Can Ageing be Abolished?


Paul Street

Image by Amanda Charchian, Craven

In his 2015 book Homo Deus author Yuval Noah Harari gives, as he titles it, ‘a brief history of tomorrow’. The book follows his 2011 Sapiens ‘a brief history of humankind’. One of the most significant statements Harari makes in the latter book is that ageing is a factor future humankind will no longer need. Sounds presumptuous right? The self-referential quality in human nature is present in the book’s title, Man God, because as technology becomes smart, very smart, we have begun to use its powers to gift the most desired of all mythological qualities: immortality.

Harari approaches this otherwise ethically questionable act in a rational, linear way. Ageing is merely an evolutionary tactic - if human beings (or any living thing) never aged and died, then evolution wouldn’t be able to do it’s thing. In that sense, ageing is essential for the development of all species - instead today its importance is being questioned. As Harari writes, humankind no longer needs to revolutionise, it has reached its most developed and poignant form, and from here, eliminating ageing is the ‘rational’ next step to allow revolutionised beings to become something new - ageless.

It’s predicted that by 2040 there will be a 50% chance that practical rejuvenation therapies for the mind and body will be widely available. And as expected this scientific advancement evokes objections on many fronts. From those claiming the mere impossibility of such an intervention in nature, to those ethically opposing to alter the very element that defines life itself: death. If it is true that we’ve reached our evolutionary peak, death is still, in my opinion, essential for the replacement of generations. Imagine if Putin never died, or Trump, or Assad, the list is long. Without wanting to sound too sardonic, death might be our highest valued saviour in a world of technology and human-godlike figures.

Technological tycoon David Woods, who was one of the pioneers of the smartphone industry believes otherwise. Woods claims instead that rejuvenation is a noble, highly desirable, eminently practical destiny for our species – a ‘Humanity+’ destiny that could be achieved within just one human generation from now. The abolition of ageing is set to take its place on the upward arc of human social progress. I remain skeptical toward this Humanity+ idea, until we’ve perfected Humanity of now at least.