Eliminating aging also has the potential for strong negative long-term effects. Both of the ones I’m worried about are actually extensions of your point about eliminating long-term value drift. No aging enables autocrats to stay in power indefinitely, as it is often the uncertainty of their death that leads to the failure of their regimes. Given that billions worldwide currently live under autocratic or authoritarian governments, this is a very real concern.
Another potentially major downside is the stagnation of research. If Kuhn is to be believed, a large part of scientific progress comes not from individuals changing their minds, but from outdated paradigms being displaced by more effective ones. This one is less certain, as it’s possible that knowing they have indefinite futures may lead to selection for people who are willing to change their minds. Both of these are cases where progress probably *requires* value drift.
Eliminating aging also has the potential for strong negative long-term effects.
Agreed. One way you can frame what I’m saying is that I’m putting forward a neutral thesis: anti-aging could have big effects. I’m not necessarily saying they would be good (though personally I think they would be).
Even if you didn’t want aging to be cured, it still seems worth thinking about it because if it were inevitable, then preparing for a future where aging is cured is better than not preparing.
Another potentially major downside is the stagnation of research. If Kuhn is to be believed, a large part of scientific progress comes not from individuals changing their minds, but from outdated paradigms being displaced by more effective ones.
I think this is real, and my understanding is that empirical research supports this. But the theories I have read also assume a normal aging process. It is quite probable that bad ideas stay alive mostly because the proponents are too old to change their mind. I know for a fact that researchers in their early 20s change their mind quite a lot, and so a cure to aging would also mean more of that.
I know for a fact that researchers in their early 20s change their mind quite a lot, and so a cure to aging would also mean more of that.
As I wrote here, I think this could be due (in part) to biases accumulated by being in a field (and being alive) longer, not necessarily (just) brain aging. I’d guess that more neuroplasticity or neurogenesis is better than less, but I don’t think it’s the whole problem. You’d need people to lose strong connections, to “forget” more often.
Also, people’s brains up until their mid 20s are still developing and pruning connections.
There are some scientists who roamed around and never really crystallized (famous examples being Freeman Dyson and Francis Crick)
George Church is over 60 and I’ve heard some people refer to him as a “child”, given that he seems to not strongly identify with strongly held beliefs or connections (he’s also not especially attached to a certain identity). I talked to him—he cares more about regeneration/rejuvenation—or maintaining the continuity of consciousness and the basic gist of his personality/mode of being than about maintaining specific memories (regeneration/rejuvenation research may ultimately come down to replacing old parts of your brain or identity with new untrained tissue—this is where developmental biology/SCRB becomes especially relevant). In fact, he’s unironically bullish about anti-aging therapies coming in his lifetime
I think this could be due (in part) to biases accumulated by being in a field (and being alive) longer, not necessarily (just) brain aging.
I’m not convinced there is actually that much of a difference between long-term crystallization of habits and natural aging. I’m not qualified to say this with any sort of confidence. It’s also worth being cautious about confidently predicting the effects of something like this in either direction.
No aging enables autocrats to stay in power indefinitely, as it is often the uncertainty of their death that leads to the failure of their regimes. Given that billions worldwide currently live under autocratic or authoritarian governments, this is a very real concern.
Among the largest nations that are most relevant to the world (or have a disproportionate ability to shape what happens to the world relative to their ability to be shaped by other countries), it only applies for China and Russia, and it’s unclear whether Xi or Putin strongly care about immortality (and even if it did, it would be unlikely to arrive quickly enough to save them). Given that the next 100 years might be the most important years ever in human history, this makes this supposition more bounded on what might happen in the next 100 years, and there aren’t that many dictators in that position. It’s also unlikely that China would become less autocratic/flexible even after Xi dies (the CCP will just have other ways to maintain its power—probably in a way similar to how North Korea barely changed after Kim Jung Il died. When an autocrat’s closest associates also die off over time, it can cause a weakening of the strong beliefs held by some of the previous generation, which might facilitate regime change.
I think this concern has a potential for strong negative downside on the tails, but it’s unclear if it is a strong negative downside in the median case (given that we know who the most relevant dictators are here, and there aren’t many). Given the increasing power disparity between China and the West, what happens in China then becomes uniquely important, so this concern may be more targeted around whether or not China’s ability to change is affected by whether or not the death of Xi’s successor (and everyone in Xi’s generation of the CCP) would significantly increase the chances of China transitioning away from the strongest downsides of autocracy or authoritarian governments (I believe China transitioning away from authoritarianism is unlikely no matter what, though the death of its autocrats over the next 100 yearsmight increase China’s chances of ultimately transitioning away from the most negative effects of authoritarian governments, such as censorship of thoughtcrimes). Conditioning everything into the far future could also time-localize (or impose an upper bound on) much of the “suffering” that comes from the mission of “transforming the identities of unreceptive people into Han Chinese” [eg people in Hong Kong now will most likely suffer in the present, but future people born in Hong Kong probably won’t “suffer” as much from not having something tangible “taken away” from them], though what China is doing now (wrt stifling dialogue) is certainly not making China’s future more robust.
It’s also possible that AI may ultimately improve social dialogue to the point that it may help the CCP get what it wants without feeling threatened if it relaxes some of its more draconian measures such as censorship. I’m not sure if prolonging the lives of China’s authoritarians is guaranteed to be a strong negatives—it certainly has issues such as being insufficiently insensitive over what it’s doing to Xinjiang/Tibet/Hong Kong (and possibly eventually Taiwan), but these issues are mostly in the now and will be unaffected by life extension in the future. What China is doing to increase its influence/power elsewhere will be done irrespective of who is in power, and it probably doesn’t have a strong desire to “take over” other countries in the way that Hitler or Stalin did (ultimately, it is more constrained by what other countries can do to it more than it is constrained by the potential deaths of its dictators, unless it had an unusually powerful/effective/ruthless dictator, which I’m not sure if has).
It may ultimately come down to anti-aging technology ultimately come at just the right time to save us from the worst of authoritarianism (given that we no longer have Stalin or Mao).
2021 edit: Though who knows, democracies can easily turn into authoritarian regimes, and all it takes is a single terrorist or bioterrorist attack that forces universal surveillance...