Open Lifespan is not an enhancement as the dead don’t compete

In my last 2 posts I have argued on why healthy longevity technologies (Open Healthspan providing the limit, an indefinitely long health life called Open Lifespan) cannot be considered enhancements.

In The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting the case was made that Open Lifespan as a capacity cannot be used for demonstrative and performative purposes, as opposed to poster child superpowers like memory enhancements, and hence it cannot be used to single out individuals in a competitive situation.

In Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity I made the case for a philosophically (morally, politically) more relevant way to separate, isolate, detach Open Lifespan from poster child transhumanist enhancements based on the tendency behind Open Lifespan to increase equal opportunities as opposed to being pro-inequality like some transhumanist enhancement dreams are.

Today I look into yet another aspect to separate Open Lifespan from transhumanist enhancements and this is the original argument I wanted to frame. It is along the lines of what kind of ‘intrinsic’ fundamental benefit does Open Lifespan provides and what kind of positional, competitive benefit it does not provide as opposed to transhumanist dreamhancements like potential cognitive enhancers.

My main background reference is the book called Enhancing Human Traits, published 2007, the most serious conceptual treatment of enhancement to date. The book was edited by Erik Parens and his introductory essay called Is better always good? The enhancement project (sorry, no link to access text) is the best and shortest start you need to get up quickly to working temperature philosophically concerning this topic.

Parens makes a crucial distinction by separating 2 kinds of conversations we have about therapy/prevention vs enhancement.

The first one deals with the proper goals of medicine and here the main question is whether aging is a disease or not. In Can you imagine a world without disease but with biological aging? Neither can I provided a reductio ad absurdum type of argument blurring the conceptual lines between diseases and biological aging, while carefully not making the mistake of considering biological aging as a disease per se.

The other kind of discussion about enhancement has to do with the goals of society, the different social, political, economical, emotional goals people can have. It is this context my recent posts intend to contribute.

Argument step by step (not always the same as premise by premise):

  1. In a social context something to count as an enhancement it needs to give a competitive, positional advantage over others in certain situations. Example 1: job interview. Example 2: competitive sport, think 100 meter sprint or a chess game.
  2. In the context of the enhancement debate competitive advantage due to enhancements applies only to situations where all competing parties are alive. Obviously candidates of the same particular job interview are living persons at the time of the interview so no problem with our Example 1. In terms of Example 2, in case of competitive sports we need to rule out absolute, time-independent comparisons between  competitive athletes, so in the context of the enhancement debate it does not make sense for instance to consider Lionel Messi’s performance metrics against dead footballers.
  3. The possible world of our thought experiment: Open Life, a possible world, where people can choose Open Lifespan, an open-ended, indefinitely long healthy lifespan. Open Lifespan is achieved via Open Healthspan Technologies developed and accessible enough that all people can choose to go through continuous interventions to counteract the biological aging process and have a fixed, small but nonzero mortality rate due to external causes of death. Let’s also assume that the functional, mainstream version of these technologies need and can only be applied over 45+-5 years of age taking into account different individual rates of aging. Although everybody can access it, not everybody is choosing it due to different world-views, so there’s have and have nots. For the sake of the comparisons to be made let’s also assume that different memory and cognitive enhancers are available true that are proven to provide extra competitive benefits for our job interview in question, see next point. It is very important to note here that I think the argument works in a world where not all people have access to Open Healthspan technologies but the point I want to make should not be sidetracked by other relevant issues related to access to this technology.
  4. Hypothetical job interview within the possible world of Open Life, described briefly in point 3. For a particular job interview we have 3 carefully selected candidates invited over for the final round at the same day. A is 200 year old and a long time user of Open Healthspan technologies. B is 38 yo, so not eligible to use Open Healthspan technologies yet, still have 2 years to go. Both of them healthy and 100% functional. And we have C, whose age we don’t know, but we know that C took a recently developed and super-expensive cognitive enhancer X in the morning of the interview day. A and B have not heard about this cognitive enhancer yet. We also assume that X provides a competitive benefit in the particular type of job interview A, B and C participate in. So C is just part of the background picture here to keep in mind the position we argue against. Question: Does A has unfair competitive advantage to get the job compared to B just because A has 160+ more years of healthy professional experience in general?
  5. Evaluation of hypothetical job interview scenario in the possible world of Open Lifespan + enhancers: Both A and B have the same amount of time to prepare for the job interview. The fact that there’s a 160+ years of difference in their lifespans has no obvious bearing on A’s chance to perform significantly better than B. Say it is a position that looks for a 10+ experience in the particular field and both A and B have the 10+ years already, only A was working in this line of field 100 years ago last time, would this make a difference in A’s performance to yield A competitive advantage over B? No, one could argue that actually A is in a poorer condition to perform well at the interview because 38 year old B has been working on this particular field in the last 10 years, so all details and skills are fresh in B. And in case A has been working in the same field in the last 100 years continuously, would the extra 100 years lead to much better chances to get the job over B when 10 years of experience is already plenty enough for the particular job?[1] In this future counterfactual possible world of Open Lifespan are there going to be human jobs that are 10fold more complex that current ones, so once there are people are living 10x longer society realise this and so these people will be more suitable to fill in these kind of positions? Even assuming there will be such super-complex positions (galactic super-judge?) requiring 100+ years of experience, an interview for a current day senior position requiring 10+ years of experience in an Open Lifespan world between a have and a have not won’t be that much different from one today. And those super-senior 100+ years of experience job openings can only be announced once there are actually people living that long and able to complete. But just like a 20 year old today cannot apply for a job requiring 10+ years of experience (unless he started the particular line of work at 10), a 38 year old cannot apply for a job requiring 20+ years of experience. No extra competitive advantage for 200 yo A then wanting to go back to do their (singular ‘they’) favourite line of work just like A did it 100 years ago, at 100 years of age.
  6. Direct Conclusion: Being order of magnitude (or much) older does not confer a particular competitive, extrinsic benefit at everyday competitive situations like a job interview.
  7. Conclusion: Open Lifespan does not count/qualify as an enhancement in the lack of obvious competitive benefits.

There’s several counterarguments and several discussion points that can be raised here, so I will follow up with a discussion post.


[1] Hard to evaluate (requires understanding different psychology perhaps) but one might as well argue that more years doing the same means less motivation. (evoking the boredom argument for the sake of a particular activity, not for the sake of life, totally different).