[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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2020 Vision


(Rehearsal Transcript)

First aired 13 March 1998

What is 2020 Vision?

Gillian Deacon introduces Robert J. Sawyer as man in the year 2020 who has undergone a new treatment that will make him immortal.

Gillian: Hi, Rob. Got a minute?

Rob: A minute? Sure. You want an hour? A day? A year? No problem. Time is one thing I'm going to have in abundance.

Gillian: So it's true? You're going to live forever?

Rob: Yes.

Gillian: But how?

Rob: It's simple, really. The technique was pioneered back in your time. The cells in our bodies can only divide about fifty times. That's because of the telomeres — little caps on the ends of the DNA strands that behave like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces. Each time the DNA strand divides, the telomere is reduced. After fifty divisions, the telomere is gone, and the DNA can't divide any more. Well, my body has been treated with nanotechnology — tiny machines, only a billionth of a metre in size. They repair the telomeres allowing my cells to keep dividing forever.

Gillian: Forever? Literally forever?

Rob: That's right. I know you're using a timescope to look ahead twenty years to 2020. Well, if you could boost the power of your timescope so that you could see ahead twenty thousand years, or twenty million years, you'd still be able to find me.

Gillian: Twenty million years! "Immortality" is just a word, I guess, until you put a number on it.

Rob: And twenty million isn't the limit of course. They still don't know in my time how the universe is going to end. I intend to be on hand to find out, billions of years in the future.

Gillian: But what about accidents? I mean, yes, there's only a negligible chance that any of us will die in a car accident or a plane crash or be murdered over a normal eighty-year lifetime, but surely the probabilities go up the longer you live? Won't you eventually — well, be killed?

Rob: Well, yes, that is a problem. But I'm going to be very careful. It's one thing to risk cutting your life by short a few years for the sake of the thrill of skydiving or skiing . It's quite another to gamble with a few billion years. I think you'll find that immortals like me are going to be a very cautious breed.

Gillian: Speaking of breeding, if everyone becomes immortal, what happens to the population? Won't it explode? Or are people moving off into space?

Rob: No, we don't have interstellar travel yet. So, yes, there's a problem there. Me, I've decided not to have any kids — if I'm going to live forever, there's no need for an heir and a spare.

Gillian: But some people are going to have children, and those children will have children, and so on. Even if human evolution has slowed to a snail's pace, if we're talking billions of years, those who continue to reproduce generation after generation will continue to evolve, won't they? Won't you be as out of place tens of millions of years from now as a dinosaur would be here in 1998?

Rob: Perhaps. Only time will tell. But whatever the answer turns out to be, I'll be on hand to see it.

Gillian: Thanks, Rob. That was Robert J. Sawyer, a man in the year 2020 A.D., who has opted for immortality treatments. When we come back, Robert J. Sawyer, the 20th-century, and all-too-mortal, science-fiction writer and our "2020" panel . . .

More Good Reading

On telomeres

Other "2020 Vision" scenarios
Rob's CBC Radio Science FACTion columns
"2020 Vision" press release
Rob on TV — with lots of stills!
Media backgrounder on Rob Sawyer
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Factoring Humanity
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Frameshift

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