Radical life extension could spawn problematic generation gap

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Radical life extension could spawn problematic generation gap

Allenby radical life extension

fMRI scans reveal that the brains of younger “digital natives” work very differently than the brains of older “digital immigrants,” leading to different ideas and ways of seeing the world.
Photo by: flickr/Nathaniel Burton-Bradford

If human life spans become much longer in the future, old people will be a problem, argues Brad Allenby  in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine. Considering the scenario of radical life extension, in which people live for 150 years or more, Allenby worries that older people will remain in the workforce in positions of authority for longer and longer, stifling innovation and new ideas.

Allenby is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He’s also a Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics.

He says that even today, young people’s brains are wired differently than people in his generation. fMRI scans reveal obvious differences between the brains of “digital natives” whose brains developed in an information-dense world and “digital immigrants” who have had to adapt as adults to the breathtaking pace of our digital age.

“I am rapidly becoming obsolete,” Allenby writes. “Sure, I still have things worth knowing and teaching, but the zeitgeist within which my students live, network, learn and become human is increasingly beyond me – not because I’m not reasonably competent, but because they are, in a real sense, in a world that has already moved beyond me.”

Allenby argues that we need to start thinking now about ways to ensure that decision-making power is not too narrowly vested in older people as life spans extend. The young and innovative will need to be given the freedom and the authority necessary to create new information forms and generate cultural, institutional and economic breakthroughs.

To find out how full memory wipes might jump-start creativity and innovation in the future, and how “The Lord of the Rings” relates to radical life extension, read the full article at Future Tense.

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.

Written by Joey Eschrich, jpe@asu.edu
ASU Center for Science and the Imagination

Media Contact:
Joe Kullman, joe.kullman@asu.edu
(480) 965-8122
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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