Medicine vs Maintenance
The topic of medicine vs maintenance may seem nonsensical, and historically it would have been. Surely something that needs medicine doesn’t need maintenance and vice versa, right? Well, thanks to modern advancements in artificial limb and organ technology, this hasn’t been strictly true for a number of years. Now, a faulty heart that required drugs to keep it stable can be replaced with an artificial heart that is digitally controlled. However, as anyone who knows anything about artificial organ transplants would point out, the use of immunosuppressants is practically always needed to prevent an immune response.
In fact, the body’s own default response to unknown objects has been an unfortunate bottleneck in internal transplants of both living and artificial body parts. Where this doesn’t apply is external additions, such as artificial limbs, contact lenses and hearing aids. Though a far step from the typical sci-fi interpretation of the word, these are actually all examples of cyborg technology.
The term ‘Cyborg’ is rather simple and thus rather broad. In short, it is any biological creature that uses mechanical elements built into its body to improve its capabilities. Broadly speaking, a peg-legged pirate would, by definition, be a cyborg. What really matters to us, however, is when the question of medicine vs maintenance is brought up as entire biological systems are replaced with technological equivalents. As soon as cyborgisation occurs, fewer and fewer biological systems exist to go wrong and the life expectancy of the patient (usually) increases.
Taking the example of hearing aids, though the individual devices may have their own reliability challenges, they are often cheap and the batteries are easy to recharge/replace. This low maintenance could theoretically extend the aural capabilities of a person until they a) had significant brain damage, or b) kicked the bucket. With a better understanding of how the body works, this same idea can be applied to other systems, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, bones muscles and more. In fact, some people even get surgery to become more synthetic without even having a problem, a phenomenon we know as ‘plastic surgery’.
Then, with the advent of brain enhancement technologies like the neural lace and synthetic tissues, people may only need their brain and blood to support it. Such a scenario is almost exactly like that envisioned in RoboCop and Ghost in the Shell. At this point, the only healthcare a person would need is a good system to make sure that their remaining tissue was infection-free and had a good exchange of waste, nutrients and oxygen. All the same, this clearly doesn’t seem like the end-goal. In order to truly do away with the need for medicine, one would need to go fully digital.
If you haven’t read our articles about brain uploading, digital immortality or artificial bodies, I suggest you read the important posts first. For the purposes of this article, once someone has uploaded their brains, they could then exist in a robotic body and interact with the world in a similar manner to how biological people do. In this case, all components, including the ‘brain’, are repairable or replaceable. There is no need at all for medicine is healthcare and the medicine vs maintenance question is wholly on the side of maintenance.
Eventually, due to the nature of immortality and mortality, this means that healthcare will be for less and less of the population. Entire planets, solar systems and galactic regions will be colonised without ever having needed a single hospital or even first aid kit. Maybe one day, if children can be conceived and raised all as a digital being, the concept of healthcare would fall away into ancient history.
Fully simulated reality existence
So far we have discussed a shift in medicine vs maintenance. Instead, there is a way to do away with both entirely. Though it’s debatable whether or not it’s really living, existing in a fully simulated environment, such as that of Black Mirror’s San Junipero, USS Callister and Striking Vipers, would be entirely possible. At this point, every aspect of a person is raw binary code. There is no body to get damaged, only power and a connection to the web. However, before we get completely comfortable, there is and always will be one facet of human health problems that will remain with us: mental health.
The caveat: mental health
People are generally unique. That statement may be oxymoronic but largely it is true. So many of us have quirky personality features or weird obsessions and interests. One guy may love his wife, whilst another loves his car. Regardless though, most people live roughly the same lives and have roughly the same goals, namely to increase the wellbeing for them and those they care for. Sadly, when people don’t have good wellbeing they can easily fall into negative mental cycles such as depression, self-harming, anorexia, suicidal thoughts and a whole host more. This is not, as far as we know, unique to humans and is highly likely to be transferred with a person’s brain. Thankfully though, many environmental causes, such as air pollution, would no longer be of any effect.
There is also the matter of the few people who have extreme minority mental afflictions, such as paedophilia, psychopathy, sadism, schizophrenia or others. Having these afflictions is, for the most part, natural but acting on them or experiencing them can be harmful both to the individual and others. Historically, someone with such a condition simply had to live with it, though this needn’t necessarily remain so. There is some potential to analyse a person’s entire cognition, find the brain regions responsible for bad mental states and mental afflictions and then simply replace them. This idea, known as brain configuration, could essentially ‘cure’ most unwanted states of mind. At this point, you could change a person into someone who didn’t need maintenance, physical healthcare or even mental healthcare.