Elon Musk Takes Sides in the Immortality Debate

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX promises that humans will soon live on Mars. But his technological ambitions have limits.

Elon Musk sees himself as a visionary, aiming to transform civilization as we know it with his companies, including Tesla. One of the others, Neuralink, is an artificial- intelligence company, designing and installing brain-machine interfaces. The goal is to strengthen our cognitive abilities via direct interactions with our brains. 

During Tesla AI Day last September, the billionaire vowed to create a “future of abundance” with AI by producing a machine — Optimus, a humanoid robot — that can replace humans.

‘We Could Download Things That Make Us Unique’

“This means a future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, where people, you can have whatever you want, in terms of products and services. It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it,” he said at the time.

Neuralink manufactures a machine to which we will be able to download our memories and our emotions.

“We could download the things that we believe make ourselves so unique. Now, of course, if you’re not in that body anymore, that is definitely going to be a difference, but as far as preserving our memories, our personality, I think we could do that,” Musk said in April 2022.

In November, he asserted he was six months away from the first human implant of a brain interface: “We’ve been working hard to be ready for our first human,” Musk said. “We’ve submitted most of our paperwork to the FDA, and we think that probably in about six months we should be able to have our first Neuralink in a human.”

His ambitions to push the frontiers of technological innovation and what is possible have limits, however.

The billionaire has just taken a stand in the very sensitive debate on immortality, or the extension of life expectancy without end. 

For the tech tycoon, extending life expectancy is not good for civilization, especially when this is not accompanied by improved cognitive abilities in the elderly.

His opinion, which will undoubtedly provoke debate, came in a comment on a message from the socialist magazine Jacobin on Twitter. 

In this article, Jacobin deplores what the platform calls the quest for immortality among the richest and asserts that it harms the rest of humanity.

Jacobin Sees Effort Toward Long-Term Control

“Living to well-beyond 100 years old, or even forever, would allow the rich to hoard wealth and exercise compounding power over extraordinary periods of time — meaning even more control over the lives of the short-lived many,” Jacobin wrote on Jan. 15.

“This is a rare case where I agree with Jacobin, ” Musk commented. “Increasing quality of life for the aged is important, but increased lifespan, especially if cognitive impairment is not addressed, is not good for civilization.”

“We are already ruled by a gerontocracy!”

This last remark echoes the criticisms the billionaire has launched about U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. He had advocated for an age limit for candidates who want to run for office.

“Didn’t occur to founders of USA that people would live so long, so they put in age minimums (for wisdom), but not age maximums (for … 😴),” the billionaire posted on Twitter last May.

Musk believes Biden and Trump are too old to lead the U.S. He believes they should not run for president in 2024.  Biden turned 80 in November and will turn 82 shortly after Election Day 2024. Donald Trump turned 76 last June and will be 78 at the next White House election. 

Musk’s stance on extending life spans drew a lot of comments from very divided Twitter users.

Some point out that the science of anti-aging is not to create immortality but to maintain healthy lives.

“Anti-aging science isn’t about creating immortality, it’s about living healthier & wealthier lives, the byproduct of that is longer life cycles,” one Twitter user commented.

“Aging is a medical problem, we know that now,” commented SENS Research Foundation, a nonprofit that is involved in applying regenerative medicine to aging.

 “Our work is about healthier lives. Being healthier IS what will make our lives longer, this is not about creating immortal demented humans. Medicine today still extends ill-health life and we are working to change that. Check us out!”

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