‘The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering’
– Bruce Lee
There are enough scientists out there who believe it will happen very soon; while others are against it. Whatever the outcome, as we speak research on the extension of human life is going on at a rapid pace.
Along with the development of AI and quantum computers, another area where research dollars — and the inevitable chance to make money off the investments from the business opportunity — is in human lifespan extension. Within the next seven years, analysts at the Bank of America consider the market for this kind of research to be well over half a trillion dollars.
With promises to extend life, as well as the quality of it, some in the industry are getting very excited — not just at the possibility the medium life expectancy for people to break the century mark on a regular basis, but also the implications regarding the financial gains. The promise to prolong the lifespan of our species should have far-reaching effects, as both tech and pharmaceutical companies try to take advantage of the inevitable demand the population will have for it in the future.
Immortality is a ridiculous illusion, an empty word, a butterfly net chasing the wind.
– Milan Kundera
Ways to delay death will surely trigger investment opportunities in some key areas. Biotech giant Novartis, as well as Illumina — a company which specializes in ‘systems for the analysis of genetic variation and biological function’ — will be at the forefront of this new challenge. And with more established brands and startups jumping on board all the time, the sector is sure to snowball into a monster.
Although the promise of immortality is a step too far even for the most advanced technologies at our fingertips at the moment, ‘amortal’ man — coined by American journalist Catherine Mayer, who in her 2011 book Amortality: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Agelessly defines it as ‘the trend to living agelessly, often in denial of mortality’ — is the next best thing. Additionally, big data collection and the study into genomes will help the research cause. All of these, in one way or another, will advance the scope as well as the understanding of extending human life. The innovations in medical knowledge are growing at an unprecedented rate from the past, which can only mean it will be available sooner than we think.
The portmanteau ‘techmanity’, a play on technology and humanity (and a popular technology podcast, by the way), is all the rage at the moment within scientific and futurist circles and can only flourish with more money pumped into the research for the elixir for a better life.
The future horizon is no longer science fiction.
Many specialists believe there are few distinct, yet intertwined, disciplines which will help us in the realization of human life extension, with Big Data/AI and Genomics being two of the most important.
Discussing the pros and cons of each point, and the costs involved in their development and how much of an impact on humanity’s overall goal of achieving the transhumanists’ dream of a perfectly healthy human being, is not enough for even a five-hundred-page book, but here, quite humbly, is a very brief summary of some of the key points:
Big Data/AI Health
Amazon, in partnership with J.P. Morgan Chase and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, not to mention Alphabet, owned by Google, is currently investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data in the health sector. Cognitive computer systems are already being used to enhance medical processes that are repetitive in nature, saving doctors and other medical personnel a lot of time. Inroads in this kind of technology will expedite treatments and hopefully reduce the rate of human error, especially in areas such as x-ray diagnosis and analysing pathologies that with a human executing them could take a longer time to complete in the laboratory. Google Brain and other advanced technological AI tools are helping hospitals diagnose illnesses far earlier than human have been able to do in the past, giving patients a fighting chance of a full recovery or, at the very least, the ability to plan for their end. Robots, adept at surgical procedures, are already conducting operations that require high-precision.
‘War is 90% information.’
– Napoleon Bonaparte
Such technologies will, in the long term at least, bring down the cost of treatment and hopefully enable the savings made to be pumped into R&D. And further down the line, democratize the cost of procedures/treatments in life extension.
Genomics & Other Advances
Genomics is another area of the tech industry that is growing year on year, with some estimates at it being worth over $40 billion by the mid-2020s. Genomics, as a science, is the study of the human genome, and how it can be manipulated for the good of humanity (at least at the moment). With the cost of sequencing genomes falling at a steady rate, geneticists hope this is the beginning of a massive shift in how the research behind the science is understood. The distinction between being able to read genome sequences and actually writing them down will be the crux in how the health industry — and the life extension of humans — will go beyond the present limit. The positive insurrection is nearly upon us. The times are exciting, not just for researchers, but for people, too. Just imagine our children, or maybe later down the line with our grandchildren, will have the chance to live disease-free, with strong bones, psychologically stable where both mental and physical maladies will be ‘memories of a past time’ — wouldn’t that be worth seeing.
‘The problem [with genetic research] is, we’re just starting down this path, feeling our way in the dark. We have a small lantern in the form of a gene, but the lantern doesn’t penetrate more than a couple of hundred feet. We don’t know whether we’re going to encounter chasms, rock walls or mountain ranges along the way. We don’t even know how long the path is.’
— Francis S. Collins
Being able to reproduce cells through the reprogramming of computer code to alter our biological makeup through the manipulation of genomes will be, when it is completely mastered, one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Today’s technical innovations have changed from what they were in the past.
Genome research will also be enhanced by new advances in the food industry too, with what many technologists are calling ‘future food’. Already genetics and biomolecular science are making gains with gene editing crop strains and food specially designed for a person’s specific genome as personalised nutrition, not to mention research into ‘moonshot medicine’, which if it does as promised, will be able to treat cancers and other serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis, which currently are incurable.
But do we want it?
Who wants to live for more than a hundred years? Do you? The arguments for and against it are multifaceted, too numerous in their differences and divisive for many. Yet, man is a beast who is always striving for improvement, to distance ourselves from other species with us in the evolutionary road.
If it happens, will we be satisfied? Will it quench our inquisitiveness for improvement, for creating the perfect human being?
If the average lifespan becomes 200 years of age in two hundred years’ time, I’m sure there will be researchers trying to lengthen it, enhance the UX of all humanity.
And why not?
Because improving upon ourselves and the world around us is what we’re good at.