For as long as humans have existed, we’ve dreamt of immortality. The very oldest story ever discovered, the Epic of Gilgamesh, includes searching for endless life. But immortality was a hard thing to come by – not a single person has managed it yet. Over time, people came up with reasons that immortality wouldn’t be so great, and nowadays a lot of people don’t want to live any longer than they consider natural. It may not be very long before they get to make that choice, thanks to the groundbreaking science of life extension.
Is immortality, or at least greatly expanded lifespan, a realistic thing to hope for at all? The consensus on the matter seems to be yes, that significantly extended or even endless lifespans are entirely possible. So when can you expect to get your magic pill, and live forever? Well, the fact of the matter is that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Right now lifespan is increasing by just a year or so here and there. There are a lot of extremely diverse possibilities for how we could extend lifespans with modern medicine, but we don’t know which will work or how soon we’ll start seeing significant results. There’s very, very little in the way of hard data about when we’ll get to the point where lifespan is increasing by more than a year per year (once we get there, you can basically live forever, as you’re always younger than the life expectancy). However a number of experts, such as the esteemed Dr. Aubrey DeGray, Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation (one of the leading groups researching life extension) think it will happen within our lifetimes.
But you may be asking: why would anyone to be old and sick even longer than normal? People imagine life extension as being basically like normal aging, except you live longer. Well, the truth of the matter is that no one actually wants to be old and sick for a longer time. Life extension isn’t just about staying alive, it’s also about staying physically young and healthy. Life extension is really about increasing healthspan, which is how long you stay healthy and invigorated, not about increasing lifespan without any consideration to quality of life. Indeed, most current research is into helping the elderly be healthier, and extended lifespans are just a happy side-effect.
What would life be like, if people could regularly live to 1,000 years old? One issue that pops into most people’s minds is that such long lifespans would cause terrible overpopulation. Actually, that’s much less of an issue than you’d think. Technology like renewable energy is already increasing the sustainability of the population, so it may not be long until the planet’s carrying capacity is significantly greater than it’s population. Additionally, the birth rate of the world is already dropping, and is expected to drop a great deal further. As it is now, people are currently dying at only half the rate they’re being born, so an end to death of old age wouldn’t be as big a change as you might guess. There are also serious plans for space colonization (this will be discussed in-depth in a future article) that would open up a huge new areas for humans to settle in.
The truth is that life extension is much more likely to give us more time to spend with our friends and loved ones, let us preserve the greatest minds of our age, and let us live long enough to see the exciting, wonderful technologies promised by futurism. It would enable you to live long enough to meet your grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. It would make the later years of our lives a time that could be spent in health and comfort, instead of growing slowly frailer, in constant pain. It would preserve memories of history, and and give us time to grow wiser than a mere 100 years permits.
Many think that the concept of overcoming death, or even overcoming aging, is unnatural and wrong. To them I say: if you’re over 34, you’ve already broken the natural cycle. Back when humans lived in caves, an average 15-year-old could expect to live to about 34 years of age. As of 2010, the average life expectancy in the world was 67, and that’s counting infant deaths, which skews the number significantly lower than it would otherwise be. In the U.S. right now the average life expectancy is 78. No one will force you to live longer than you want to, no one will force you to take anti-aging medicine, but I would submit that it is a choice to make for yourself, not an excuse to condemn research that could save the lives of those who want to live.