This week’s episode of Lifespan News is on the idea of using a virtual body in place of a physical one, which can help to mitigate risks.
Avatars are the future. These include digital avatars that will represent us in virtual worlds where we’re increasingly likely to be working, shopping, socializing, and exploring. Avatars will also exist in the physical world, where robots will transport the skills and consciousness of a human to distant and remote locations. They’ll help us see friends and family, respond to emergencies, and go where humans cannot. But what does any of this have to do with life extension? We’ll explore the crossover in this episode of Lifespan News!
According to the CDC, in the United States alone there were well over 14 million years of potential life lost due to fatal accidental injuries between 2016 and 2020. This includes things such as traffic accidents, falls, workplace mishaps, drowning, and more. And that’s not even including over 3 million years of potential life lost due to homicide. Add in the amount of years of life lost due to diseases that people can pick up in public, or the years of life lost that stem from injuries and ailments that weren’t themselves fatal, and it’s clear – the world is a dangerous place.
Every time we ride in a vehicle we are increasing our risk of injury and death, but most of us choose to do this. To justify this, we must believe that the benefits of using the vehicle – getting to where we want to go more quickly, having access to more areas, etc. – are worth the risks. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it. And maybe, if people only expect to live around 80 years, taking those risks makes a bit more sense. After all, you only have so many years to cram a lot of experiences and accomplishments into, and in a worst case scenario, you risk cutting a few decades off of your life.
But what if we expected to live 800 years, rather than 80? Would your calculations change? Maybe, in that case, riding in a car, or risking exposure to pathogens, or engaging in risky sports, doesn’t make as much sense. After all, you now have more to lose, and your time horizon of potential accomplishments and experiences is increased.
Now, forget 800 years. What if there was no limit? What if you could remain alive as long as you could avoid death from an accident? Would you ever want to get in a car again?
If we are able to overcome aging and disease – which is what we’re working towards – these questions stop becoming hypothetical and start becoming very real. And this is where avatars come in.
As virtual worlds become more immersive and interactive, and as robots progress and became more capable, it becomes easy to imagine a scenario in which humans with unlimited lifespans choose to prioritize the safety of their physical bodies and brains over everything else, remaining in a safe bunker and interacting with broader society only through digital or robotic avatars.
For many people, this may not sound like any life worth living. They may say that they would never want to give up experiencing the smells, the breeze, and tactile sensations of a forest, or a beach, or the great cities of the world. And they may not want to miss the connection of experiencing a concert, or sporting event, or art museum, or simply being together with friends.
And that is completely understandable, but it also may fail to account for just how immersive the experiences that avatars provide could soon be. These sights, sounds, smells, and sensations may be convincingly duplicated, or even if they can’t, your brain could be stimulated to the point that it can’t tell the difference. How close to perfect would these systems have to be for you, personally, to decide that the risk of losing an unlimited lifespan is one not worth taking?
There are a number of fictional films and stories that show the level of immersion we may one day achieve. An obvious one is James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar, in which a human remotely operates a Na’vi body to interact with Pandora. Another example of the level of immersion that could be possible is the virtual OASIS in Ready Player One. Other virtual worlds, such as those seen in the Amazon series Upload and the Black Mirror episode San Junipero, provide a place for consciousness to live and interact – regardless of whether they are humans with physical bodies, uploaded consciousnesses, or AIs.
As you may be able to tell, avatar technology is not quite there yet – but it is improving rapidly. There are already models, influencers, and musicians with real fans, throwing real concerts, that don’t actually exist. You may have even experienced a movie or theme park attraction in which you couldn’t tell if the person you are looking at is a human, or is computer generated, or is an animatronic device. Other times, this technology enters the uncanny valley, and resembles a human to the point that it is familiar and recognizable, but has certain inhuman qualities that make it appear eerie and unnerving. Some of you have likely experienced this, or may be experiencing it now.
The future is going to get weird, and exploring how things could end up can help you better prepare for it. There’s a lot more we can talk about here. For example, how does identity impact avatars? What does it mean when you can can change your age, race, sex, and more? When using avatars, how do you know that you’re actually interacting with who you think you’re interacting with? What level of control should you have over avatars that resemble you? The list can go on. If you’re interested in these topics, we can certainly explore them further. Regardless, we have a lot more content coming soon, so please subscribe so you don’t miss out. This is Ryan O’Shea, sort of, and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News!
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