Does overcoming death mean the end of mass medicine?

“For the first time in history, if I’m rich enough, maybe I don’t have to die.” — Yuval Harari

Earlier I wrote about artificial intelligence and quoted Yuval Harari to the effect that intelligence is very good at specialization. But what does that mean for medicine?

In the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it’s done, it’s over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy. Maybe the biggest question of 21st century economics is what will be the need in the economy for most people in the year 2050.

And once most people are no longer really necessary, for the military and for the economy, the idea that you will continue to have mass medicine is not so certain. Could be. It’s not a prophecy, but you should take very seriously the option that people will lose their military and economic value, and medicine will follow.

People will lose economic value. Does that mean that medicine will no longer be for the masses — that it will try to extend the lives (perhaps even infinitely) of those who have economic value only?

I’m a bit skeptical, but I’m not sure why. There’s already inequality in terms of outcomes, and treatment, presumably — paralleling income inequality is life expectancy inequality, and lifespan has increased for only the upper class over the last few years.

That’s already sort of troubling — if that trend continues, it’s almost as if inequality is biological, and that’s a vicious cycle. As much as we talk about overcoming poverty or changing economic policy, you can’t really overcome genes that will kill you prematurely.

Treating death as a disease to be overcome is revolutionary, and that’s a large part of what attracted Google in their attempt to overcome death. I think this is the wrong way to look at it, but as Harari says, next generation there could be a breakthrough, then the next would be starting with more, and then what? Or five or seventeen generations? At that point, I think it’d be safe to say that those with no economic value wouldn’t be privy to that particular form of technology (just as they’re often not able to afford the best in medicine now).

There may have to be a revolution in our way of thinking in order for us to detach meaningful value from work. Like a basic income guarantee, but a basic value guarantee, where each person is promised, say, 65 years of life (and medicine ensures that) and is given enough to subsist on and treated like any other sapien. And maybe my hope for non-economic value is what’s making me skeptical that the era of mass medicine is over.


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