Hacking the human lifespan

Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey has said that the first person likely to live to 1,000 years-old has probably been born already. de Grey's nonprofit lab, and others, some of which are funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, are boldly focused on how science may find a cure for aging. In the new issue of Smithsonian, Elmo Keep writes about these efforts to "hack" mortality and quotes my Institute for the Future colleagues Rachel Maguire and Jake Dunagan, both of whom cast a concerned eye on the obsession with longevity. From Smithsonian:

One thing we do know is that there are more elderly people alive now than there have ever been in the history of the planet. Even if today's life-extension researchers made meaningful breakthroughs, the therapies wouldn't be available for many years to come. That means we're about to face a lot of death, says Rachel Maguire, a research director focusing on health care at the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto. "By 2025 or 2030, there will be more of a culture of dying and lots of different ways of experiencing it. There are early signs of new types of funerals and spiritual formations around this." Maguire foresees new end-of-life plans, including assisted dying. When it comes to aging, she points out that biological research is only one piece of a puzzle that must also include economics, politics and cultural change. "I don't think we have answers yet for how we'd do the other pieces. And the financial piece alone is huge."

There's already a huge disparity between the life spans of rich and poor Americans, and critics of the new longevity research worry the gap may only grow wider. A 2016 report from the Brookings Institution found that, for men born in 1920, there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between men at the top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent of the earnings ladder. For men born in 1950, the difference was 14 years. For women, the gap grew from 4.7 to 13 years. In other words, advances in medicine haven't helped low-income Americans nearly as much as their wealthier counterparts….

Dunagan has little patience for Silicon Valley's longevity research; he says proponents are not sufficiently interested in the details. "The rich people are defining the terms of the longevity conversation and have enhanced access to these technologies," he says. "Everyone wants to live longer, to some degree, but it's also the sense of privilege, of selfishness to it that's 'I want mine. I always want mine.' Well, what if everyone had this? What would be the long-term implications of that?"

"Can Human Mortality Really Be Hacked?" (Smithsonian)