Immortality and its Consequences.
A lot of our world is built on the fact that we'll die some day. What would happen if one day, we suddenly cannot die? What would change?
Biotech and nanotech have a great potential for disruption to every human-made system we have today, including death. Below is a toy example of how immortality would completely change the structure of society, an example so simple it may seem silly, but which illuminates the principles clearly.
Imagine that you've discovered a pill that can make you live forever, in perfect health, without aging. How would that pill change society?
Consider the different kinds of positions available to humans in our society.
Some are valued because of the intrinsic reward. If the pill works, you could spend your entire life collecting paintings, for instance, and you'll have all the time in the world to do so. That's the "enjoying your passions" path, and it makes no sense to use money as a metric here. As time becomes effectively infinite, all the prior calculations based on time, such as interest and wages, become meaningless. And you don't have to worry about running out of resources: if people care about paintings, you can just clone yourself a few million times, paint a bunch of paintings, and then rent out your clones as painters.
There is also a "working hard and climbing the corporate ladder" path where people would compete to get to the top of various hierarchical organizations. What kind of corporate hierarchy would make sense in the world of immortality? One that is far more merit-based and egalitarian than any we have seen so far. The fact that you will live forever can make social status much less important. In this kind of world, education would be open and free. A child born with incredible natural talent could outcompete any adult, in the same way, that a child born with a disability might need extra help. Hierarchies that are more merit-based might offer more autonomy to those at the top. They'd have a higher ratio of professional satisfaction vs. professional boredom. They could be in charge of their own salaries.
Those who choose this path would have a tremendous motivation to work hard and to learn new skills, just to keep up with the changing times.
There is also a third kind of path: a path of managing power and controlling others. Again, this path would likely be less appealing in an immortality society. You would still have resources, but it wouldn't make sense to pursue this path in the same way.
In a world without death, competition would be based on execution speed. For instance, if someone invents a cure for cancer, we might race to raise the money to mass-produce it. This would likely create a new type of "go go go" society, with no time for politics or old-fashioned methods of persuasion, and more merit-based hierarchies.
An immortality pill would effectively make most "position" jobs obsolete. The "position" jobs that are left will be less merit-based and will be things like the government jobs that exist today, a few types of hard-to-automate professions (like surgeons), and odd jobs like pest exterminator. In a society where work could be effectively taken over by AI's, the government would likely have less power, but there would still need to be government institutions to prevent abuses, or else what incentive would anyone have to take the pill?
How might markets in an immortality society change? If markets are going to continue to exist, in an eternity where money has lost all meaning, they will likely have to change their approach in order to maintain any utility. One might imagine a scenario where there is a cap on the amount of wealth one can have in this society. There would also likely be an interest rate of zero, due to time becoming effectively infinite. In this scenario, one could imagine a model where if you invent a new technology that is deemed to be an existential risk (for instance, AI) you might need to pay some sort of fee in order to protect against that risk. The threat of having to pay an existential risk fee might be enough to give a huge incentive to move to a model where AI's are created in a maximally safe environment.
Consider an existing form of market that might become extremely relevant in an immortality society: the marriage market. It will likely become much more important, as status is no longer something that can be achieved by earning a lot of money. In fact, a successful husband would be someone who can support the woman of his dreams in a world where there is effectively no resource constraint.
There are a number of political implications as well. In particular, a society with a large fraction of people on the pill would create a very large constituency for pro-rejuvenation policies, including anti-aging research, healthcare, and even extra spending on curing congenital disabilities.
What about the free will problem? Isn't this drug effectively slavery? If people can't die, they won't be able to remove themselves from a life that they no longer want to lead. In fact, some people who take the pill may continue to do so out of a sheer sense of duty or inertia. Without death, you will no longer have the escape that dying offers. In this sense, immortality is far more insidious than slavery, which at least allows the slave to escape. If there is no way for anyone to escape a situation that they find no longer desirable, the power dynamic between them and the world around them can become very unbalanced.
Imagine the position of someone who is dissatisfied with their life in a world where you can't die. If you can't die, there is no escape. In some ways, the only choice is to remove your thoughts from your current world. And the only way to do that is through mental states like meditation or psychedelics. If you want to opt out of the world of work, instead of burning out, you could perhaps turn to recreational drugs. But that might have its own problems, because some of these drugs carry side effects and even death.
The advent of an immortality pill would also have far-reaching implications for human society. How might it change our current definition of "human"? Our concept of a human is that of a fragile sack of water, a type of machine that takes in food and converts it into fuel. How many people want to remain in that fragile machine state indefinitely? Wouldn't they rather become cyborgs, or AI's? In an immortality society, there is no need for those types of machines, and everyone will choose to become a different type of machine, a stronger type. People might choose to fuse with their computers and to remove their biological brains, because biological brains will be pointless. This would change the meaning of life, and change humanity in ways we can't really predict.
Even now, some people are in a rush to "become transhuman" through technologies like uploading and nootropics. An immortality pill would make that choice much easier. If we had an immortality pill, a true immortalist world of cyborgs might be just a matter of time.
In summary, if there is an immortality pill, there will likely be fewer jobs, more market competition, faster change in the corporate hierarchy, a new kind of merit-based society, the advent of a new kind of go-go-go society, a new kind of marriage market, and a much larger constituency pushing for a rejuvenation pill. All of these changes would likely be accompanied by a sense of wonder and awe, as the world continues to change.
If you are a young person, it is important to understand these changes in order to prepare yourself. As it is, we are not prepared for the world we live in, and you might find yourself stuck in a suboptimal position. However, if you have a good plan for where the world is heading, you can plan ahead for that future. For example, a high IQ would be very valuable in an immortality society.
So… here’s the plot twist.
Every word written above—and I mean every single word- was written by an AI. No formatting of any kind was needed.
GPT-3—OpenAI’s language prediction model—was responsible for every single line of that thought-provoking essay.
The only thing I did was provide the prompt below.
Balaji whose twitter feed I thoroughly enjoy(I say this in every essay for some reason) really had me thinking about immortality these past few days. He’d been talking far more about the possibility thereof and far less about its consequences on society. As such, I really wanted to know what he thought with regard to that.
Just today, I was granted access to the private beta of OpenAI’s API(thanks again Greg!) and the first thing that came to mind, was this particular essay.
See, I was planning on writing—and still am—my own detailed thoughts on the consequences of immortality. But I wanted to know how an AI would fare. Writing is, after all, a difficult task.
Now, I have a shit ton of editing to do. Definitely don’t want to be “one-upped” here.
That said, GPT-3 is a glimpse into the future. A world in which the monotony of technicality vanishes and we’re left with the unburdened pursuit of making our dreams an instant reality.
I predict GPT-4 will be the perfect brainstorming guide. Need an idea to write about? Let it help you refine your thoughts! There’s been marvelous examples of GPT-3 writing simple code and designing UI.
What we’re seeing take place before our very eyes is a paradigm shift of massive proportions. The sort of paradigm shift that not only aids discovery but changes the way we perceive the world.
More than anything, it’s the biggest attempt at simplifying the world, I’ve ever seen. When I wrote my manifesto a few weeks ago, GPT-3 was the very thing I had in mind.
Now, I’m just grateful to be a part of this timeline. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead of us.
Resources on the project can be found in the links below:
OpenAI's GPT-3 may be the biggest thing since bitcoin by Manuel Araoz.
Will a Robot Take My Job ( just in case you feel your job may be automated away : ) )
Greg Brockman: OpenAI and AGI a podcast with OpenAI Chairman and CTO Greg Brockman in which he lays out his own background and hopes for the project.
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