The Oxford Martin School is a wonderful place. Earlier this week one of its off-shoots delivered the wonderful prediction that all of humanity could be subject to a violent takeover by a super-intelligent A.I. within 20 years.
Today, it's wondering what we should do with criminals once we've worked out how to live for centuries.
In an interesting interview with Aeon magazine, Oxford Martin philosopher Rebecca Roache considers the practical ways in which life-extension technologies might influence how society deals with criminals.
In a world where living to 1,000 is possible, for instance, would the next Adolf Hitler eventually walk free from prison?
Here are some of her most interesting thoughts on the topic - make sure to head over to Aeon for the full write-up. Out of context quotes like this can sometimes seem more declarative than they are meant to in the original transcript…
1. If prisoners lived for centuries, it's arguable they would be literally different people by the end of their sentence. And that might not be fair.
"Even if your body makes it to 1,000 years, the thinking goes, that body is actually inhabited by a succession of persons over time… if you put someone in prison for a crime they committed at 40, they might, strictly speaking, be an entirely different person at 940."
2. Life extension tech might be a right not a privilege - and we might be compelled to give them to prisoners.
"If you withheld them from prisoners in that scenario, you would effectively be denying them medical treatment, and today we consider that inhumane."
3. Even if we can't live to 1,000, we might be able to make a prisoner think they can - and make them serve a hellishly long sentence.
"There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence. "
4. There aren't many crimes that could justify an eternal sentence. Except…
"Suppose there was some physics experiment that stood a decent chance of generating a black hole that could destroy the planet and all future generations. If someone deliberately set up an experiment like that, I could see that being the kind of supercrime that would justify an eternal sentence."
5.Thinking about the future actually helps us reconsider the assumptions of the present:
"Is it really OK to lock someone up for the best part of the only life they will ever have, or might it be more humane to tinker with their brains and set them free? When we ask that question, the goal isn’t simply to imagine a bunch of futuristic punishments – the goal is to look at today’s punishments through the lens of the future."