When will the first person die via sentient sex robot? What about the first death in deep space?
For that matter, who'll be the first person to escape the traditional age of death — living to be 1,000 years old, or even far longer?
It's time to make some guesses. The current most common causes of death are pretty predictable: heart disease, cancer, and "accidents," according to the Center for Disease Control. Now imagine that list a century or two from now.
Here's what we're expecting.
1. Boiling from the inside when your off-brand spacesuit springs a leak
You'd think that if you were going to be careening through the vast cold empty grip of outer space you'd want the highest quality gear standing between you and the alien elements. But if you're still buying off-brand cold medicine to save a buck, that thrifty decision-making is likely to scale to other-worldly proportions. Case in point: your off-brand spacesuit.
The 500,000+ pieces of space junk orbiting Earth are terrifying. Shrapnel travels at speeds up to 17,500 mph, twisting into a tornado of metal ready to rip into your budget-conscious suit.
It's also possible that a micrometeoroid, or some other piece of orbital debris, could hit a part of your spaceship — like the handrails, for instance — making a sharp edge that could subsequently cut your suit or glove on contact.
If something does rupture your suit, don't try to hold your breath. If you try to breathe in during sudden decompression in the vacuum of space, your lungs could rupture.
Alternatively, the reduced pressure lowers the boiling point of your bodily fluids — a condition called ebullism. Basically, you start to boil from the inside. The liquid water in your bloodstream and tissue turns to vapor. This might just cause some swelling and bruising as you gasp for air, or an air bubble in the blood stream — blocking blood from getting to the heart and lungs.
Ebullism isn't just a hypothesis, either — one man survived it and lived to tell the tale. In 1966, a 24-year old NASA tech was testing a space suit in a vacuum chamber when he experienced a rapid loss of suit pressure. According to Michael Barratt, a physician and a NASA astronaut specializing in aerospace medicine, the man "recalled the sensation of saliva boiling off his tongue before losing consciousness." Thankfully, the chamber was re-pressurized. The tech was awake and alert by the next day, according to The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
In space, you likely won't be that fortunate. Luckily you'll pass out within 15 seconds from a lack of oxygen anyway. Then finally die in about another minute. A truly out of this world way to go.
2. Getting killed by a sex robot
Sex with robots is a near-guaranteed aspect of our future. In fact, it's sort of already an option. One of the most popular types futuristic companion on the market is The RealdollX — that link is super NSFW, needless to say — an AI-driven robotic doll from Abyss Creations. It can express emotion, move its head, and even attempt conversation. The bot is designed to run with Realbotix’s customizable AI software “Harmony AI."
Someday, humans could develop a more sophisticated AI to power these sex bots — the great great grandchild of innovations like AlphaGo and Sophia. With batteries that last longer and charge faster, could something else become long lasting enough to kill you, the user, from exhaustion? Or could that programmed jealousy turn into something a little more dangerous? Especially with the question of sentience or the singularity at hand — and potentially only decades away.
Matt McMullen, CEO of Realbotix and RealDoll and creator of the sex robot, Harmony isn't concerned — for now. “We're just getting started with this and it's in its infancy. We don't have the AI you see in Westworld. We don't have the robots you see in Westworld. We're barely getting going," he told Forbes.
Perhaps in the future after reaching the singularity, your life-size sex doll decides it's ready to taste human flesh, or maybe weaponized sex robots start trying to seduce us before going in for the kill. Either way, this one gives a whole new meaning to "going out with a bang."
3. Ceasing to exist when someone unplugs the simulation
Back in 2003, Nick Bostrom published "Are you Living in a Computer Simulation?" — a paper that asserts we're likely living in a simulated reality. His theory is partially based on the assumption that, in the future, we'll have enormous amounts of computing power that enable incredibly advanced simulations.
Assuming this is true, later generations might use these computers to run tons of super-powerful and detailed simulations of their ancestors. In the nesting-doll of universes that would lead to, it'd be far more likely that we're living in one of those fake realities than that we're living in the "top-level" reality.
Some tech billionaires are even reportedly paying scientists to try to break us free of the simulation on the off-chance that we are already in it. Is breaking out a good idea? Bostrom doesn't think so.
"It’s kind of unwise to try to break out of the hypothetical simulation," he told Vulture. "The chances of success are negligible. If it doesn’t work, it’s a waste of money, and if it does, it might be a calamity."
If the theory's true, nobody knows what motivates those who control the simulation. Perhaps they'll get bored the same way we do when playing The Sims and decide to start a new game – resulting in the end for us. Or maybe some overworked IT drone will trip over the server's power cord.
In that case, everything could go dark while you're sitting on your hover-couch watching the 2100 Olympics and eating a bowl of cereal intravenously. No quick save. Good night. The end.
4. Impaled on the tusk of a resurrected woolly mammoth at a futuristic zoo
Imagine taking your family to the zoo, centuries from now, and catching a glimpse of a real life woolly mammoth.
Harvard geneticist George Church and his team have made the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth their mission. In 2015, Church's team successfully spliced the DNA of a woolly mammoth into the genome of its closest living relative, the Asian elephant, using CRISPR. This was a great first step, but there are many challenges when it comes to scaling genetic engineering to, well, mammoth proportions. The task would likely involve artificial wombs, and a ton of time. The resulting creature won't be as much a mammoth as an elephant/mammoth hybrid, but it's the best chance we have for resurrection.
If you've ever seen a depiction of a mammoth you know they're, well, woolly. Their shaggy hair is incredibly inviting. Children and adults alike will want to pet them. And you are no exception. You lean too far forward over the fence as soon as one stirs — you could surely be its friend. But instead, you tumble into the enclosure – grabbing a tuft of its fur on the way down.
Woolly mammoths were about the size of African elephants (11 ft and 6 tons, or 12,000 lbs — about four compact cars) and their tusks were about 15 feet long. It wouldn't take much force for the creature to whip around, impaling you like a human kabob on a prehistoric skewer.
5. The Earth is struck by a six-mile-wide asteroid
In 2016, NASA sent a craft called OSIRIS-REx on the first-ever asteroid return mission to near-Earth asteroid, Bennu. Because Bennu's basic composition would have been established during the first 10 million years of the solar system, it could hold the keys to understanding the origins of life. But NASA also chose to study the 1,650-foot-wide asteroid for a different reason: because it could collide with our home planet in the late 22nd century.
That might sound intimidating, but there's only a 0.037 percent chance Bennu will actually hit the Earth, according to NASA. And even if Bennu did beat the odds, "we're not talking about an asteroid that could destroy the Earth," OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta told Space.com "We're not anywhere near that kind of energy for an impact."
So what if Bennu was bigger? Like, a lot bigger? Imagine an asteroid six miles across, the size of the one thought to have killed off the dinosaurs, was heading our way. In 2017, the journal Geophysical Research Letters published an analysis of simulated asteroid impacts and how they'd affect human populations. The paper cited several main potential threats: wind blast, overpressure shock, thermal radiation, cratering, seismic shaking, ejecta deposition, and tsunami.
One of the big takeaways: death by asteroid-induced tsunami is less of a threat than they originally thought. Instead, 60 percent of all simulated asteroid deaths in the study were caused by wind and pressure. An asteroid six miles wide would approach the Earth at about 19 miles per second, according to Britt Scharringhausen, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Physics and Astronomy at Beloit College. Nothing can slow it down — instead, it will "punch through the atmosphere like it's hardly even there," Scharringhausen says.
Whether the asteroid hits land or sea, it'll vaporize the crust resulting in a massive crater — more than a 62 miles of rock will be jettisoned into the air, and some of the debris will even reach space. The pressure alone could rupture your internal organs, while a wind blast could wreak all sorts of havoc on buildings, cars, and living tissue.
Unless you're really resourceful or damn lucky, you'll probably end up dying in the initial catastrophe. If for any reason you don't, you'll meet your final demise in the ensuing years due to lack of food or the fiery, ash-raining atmosphere that blocks out the sun for at least a year.
Luckily, NASA and FEMA are preparing for any sort of asteroid impact scenario. Given enough lead time, researchers could knock an asteroid off its crash course with the Earth – or maybe Bruce Willis will be available to assist.
6. Perishing in a fiery wreck when internet pranksters hack all the self-driving cars to crash simultaneously
Internet pranksters can't be stopped. In 2009, they voted the 4chan founder to the top of the Time 100 poll. Online mobs are also the reason we have a UK research vessel named Boaty McBoatface. Internet trolls are the ones responsible for turning Tay, Microsoft's optimistic machine learning chatbot, into a sex-crazed Nazi in under 24 hours. Then there are even darker examples, like swatting or doxxing.
Still, it only takes one really awful troll really screw up your day by hacking your car. One hacker reported to Motherboard that he was capable of accessing two vehicle-monitoring apps to see where users cars' were located, access drivers’ private information, and even kill the engines remotely.
"I can absolutely make a big traffic problem all over the world," the hacker told Motherboard. "I have [full] control [of hundreds] of thousands of vehicles, and by one touch, I can stop these vehicles engines."
As self-driving technology develops, both white hat hackers groups and malicious hackers will likely follow suit and hone their skills. Even as anti-hacking tech like faraday cages, becomes more common it seems that large scale hacks aren't going anywhere — and will continue to grow more sophisticated as well.
Let's say a group of future hackers come together with the intent to crash all self-driving cars simultaneously. By 2020, we could have as many as 10 million self-driving cars on the road in the U.S. By 2030, that number will more than double, with 20.8 million self-driving cars — more than the total amount of cars currently registered in the entire state of California. Imagine if a hacker suddenly gained control of them all. It would be complete chaos, with 20 million cars all crashing at once — more than quadruple the number of annual car accidents in the U.S.
The mass bloodshed would be unfathomable. Aside from massive pile ups, t-bone collisions, and driving off bridges, every cyclist and pedestrian would be in danger — even the Boy Scout helping grandma cross the street. The couple non-autonomous drivers left panic. Someone inevitably hits you — but your airbag has been hacked too.
Not a great way to go. All the self-driving ambulances won't be able to get to you, or the autonomous hearses. And you thought autonomous cars were supposed to be safer.
7. Dying in blissful old age after automation and basic income grant you a leisurely life to explore the arts, sciences and hobbies
So far, death is inevitable. However, as scientists begin to explore more about human biological processes, that fate starts to feel less certain.
Take British biologist Aubrey de Grey, for instance. He believes the first human being that will live to be 1,000 years old has already been born. Aging, de Grey believes, should be treated like a disease — it has symptoms, and can be cured or at least managed. We just haven't honed in on the right approach yet.
In a recent study, young blood transfusions seemed to show promise in fighting neurological aging symptoms in mice. But there's still a lot of controversy over the treatment. Especially after the most well-known young blood supplier, Ambrosia ceased treating patients in February 2019 after the FDA warned the public against the last of regulation around such transfusions.
There's also Google's Calico, a biology company with the stated goal of “solv[ing] death;" Human Longevity, Inc. which uses algorithms to predict an individuals risk of cancers or other genetic conditions; and Verily, another Google subsidiary, which creates devices that improve quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.
Most recently, in February 2019, a group of researchers from Harvard, MIT, and other institutions around the U.S. and Europe launched the nonprofit Academy for Health and Lifespan Research. The goal is to separate the rumors and hype from the real innovations in anti-aging research, and bring together the minds that'll make aging a thing of the past.
Perhaps, in the future, automation and a basic income will allow us to not work at all. Our bodies will be under less physical and mental stress as a result. We'll fix the climate, and the self-driving cars will lower accident rates. Our chance of living longer has the potential to skyrocket, as long as we support international scientific endeavors and start working together again as a species.
So how do you die? It takes a long, long time. But peacefully. Or maybe you simply don't. Morticians go out of business. We make it to a level 4 on the Kardashev Scale. Or maybe we explore the deepest crevice of the sea and the farthest speck of dust in the universe. We finally feel fulfilled and at peace.
Or, you know. Not.
There are many more possibilities where all of these came from. Perhaps a deep fake of a world leader starts a nuclear war; you get eaten by a demon that crawls through the portal CERN accidentally creates to the Hell Dimension; you're buried alive under all of the plastic straws, plastic bags, utensils, six-pack rings, and corpses of the dead animals that have consumed them; or maybe you're killed by an unstoppable pandemic when terrorists gene-hack a mutant strain of smallpox.
This much we're sure of: headstones and eulogies are about to get a lot more exciting.