Life Extension

life extension
Image from Steve Bowers

Back then I was just shy of middle age, about two hundred years by Luna reckoning, I was a votic auditor in the Melange band. One day my schedule took me to a medical complex. As with most places I visited there was no one there to greet me, just a a service drone to direct me to the rejuvenation wards. When I saw the first ward I had to suppress a sigh. For protection against cyberattack each pod was self contained. It would take hours to individually audit and realign every pod's controlling intelligence. It might have been because of that frustration, combined with the tiredness that neural interfaces bring, that I let my curiosity get the better of me. I was taking a break when the urge to peek grew too large. With a mental impulse I ordered the privacy screen down on one of the tanks. I'd already had access to the patient record; Jay-El Kalment, age 360, currently undergoing whole body rejuvenation. Perhaps because I knew this it didn't feel wrong to take a look. My immediate reaction was intense revulsion. I was expecting an unconscious body, perhaps with thin silver tubes attached discretely under a gown. What I saw resembled a bloated, fungus ridden corpse.

I took a moment to compose myself, angry that I had reacted so poorly. Ignoring the pod I drew upon my exoself. I called up a recording of recent neural activity and set semiotic analyzers on the active circuits. After a minute I had my answer; a tiny pattern recognizer, closely wired to the fear response, identified as being a vestigial anti-parasite reaction. Whether it was some remnant of hominid evolution or an ancestor's genemod I didn't know. I tagged the circuit for suppression and came back to my senses. It wasn't a corpse in the tank. Kalment floated serenely in liquid coolant. They were held in place by thick cords of synthetic matter, extruded from the pod interior. Where they met the body the cords broke into organic-looking threads that wove across the surface of the skin. To me they resembled fungal mycelia (and to one particular neural network; parasites). The threads fused with the flesh in places and around those areas the tissue appeared swollen but not unhealthy. At the maximum zoom of my eyes I spied thousands of microscopic fibers branching from the threads, with hints of smaller instruments still. For a few minutes I imagined the furious work going on inside Kalment, the trillions of molecular machines repairing everything from cell membranes to metabolite ratios. I reactivated the privacy screen and completed my work. Centuries later at my first rejuvenation I climbed into the pod remembering this, wondering if I too would give some young auditor a fright.

Automemoir extract circa 3989 a.t.

Life extension is the study and practice of extending the healthy life span of an organism that experiences physiological aging, significantly beyond the organism's "natural" limit. For baseline humans this means beyond 120-150 years. At its most basic life extension overlaps with medicine and healthy living. More advanced implementations involve treatments that are designed to inhibit, engineer, or reverse the fundamental processes of senescence. While primarily a field concerned with biont clades some aspects of life extension also apply to aioids, neogens, and virtual beings. Most notably mental therapies for very long lived sophonts.

As a discipline life extension is ancient, though its place in society has significantly changed over time. Thanks to backup technology functional immortality is possible for all, regardless of any one body's deterioration. Indeed, the rise of backups and engeneration suppressed the demand for life extension technologies for centuries. The field has persisted however, as the practice of extending life without the crutch of engenerators is a fascinating challenge for billions of sophonts. Each time a report of a new xenological study is released onto the net there is a marked spike in the number of sophonts accessing tachydidactic courses on life extension, correspondingly the following months and years feature the development of many therapies tailored for the xenos.

Across the Sephirotic empires as well as the majority of polities major or minor, access to life extension is considered a fundamental right for those whose preferred clade requires it. Local regulations and culture may limit the exact kind of techniques available, but in any cosmopolitan area of the terragen sphere the full range can be expected to be on offer. Given the millions of different biont clades that have arisen in the terragen sphere over time, not to mention the diversity of technological capability throughout history, a full list of all forms of life extension would be very extensive. The following lists cover the most notable classes of technique.

Modern life extension techniques

In the current era, indeed for the past several millennia, all but the most recently designed clades can enjoy biological immortality. It is such a staple of life in the terragen sphere that it can often be taken for granted that there was a time sophonts did not have access to to these therapies.

  • Uploading and Engeneration. The ne plus ultra of biological immortality. For millennia terragenkind has used engeneration to fully replace the body, not just for fashion, but for health. If a pre-made body is available an engenerator can transfer a sophont into fresh, youthful form in a matter of minutes. Custom bodies can take up to a megasecond to synthesise, which remains among the fastest options for sophonts looking for a return to biological prime. For sophonts concerned with conscious continuity a gradual uploading process can be employed, followed by a gradual download into the new body.
  • Whole body rejuvenation. In cases where a replacement body is unavailable, or undesirable, whole body rejuvenation can be used to return the body to its biological prime. WBR is typically a highly invasive procedure performed by an autodoc. Millions of micro- and nanofibers penetrate the body, infiltrating every organic system. This extensive scaffold interfaces with the body at every level. As such it is capable of isolating and operating on individual units of biomass, all the while keeping the patient unconscious and acting as life support. Once the scaffold is fully assembled a myriad of surgeries, from the macroscopic to the subcellular, are performed in parallel to reverse the effects of aging. The length of time this procedure takes varies based on the nature of the patient, in ideal conditions an elderly baseline human can be fully rejuvenated in a matter of weeks. More primitive versions of the technology would sometimes take months, or even years, to complete the procedure.
  • Engineered negligible senescence. Beyond age reversal, some life extension techniques aim to prevent aging all together. From genetic engineering (e.g. extending cellular lifespans while compensating for cancers) to the incorporation of medical implants (e.g. medisystems) there are a wide variety of approaches to reduce, or remove, the aging process. While the terragen sphere has a wealth of experience in this field it is often a challenge to design germline modifications that achieve the goal without changing the organism so much that it is classed as a new clade. The most notable example of this can be found in the human clades. Human biological immortality is possible, however owing to the significant engineering required said humans are often classed as radical tweaks. It is for this reason that typical nearbaseline clades only have "natural" lifespans of three to four centuries.
  • Archival reintegration. All sophonts, regardless of their mindtype, face memory issues with advanced age. As total memory expands the number of experiences to recall increases. Augmenting one's mind to expand working memory can offset this by increasing the number of memories that can be recalled at any one time. Such augmentation eventually reaches a limit within one's toposophic level and within levels such fundamental changes to cognitive performance can significantly alter personality and life experience. A more common practice among bionts is to maintain an archive of memories, typically in one's exoself. This archive can be searched as needed and when older mental states are found with relevant memories, memories that are now too faded to be naturally recalled, these archived webs of associations can be grafted back into the user's mind. In effect one partially merges with one's past self. In practice the user simply recalls the archived memories as though they were long forgotten, often experiencing transient changes to perceptions and preferences after use.

Historical life extension techniques

Prior to techniques granting biological immortality (late First Federation onwards) there were a number of options for life extension. These were primarily focused on humans, being the dominant biont clade at the time. By the 3rd century AT Solsys life expectancy had risen to 200, over the following three centuries this figure rose, with estimated life expectancies approaching 400 years for the heavily bionic. Unfortunately no biont was able to test these later predictions as the Technocalypse devastated life extension infrastructure. Life expectancy collapsed across the solar system, in many places down to merely natural lifespans. Early exocolonies avoided a crash, but given their limited economies were unable to produce the more advanced treatments.

  • Age inhibitors. While no pharmacological silver bullet exists that can halt aging in bionts, appropriately tailored regimens of drugs can slow down the molecular processes of aging. Age inhibitors are more effective the younger a biont begins to take them, though they are typically not effective (and often inadvisable) to take prior to one's biological prime. Exact applications vary, with archetypal age inhibitor treatments consisting of daily/weekly pills and injections.
  • Cellular revitalization. Intensive genetic and cell therapies applied to a specific system, organ, or tissue in the body, resulting in a partial recovery of lost function. These therapies were required by those entering their physiological middle ages, often every few years. Revitalization typically consisted of multiple courses of infusions and minor surgeries at a medical center, taking place over a period of days. A variety of age related conditions from diminished eyesight to metabolic functioning were common reasons to seek these treatments. While vital to healthy life in later years, cellular revitalization was rarely able to completely regain deteriorating function. Further courses on the same therapeutic targets gave diminishing returns.
  • Bionic replacement. When drugs and genetic therapies reached their limit with an aging tissue, prosthetic replacements were the next step. Bionic body parts, occasionally superior in function to their natural analogs, would be surgically grafted into the patient. Use of bionics expanded not only as their capability and biocompatibility improved, but also as robotic surgeons were further developed to increase the safety and efficacy of radical operations. Bionics could be installed at any age, and often were in cultures with cyborg inclinations, however were not generally necessary for life extension until advanced physiological age. Records are incomplete, but some historical data suggests at least one extremely aged cyborg over three centuries old was alive at the time of the technocalypse.
  • Lifelogging and automemoirs. Early therapies to prolong life came with marked improvements to cognitive performance and health, but still faced issues when it came to memory and personality disorders. From the third century much attention was paid to the increasing number of psychological disorders arising in the extreme elderly, such as chronic derealization and identity dysphoria. These conditions arose due to the increasing awareness that one can no longer remember large sections of one's life, and were particularly affected by incidents where one is reminded of actions that are not only forgotten, but which do not align with one's current personality. Lifelogging, the practice of recording one's daily experiences and relevant metadata, was common in the interplanetary age. For the elderly lifelogs were combined with intelligent software capable of automatically cataloging experiences and presenting them in a narrative format. In casual use an automemoir could be used to locate a particular event that is remembered poorly, or to answer a simple question about one's life. Beyond this it was advised that the elderly regularly reviewed their memoir (which could be presented in a variety of media formats) in order to reinforce self identity as an ongoing narrative. While somewhat effective some records show that this could be an addictive habit, with some patients obsessively reliving earlier years.

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Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg, Ryan_B
Initially published on .