The Expensive Art of Living Forever

We asked seven transhumanists what they hope to look like when they transcend their flesh-covered bodies—and we commissioned images of those dreams.

This past August, more than 1,000 people—each having paid several hundred dollars, and each hoping to unlock the fountain of youth before their numbers were up—gathered at the sprawling Town & Country Resort Hotel and Convention Center in San Diego for a weekend longevity gathering known as RAADfest.

RAADfest is the yearly meeting of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, a consortium of advocates pushing for the societal adoption of human longevity. For many attendees of the convention—who are urged by the organizers to “take [their] place in the revolution against aging and death”—the idea that life has an expiration date is just a mindset, one they’d very much like to overcome within their own lifetimes.

The pursuit of radical life extension, or indefinite human longevity, has long been under the umbrella of a loose movement known as transhumanism. Taking root in the techno-utopian Silicon Valley of the early 1990s and drawing from the long history of science fiction, transhumanists see human immortality as the natural progression of technology and medicine working in tandem—an unstoppable force that will eventually lead to the end of all problems personal, political, and environmental.

Advanced artificial intelligence, they hope, will allow us to make exact copies of our minds that will live indefinitely in networked computer systems. Cryonics will allow our dead, frozen bodies to be revived in a future when medicine can cure every ill, including whatever it was that killed us. People will meld with machines as cyborgs and command extensive physical and mental powers. Gene therapy and DNA-hacking will allow us to isolate and eliminate the biological causes of aging so that no one ever gets sick or dies again—and those same biotechnologies will create indestructible, enhanced human beings who can withstand the subzero pressures of outer space while they’re on their way to colonizing other planets.

Of course, scant attention is paid by transhumanists to what the real costs of living forever might actually be: the imminent collapse of established social orders, a quick depletion of the world’s scant remaining resources, and a doubling down on already out-of-control inequality, since only people who could afford to live forever actually would. In a world where a growing class of retired Americans are living in poverty and perpetual, insecure, backbreaking labor during what should be their retirement years, transhumanist visions of a future of “infinite abundance” (We’ll just 3-D-print food! Everyone will move to space!) aren’t inspiring, but perverse. Transhumanists are also almost exclusively white, as is borne out by the older, moneyed demographic at RAADfest.

But the people who’ve paid to spend three days at the conference have not done so in order to be confronted with the horrible truths of old age under late capitalism. Quite the opposite: they’re here to escape the reality of death in a place where their beliefs are reinforced by a giddy sense of shared mission. Curious to learn more, we chatted with a few of the movement’s leaders and true believers, then commissioned original art to depict each transhumanist’s specific vision for a life beyond life.



Codirector and cofounder, People Unlimited (previously the Eternal Flame, the Flame Foundation, CBJ, and People Forever International); codirector of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension Steering Committee

I like looking sleek and strong. I want to look very futuristic; I like the sleek, futuristic looks from Star Trek.

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I’d like to have even more of a defined and muscular body. I want strong bones that can withstand anything, including space travel. Twenty-five is the biological age when you’re at your peak; I’d want that again. I’d like all these different strengths. I already have a superpower: I can shift people’s thoughts and ideas out of death. That’s a power. There’s a new paradigm here of infinite life. We’ll take whatever innovation we have to in order to stay alive.

After we cure death, we’ll be able to travel throughout space. NASA is already looking at genetic age-reversal because they know it’s going to take a lot to travel through space—the distances and time. Once we cure aging, we’ll be able to see distant planets. We’ll seed planets with life. But we first have to cure aging and death. That’s the first step.


Artist, designer; chairwoman of the board of directors of Humanity+; codirector of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension Steering Committee; coauthor of The Transhumanist Reader

For my transhuman stage, my outer skin will be comprised of nanostructures with a lot of porosity for ventilation of the body. It will be almost like a mesh, but feel smoother than skin. However, the texture could change. I would like a mulatto-bronze color with tattoos that could come and go, with any kind of design—very modernistic with a little baroque in there, or art deco. Very streamlined. The purpose is to protect the body from solar radiation. Hair could change length or size, or weave itself into different styles. I like long braids. It could combine different textures to blend one’s ethnicity. My eyes would have microscopic and telescopic capabilities to zoom in on an atomic scale and zoom out. I could see radio waves and heat waves. We’re going off the canvas of biology. I would like one central personal identity, but many different bodies for different environments.

I would want parabolic hearing. I want to hear the rustling leaves in Aspen. I love the swishing sound of snow. I would be one with the environment. I would like to smell a sunset or sunrise. My organs would be replaceable; like a vehicle, you could upgrade the parts. Gender could be changeable or replaceable. Androgynous fashion is incredible. I hope humanity survives humanity and in the future becomes more human, with a system based on compassion and benevolence.


Artificial intelligence researcher; former director of research for the Machine Intelligence Research Institute; current vice-chairman of Humanity+; founding member of the Order of Cosmic Engineers

I envision myself in the future as multifurcated into multiple different instances. So, I would like to have one of my selves be in essentially human form, like I am now, but without getting sick, and with more control over my thoughts and emotions. And I would like to see other versions of me have various superpowers, such as breathing underwater or flying through outer space. And be able to do complex arithmetic and advanced math thinking without writing things down on a piece of paper. I would like to see a version of me that could upgrade its intelligence and eventually double its intelligence every week, until it became so tremendously superintelligent that it would not really be me anymore, or have a solid form.

Do you use technology to improve yourself so much that you’ve lost your humanity and your self, or do you stop the improvement at the point before you get to where who you were before is dead? Three selves is a start—who knows how many there could be? Once you are beyond one, you might as well keep going. With more time and more life, there are many possibilities to consider: what if you become superintelligent? There are a lot of musical instruments to learn to play and a lot of languages to learn to speak; there are so many trails to hike on and art forms you could learn to do.

With my current state of consciousness, I don’t foresee ever wanting to die because there are so many interesting things to experience. But if in centuries or a million years I decide dying is the best choice, then so it is.


Artificial general intelligence researcher; futurist; cryonicist; CEO and founder of AGI Innovations, an AI laboratory

I will develop as a person and have different ideas and endeavors. Right now my life revolves around artificial intelligence and making it happen. In the future of indefinite lifespans, I might want to experiment with looking and being different—cognitively, being able to think better, reason better, think more clearly. I’d love to already have that now, to be able to overcome my biases more easily and think more rationally. And I would love to have my hair back from when I was young—long, beautiful blonde hair down my back! Like in my teens and twenties. I’m interested in living as long as I want to live. I’m signed up with Alcor Cryonics to be cryo-preserved when I die. I ran the Southern California rescue team for about five years. We don’t know if it’s going to work; I call it “a safety net of unknown fabric.” But we know if we have no safety net, we’re not coming back.

I’m only being neuro-preserved—not my whole body, only my head. And I hope that when I wake up, I say, “Great! This stuff worked.” Most likely my head would be reattached to a human body that they regrow from my cells, but I’d also be okay if I had a robotic body of some sort. I love riding motorcycles, so being able to ride without worrying about being killed would be great—being invulnerable. Much stronger. I love scuba diving; I’d want to stay under longer, go deeper without worrying. I might have gills. I’m very open to whatever new experiences are.

I’d love more time for more people, more friends—to meet more people and have those experiences. But life is a big time constraint right now, as is my work, so having more time for those kinds of things in an indefinite future would be great.


Libertarian candidate for California governor in 2018; ex-presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party; entrepreneur; author, The Transhumanist Wager

I would love to be a cyborg. I’ve asked to be put on a waiting list to have a brain implant put in and be one of the first people to commune directly with artificial intelligence. I’m going to cut off my arm within a decade, I bet. My new arm will look almost identical to this one, but do lots of different things; it will act as a computer—a bionic arm. What I really want is a bionic heart because I have so much heart disease in my family. I’m going to start slowly making that transition. My arm will be much more muscular; it will have little hairs—you won’t be able to tell the difference between bionic body parts. That’s the future. My arm will certainly be able to warm coffee up with its fingertips or cool it down. I’ll have a new endoskeleton, metal bracing to connect other synthetic bone structures, so I’d be integrated with it. They think that will be here in ten years.

Within 30 to 40 years, we will definitely not be in a physical form, or we might be half machine. Neural lace will connect our brainwaves to the cloud, and we will be able to keep up with machine intelligence. Parts of ourselves will exist in a machine in a virtual world. I would like to go in the machine and never come out. At some point, we will directly connect our brainwaves with light waves and sound waves. My hand could reach right through this table and be one with it, or part of it. Molecular intelligence will happen on a subatomic level. There will be quantum intelligence that just exists in the universe. It will be outside of any biological or machine being. AI will probably only last ten years, then become totally organized matter that anything can pass through. In 200 years, 100 percent we’ll have quantum intelligence.


Codirector and cofounder, People Unlimited (previously the Eternal Flame, the Flame Foundation, CBJ, and People Forever International); codirector of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension Steering Committee

I want to look great! I want to stay in this body. I would choose to be 40; that’s how I would look. I want the strength of when I was 40.

To be able to fly would be so cool, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t be wings, though—I’d just like to be a mighty woman. No cape. I’ve liked being here 80 years. I would just like to have total strength and keep it. I’m definitely going to other planets. I don’t know the timeframe, but it’s going to happen. We’ll be living on other planets. These things are going to happen without a doubt. It’s real stuff. The future is really coming to us quickly.

I don’t want to die because it’s not fun. It’s a terrible thing to experience and everyone experiences it.

Everybody so far has died. I don’t know when it will be totally eradicated, but I think it’s much better to be alive than to be dead.


CEO, Alcor Cryonics; transhumanist philosopher; futurist; founder of the Extropy Institute

I would have nanostructures in my skull stronger than titanium, so I could fall off a mountain and be fine. I’d replace my skeleton. I’d like to ride a bike at 500 miles per hour and fall off and not die. I’d want to be strong and durable. I would like to be able to modify my body for different environments. If I’m going to climb Olympus Mons on Mars, I need a body that doesn’t need oxygen and has different durability. In a zero-gravity environment, you might want a different body altogether. I don’t think there will be uniformity in the transhuman future of how people will look; everyone will choose to go in their own direction.

I would love to be an expert dancer, though that takes a long time to learn. I would love to have every skill, every power. But in a virtual reality, you could filter out anything you didn’t want to see or hear that you felt was unpleasant. Like a screaming child you didn’t want to listen to, you could filter out.

I want to live long enough to see us colonize other planets to create new societies with new rules. You can’t create new societies on earth anymore, but in space we can start a whole lot of new social and economic structures, because none we have now work very well. I’d love to be part of coming up with those new systems.

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