THE BLOG
06/13/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2014

Stem Cells vs. Perpetuity?

John D. Rockefeller was not only a great oil man, he was an astonishing visionary.

Envisioning the need for and possibility of achieving what we see as modern medicine, in 1901 he created Rockefeller University in New York City to be a base of research the life sciences.

Progress in the early years was slow but steady. In recent years, the pace has been accelerating at an exponential rate in many fields of biological, neurological and pure cellular science. One begins to wonder where this may be leading us more quickly than many of us appreciate.

One amazing researcher at Rockefeller today, Ali Brivanlou, has been revealing the source, role and use of stem cells in human life and therapies to cure many defects and diseases. He very recently gave a brilliant, lucid lecture to a largely non-scientific audience. His presentation inevitably gave rise to thoughts of the possibility that man will in due course engineer perpetual life.

When asked if that were possible, he effectively punted, saying that is already possible. Example: he explained that there are already critters that you can cut off the heads and tails and they grow back.

But, he did not address the bigger question of what happens when humans can be managed to live, effectively, forever.

Where is the Rockefeller of today to establish and fund a new institution to start thinking about the consequences of how all this new science will change people and their lives and how to manage the myriad social and political implications that are being spawned?

Many questions that pop into the front of the mind are:

Population: In a world where everyone could live forever, how do we feed and shelter people?

"Managing" that population involves issues of resources, governance, and society that virtually no one is thinking about.

Inequality: What does it mean in society if perpetual life is available, but not universal?

Who gets to live forever and how do we decide? Will immortality become a birthright or a commodity?

How do we prevent "master race" scheming and political manipulations? What happens to rigid hierarchies of entrenched "wisdoms"? Right now, as generations evolve, culture evolves. Will keeping the old stymie the new?

Where are you Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Laurene Powell Jobs and David Rockefeller and anyone else with vision and vast resources who would like to spark the process of addressing these questions?

The results will shape the world for millennia, with an impact far greater than anything such a visionary could accomplish in a single life.