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Let's assume few things:

  1. There is a difficult technology that allows making someone's body an arbitrary number of years younger, or reset it to, for example, the state of "young adult" - a point when puberty has ended and growing old has not yet started.
  2. The total costs of a year of youth is significantly less than one man-year. For example, it takes a total of ten man-hours to produce equipment, maintenance, and energy for one year of lifespan granted.
  3. The technology is hard to replicate, and anyone known or suspected to try it, and all his known family and associates, is forever denied the use of genuine facilities.

What would stop such company from just making a new currency of "hours", "days", "months", "years", "decades" and so on, and making everyone want to work for them? Many (if not most) happen to fantasize about living forever, after all. Or would, if there was a real opportunity to do so.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure everyone fantasizes about living forever. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Jan 28 '15 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ Justin Timberlake imdb.com/title/tt1637688/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_6 ;) $\endgroup$ – Tobias Wärre Jan 28 '15 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt that it would be possible to keep such a technology secret for long, especially when it is used widely. You might want to think about another factor which would secure a monopoly. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jan 28 '15 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp has it right. Technology never remains a secret for long. Competition would rise, and since theoretically the product is exactly the same, people would end up choosing whichever company they like best. $\endgroup$ – Shollus Jan 28 '15 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ A possible monopoly factor could be when the technology requires a specific natural resource which is only found in one place so it can be controlled by the corporation. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jan 28 '15 at 14:58

21 Answers 21

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The old riddle.

What is the thing that all desire; but no one can buy at any price; and yet, that makes its possessor stupider?

The answer, of course, is "Youth". And in your world, the riddle is no longer valid.

I love this as a dramatic proposition:

"What would stop such company from just making new currency of "hours", "days", "months", "years", "decades" and so on...?"

Very dystopian/cyberpunk. Cruel, thought-provoking, salient.

However, you have at least two very tough problems in terms of plausible worldbuilding. Two big answers to your question.

The first problem is what I'd call, "When you win the lottery, you're suddenly swimming with sharks." This refers to a simple real-life analogy: when someone wins the lottery, the terms of claiming the award don't let the ticketholder remain anonymous. Those who fantasize about how good their life will be once they win a generous amount of money are unprepared for the way that lots of people who are very good at separating them from their newfound cash are approaching them from every angle, with every technique an ingenious predatory person can devise.

Life ProTip: If you win the lottery, and someone you don't know addresses you as "Chum"... well, it might just be a predator's sense of irony.

Your hypothetical corporation, in possession of the most valuable commodity ever devised, would be subject to insane levels of pressure of every sort, from every direction, by those who want what the company can provide. @ArtOfCode described only some of the mildest and most well-mannered forms of governmental coercion. It would seem that the mere existence of "hours, days, months, years, decades" of youth - for sale - would result in a State of Emergency, possibly leading to "temporary" martial law.

Of course, as @ArtOfCode accurately reasons, that argues for relocation to a different jurisdiction, in which the government is less powerful. But even a very weak government is capable of exerting enormous power.

Furthermore, fleeing to a Third World country is nothing but convenient for all of the non-governmental predators. Corporations; criminal organizations; cabals and conspiracies of police, intelligence agents, and military people; and ad-hoc bands of formidable individuals (including of course plenty of mad scientists) in temporary alliance; all of these would enjoy operational advantages under a weaker, more corrupt regime.

"Nice little eternal youth factory you got there. Be a shame if something happened to it."

Your corporation would be subject to intolerable incentives to surrender its secrets (or at least, negotiated most-favored-badass access to its product). It would be playing catch-up as it attempted to protect its executives, scientists, and key manufacturing staff from kidnapping, extortion, intimidation, extradition, arrest, and its facilities from looting and sabotage.

Note the interesting dynamic here: even if the corporation can survive, it will probably lose effective control of the distribution of its product. It would end up trading away its genuine power and authority for guarantees of mere survival. As always, power will come from the barrel of a gun.


So, that's the first problem. The second is both simpler and more unanswerable: too many mouths to feed.

Our species is in ecological overshoot. On an already overcrowded planet, hours, days, months, years, decades for sale can be tolerated only as long as its use is confined to the numerically insignificant 0.01% of the various elites.

You do, admittedly, say that the technology is "difficult", but that doesn't mean "irreproducible". Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow; similarly, given enough money and determination, all technological accomplishments can, eventually, be reverse engineered, once they're shown to be possible in the first place.

Consider the priorities of various world leaders, struggling to feed the people of the world (or perhaps only some of them, but still.) To them, the possibility that someone would open source the life extension technology and lower the death rate would be a devastating threat. This is a case, not of personal greed like Swimming with Sharks, but of despair; and the desperate are far more terrible than the merely self-interested.

In their shoes, would you decide to hack the company's data providers, kill the scientists and executives, and - hell, why not - drop a tactical nuke on their fortresslike compound in that third world country?


I really hope you manage to develop this idea, because it's got so much emotional and conceptual punch. I hope you get more & better answers, and I hope the various answers we give you can help you figure out a plausible implementation, whether as story, game design, or whatever your intent may be.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I knew I am missing a lot of things here, but I never realised just how much. And whilst the idea was inspired by Pratchett's book, he used it as a side idea in high-fantasy / sci-fi happy novel, and I wanted it for dark cyberpunk-like setting. Now I think it could work... before company is nuked ;) will need to think more. Definitely I don't want it to rule the world. I want it to be attempting, almost succeeding, but not quite there yet. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 28 '15 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to answer "because the Emperor will conspire with the ruthless House Harkonnen to crush you" but this answer covers that and more ;-) $\endgroup$ – Spike0xff Jan 28 '15 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer is way cooler. :-) $\endgroup$ – Bill Blondeau Jan 28 '15 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ Just to try and come up with a strategy to defeat the "sharks"... If the corporation could stockpile this (I assume so, since they will eventually base a currency off of it?) they should keep the product top-secret until the time finally comes where they can introduce it to everybody for a cheap price. During this time they contact the government or local power and start their influence. Slowly the cost rises, and the corporation uses its influence to control the government itself, then take control in a totalitarian way. After that, they manage the threats the same way any government does. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Jan 29 '15 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Hard to be tip-top secret for long when one disgruntled employee can grab some doses and sell them to the highest bidder, and point them right at you. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 14 '15 at 23:26
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The invisible hand

It's unlikely that a single company would be able to forge so far ahead of the others working in the field that it would accumulate a vast majority of the IP patents. There are lots of smart people in the world. Moreover, there are years of animal and patient trials, missteps, disgruntled employees leaving and setting up their own shop, and many more hurdles. More likely, one company would make (and patent) a key breakthrough, but not quite get there, another would go further still, and in the end, a number of companies would simultaneously be very close to the solution, with the leader likely only months ahead of the competition.

Even if somehow a large lead develops, once other people know it's possible, they'll throw in literally trillions of dollars at the process, establishing their own companies and offering rival, cheaper versions that might even work better or be more convenient to use. If patent protections are in place and the company charges astronomical rates, there will be huge political pressures to 'nationalize' the patent even in IP-protection-committed countries, whereas large areas of the world won't even bother attempting to appear to be enforcing the patent at all.

So while the company (if it plays its cards right) might make its founders very, very, very rich, that's not the same as taking over the world.

Never too many mouths to feed

Another argument that I expect will soon pop out, if it hasn't already while I've been editing, is that having indefinite lifespans will put such a pressure on our systems that it'll turn into some Soylent Green dystopia in no time. That view is outright wrong, but an easy mistake to make, if you're not used to thinking in terms of dynamic strategic actors. Think about it at a fundamental level. Food is ATP plus some raw materials we use in our cellular structure, which we get by ingesting animal and vegetable tissues. Animal and vegetable tissue are ultimately generated from solar power, CO2, H2O and trace minerals. All three exist in abundance, both on the planet and in the greater solar system. Plants have terrible conversion efficiencies, but some great catalysts in chlorophyll that alleviate the terrible capture efficiency somewhat. A human engineered design can do better in terms of achieving certain goal. Even if we stick with plants, the amount of food we could grow using hydroponics is many orders of magnitude larger than current output. Price is an issue at the moment, yes, but with the trillions of dollars saved in health care costs for the elderly I'm sure sufficient R&D could be done and sufficient infrastructure could be built to bring the costs down via more efficient processes and returns to scale. If we really need to, we'll build space elevators (or other cost-lowering tech for access to space), followed by habitats and farms in space. We can easily feed quadrilions of people with our solar system's resources.

Just think how much human capital we lose as 60 million people die every year. Not only that, but with youthful bodies and minds, older people would not act like old people, but would be able and willing to respec, greatly increasing productivity. Curing aging would be an unmitigated boon to humankind.

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    $\begingroup$ @JohnP Yeah, just like Malthus had his theories about impending doom 3 centuries ago. There's never been a shortage of doomsayers. Thankfully, economic reality in an innovating economy proves them wrong again and again. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 28 '15 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ An interesting answer desperately in need of citation to back up its claims. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Jan 28 '15 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ Food shortage is something we really get wrong. It's a problem of distribution rather than production. $\endgroup$ – algiogia Jan 29 '15 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually one of my favorite WB answers of all time, particularly the first part, because it shows the 'scope' of these types of technology breakthroughs. Just to be able to apply these treatments would take years of testing and government approval in most places. The 'formula' will get out, and if only IP laws are protecting it, you can forget about a monopoly. $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Jan 29 '15 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ In 1798 Britain had a population of 11 million. Thomas Malthus wrote that the idea that Britain could somehow feed double that, i.e. 22 million, was "probably a greater increase than could with reason be expected". To support double this again, 44 million, was "impossible to suppose", and this "must be evident to those who have the slightest acquaintance with agricultural subjects". Britain today has a population of 65 million, who are not starving. Malthus was totally, completely wrong. This does not prevent modern doom-criers from making exactly the same arguments. $\endgroup$ – Jay Mar 14 '16 at 5:51
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STOP: The law.

If a company able to do this turned up in a developed country, they would pretty quickly be under inspection. The government would have decided that having a company like this would not be a good idea and would subject it to endless health and safety inspections, new regulations, and other perfectly legal restrictions that essentially prevent it operating. The police would constantly be on site trying to find something for which they can prosecute the owners and tell the public the service is unsafe.

STOP: Other companies.

There are plenty of good brains around. Many of these brains may well not agree with some of the ethical practices or manufacturing methods going on at this company and would seek some other way of getting involved in this new technology. This leads to the formation of other companies. If the defector has taken some of the research with them, they could quickly develop this research and grab the relevant patents or copyrights, giving them an advantage. Eventually this formation of other groups mean that the world domination would at least be shared.

However...

KEEP: Third World.

People running this company are presumably not stupid. They'd work out pretty fast that the government in country $x$ is trying to stop them operating and up sticks. While they're likely to find much the same situation in other developed country, third-world countries have far fewer restrictions. Health and safety wouldn't care, and if jobs are being created then the government will quite often turn a blind eye to bad practices.

If this company can get a hold in this country, they can use it as a base of operations to expand into other countries. These countries would quickly become more powerful and richer and eventually (though this would take some time) the developed countries would also give in to pressure from their own people to give them access to this service.

So: they'll take over, but it'll take some time.

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The other answers have covered most of the issues such a company would face, but here is another important one I don't believe has been covered:

How would such a company control its employees?

Unless the company is going to freeze hiring and force all existing employees to continue working under NDA agreements in perpetuity, the secret isn't going to stay secret for long. Presumably the company would have to be very compartmentalized, so (for example) the janitor and the secretaries don't have access to sensitive material, but there is still going to be a strong incentive for corporate espionage. What if the chief scientist who developed the procedure decides to jump ship? If key people in the company start "disappearing" (whether because the company decides to eliminate possible leaks, or because outsiders kidnapped them) this is going to affect morale and make control even more difficult.

Those who are most knowledgeable about and closest to the process in the company also are the most likely to be able to surreptitiously apply the product to themselves, or spirit away quantities of either the ingredients or final product without detection. Is the company going to treat assembly line workers (or whoever is involved with the process by which the product is made and packaged) like diamond mine workers with invasive searches and the like? There is certainly going to be some turnover in such a job, and thus a constant stream of new workers that are potential threats to the company.

Update: As @user3082 points out, the company may try to retain a tight control over its employees by incentivizing them to remain loyal. This could introduce an opposite dynamic to the diamond mine analogy. Some employees would have been loyal without any incentives, some employees are going to be happy with the incentives, and some are going to be greedy and want more (and maybe more after that). The company is either going to have to engage in some sort of incentive discrimination, and hope nobody who finds out cares, or potentially pay a lot to keep everybody happy, and this could start to seriously eat into its ability to "rule the world". For instance, in the extreme case, everybody in the company could share roughly equally in the company's success. Now even if the world is being ruled by the company, it is also being ruled by committee, and whether or not it would be effective or whether and how disagreements between members could be resolved could cause power struggles and instability on its own.

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  • $\begingroup$ One of the ways to incentivize the employees, is 'Eternal Youth for free', besides the obvious million/billion dollar paycheck. And the stick of, "If you quit and you'll never get this treatment again". Roll up for their family too. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Jan 30 '15 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @user3082 - That doesn't prevent someone else from coming to an employee and saying "Give us this tech, and we'll give you eternal youth for free and $10 billion in cash". After all, the potential defector will benefit regardless. $\endgroup$ – Bobson Jan 30 '15 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @user3082 Good point. I've updated my answer to consider some of the issues that such a method, if successful, might cause. $\endgroup$ – Michael Jan 30 '15 at 18:56
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At best, your company will have a monopoly for a few years before someone else replicates the work. This has been pointed out by others, but I'll make an analogy to its real world counterpart: nuclear weapons. The US developed the nuclear bomb in such secrecy even its own military didn't know it was being worked on. In 1945 the US tested their first one. Just four years later, the Soviet Union tested theirs. How? Three reasons: Spying, the nature of invention, and competition.

The Soviets stole from the US. If the US couldn't prevent that, a corporation won't be able to either. And this was in the 1940s when it was much easier to hide things. No Google Earth. No Internet. No satellites. No drones. No ubiquitous smart phones with tiny cameras and microphones.

But the Soviet spy rings just gave them a big boost, they would have figured it out eventually because everybody was trying to figure out nuclear power (and jet engines, and shaped charges, and rockets, and ...). Most people think science and engineering advancements come from unique Eureka moments, the Great Man theory of history. In reality, it's a bunch of small improvements that are shared, copied and improved upon. In 1945 the theory behind an uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction was well known, the US just happened to pour enough resources into the problem to overcome the huge logistical and engineering problems (for example, Uranium enrichment). If the Soviets didn't steal the nuclear secrets from the US, they would have figured it out eventually because now they knew it could be done!

Which leads to our final reason: economics. Before the US demonstrated an atomic bomb it remained some theoretical thing which would be really cool but nobody was really sure it would work or how much it would cost to build. So while most nations had an atomic program, they were really dabbling compared to what the US poured into it (about 1% of the GDP). Once it was demonstrated, the Soviets had to have one in order to compete, and they stepped up their nuclear program to get one.

How does this relate to your hypothetical corporation and their monopoly on youth? First, somebody will steal the secret, probably by bribing employees, take it to a place less concerned about intellectual property (say, China), and start producing a competing product. Second, the theory of making people younger will have been well known, your company will have put in the investment to making it work, and others will do the same. Third, once it's demonstrated it's practical, other companies will put in the same engineering work to replicate it because there's money to be made.

You could try to prevent this with a macguffin like Unobtainium obtained on a planet only the corporation knows about (that secret would eventually be found out) but then Unobtainium becomes one of the most precious things on Earth and the process cannot be cheap: they'd make more money licensing the practice and selling Unobtainium at market value.

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Not living forever lets you do things that are unwise if you're trying to live forever.

Treat the things you do in life as investments. Investments have different time-horizons for their returns. Someone who is trying to live forever will still compete with shorter-lived people for investments with short time horizons. The only place they differ is the longer term investments.

However, a long-lived individual's acceptable levels of risk are much lower than that of a short-lived individual. Trivially, someone who wants to live to 500 needs to live a life with 1/10th the risk of someone who wants to live to 50. This means short-lived people can afford to risk jumping on the bandwagon early, while the longer-lived individuals need to wait until more knowledge is available to decrease the risk. The longer lived individuals can't compete in this arena; they must make their investments in the longer term.

Longer term investments make your risk assessments even trickier. Because you're investing into the future, those who are living shorter lives are more powerful in the short term (until your investments come to fruition). As an extreme example, there may be lessons on how to run a Fortune 500 company which can be derived from skydiving. A long-lifer simply cannot afford to try to learn those lessons. It's not worth the risk.

Now with all of that, we need another detail: not everything is forever. There are things for short-lifers to do in the shadow of the long-lifers whose investments are starting to pay off. All they need to do is find little windows where the risk outweighs the rewards for a long-lifer, and enjoy those parts of life.

For a final detail: there is always an entity which will outlive every individual long lifer, and even the corporation itself: the society containing those individuals and the corporation. It isn't going to waste the short-lifer's lives, just because they didn't choose to go long. It will bend and adapt to make sure there are rewarding lives available for short-lifers which support the long-lifers.

So will the corporation and long-lifers rule the world? Depends on your definitions. They'll probably get a lot of power, but in the end its the entire fabric of society that is truly ruling the day. It will flex to support societies actual needs. In times of relative calm, long-lifers will be given more power because their concentrated knowledge and wisdom will be valuable. However, if something major happens, like the sudden contact with an alien intelligence, they will not be able to adapt to the rapid changes needed to balance this new effect. Power will be shifted to the community of shorter-lived individuals who can flex and adapt more. Sure, many long-lifers will greedily hold onto their investments, pulling strings to stay in power, but the will have to fight society to do so. The balance would no longer be in their favor.

Eventually, the shorter-lived individuals would figure enough out to let the longer-lived individuals start taking the risks of new approaches. The balance would slowly move back towards the longer-lived individuals, until the balance of power meets the needs of society once again.

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  • $\begingroup$ For those who are interested, the most recent work I've read on the topic of long-livers is Neitzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra explores the philosophy of The Last Man, a society whose greatest goal is living as long as possible, stretching into forever. He has some strong arguments for why long lifespan is not a valid end goal. As long as it isn't the end goal, there will be ways to do well at life without being the oldest. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 30 '15 at 21:06
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Monopolies only exist in fairy tales. If there was truly a monopoly, it would be by the force of government, so in actuality, the government is ruling the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eO8ZU7TeKPw

However, it's unlikely that there would be no competitors at all, or that they could keep their technology a secret for long. Not even the NSA can keep secrets, so it would be even easier for a competitor company to bribe a former employee to work for them, or divulge secrets.

If the process is only given to a chosen few, or to only rich people, then they are still outnumbered by the plebeians. So though the immortals may have a time advantage, the peasants have a numbers advantage.

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Scarce ingredients is one possibility. Another possibility would be to give them a nation, but not the world.

The Pathfinder RPG has an interesting example of this. In the deserts of Thuvia, an alchemist found a brew that could restore youth to its drinker, but one of the key ingredients (and the only one that is public knowledge) is nectar from the highly endangered sun orchid. Word of the discovery brought about some chaos initially, but then the nearby villages banded together as a nation to protect the sun orchids. They passed a law that no citizen would ever be allowed to drink the elixir themselves, except for the alchemist himself. But the citizens of other nations could be another matter, for the right price.

Hundreds of years later, Thuvia cannot afford much in the way of expansion, in no small part because it has to invest so much into protecting the sun orchids. But, content within its own borders, it thrives. Because of the way it manages the sun orchids, it can only produce seven doses of the elixir each year, and the alchemist drinks one of them. But the other six are auctioned to the highest bidders, and the proceeds are enough to fund a comfortable national budget.

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All the other answers here, especially Bill Blondeau's are great, but there's one way that this can potentially work, regardless of all the objections people have raised:

What if anyone who has been subjected to this treatment is now secretly subject to orders from the company?

There's many ways you could implement this, from the blatant ("We can kill anyone at any time, from anywhere in the world. Do what we say or die."), to the conditional ("When you hear the word fizzbuzz, obey all orders that follow"), to the extremely subtle (implanted directives to support the company, but no direct control).

Obviously, some methods would work better than others, and they all have some flaw or another. The blatant example only works until someone values getting the word out more than their life, for instance. Choose a method that people are unwilling or unable to break. My preference would be for something like using a conditional trigger to implant subtle post-hypnotic suggestions - the subject is given orders to support the company and obey future orders from anyone who says a keyword while displaying a modified version of the company logo.

The key here would be to conceal this flaw until all the governmental leaders who might oppose you have been subjected to the treatment. Also, by applying this to all their employees, they can prevent any possible defections or deliberate leakages. There's still the possibility of corporate espionage that doesn't involve traitors, especially with modern hacking techniques, but the other answers about requiring a rare resource can help with that.


As a variant on this idea, rather than explicitly having control over the subjects, the company could really (secretly) be creating a young duplicate with all the memories of the original, and then brutally interrogating (possibly with the same tech used to transfer memories) the "original" for anything they may know which would give the company leverage - combining the ultimate in corporate espionage with insider trading and learning all the political secrets would go a long way towards cementing them in power.

You can even use the information-drained originals as a necessary part of the regeneration process, providing the secret "technological breakthrough" that no one else can replicate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Credit to Jack Chalker, Sharon Green and Howard Taylor for the direct inspiration here, although I'm sure I've come across other variants of this idea elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – Bobson Jan 30 '15 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't work. There will come a day when I shatter your control and yank the secret out from under you. For many men that day will never come, but it only takes one ... $\endgroup$ – Joshua Oct 15 '15 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ The young duplicate idea is a great plot! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 14 '16 at 6:16
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All bugs are shallow. Which is why Heartbleed existed for decades. Okay, perhaps nobody was looking for a way to exploit SSH.

Trade secrets are a thing. Formula to Coke, anyone?

If every technology is easy, then why is invention so hard? And there's a difference between reverse-engineering a created object, and reverse-engineering a solved problem.

ie: Does looking at, and analyzing ammonia tell you that Osmium is important? Or help you develop iron promoted with certain elements? I think not.

If your technology doesn't leave traces (and that will be hard), looking at a healthy 20 yo doesn't tell you how to get one (except, ya know, the natural way).

Here's another one not talked about a lot, why aren't most governments producing enriched uranium? Hint, that tech ain't generally disclosed. Yes, you can do it, if you've stolen the secrets (USSR), secrets are given to you (UK (& FR?)), and sometimes some people can reverse-engineer it (maybe SA). But why haven't Iran, Syria, and countless others, with millions (or billions) of dollars and top priority been doing this?

Why did it take decades to create a blue LED?

Granted, you're going to have to do your technology different. You won't have IP, or you'll lose control (or have to have a government do the enforcement: ala Disney).

Your technology is going to require several breakthroughs all centered on one (or a couple) of inventors. And they're going to have to do all the improvements themselves, to keep the whole process chain secret.

On the plus side, immortality. Have them get an early breakthrough (like knocking a couple years off/or eliminating causes of death), and they can keep working on improving it indefinitely, while keeping it in the family.

LITERATURE

And example of keeping a technological breakthrough secret are the shipstones in Friday

There's an example in fiction of just the sort of scenario you're asking about, Buying Time by Joe Haldeman. Bunches of specialists, working with special processes, etc. Cost? Million pounds, if you couldn't meet that, you weren't even in the running. But the actual price was your total wealth. So you had to go and make another fortune before getting your next reset. One of the sets of people who were doing this were asteroid miners who'd found a gold asteroid, and decided not to register their claim. They'd just go get some, and that was their total wealth. Go get more sometime before they needed their next reset.

PROBLEMS

You're going to have to handle government coercion. And if anyone spills the beans early (before you've gotten yourself enough wealth to buy a lot of good security), you're going to have to fight off the mob as well as other governments.

You're probably going to want to put this in orbit, and they're going to have to have a hell of a security force. Then you're also going to need to protect your golden goose/geese from your hired goons. Surgically implanted detonators around spinal cords might help here (for both goose and goons).

But, you've got a really great lobbying tool. Supreme Court justices? "Hi, you should rule in our favor." Senators? "How about we knock a couple years off, and take care of that heart issue?"

If you've got governmental protection (and have protected yourself from the government), that'll help keep the criminals off. But this is constantly going to be a problem.

Also, if you've got human inventors (a great solution for your problem lies in having non-human inventors), you'll have to keep them secret - or have a vastly different educational system for them. Lone wolf inventors, who've never studied anything are going to be harder and harder to come by - as most of the low-hanging discoveries have been picked. And the immortality branch of the tree of knowledge has been studied pretty hard, looking for any type of blossom. If your inventor(s) studied at any type of university that keeps records, some of the things they studied (and hints and clues as to the direction of their research) are accessible. Once it is known that there is a solution to death - expect an exhaustive search for any missing graduates from biochem or medicine, and going further into other related fields if those searches for missing researchers turn up empty. And not just official records: social networking sites, classmates, everyone will be tapped for information - the reward is infinite youth.

A solution? Fuzzy logic programming smart system/AI, that got to play with genomes, and/or live subjects. Probably in a great (read subatomically accurate) modeling system on fast processors. AI would be more problems, because how do you explain its limited use in only doing immortality.

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  • $\begingroup$ The formula for Coke isn't worth researching and duplicating exactly because Coke already sells its product for just above cost. A company hoarding something as useful as life extension is in a whole other category. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 14 '15 at 23:28
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The current state of medicine today is essentially lifespan extension. Cure disease to extend lifespan, transplants to extend lifespan. Yet we still use money as currency. Money is too ingrained in our system to be replaced.

Besides, money is already "life - hours - day" currency. Essentially you are paying someone to use their "life hours" to produce a commercial item. "Life - hours" they would probably rather spend with family or partying.

Or if you want to look at it another way:

Money converts your "life -hours" into tangible form. In the sense that we can subtract and add money/life from a person

Money makes it look like we are only taking money from a person and not "life - hours"

But in essence - we are taking life - or paying with our "life - hours"

The world you are building seems to only "Add" life - hours".

What would stop such company from just making new currency of "hours", "days", "months", "years", "decades" and so on?

We are already doing it - with money acting as surrogate for life.

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  • $\begingroup$ "We are already doing it - with money acting as surrogate for life." Excellent point! I had an economics textbook in college that said that "money" is, essentially, "storable, portable human labor". Think about it! That's absolutely true. You work, you get paid for your time with money. Than you exchange that money for someone else's time. You can keep it indefinitely and store it away until you need it. $\endgroup$ – Jay Mar 14 '16 at 5:58
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I would come up with some sort of pollution generated by the process. Something nobody ever foresaw and which becomes evident only after years of seemingly flawless activity.

What kind of pollution? I like theories of conservation: if you get something, it must have been taken somehow somewhere. That will be strictly related to how the technology works. Example: is it based on the Sun? Then, every year of youth generated consumes a year of the remaining lifespan of the Sun.

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Well, in the beginning it would be incredibly popular. A lot depends on whether it's a luxury product or something entirely affordable. The ten man-hours number is quite low, and would put it in the affordable category. Everyone above poverty would get it. It would be as common as iPhones and the company as rich as Apple.

That leads you to a society with a steadily growing population at a much higher rate than today. The resulting population pressure leads to social problems and a condemnation of having children. People start suggesting mass forced sterilisation and a fight breaks out about eugenics. Or food supplies. Death by violence takes over from death from natural causes. Possibly there is a religious anti-tech revolution like Dune's "Butlerian Jihad".

You also magnify the existing "1%" problems when the elite are immortal. This depends on cost, but it also has implications for dynastic systems. What if the Saudi king never died, and hereditary monarchies become permanent monarchies? Again the temptation to inflict violent death arises, as parricide is the only way up.

(In the Pratchett story you mention, this is avoided by having a high-tech spacefaring civilisation that can just build more planets as needed.)

Another consideration is exactly how the life extension company chooses to exert control. Doling out life one day at a time versus 20-year resets. What are they using the control for? What ideology might it embody? How much resentment does this incur? If they deny enough people the treatment, when do the denied storm the Winter Palace? Do they discriminate by political party, resulting in a one-party state of Immortals?

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  • $\begingroup$ 10 man-hours was a price it cost a company to do it, not a price company would sell it to people for. I've read that cost of all parts of iPhone is hardly higher than half of the cost Apple charges for it. Don't know how accurate it is, but it shows that retail price is not directly related to manufacturing cost. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 28 '15 at 14:20
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I disagree that the government would be a significant issue in a world where lobbyists are a thing. Buying the necessary parts of the government becomes trivial: your lobbyists give them free immortality in return for passing whatever laws you want. No other lobbyists can ever outbid you. See: Disney and copyright.

"What would stop such company from just making new currency of "hours", "days", "months", "years", "decades" and so on, and making everyone want to work for them?"

Well, I'd argue that at least amongst the people I know, close to everyone wants to work for a computer games company. The problem is manifold, but includes:

1) There just aren't that many jobs available for your desired company, whatever that company is. 2) If everyone did work for that company... what would be the point, in anything? You'd have, effectively, a combination of a socialist society and a meritocracy. Everyone works for the Big Company, and gets paid according to their worth to the company. That payment is then exchanged at company stores, for other company products. Suddenly, as well as life extension, the company is having to manufacture and provide hair extensions, hamburgers, USB chargers... and if there are no other companies, then they can't outsource it to anyone. Who wants to rule the world, if you have to then run every childcare, every hair salon, every sewerage plant...

So, even the world's most wealthy company, even if it diversified and bought out most other companies, is very unlikely to make everyone work for it, or even to want to. Typically, a company wants fewer employees in order to reduce overheads.

"Total costs of a year of youth is significantly less than one man-year. For example, total of ten man hours to produce equipment, maintenance, energy and all for a year of lifespan granted."

This paragraph is confusing: I suspect you mean "significantly more" - that is, as you describe, the cost to buy an extra year, is ten years' work for the average man-in-the-street, rather than the other way around. But let's investigate both.

10x more than average US wage. You've then put a price on an extra year of life at about $450k in today's money. Meaning, the average man can't typically get much of an extension and is better off just living well; but anyone rich enough to afford to hire ten flunkies to sit around and do nothing, can also afford immortality. So, the elite become immortal, but this affects everyday life of normal people only through the laws that the company gets pushed through to protect its intellectual property, and through the job opportunities offered for rejuvenating the rich. For each person rejuvenated for a year, ten people get paying jobs. Yay for the economy!

1/10 average US wage. You've then put a price on an extra year of life at about $4.5k in today's money. This is where it gets interesting, because youth drops within the reach of common men. The average man can remain alive indefinitely for what is essentially a 10% tax. The poor are shortlived and a vast class divide opens up between the middle-class and lower-class. For the have-nots, crime can actually pay: even if you get caught, you just need to earn enough to cover your time in jail, plus 10%. Jails become even more crowded.

Punishment: there'd be the new punishment of getting banned from the rejuvenation system, or having limits imposed (you can only rejuvenate between this range of physical ages, etc), and the crimes for which you can be punished in this way are whatever the Company decides. Don't make your debt repayment to them? Publish a blog post defaming them? sky's the limit, there's no law saying they have to serve you.

Perversion: The pedo contingent moves from online chatrooms into reality, of course, along with the ABDLers and neotenists and others, as cliques of eternal children, and those who prey on them, protect them, and service their needs. Age-discrimination laws might change - would someone ten years old physically be subject to the same laws as someone mentally ten years old? And yet, this stops being a big deal - with so many youthful-seeming people with power, instead, the big deal becomes those who fetishize and prey upon the vulnerable aged, with their lowered faculties, technological inexperience, and so forth.

Population: The population... does it explode? Probably not. Nobody actually dies of "old age", even now, so by reversing aging, you have just removed the damage that time has done to their person. Perhaps this treatment also reverses the course of those many common age-related chronic ailments, like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, Alzheimers, etc that 50% of people over 65 currently have at least two of? This might affect death rates, then. But I doubt population would explode too violently. People would still die, of the same causes, disease, accident, war, murder, suicide and more.

Illness: And, knowing that the Treatment would reverse the ailments, people would take greater risks. The Treatment fixes up livers and lungs? Well, let's smoke and drink! It fixes AIDS? Well, then sex is safe again, and we can carry once more down the path of libertinage that the 60s and 70s went down before AIDS reared its ugly head!

Children: People might not live forever, but they live a lot longer... but they don't have such a rush to have kids. Maybe they'll wait until after their first rejuve. Or the tenth. When the time is right. When they've got a bit more money, and can afford to get a house for the kids as well as an education. Because, inheritance largely dies out. Each new generation needs to buy its own home, and so forth. Retirement funds and pensions would be a thing of the past, eaten up by the rejuvenation process.

Immigration: In the shrinking-population US, immigration is OK, but in the rising-population post-rejuve society, immigration becomes a danger to you and your children. House prices, education, and so much more will become more expensive. So immigration will be discouraged... UNLESS there are laws allowing immigration of the can't-rejuves, to do the "poor people" jobs, and by providing the "poor part" of the population, hence ensure that it is much harder for full citizens to fall down to the can't-rejuve level. Social upward mobility from the can't-rejuves into the rejuvables would be strongly discouraged by the wealthy, though there'll always be rights activists who fight for equality.

Debt: Death is no longer the solution to all life's ills: you can't run up all your cards and shrug, saying "well, I'll be dead soon anyway". But just as today's healthcare debt burden is bad, so the rejuvenation debt burden will be crippling for many. Eventually, they will be unable to afford another rejuve, and as their bodies fail, they'll be less and less able to earn, so less and less able to rejuve. There'd be charities for such hopeless cases, and rejuve lotteries, but the vast majority will age and die.

ID Cards: Identity will be harder to prove, and so biometrics will matter more: a DNA pinprick to prove that you really are yourself, and not your granddaughter.

SOME of these effects would still happen with crazily expensive rejuvenation... but not nearly as much social upheaval as if the common man could attain immortality.

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The government of the country in which the company operate can simply pass laws to regulate the company and the pricing of the service.

Even if the company would set it self up in some third world country which they can controls wars might be fought over the technology.

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There only so long you can keep the secret. Even your best friends might just kill you after knowing the secret, and you can't run the industry yourself. If you do happen to do so, some people will go to any extent (even governments), investigation, torture, etc. to get the information. There must be millions of people willing to gamble their lives, if they have a substantial chance of attaining immortality.

Anyone who does receive the information will face the same threat as you. If a government gets the information, the whole country will face crisis due to the splits in government. A person with selfish intentions, with such information will not be content with just making it into a currency. He will declare himself the ruler of the world, and grant life to others based on their service to him. He may also make use of the depression faced by the 'immortals' who have no desire to continue with their life, or they may revolt against him.

I don't think it will be possible to prevent a dystopia unless (a) an all powerful being (not necessarily God) controls the society and is interested in its welfare
(b) you forget the method (intentionally or otherwise)

This question is highly opinion-based, I don't know how suitable it is for SE. Maybe you can start a chat thread on it.

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Let's ask some related questions:

What if, back circa 1900, one company invented the airplane, a fabulous new method of transportation that revolutionized world travel. Let's call this imaginary company, the "Wright Flyer Company". What would stop them from ruling the world?

What if, in the early 20th century, one company invented television. What would stop them from taking over the world?

What if, in the late 20th century, one company invented the cell phone. What would stop them from taking over the world?

Or more brutally, what if one nation invented the crossbow, or gunpowder, or the tank, or the atom bomb. What would stop them from taking over the world?

One could go on and on with these analogies. Okay, presumably an "eternal youth" formula would be more valuable than a television or a cell phone. But still, in real life, the problem is almost never, "What will stop an inventor from creating a monopoly and accumulating excessive amounts of wealth and power with his invention?" Most countries in the world go to considerable trouble to create patent offices and enforce patent law, to protect inventors, so that they get SOME reward for their work and creativity before a million other companies start manufacturing knock-off versions of their product.

If a company really invented such a drug, they would surely find themselves tied up in patent fights with competitors for years. Someone would find a way to steal the formula. Other inventors would develop similar formulas. The secret would likely be out long before they could get FDA approval to sell the drug in the United States.

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Only two things would really stand in the way, in the short term, of such a company to my thinking Religion and Politics. You will have religious fundamentalists who protest any scientific advancement but if you stopped death I would expect them to come out of the woodwork like there was no tomorrow; death is central to almost every world religion, or rather the threat/promise of what comes after is. I can see this company being destroyed in the first wave of religious turmoil depending where they initially set up shop. Political manipulation would be the other side of this, the company would almost certainly have a hell of a time remaining independent if they tried to sell this product widely before establishing themselves in some kind of neutral, politically and economically defensible, territory. there are a lot of governments that aren't going to like the idea of this technology being available to the "wrong sort of people". Those are the immediate threats to my way of thinking, in the longer term I'd be thinking population pressure waning resources etc...

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What would stop the company from taking over the world?

Competition: Thousands of very smart, very motivated people will be devoting all of their time and energy into figuring out how that company's process works. If the company filed a patent, the patent would disclose how the invention worked, meaning other companies would find a way to duplicate the technology legally or illegally. Once the patent expires, it's fair game. If they didn't file a patent, anyone could legally copy their technology.

Regulation: Governments love to regulate. They regulate everything from what a dozen means, to auto fuel economy standards, to even teeth brushing. Is there really any doubt that they would want to regulate this as well?

Market forces: Most people do not worry about health until they start getting older. Therefore, the market for the service of said company would be in for folks in developed countries who are around 35 and older. While extreme age would eventually skew the age demographic upwards, not everyone in the country would be customers.

Death: While the likelihood of death increase with age, age is not the cause of most deaths. Babies die. Children die. Teens die. Young adults die. Accidents happen. Cancers occur. Overdoses, liver disease, occupational diseases and suicide takes lives. While a fountain of youth would be extremely valuable, understand your company is selling youth, not life. Someone who is young and is dying of cancer could care less about getting a rejuvenation treatment.

You have to eat: While the rejuvenation treatments would be highly sought after, there is more to life than youth. One must eat, have shelter, clothing, health care, transportation, and safety. Youth won't be the only thing people spend their wealth on.

How do you exchange it? There are several characteristics of a good currency, among which are easy to use, easy to divide, universally accepted and does not expire (rot). How would one trade years or days?

Motivation: Why in the world would a company want to make their products a currency? What is gained by them? There is no gain for them not just collect hundreds of billions of whatever currency every year.

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Yet again, a Russian Sci-Fi strikes back!

Retroactive immortality for sale

In the early "Line of Delirium" series by somewhat known in the West Sergey Lukyanenko, a grim-dark human star empire is quite defined by something like that. The founder of a huge evil corporation has found some esoteric alien practice that led him to aTan, a technology that provides retroactive immortality. (It is just only a precursor to the actual alien tech that shapes the second novel.)

The aTan technology works like this:

  • You arrive at the aTan office and pay a hefty amount of money.
  • They acquire your DNA and implant a special device in your cranium.
  • Should you die, the device transfers your memory to the aTan network.
  • In the closest aTan office a body is cloned, it's brain is overwritten with the transferred data.
  • The aTan "insurance" is invalid after a resurrection, you need to pay a yet another hefty sum for the next aTan session to work.
  • It is cheap enough to be accessible to generals, higher officers, and lucky enough bounty hunters.
  • The suicide for aTan customers is an unpleasant fire exit, but not an end of everything. It's, for example, a way to evacuate from a catastrophically failing space ship.
  • Naturally, the body age is reseted to the age in which the DNA probe was acquired. So, buying aTan when still young and going through an assisted killing is a rejuvenilisation procedure.

The remaining part of the flair of the novels is borrowed from 90s in Russia (think: "roaring 20s") and a bit of Master of Orion. For example, the novel begins with the protagonist dying and being resurrected despite he did not pay yet for a next aTan session. Now he has a very special favour to pay back to the founder of aTan.

Of course, there are also other books with a similar hook-up, such as "Immortality, Inc."

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There is a flaw at the base of this hypothesis: Entropy cannot by any means be reverted. People cannot get younger. At best, you can stop aging, and that implies a serious DNA rewriting and periodical treatment. Not impossible, but, for example, in some individuals it could cause a massive cancer.

Or, if you wanted th throw in a groundbreaking technology, this biotech company has discovered a way to transfer memories from the client's body into a clone's. This would allow only people with a ton of money to get the special treatment without limitations, like buying a platinum subscription to a new life.

Other customer-classes could buy a clone with a shorter lifespan, its DNA programmed to stop the heart after a certain date. Gold class could have their memory saved in case their family could purchase a new body. Silver class would just die and their memory be lost forever.

Even in this scenario, the company wouldn't need to rule the world: purpose of a company is to make money. Political power, which in this case would be tremendous, can be more of an obstacle. Take Krupp Steel, for example: They earned solid profit from Hitler's regime, but when the regime fell, they quickly turned to the winners, leaving politics to their things.

To rule the world, the company and the government should become one thing, with clone puppets permamently in every government seat. And it would be quite impossible to make sure that every puppet acts just exactly as its creators want (unless said clones are programmable), and the world population should be composed of programmed clones. Like the aliens did in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

At this point, the company becomes the core of a world mind, a titanic hive with the company as the queen bee. Borg on Earth scale.

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