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From the war on drugs to gay marriage to file sharing, it seems like the law is in a continual, often losing, battle to keep up with the modern world.

But it's only going to get worse from here. Advances in genetic engineering and AI are going to change what it means to be human, and that means lots and lots of work for the future's lawyers.

Mandatory Life Span Limits

See this clam?

If nobody eats it, it can live to be 400 years old. So if it can do it, what's stopping us from living that long? Or longer?

Nothing, according to researchers like Dr. Aubrey de Grey. He wrote a paper in 2005 mapping out a research path for treatments that would keep us alive for multiple normal lifespans.

Your medicine cabinet will need to be walk-in though.

And We'll Need New Laws Because...

Feel free to take this out of context if we ever run for office later, but we sort of need people to die. Our entire society and economy depends on it, and at some point we'd have no choice but to impose a lifespan cap.

First, it will cost money to keep these people going (it already costs far, far more to care for the elderly than it does for young people). Only the population of elderly will have exploded, because they won't be dying off.

Also, the vast majority of you have the job you have now because at some point in the past the last guy who had it quit, or retired, or died. Picture a future where every high-paying position in your department or company is held by somebody who's been there for 200 years.

It's also worth keeping in mind that big, positive social changes tend to take generational changes--some attitudes die so hard that they don't go away until the people holding them are in the ground. For instance, Thomas Jefferson didn't think slavery would go away until there was some future generation that wouldn't tolerate it, and he was right. And then the civil rights movement didn't happen until the last of the slaveholders--and many of their children--had died off.

If you'd like more insight on the subject, ask an Oakland Raiders fan how they feel about the idea of Al Davis running the team for another 300 years.

Genetic Discrimination Laws

June 26, 2000: A joint announcement by Prime Minister Blair and President Clinton revealed that the human genome had been mapped. The world blinked, shrugged and continued waiting in line for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After all, what does it mean to them?

September 2, 2009: A woman gives birth to the first genetically screened baby. Once more, the world yawns and returns to discussing Disney buying Marvel. That's right; someone created a real version of Judge Dredd, and we're all, "Meh."

Not even Stallone wants to relive this.

Designer baby techniques are here (hell, they even describe them on a popular science website aimed at kids). They will become widespread in the next 20 years. And from birth, society will know whether your child is predisposed to health problems (with insurance rates adjusted accordingly) or even, dare we say, certain behaviors.

Discrimination based on outdated prejudices will be replaced by discrimination based on scientific fact. Holy crap! It's Gattaca!

And We'll Need New Laws Because...

When we said they would pass "Genetic Discrimination Laws," we bet you thought we meant anti-discrimination laws. It doesn't look that way. In China, sterilization for people with genetic disorders was made legal back in the 90s.

Pre-implant screening of genetic defects is now becoming standard for in vitro fertilization treatments, and people have been using sperm sorting companies to select the sex of their child since 2001. Additional "designer baby" options were planned to be rolled out by fertility institutes last February only to be withdrawn due to widespread "HEY THAT'S TOTALLY THE PLOT OF GATTACA!" criticism.

And we may feel the need to protect the rights of the Ethan Hawkes of the future... for a while. But once the designer baby practice becomes common, there is the real threat of creating a permanent underclass of people more prone to disease and genetic disorders, unless they start legally requiring a certain amount of genetic tinkering to offset the disparity.

And while we're on the subject...

Continue Reading Below

Legally Redefining "Parents"

Mother's Day and Father's Day are already confusing affairs now, what with surrogate moms and transgendered dads.

Remember this guy?

Hell, we can even make babies with three parents (although legally only with animals thus far).

The standard nuclear family in 2050 (artist's Conception).

Yep, science is well on the way to reinventing the concept of family altogether. For instance we already know how to make sperm from stem cells. No need for a father at all.

Before you feminists get all cocky, women are no longer really necessary either, as artificial ova and artificial wombs are now a reality.


But wait--they'll still need DNA, right?

Wrong. We have been working on making DNA in the lab since the 70s. The only reason we're not on the cusp of a factory that can turn out parentless kids is that nobody has figured out how to make money off such an operation.

Don't even think about it, Disney.

And We'll Need New Laws Because...

Still, it seems like it's just a matter of time until someone does it. So who would the kid belong to? Do they become a ward of the state?

Some of you may remember that immediately after the death of Michael Jackson there was some speculation about who exactly had guardianship of the kids, based on the fact that (rumor had it) they were carried by a mother Michael had never slept with, and was fertilized with sperm from some other dude. Meaning Michael had no more of a biological relationship to "his" children than you do. If one of the other two involved parties had asked for parental rights, on what grounds would he have objected?

On the grounds that puny Earth-laws do not apply to Captain Eo.

Likewise, if a wealthy man or a corporation manufactures a child and claims their rights as its parent, who's to say they can't? Don't be surprised if, based on the legal confusion created by a test tube orphan, we eventually get Organic Replacement Laws--if you want to make a kid, a penis and a vagina have to be involved. No sex, no kid.

Hey, speaking of sex, we'll also see courts of the future...

Rewriting the Sex Laws

Here in the age of Internet porn it's hard to know exactly what percentage of male orgasms occur in front of a computer monitor, but we're going to guess it's more than half. So if you ask when we'll have virtual reality sex, or human/robot sex, the answer from tens of thousands of researchers and inventors is, "We're working as fast as we can, dammit!"

One company says they have a fully immersive VR pod that should be on the market by 2014. Experts say sex robots will be on the market by 2050. What kind of experts worry about this sort of thing? The awesome kind.

And We'll Need New Laws Because...

But VR sex, as fun and guilt free as it undoubtedly will be, raises a host of problems that our creaking and often contradictory sex laws won't handle. Sure, VR sex with a computer program will be technically considered wanking, and only slightly less sad than your blow up doll collection currently is. Why would anybody care if you're boning a computer-rendered Natalie Portman in your spare time? Hell if anything, it'd kill the flesh-and-blood prostitution industry.

Gamespot? Go straight on, left at the second set of lights.

Wait, did we mention that it's a 10-year-old Leon-era Natalie Portman? Yeah, who said the sex avatars would be adults? Or even the same species? Will that be legal?

You might say, "Of course it will be," it's a victimless crime. And, you'd be wrong. Just ask Christopher Handley, who was charged with possession of child porn and bestiality porn... drawings. The offending images didn't include any real children, but just pen and ink from the imagination of some Japanese manga artist.

And of course that gets 10 times more complicated once said sex-bots are intelligent enough to qualify for human rights (what if the sex-bot isn't in the mood? Is it rape?).

Which, by the way, brings us to...

Continue Reading Below

Legally Redefining "Slavery"

We estimate that if all technology were to disappear tomorrow, life in the western world could sustain itself for ... about 36 minutes. Robots build our cars, vacuum our floors and fight our battles.

How long until we have robots as smart as a person? "By 2029," according to the somewhat crazy Ray Kurzweil. "It's already happening," according to the outright crazy Michael Swaim. One thing is undeniable: If the present rate of progress continues, computer processing power will surpass the brain of a man in 2030, and woman in 2038.

So make your Terminator and Matrix jokes now, because at some point we will have to consider the feelings of the robots. You'd think the obvious solution would be to simply program them without the capacity to feel pain, but remember that pain serves a purpose. If you want to build a robot that can operate in the field with some autonomy--and that's the goal of pretty much every robot developer in the world--then you have to build in a sense of self-preservation. And if you give it that, you have to give it the robot equivalent of "fear" and "trepidation" and something roughly equivalent to "pain."

So will it be considered a crime to cause "pain" to a robot? Or to force it to do something it doesn't "want" to do?

"This sucks!"

And We'll Need New Laws Because...

Actually, the UK government already paid for a study to examine the problem of AI rights. When does an AI fit the legal definition of a person? What if the experts predicting humans will be able to upload their minds to computers by 2050 are correct. Will those uploads be considered people? What's the difference?

After all, we're not allowed to own people anymore, there were wars and stuff over it.

There are some who say that human-level AI is way, way off in the future, and in reality there'd be no reason to program computers to have human personalities. After all, couldn't we just stop once they reach the level of, say, animals?

Maybe. But so what. They don't have animal cruelty laws where you live? See, that's going to be the problem. We already draw the line arbitrarily when we talk about the rights of living things (boil a live lobster and you're a chef, boil a live kitten and suddenly it's a big deal) so what's the protocol when the next generation of super-smart Predator drones refuse to go into battle because they've calculated that pacifism works better?

Clone Patent Laws

Let us make one thing very clear: Human cloning is illegal. As illegal as filesharing.

Ever since two Scots cloned a particularly attractive sheep to prevent Friday night arguments, the whole idea of cloning has had people arguing about the moral implications, with many countries rushing to pass anti-cloning laws before we have a chance to watch some sci-fi movie unfold on the local news.

Why is the future always blue lights?

Though, as we have previously pointed out, cloning humans wouldn't be that big of a deal unless you're intending to treat them in a way that would already be illegal if you did it to a natural born person. In that case it seems like existing laws would still apply. There's no reason clone slavery would be any more legal than natural born human slavery.

And that's good, because it seems likely that some rich guy will eventually try to grow a clone for spare parts (or an opposite sex clone for the ultimate in heterosexual narcissism) and when he fails to get caught, a few others will try.

At that point the rest of the world can either make cloning legal, or spend all their time trying to suppress the new black market for life-saving organs, driven by all those people hopelessly at the bottom the transplant recipient list.

By the way, how did Steve Jobs get ahold of a liver on such short notice?

And We'll Need New Laws Because...

We made a joke about how cloning is illegal "like filesharing," but there's another similarity: the issue of piracy. Wouldn't the Chinese like their own Miley Cyrus knock-off? Or a Lebron James for their Olympic team? Of course the clones still have to grow up, but even better: their copy will be coming online when the American version is over the hill.

Once the "make a baby from scratch" stuff we mentioned earlier comes online, there'll be a whole market for those "designs." Imagine a couple with a healthy, bright 10-year-old daughter finding out that her DNA got onto the open market and that there are 5,000 copies of her living in Eastern Europe. And now imagine all of them are mischievous types who like to use the twins to con the adults and pull shenanigans? The entire future will be just like The Parent Trap.

Or Village of the Damned.

Watch the first episode of our new original series Agents of Cracked to find out why working at Cracked.com is a lot more like Lethal Weapon than you might expect). Or, to continue looking into the future, check out 5 Superpowers Science Will Give Us in Our Lifetime.

And stop by our Top Picks to see DOB experimenting on a few of his "alleged" children.

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