We'll take back every bad thing we've ever said about science if it will just make us immortal. That doesn't seem like too much to ask.
The thing is, it might be closer than we think. There are a lot of different ways to keep a human body and mind going long after its expiration date, and experiments are ongoing. The most promising techniques involve ...
Really, the only thing keeping you from having the lifespan of a vampire or a Highlander is an enzyme called telomerase.
Bob Barker has none of that.
So if you've decided you want to live until squid evolve to start swinging from trees, the first thing you should know is that while we accept aging as an unquestioned constant of the universe, it really isn't. The breakdown in our cells that causes us to get frail and wrinkly is a specific set of defects that science is just now starting to pin down. By all rights we shouldn't have to get old. After all, nature has plenty of examples of animals that suffer the whims of weather and disease, but if left alone in a germ- and disaster-free habitat would effectively live forever (including tortoises, certain jellyfish and some plants).
I WILL NEVER DIE.
With us, there is that enzyme, telomerase, which acts like the little plastic thingy on the end of your shoelaces for your DNA -- it keeps the ends of your DNA from unraveling. Unfortunately, every time your cells divide, some of this is lost, meaning you are breaking your body's ability to regenerate itself every time you grow or heal. Medical scientists are finding ways to either rejuvenate telomerase or prevent its loss in the first place. If they succeed, that could effectively halt or even reverse the aging process. At that point, youth could not only be wasted on the young, but also completely blown on the elderly, who would likely forget all their hard-earned wisdom with their reinstated endurance and sudden return of fully functioning boners.
And one way or the other, the answer to aging is in our genes. And gene therapy -- that is, manipulating the genes inside our cells to treat disease -- is already a thing. It's just a matter of getting better at it. Futurists Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman think that eventually we could not only block disease-causing genes, but even introduce new genes that, in addition to preventing aging, also make awesome augmentations like changing your eye color or making you glow in the dark.
And, one glorious day, the prehensile cock.
None of these techniques will save you from a fiery car crash, obviously (we're getting to those), but the point is there is no reason to think of a lifespan as something that has to end in 80 or even 800 years, barring deadly intervention from a jealous husband.
Mind uploading is exactly what it sounds like: backing up your entire mind to a computer.
Right along with the porn.
This is one of those ideas that sounds ridiculous but could be closer than you think. The hardware certainly isn't far away.
Scientific estimates vary wildly as to how much computer hardware it would take to mimic your brain, because the human brain stores information in a completely different way than your computer. For instance, if you just count up the neurons, its raw storage is only a few gigabytes, i.e., less than the thumb-size USB drive you have at your desk, but the brain uses a flexible system that lets it store something closer to 2.5 petabytes (that is, 2,500 terabytes) worth of information.
One day, we'll be able to fit a drive with twice that much data in the crack of this model's ass.
That kind of storage is commonplace in computers. Blizzard uses 1.3 petabytes just to run World of Warcraft on it servers. Obviously, we don't have computers capable of mimicking or hosting human thought processes, mostly because we don't understand enough about how the brain retrieves thoughts and memories. But in terms of sheer hardware horsepower, we could probably build something capable of doing it once they figure out how it'd work.
So this may actually be less sci-fi than the rest of the list; scientists have already made working neural interfaces for computers and robots and have even created simulated animal brains using supercomputers. These are the first steps to recording a human mind digitally (called whole brain emulation). Then you could create a digital backup of you, in case something awful happened.
If only we could do the same thing to a franchise.
And from there, the possibilities of this particular method of immortality are limited only by our imagination. You could be downloaded into a robot, or a cyborg body, maybe a fancy synthetically engineered biological body.
Which would mean that out of all the science fiction ever produced, fate chose Virtuosity.
Obviously, that's thinking several steps down the line (particularly the tricky process of going the opposite direction -- transmitting data stored on a computer to an organic brain or something that can otherwise be hosted in a body). But, hell, maybe you like your new digital home and don't want to return to that messy "real world" thing. Imagine being able to save yourself to a computer and then live out the rest of eternity in World of Warcraft, or even one of the many hyper-realistic virtual porn worlds that will eventually crop up in our future.
Of course, cosplayers will quickly lose all sense of themselves, much to their delight.
It is also the least invasive and least terrifying method for possible immortality, as it doesn't require any injections or, you know, work, on your part. You just hook up your brain to a computer and hit "save." You don't even have to be plugged in. Finally, we can all live the dream of living forever. And in the virtual world, ordering another beer is as easy as copy and paste. So what if you manage to live a few billion years and the sun is about to go nova? Don't worry; they'll just move your backup brain to a space-based hard drive. Suck on that, entropy!
So how far off is this? The conservative estimate is 50 to 75 years, while the liberal view has us backing ourselves up by 2030. Obviously nobody knows for sure -- there are predictions from 30 years ago that look pretty stupid now. And zombies may have eaten us all by then. Still, when you look at how fast computing power advances, it's hard not to imagine it coming eventually.
At least our zombies will have badass cell phones in their rotting pockets.
Nanotech (i.e., microscopic machines and materials that can build and fix stuff) is quickly becoming to our culture what atomic energy was to the 1950s -- a world-changing technology that, in science fiction stories, always creates monsters. It's easy to get carried away with what nanotech will be capable of. There will be limitations, just as there are with any technology. But it's also hard not to get excited.
Because these techniques aren't just theoretical. Scientists have successfully used nanotech to repair optic nerves in blind hamsters by building a custom synthetic molecule that, when injected, arranges itself into a nanofiber to repair the nerve. They are working on nanorobots that would target and kill cancer cells like tiny hunter-killers.
"We're injecting a tiny army into your shoulder, Mrs. Patterson."
The futurist we quoted before (Kurzweil) thinks we are less than 20 years away from a nanotech immortality revolution, but again, we admit it's hard to stick a deadline on this sort of thing (he tends to be way on the optimistic side). Still, the concept is sound; it's simply a more advanced, less invasive form of medicine that could someday detect and repair body disease and trauma at a cellular level. It would make today's surgeons look like clumsy cavemen.
Kurzweil takes it even further, saying that if we make our tiny machines advanced enough (again assuming the continuing decrease in size and increase in power we've seen with computers since they were invented), then we could theoretically replace the nuclei of our cells with nanocomputers that would do a faster, more efficient job than the shitty nucleus that evolution left us with.
Instead of going into GNC to buy celery juice and algae supplements, you could walk in and buy a red blood cell upgrade and adjustable boobs, for those lonely nights when World of Warcraft and Cheetos aren't enough to fill the void in your new extended life.
Yes, technically if we project nanotech that far into the future, it could also be used to turn people into monsters (monsters with super strength, in fact), and we stand by our argument that nanotech could easily lead to a zombie apocalypse.
Actually, we're pretty sure every item on this list could lead to zombies somehow. That shouldn't stop the forward march of progress, should it?
That'd be like dropping fewer nukes, just because the first couple killed a few tens of thousands of people.