, as time goes on and cells copy and expand, telomerase get worn and damaged. The more the telomerase is put through, the quicker the ageing process becomes. If it weren’t for this particular enzyme’s nature, humans could be forever young.
Scientists have conducted tests on mice by engineering them to not have telomerase, making them immediately weak. When they were given a replacement for the enzyme, their health was immediately replenished, making them as good as spring chickens. Since humans and mice share similar DNA, it’s plausible that humans could potentially slow or even stop the ageing process by having a similar treatment.
14. Memory Uploading
Memory uploading, brain scanning, or whole brain emulation – call it what you will, but this classic sci-fi and fantasy trope will soon become a reality. Whether it’s just specific memories or an entire human’s personality, many professionals believe that this form of eternal life isn’t too far away.
One of the major players in this is the 2045 Initiative. This nonprofit organization founded in 2011 has a group of Russian neural interface, robotics, artificial organs, and systems specialists working to make personality uploading real. Most notably, their Avatar Project allows for humans to host their brains inside a robotic host.
While it’s pretty cool in theory, there are a lot of questions about security that come up.
As cool as it sounds, there are a few major issues with it. One being security. In an age when computers are relatively easy to figure out, how will personalities, identities, and “selfs” be kept safe from hackers? If someone were to choose to upload a few memories, the computer would need to know how to store something organic into a digital file. Also, the volume of information a human brain is a lot more than a computer. Humans can hold roughly 2.5 petabytes, which is about 25,000 terabytes. Right now, the most storage on a computer is 120 petabytes on a computer for IMB’s Almaden.
Imagine little tiny machines inside the human body, floating in the blood stream, or even replacing it. Whenever the body gets damaged by a cut or scrape, it heals the wound. Should the body lose a limb, one grows back to replace it. Being struck by lightning or bungee jumping wouldn’t be nearly as terrifying as it sounds. Having a little army of machines on standby and alerting the host if there are any issues doesn’t sound too bad, and it’s something that can be expected within our lifetime, too. It’s enough to make anyone squeamish with the thought of little robots inside your body, but just remember that nanotech will be roughly the size of a blood cell, if not smaller. It won’t be something noticeable – out of sight, out of mind, right?
This method is already in the works. MIT researchers have used nanoparticles to destroy ovarian tumours in mice, test humans for blood clots through urine samples, and other health issues. Hopefully, there will be a proper way for the brain and the technology to communicate discreetly, since no one really wants to share what’s going on with their body.
12. Cloned Body Parts
Having an on-demand supply of body parts would help a lot of people who are waiting on essential transplants. There wouldn’t be waiting lists – but if there were, they would be a lot shorter. There would also be a way to make sure there’s a match available for the person by cloning the part the person needs. It would help with testing cosmetic and medical products to ensure the safety of humans without having any possible harm to an actual human or animal before distribution.
Alright, so a full human being can’t be cloned yet, but different bits and pieces of humans have been. Adult stem cells have been cloned from human skin in hopes of regrowing tissue for the elderly. By using the same method that was used to make Dolly the sheep, the procedure was made possible, and adds more information as to what needs to happen in order for humans to clone themselves.
Interestingly enough, an Italian artist worked with scientists from MIT and Harvard to clone Vincent van Gogh’s ear using his DNA for an art piece. Maybe science and medicine aren’t the only sectors that would benefit from it?
11. Lab-Grown Organs
Similar to cloning, lab-grown organs would help to save people’s lives by providing body parts to those who need it. Waiting lists are long and many people die before they can get what they need. Similar to cloning, the body parts would contain DNA from the person receiving the part, but the process is a little different.
3D printers are already being used to create organic body parts for people who need them. That’s right, not just legs for ducks or devices for broken fingers, but organs, too – and not plastic ones, either. Using a biopsy performed on the organ, cells are collected and mixed with a special liquid full of nutrients to keep them alive. That’s when the 3D printer comes in to form the body part. Again, just like cloning, there are limitations. Right now it’s only simple organs; skin, livers, and bladders, but with enough research, more complex ones could be developed.
Similar to 3D printed body parts, mechanical ones are on the rise. For the most part, they’re being used for medical reasons like prosthetic arms or legs. Other people may just choose to upgrade their body parts for aesthetic reasons.
There’s a fairly large subculture for people who decide to modify themselves for the latter reason. Biohacking has been around for about 20 years, modifying themselves with implants that light up under their skin or change the shape of their arms. Corporations like Google are taking interest, and while many are interesting in improving the overall health of humans, some are interesting in the aesthetic of it all.
Some real-life examples of this are Neil Harbisson, the man who was once colourblind but now can see colours beyond the average human eye, Kevin Warwick, who’s life goal is to be as close to being a cyborg as possible, and Jerry Jalava, the man who has a USB stick for a finger.
9. Young Blood
Blood has been the source of life and energy for thousands of years. Vampires drank it to survive, but not all of them needed it to remain youthful. Queen Elizabeth Bathory – or Countess Dracula, as some called her – routinely bathed in blood with the belief that it would help keep her youthful look. A number of ancient civilizations sacrificed their young to keep themselves safe. There’s something that was in common here, though: young blood does give a boost.
In an experiment conducted on mice, it was found that old mice who received blood from the young had a huge improvement in brain activity. The hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for memory and learning had brain cell growth. Similarly, young mice who had received old blood not only took longer to grow new cells, but also physically appeared old.
This discovery could lead to a lot of breakthroughs, and while it’s exciting, it also comes with caution. Before anyone goes out to plasma centres, remember that just because it had a certain effect on mice, it isn’t a 100% guarantee for humans.
8. Google It!
In a short 18 years, Google’s had a huge impact on human life. From settling arguments between relatives and helping college students write last-minute papers, to self-driving cars and easy-to-use email options, Google strives for only the best.
So what is this company looking to do in order to get humans to live longer? Well, Google has backed up Calico, a company that’s interested in health and longevity. According to the website, Calico wants to research ways to help people live longer and healthier lives. Google helps to provide data on demographics by sharing information about people through their searches.
Google also invested in 23andme, a DIY kit to discover what’s deep down in people’s DNA. Traits like health risks, likeliness of additions, genetics, and other aspects can be discovered by using it. It’s understandable that a DIY kit isn’t cheap, but how expensive 23andme is, it leaves people wondering what options Google will have for people who don’t have a huge income, but do want to enjoy their quality of life.
Whether it’s because of famous celebrities or Futurama, cryogenics have been around for quite some time. The whole point of it is to freeze the human mind and body and preserve it until a point in time when the person wants to be released – usually, it’s because the frozen person is diagnosed with an illness that doesn’t have a cure.
The way cryogenics work is that because temperatures are so cold, the body becomes dormant, so all functions are slowed down. Brain function is so low that the body doesn’t need much oxygen and the metabolism is very slow moving, it’s similar to a hibernating bear.
It again sounds like something out of a movie or tv show, but scientists have successfully frozen rabbit brains. What makes this particular experiment so interesting is that the brain was able to be brought back to an almost-perfect state.
6. Using ALK5
There are all kinds of anti-aging creams and pills available right now, and with a multi-million dollar market to boot, it’s no wonder new ones keep coming up on tv ads every day. One claims to be the real deal though, using a special protein called the ALK5 Inhibitor.
Again, another test done at that used mice found that subjects who received the protein regrew their muscle and brain tissue, and appeared to become young again. It works by targeting the stem cells that become old and damaged and repairing them like new. ALK5 prevents the growth of TGF-beta1, which is the reason that stem cells can’t renew.
Of course, all this is still in the early stages of development. Just because it worked on a species with a similar DNA set to humans, doesn’t mean it’ll work for us either. Fortunately, with the way experiments are going, it’s only a matter of time before prescription or even over-the-counter access will be available for those who want to be forever young.
5. . Virtual Reality
Since The Matrix, the idea of living in a computer simulated world has really shook the science world. Researchers believe there may be a possibility that we’re actually living in a simulation. Although it may not have all the antics found in The Sims series, it’s still got the basic idea of some kind of aspect of living in a computer. Now, if you actually want to live in a false reality, that’s possible, too.
Much like mind uploading, virtual reality is believed to be one of the many ways people could achieve eternal life through digital means. By uploading a “self” humans can live out the rest of their days in a computer simulation. With the use of cloud computing, massive worlds can be created and people can run through them as they would in real life.
Virtual reality is already a popular gaming tool. There are several different console models on the market, and a number of different video games to be played. News stories have already taken advantage of this by offering a whole new experience and putting the consumer right in the middle of the action.
Hopefully, with all the advancements with virtual reality, it won’t just be sight based, but also allow for senses like smell and touch to be experienced. Of course, once VR becomes a legitimate source of eternal life, people are going to figure out how to mod it, making the possibilities for human life endless.
4. Technological Singularity
Experts believe that two revolutions will help to increase the lifespan of humans. One of these being singularity, which was when artificial intelligence will become much more powerful than humans. This will then lead to the second revolution of virtual immortality, when humans can upload themselves into computers.
It simultaneously sounds cool and scary. The thought of humans no longer existing in their own world and never being able to experience life in the flesh is something many people deny and reject. While technology is rapidly advancing to the point where artificial intelligence could become a real thing, there are many people working to make sure that humans still have control over the limits of AI.
The fear is perfectly reasonable, too. There’s been a movie after movie depicting what could happen if the technology were to become smart enough to walk and talk among us – most of them with bad outcomes for humans. However, it’s unclear what could really happen until we get much closer to this actually becoming a reality, so don’t fret just yet.
3. Space Travel
Aside from ageing just a little slower in space than on Earth, many believe that in order for humans to become immortal, they must explore the universe. Think about it like this: Earth can hold only so many humans, and we’re well beyond that point. Earth is also subject to astroid collisions, global warming, and other means of destruction. Sure, other planets are subject to getting hit with floating space rocks, but if humans can inhabit more than one planet they really can become immortal.
Living on another planet would ensure that humans survive should Earth be hit by something, or if those living on Mars should be wiped out by a disease there would still me more on a Moon Base or a colony located on Saturn or in a floating space station.
While this form of immortality doesn’t necessarily mean living longer as a single person (which it could), it will certainly mean that humans will exist and evolve for much longer than they would if they solely live on Earth.
2. Genetically Engineered Humans
Everyone who wants kids has an idea of how they would like them to turn out, and if given the chance, many people would choose to undergo biotech procedures. A good number of these people choose to do so to make sure their offspring don’t inherit depression or IBS like themselves.
Now, we’re not that far off from Build-a-Baby. Scientists have engineered human embryos by editing the DNA within. This was done so that the organism wouldn’t develop thalassaemia, a fatal blood disorder. This could potentially save 100,000 people who currently have been diagnosed with it, but many people are still wary of the ethical implications of this.
What would it mean for humans to basically pick and choose which genes their offspring have? Sure, in terms of health issues, it would mean wonders, but would people be able to select aesthetics? Would people use it with bad intentions? There could also be underlying medical issues not yet discovered by picking and choosing genes.
1. Gene Therapy
Ever watch a movie in which someone gets shot but survives and you think it’s just completely impossible for them to survive? Well thanks to Gene Therapy, that will be a thing of the past.
Gene Therapy is simply replacing missing or defective genes with normal ones. Thanks to technological advancements, though, scientists are working on fusing human skin cells with spider silk proteins. Unlike bulletproof vests which slow down bullets and sometimes stop them, this new skin type will completely block the bullet from entering a human’s body. It’s still underworks, but because of the research behind it, this will give scientists a way to figure out just how to keep people safe from stray shots.
This, combined with genetically engineered humans, would greatly increase the lifespan of a human.