Using life expectancy is a misleading argument, and I believe intentionally so. Life expectancy is a function of early mortality. Longevity is the average age at death of people who die only of old age, and it doesn't vary much and hasn't for thousands of years. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longevity
Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey De Grey are playing on the hopes and fears of people to make arguments about the fountain of youth that won't come to pass. I wish they would, but they won't.
The part that bothers me is that Kurzweil, at least, knows his argument is wrong, it is clear that he's intentionally misusing the data and knows it. Take a look at the very last graph and paragraph in this piece, for example: http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns.
Kurzweil uses data from 1850-1920 and then conveniently skips all the years between 1920 and 2000. That is not possible to do accidentally, it is a misleading abuse of statistics. Unfortunately for Kurzweil, if you look at the data between 1920 and 2000, it paints a completely different picture, one of life expectancy asymptotically flat-lining.
Kurzweil also appears to conflate life expectancy with longevity, he says "In the eighteenth century, we added a few days every year to human longevity;". That statement is false. We added to human life expectancy, not longevity. And the gains were due to reductions in infant mortality and violence, and improvements in medicine and general health.
Oh but they will. Most certainly. It's a question of when, not if.
The body is nothing but a very quirky, very complex bit of machinery. Our task is to scientifically probe that complexity until we have such a great understanding of it that we can manipulate and improve that machinery in vivo.
To say that we cannot do that is to say that Science itself is too weak a method to overcome the level of complexity presented by advanced biological organisms.
It is therefore to predict that scientific progress will come to an unexpected, screeching halt, some time in the next decades.
I find this an absurd scenario, and therefore believe to the contrary. Science will overcome the level of complexity of human biology, and continue onward even long after that.
Because, putting anthropocentric intuitions to the side, the human body is not the most complex phenomenon imaginable.
To be clear, I'm not saying it can't ever happen, I'm saying that DeGrey's and Kurzweils claims that it is happening and will come to pass in the next century are bogus.
So things like the senescent cell clearance approaches presently under development at Oisin Biotechnologies and UNITY Biotechnology could have been built (with greater cost and slightly different components) ten or fifteen years ago, to pick one example. It was known that senescent cells were an issue, with a great deal of evidence to support that position.
The same goes for glucosepane cross-link clearance. That could have been picked up by any part of Big Pharama a decade ago, had anyone bothered to follow the lines of research that pointed in that direction.
And so on.
I can't speak to what should have been researched and wasn't, but I know DeGrey has an uphill battle getting attention, for whatever reason. http://www2.technologyreview.com/sens/docs/estepetal.pdf
This is absolutely incorrect, unless you are being exceedingly facetious about the scientific process. There have been some truly remarkable advancements that span the gamut from simple behavioral changes like reduced calorie intake to advances in knowledge of certain enzymes and other compounds that have yielded statistically significant results - published results of just these two examples have yielded up to 50% increase in longevity in various animals with the latter leading to accelerated FDA approvals for human trials.
I think you're attempting to split hairs by quantifying two necessarily qualitative terms which really have a common understanding to be how long people live on average. And in doing so, you commit the same error you highlight: surely you're not suggesting that longevity decreased on average between 1920-2000? Even if you hold fast the true importance of lexical disambiguation, most would disagree on straw man grounds.
Where I do somewhat agree or at least am very open to consider is that some other force is at play that we don't yet understand. The fairly recent theory of hormosis presents some profound philosophical arguments that cannot be ignored. Life as we know it may have evolved to live less than its full potential for reasons we have yet to discover - perhaps highly interdependent relationships between co-evolved cooporative cells can only resist entropy for so long. If this is the case, then this sort of predefined balance/order would mean gains are offset by newly emerging losses - an example would be the massive increase in cancer occurrence that has mirrored increases in life expectancy, moreso when this broad category of diseases is considered by its generic definition of "uncontrolled cellular growth".
So there's certainly room for reasonable skepticism and it should shape our expectations accordingly. But that shouldn't mean the end of these pursuits nor the hope for what they could yield. And prudent scientific observation should at least suggest that greater longevity is possible. I recently read an interesting article about jellyfish and Hydra, which go through various developmental stages that actually come full circle and leading some to theorize that these somewhat basic life forms may actually be immortal. There's also tardigrades, which can live in the most extreme environments imaginable, including volcanic vents and even celestial bodies traveling through space! They've experimentally proven all our understanding of life wrong and that's only in the past few decades. Kurzweil is overly optimistic about these things because I suppose there's a degree of fear and insecurity there - he's likely predicting accelerated time lines because that's a narrative he can be part of and wants to believe that to be likely for obvious reasons. But I don't think he's wrong and fully admire anyone promoting a hopeful and tenacious outlook on life instead of the increasing opposite trend of disillusionment and cynicism - but that's an entirely different discussion.
"The U.S. Census Bureau view on the future of longevity is that life expectancy in the United States will be in the mid-80s by 2050 (up from 77.85 in 2006) and will top out eventually in the low 90s, barring major scientific advances that can change the rate of human aging itself, as opposed to merely treating the effects of aging as is done today." (emphasis mine)
> surely you're not suggesting that longevity decreased on average between 1920-2000?
You've completely lost me here. This is a straw man argument, I didn't say a thing about what happened to longevity this century, and the data clearly shows it has gone up slightly. Experts agree it will reach an asymptotic peak unless some science magic happens. But no science magic has yet happened, and while I agree we should pursue it, we have no scientific reasons to suspect that it will aside from human curiosity, desire to live longer, and fear of death.
> Kurzweil is overly optimistic about these things
Now that's just funny. There's a world of difference between being optimistic and overtly lying to prove a point that doesn't exist.
Experts very much DO NOT agree on this and the fact that literally billions of dollars in R&D are expended on this area of science in just the US is testament to that. Sure it doesn't mean any groundbreaking discovery is guaranteed to happen - but it does show that belief in the possibility is alive and well. And why not? Those immortal jellyfish share 97% of the same DNA, including long stretches of matching sequences and compatible genes that have been experimentally transferred between them and other life forms numerous times. Even Right Whales, which are conscious mammals sharing immense biological relation to people can live 200 years or more, and that's in the absence of anything remotely resembling science and the presence of numerous impediments, including us, their generic brethren. Tardigrades may end up being miniature space suits for the most advanced intergalactic life forms known - who knows? What we do know is they throw most of what we believed to be true about life and morality right out the window - and that's a good thing. All this is to say that the possibility of longetivity increases driven by scientific exploration is much greater than the likelihood of that not being the case.
Kurzweil is who he is, for better or worse. But he has made outlandish predictions over the years, many of which have come about despite the skepticism. He's a successful entrepreneur and employed in a very senior position at one of the most valuable and forward looking companies in the world. He's not everyone's cup of tea, but I don't completely dismiss him as a crank. I disagree with some of the time lines he has, though cautiously because it doesn't take many compounding discoveries to get there on his schedule. But fundamentally, I agree with much of what he says - even though I think what they mean for us as humans and the universe as a whole is much less certain, and likely as scary as they are promising.
EDIT: here are some links you might want to read to confirm that whole "experts agree" conclusion:
Henrietta Lacks - the woman whose specific cancer mutation provided the vast majority of cells used to study cancer and numerous other cellular process, to this day. Cells which are effectively immortal: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/05/there-was-on...
Immortal Jellyfish, from that disreputable rag, The New York Times..:
Just search HN for immortal and see what you find, then let me know if your assessment remains the same
BTW, I think you've mis-interpreted the discussion. The two examples you gave above don't affect the rate of aging. They affect the symptoms of aging, and they delay death. I think most people agree we don't know exactly where the limit of longevity is once we remove all types of early mortality. But, as is true with life expectancy, we will uncover a limit that is slightly higher than where it is right now. Barring scientific advances that change the rate of aging, both metrics will asymptotically flat-line somewhere.
It'd be awesome to see such scientific advances. I hope it happens, and I support the activity. But the truth is that none of the evidence we've gathered so far has unlimited potential for longevity, all of it is removing obstacles that cause early death, not pushing the real boundary of longer life than was previously attainable.
The true question is why doesn't this happen perpetually? If we believe that DNA is effectively the blueprint for life, then beyond the minute minority of escaping and persistent errors and external effectors to this process, then why doesn't it continue indefinitely? There's no really strong hypothesis here but some theories about the mechanics of why this occurs have been ventured. Specifically, a lot of research has been centered on the DNA telomere, which is sort of like the opposite of a rattlesnake's rattler that grows with each shedding except that it seems to be slowly lost over successive generations of cells and it's not clear why. However, there are some exciting discoveries in this area, including an enzyme which is the FDA trial I previously alluded to - as well as a supplement company already producing a version at very high cost right now. However, it's still very early and does nothing without numerous trials - and ironically will only yield insight when the subjects expire, which one would hope occurs only after receiving some of the benefits though all but guaranteed to be the opposite as par for the course of scientific pursuit. That's soon going to be the new dilemma - is the significant lengthening of one's lifespan worth the early adopter risk that it not only fails to work at great expense, but actually exacerbated and expedited that which it sought to prevent. Then again, that perspective is very much shaped if you're on the way in our the way out I guess
EDIT: grammar and typo edits
That's not what science does. Science is the process by which we learn about natural processes. It doesn't overcome anything.
To invoke "Science" in this way is to treat it like a religion, like an all-powerful god. I mean, you even capitalized it.
Kurzweil, De Gray, and many others do this too. Either they don't actually know what science is, or they are cynically feeding a misperception of what science is. Either way, it's bad.
The process of using scientific knowledge to achieve human goals is generally known as engineering. And the heart of engineering is dealing with constraints. We have no idea, today, what constrains human life spans. Therefore we have no scientific reason to believe that we can ever use engineering to extend them significantly beyond what they are today.
We do know that all lifeforms have a limited lifespan, and most animals' are shorter than humans. That's a big clue that the constraint might be something fundamental and not easily overcome.
Good point. A related point, which occurred to me a while ago after reading various reports of scientific discoveries vs. other reports of how some things have not been figured out yet, is that there seemed to be a tendency to mention scientists by name for individual discoveries, but for the non-discoveries, people tended to write something like: "[Ss]cience has not yet discovered $THING or explained $PHENOMENON".
And who told you it's a given that we'll manage to have such an understanding?
Humanity, or whatever we create to succeed us?
I find much more probable that we'll wipe ourselves out in one way or another. We had some means to do so since the 40s, but since we added a lot more sick ways to our arsenal...
No body wakes up everyday to write unit test cases for Skynet 1.0
But people are working towards building robots that will replace a lot of human activity. It won't be sudden, it will be gradual, it will be so slow you won't have a way of stopping it. Opposition to any such thing will get you labelled as a luddite.
At some point in time trains will run autonomously, followed by courier vans then may be cars, Amazon will decide buying a fleet of robots from boston dynamics yields better returns than hiring people to word at their warehouses. As algorithms get intelligent and sensors get better, march towards singularity is a question of when, not if.
Your enemy is automation. Not Kurzweil.
The slow march towards singularity didn't start two decades back. It started when the wheel was built and rudimentary stone tools were invented by hunter gatherers.
Until we have complete nuclear disarmament, this doesn't seem like a far fetched scenario.
The ongoing increase in life expectancy in developed countries is associated with changes in the shape of the survival curve. These changes can be characterized by two main, distinct components: (i) the decline in premature mortality, i.e., the concentration of deaths around some high value of the mean age at death, also termed rectangularization of the survival curve; and (ii) the increase of this mean age at death, i.e., longevity, which directly reflects the reduction of mortality at advanced ages. Several recent observations suggest that both mechanisms are simultaneously taking place. ... We illustrate the method with the evolution of the Swiss mortality data between 1876 and 2006. Using our approach, we are able to say that the increase in longevity and rectangularization explain each about 50% of the secular increase of life expectancy.
This history has happened without anyone trying deliberately to target and treat the causes of aging - all gains in longevity have been incidental. The difference between the past and the future at this point is that now the research community is just starting to develop therapies that do in fact target and repair the causes of aging. Future results will reflect that change of focus.
I am curious; I think there's a gray area in between life expectancy and true longevity, where it's hard to distinguish between them. (As if it wasn't hard enough already.) It is possible that what we call longevity is increasing right now due to reductions in pollution and other impossible to measure environmental factors. That would mean that increases in longevity are actually increases in life expectancy in disguise.
From the WP article on Longevity:
"The U.S. Census Bureau view on the future of longevity is that life expectancy in the United States will be in the mid-80s by 2050 (up from 77.85 in 2006) and will top out eventually in the low 90s, barring major scientific advances that can change the rate of human aging itself, as opposed to merely treating the effects of aging as is done today."
It shows… 5 data points.
Even if we accept that life-extending and rejuvenating technologies will progress as described, and that all diseases will eventually be either curable or eradicated, there's still the risk of death from accident (or murder).
In England and Wales in 2010, about 0.025% of the population died from accidental or malicious (but not self-inflicted) injury or poisoning. If we take that as a typical annual risk of death, then over a thousand years you have a 22% chance of dying from one of those causes. At about 3000 years, it becomes more likely than not: at about 9000 years, overwhelmingly more likely (~90% chance of death); at about 50000, a practical certainty (> 99.999%).
Of course, the above assumes that risk of death from injury won't drop as medical technologies improve, which is wrong, but as long as it's non-zero, there is still going to be a statistical limit on the length of life. No hanging around till the heat death of the universe for you.
The world where life span runs on like that is deeply, profoundly weird, and thinking about it is hard because it's so unlike where we live. You can't just imagine one 9,000-year-old and try to imagine what the world is like, because they will not be alone.
I mean in the current world rich assholes do eventually die and sometimes their replacements are better (or worse, but in a way that destroys their power base). Do you really want to live in a world where the Bilderberg Group is immortal?
At that point the crystal ball becomes too fuzzy for me to guess exactly how they will react, except to point out that "go kill all the old people" is a really uncreative solution to the problem, and you've got a lot of people who will be highly incentivized to find another solution, since they plan on being the old people at some point.
It is possible that human mentality would change if we had to start thinking about longer timescales like this, but that seems optimistic.
Except everyone (the majority) could be old people too.
If you can live for 5000 years for example, you don't need as many reproduction going on (besides the huge overpopulation that would already be going on).
But there's a reason we use the word "singularity" to describe that kind of future- it really is impossible to envision with any greater accuracy or confidence than elizabethans could imagine the world of 2016.
There no pressure to get your stuff together if you know you can mess around for a couple of centuries and still have time to get your life in order.
Plus, can you imagine the compound interest? :)
Let's take binge-drinking, for example. Let's suppose that each binge-drinking episode has a .0001% chance of causing a fatality. That is trivially low.
However, in order to consider the trade-offs involved, you have to think about the expected value of your life in either scenario. So you must compare E(life | no drink) with E(life | drink).
These are practically the same, but where they differ is that in the drink scenario, your expected value is broken down into two scenarios -- one if you die as a result of the binge drink, and one if you don't. So you can break E(life | drink) into
99.999(E(life + d)) + .001d, where d is the added enjoyment you get from that one night of binge drinking.
The comparison, then, is ultimately whether E(life) >=< 99.999(E(life + d) + .001d
You can tell from this that what really matters is the ratio of d to E(life), the enjoyment you get from drinking that one night, compared to your overall enjoyment of your ENTIRE subsequent life. As we extend your life expectancy, as long as we assume that life is a good thing, we make the value of your subsequent life higher and higher. This, in turn, should make any rational actor be less willing to take on risks that would cut it short.
You're putting too much faith in the judgment of centuries-old "teenagers". My guess is that they would squeeze 100-200 years of drinking and partying into 5-10 years :)
Also, how would your memory hold up? Would you even be able to really remember anything that happened over a century or two ago?
So, you might have ultra rich at 850, rich at 800, and the masses at 750. But, having access to 100 years of refinement the 750 year old's ongoing treatment is likely far cheaper.
Though IMO, this is all wishful thinking. 1,000 years ago people thought they where close to unlocking immortality, and we are likely just as wrong.
Just as one example, I think it is far more likely that an anti-age treatment would prevent the formation of wrinkles than that it would remove existing wrinkles.
By the time we can go in and reinvigorate teeth, bones, all the internal organs, all the cells in the brain... restoring patches of skin will likely be trivial.
Solving the problem of aging generally means solving an avalanche of specific problems - one of which is the rejuvenation of skin.
This is not correct. The core concept is that we will develop individual solutions which solve pieces of the longevity problem. Living to 150 may only require solving one of them. Living to 1000+ may require what you propose (although that is not clear either) but in the intervening time period between the initial solution and the ultimate solution you cannot assume all other physical aspects of an aged individual will simply vanish.
you might live for 1000 years in the body of a 25 year old, but if you age and then get the treatments, even though you might have the body of a 25 year old, you might have some scarring or other effects left over
I feel that you're moving the goalposts on me by talking about the initial stages when some might make it to 150. My comments were regarding what you originally said above, not what you might have meant and tried to clarify in later comments.
I agree with you that at first we might solve some problems that extend life some years here and there but still be left with other semi-debilitating issues.
But once you're talking about all of the issues needed to be solved to reach 1,000 years, the technology will have to be far far far beyond the ability to repair some scarred skin.
To be clear, I wasn't only talking about scarred skin, but any consequence of aging. I was using excess skin due to rapid weight loss as an example of this type of comorbidity, in which one problem must be dealt with separately from another problem. It may be true that extending lifespans to 1000+ years will require technologies which will also resolve all other age-related issues. It may even be likely. But there is no principle that says it must be so.
Technically, this is not correct.
If your chance of dying drops exponentially (perhaps not very realistic, hence 'technically'), your probability of survival converges to something greater than 0.
E.g.: If your probability of dying in the first year is 1/2, then 1/4, then 1/8 and so on, then your probability of living forever is roughly 29 % ( https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=product+i%3D1+to+infin... )
Everyone would just have too much at risk, to allow anything dicey.
(since what we're talking about is the probability of independent events.)
If you were just born, then you will probably die by age 4000. But if you are 3999 then you will almost certainly live to age 4000. Your probability of reaching a certain age is always contingent on your current age.
Yes, everyone already knows that. I wouldn't worry about living for 1000 years if you're alive in 30 years, the human races spends much more time discussing the inane. Someone yells the equivalent of "squirrel" and down the rabbit hole we go...
e.g. Assuming not everyone could afford the technology and you have a 30 yro killer who lacks the funds to rejuvinate committing murder on somebody much older. Would that even be a crime or could it be argued that a 2nd class citizen has only tried to revenge or to set right to what they perceive an unjust society.
Playing god is scary. I think we can only do it if we are really thick enough and full of our selves to believe that certain individuals are better than the rest. (... of course all under the usual disguise of democracy and with a system that ensures the majority of those living under it, that what they do is right and for the greater good).
People suck :-/
On the perpetrator side, the punishments themselves are in the context of current lifespan. If the life expectancy jumps to 150, is 36 the new 18?
On the victim side:
"A Denver Post analysis of five years of state sentencing data found that those convicted of child abuse resulting in death between 2007 and 2011 got prison sentences 25 percent shorter than those who killed adults and were sentenced for the comparable felony charge of second-degree murder."
Yes, we will do great advances in health care, but will we _cheat_ death? Will those advancements be available? Is this something we _should_ do as a society? Technological determinism/solutionism (as presented in the article) is a really shoddy idea. It ignores so many things and assumes that progress is an arrow always flying forward…
Oh, and cancer.
However, just like 100 years ago, you will almost certainly be dead by age 100. For certain by 120.
If you end that cycle of renewal, the rate at which our society reacts to change and adopts new ideas would significantly slow.
That's a problem regardless of how well the society aligns with my ideals.
Personally, I think one of the biggest challenges to transitioning to a low-birthrate, ultra-long-lived society is that a constant influx of young blood seems to be a necessary engine for new ideas and progress. There's a combination of not knowing better and not having as much to lose that makes young people more willing to take big risks and push for more egalitarian societies over time. Left to their own devices, accumulation of wealth and status tend to ossify people's belief systems and reduce their incentives to throw everything out and start over.
 by this I mean not having the same accumulated beliefs about what is best. Sometimes those beliefs turn out to be unfounded, and you discover that by challenging them.
To quote Max Planck, "Science progresses one funeral at a time." That's as true of anything as it is of science.
Actually, the opposite is true to a degree. Limited resources increases the birth rate.
The only way around this is advances in technology that improve food production/distribution, but if this were to occur, then population would no longer outstrip resources and a new balance would be reached.
Last time I checked space is pretty huge, we could move there.
And if you live long enough, you might not need a biological body to survive.
For example: "Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fifth consecutive year, with more governments censoring information of public interest and placing greater demands on the private sector to take down offending content. "
if done incorrectly, this might end up in quite a disaster
So many things change with lifetimes that long and it seems more likely to me that the human timeline would adjust to the new lifetime. Physically maturing into an adult may take the same amount of time, but now it's a tiny fraction of your overall life. You may spend 50 or 100 years in secondary education, then another 200 in a career at which point you should have enough money put away to live on the interest.
And it's at this point, when you're 300+ years old that you start having children. On this timescale, you'd still see more generational overlap than we have today, but no so much that overpopulation is a concern.
In the case of men, sperm quality declines with age, so a man is more or less fertile his entire life, but that may not hold true in the case of extreme longevity. If this decline in sperm-quality is due to age damage, then an age treatment may also improve sperm quality. But this is not guaranteed and may require its own specific treatment.
Women produce all the eggs they will ever produce before they are born. Menopause occurs when a woman runs out of eggs. So in the case of females, an anti-aging treatment is unlikely to extend her reproductive years beyond the current age of menopause (although it may make pregnancy safer and more viable during the latter half of her reproductive years). Like sperm, a woman's egg quality also declines with age, creating further difficulty.
So the idea that women will put off having children for a couple centuries seems to be a nonstarter lacking other advances as well, but it may be a possibility for men.
Seems a little shoddy.
Personally, I think it's more than a little unlikely that we're the last generation to know death.
I think it's (not im)possible that rates would go up! Here's why:
The most risky (largest) life insurance policies aren't taken out by people who fully expect to reach old age; rather, they are taken out by people in their prime with young families or other dependents. So you have people taking out large policies from ages 25 - 50 or so, and then going back to small policies or no policy at all. The risk pool is now very different -- lots of very pofitable policies, but also a lot of risk. The existential risk to the insurance company might actually increase in that case, and rates would have to be increased to accomodate this risk.
Probably not, and IANAA, but it'd be interesting if an actual actuary familiar with life insurance could chime in.
I used to do yearly blog posts on the current state of whole brain emulation, and we are very very far away from any breakthrough there. So far away in fact that some prominent neuro scientists like Dennett believe this can't be done even in principle (I disagree with them, but it shows how far we have to go still).
In any case, I'll probably not be around in 30 years, and many HNers won't be either.
I'd be very skeptical that it will be noticed that it's possible, around the time that leap forward is about to occur. History indicates the exact opposite is most common when it comes to great technological leaps forward. Instead, what will occur is an ecosystem of supporting technology will prime the ground. Among the very few people that recognize the time as being ready, will be the person that actually invents said leap technology. And it may even be by accident, the ground was primed and an inventor in a garage put the pieces together (ala the inbound virtual reality revolution, it was all skepticism skepticism skepticism for decades, until the ground was primed to leap forward, while most weren't even looking at it).
Not in this case, no. I realize your argument is mostly generic, too. Everybody understands that some problems are expected to have these kinds of revolutionary solutions or no solution at all. However, reading a mind into the computer and then executing it is not a matter of figuring just one missing thing out.
A workable solution requires us to be able to decipher and efficiently digitize the fine structure of the brain. Acquiring missing pieces of technique or technology is a necessary but not sufficient piece of this specific puzzle's solution. There is no sudden eureka moment where it all falls into place, it's just a near endless chain of painstaking detective work in biochemistry.
Those problems you're talking about will be figured out bit by bit, and only once all those things are figured out, will someone realize "Oh shit, we're at the point where this is possible now!" while everyone around them isn't paying attention and still thinking "It's impossible. It's impossible."
Sounds like the premise of what would be a very interesting sci-fi book.
However, I seem to remember a similar argument being made in a book I read at high school, which obviously wasn't yesterday. The Mighty Micro, published in 1979, talked about the imminent creation of UIM's (Ultra-Intelligent Machines) by the 1990s and that these would, naturally, lead to such rapid advancements in healthcare as to give effective immortality.
[NB Mind you that book did make me rather interested in AI and I did do a CS degree and go on to do post-grad AI research for 6 years up to 1994 where I encountered a far better technology for enhancing intelligence. I can't really be too critical of someone getting this excited, after all I did, eventually somebody is going to do it...].
Despite that optimism and my very healthy diet and exercise regimen, I deal with increasingly deteriorating knee cartilage, loss of muscle mass, an impinged disc in my neck, decrease in reaction times, typical age-related memory degradation, increase in hair loss, yearly removal of pre-cancerous skin anomalies, failing reading vision, mild hearing loss, etc... you know, I'm getting old. This crap is building up and modern medicine offers no magic bullets to even the most minor of my age-related symptoms.
If I do make it another 30 years and if I'm still mentally with it, I'm sure that I'll be poo-pooing some claim that "in just another 30 years, you may live forever".
I don't doubt that eventually humans will figure out aging and be able to stop it -- but by that time, society will look a lot more like Star Trek with ubiquitous ability to manipulate our biology at an atomic level. Star Trek is at least hundreds of years away, not 30.
I seem to find that playing online games does wonders for this...
Only thing that really annoys me at the moment is my eyesight - I'm quite shortsighted and wear contacts to do things like skiing. Trying to navigate a new ski area (just back from the vast Portes de Soleil) with a map is now getting quite tricky as I can't read stuff up close with my contacts in....
Also I seemed to develop the rare blue/black colour blindness which my wife wasn't happy about.
To give a simplified view, the big obstacles are a) a technology capable of repairing damaged mythocondrial material in a living organism and b) a technology capable of repairing neural cells w/o replacing them (that is if you want to preserver 'you', not just your body). That is assuming that our current understanding of senescence is even mildly accurate.
Some animals have biological immortality as far as we know. Most however enter senescence after reproduction, probably because evolution optimized for that.
I think that if we sampled people's DNA at 15, and then used a retrovirus every few years to refresh the DNA in the cells, we would solve the biggest issue of random mutations piling up. But this is a long way away. Of course, there may be other processes that build up but a youthful immune system should be able to fight them relatively effectively.
Even so, the chance of death would only be reduced from exponential-exponential to exponential, since the chances of someone living A to B and B to C are independent and therefore multiply.
Here’s a fun video talking about the same thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQHBAdShgYI
That gives me confidence that replacing neurons at a rate that counters natural aging does not significantly alter me.
While I do feel that life expectancy of everyone below 40 is probably going to massively higher than historical life expecancies (disregarding systemic failures of society and outside influences), I don't foresee a future where everyone gets to live forever.
More info on Aubrey de Grey:
If I correctly predict, as an actuary, the demise of the industry, I don't win anything. If I can calculate a superprecise premium for my insurance product based on this being true, I have an expensive product that underperforms the competition, and management is not happy. Whereas if I ignore superlong trends, I get to earn my salary, probably until I retire - you know, it probably won't happen. I value a product competetively. And if we miss, it won't be my only problem. So even if I can do the right thing, I will be punished for the event.
Post-childhood life expectancy has gone up in smaller amounts as the parent comment says. The grand numbers ("life expectancy was just 60 in 1900!") obviously reflect infant and childhood mortality, but we've increased the average lifespan in the United States by 2-3 years in the last few decades alone.
Here's a graph that shows life expectancy at various ages in the UK - you can see this is not all due to childhood mortality:
Avoiding childhood death improved life expectancy at birth most dramatically on a global scale. But if you look from other points (say life expectancy at age 20), or scope it for locality and gender, the ability to intervene for many formerly mortal events pushed the needle up significantly. Examples: heart attacks, diabetes, cancer.
The differences aren't as dramatic -- saving someone from a heart attack at 50 may move the needle 5 years. But they are real.
I quite enjoyed the book, and the idea of sleeving was pretty interesting and well-explored. It was kind of sad to see that most people worked their whole lives to save enough to re-sleeve simply so that they could live another life doing, effectively, the same. On the flip-side, it was quite well-observed that the eternally young Meths actually suffered from extreme cynicism and boredom.
On a side note, I just found out today that Netflix is apparently making it into a series. Neat!
This suggests a law:
Maes-Garreau Law: Most favorable predictions about future technology will fall within the Maes-Garreau Point."
There exist a growing number of people propagating various forms of the viewpoint that we middle-aged folk in developed countries may (or might, or certainly will) live to see the development and widespread availability of radical life extension therapies. Which is to say medical technologies capable of greatly extending healthy human life span, probably introduced in stages, each stage effective enough to grant additional healthy years in which to await the next breakthrough. You might think of Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey, both of whom have written good books to encapsulate their messages, and so forth.
Some people take the view of radical life extension within our lifetimes at face value, whilst others dismiss it out of hand. Both of these are rational approaches to selective ignorance in the face of all science-based predictions. It usually doesn't much matter what your opinion is on one article of science or another, and taking the time to validate science-based statements usually adds no economic value to your immediate future. It required several years of following research and investigating the background for me to feel comfortable reaching my own conclusions on the matter of engineered longevity, for example. Clearly some science-based predictions are enormously valuable and transformative, but you would lose a lifetime wading through the swamp of uselessness and irrelevance to find the few gemstones hidden therein.
As a further incentive to avoid swamp-wading, it is generally well known that futurist predictions of any sort have a horrible track record. Ignoring all futurism isn't a bad attention management strategy for someone who is largely removed from any activity (such as issuing insurance) that depends on being right in predicting trends and events. You might be familiar with the Maes-Garreau Law, which notes one of the incentives operating on futurists: 'The Maes-Garreau Law is the statement that "most favorable predictions about future technology will fall within the Maes-Garreau Point", defined as "the latest possible date a prediction can come true and still remain in the lifetime of the person making it".'
If you want to be a popular futurist, telling people what they want to hear is a good start. "You're not going to be alive to see this, but..." isn't a compelling opening line in any pitch. You'll also be more convincing if your yourself have good reason to believe in your message. Needless to say, these two items have no necessary relationship to a good prediction, accuracy in materials used to support the prediction, or whether what is predicted actually comes to pass. These incentives do not make cranks of all futurists - but they are something one has to be aware of. Equally, we have to be aware of our own desire to hear what we want to hear. That is especially true in the case of predictions for future biotechnology and enhanced human longevity; we'd all like to find out that the mighty white-coated scientists will in fact rescue us from aging to death. But the laws of physics, the progression of human societies, and advance of technological prowess don't care about what we want to hear, nor what the futurists say.
I put value on what Kurzweil and de Grey have to say about the potential future of increased human longevity - the future we'll have to work to bring into being - because I have performed the due diligence, the background reading, the digging into the science. I'll criticize the pieces of the message I don't like so much (the timescale and supplements in the case of Kurzweil, WILT in the case of de Grey), but generally I'm on board with their vision of the future because the science and other evidence looks solid.
But few people in the world feel strongly enough about this topic to do what I have done. I certainly don't feel strongly enough about many other allegedly important topics in life to have done a tenth as much work to validate what I choose to believe in those cases. How should one best organize selective ignorance in fields one does care about, or that are generally acknowledged to be important? What if you feel - correctly, in my humble opinion - that engineered longevity is very important, but you cannot devote the time to validate the visions of Kurzweil, de Grey, or other advocates of longevity science?
The short answer is trust networks: find and listen to people like me who have taken the time to dig into the background and form our own opinions. Figuring out whether ten or twenty people who discuss de Grey's view of engineered human longevity are collectively on the level is not too challenging, and doesn't require a great deal of time. We humans are good at forming accurate opinions as to whether specific individuals are idiots or trustworthy, full of it or talking sense. Fundamentally, this establishment of a trust network is one of the primary purposes of advocacy in any field of endeavor. The greater the number and diversity of advocates to have taken the time to go digging and come back to say "this is the real deal," the more likely it is that that they are right. It's easy, and probably good sense, to write off any one person's views. If twenty very different people are saying much the same thing, having independently come to the same viewpoint - well, that is worth spending more time on.
One of the things I think we need to see happen before the next decade is out is the establishment of more high-profile longevity advocates who discuss advancing science in the Kurzweil or de Grey vein: nanotechnology, repairing the molecular damage of aging, and so on. Two, or three, or five such people is too few.
You can ask there, or search through that blog.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't we already "maxed out" Moore's Law? Aren't hardware manufactures already running into problems at the quantum level because of how small and packed transistors are already? That would be why we've "maxed" CPU speed at around ~3-4GHz.
The CPU frequency growth has halted primarily due to the fact that going any higher means we can no longer cool the chips. Power usage (and, consequently, the heat you need to dispose of) is proportional to the square of the frequency (higher-frequency gates also usually require higher voltage to get the switching times down, which means it's really the cube).
Another aspect is the size of the transistor. Some features are already getting down to the point where it's more useful to talk about them in terms of monolayers--i.e., the exact number of atoms. Some elements of a 14nm transistor are already two or three monolayers in size, and the distance between two transistors is already about 100 monolayers, which puts a hard cap on the maximum possible minimization, since you can't make transistors smaller than a single atom. In terms of the smallest transistors that can be feasibly made, the general consensus is that there is at most around 3 shrinks remaining.
There's another dimension, too: whether or not it's cost-effective to keep doing these shrinks. The 14nm node itself has given Intel lots of trouble, and the 10nm node doesn't look like it's much better. Intel has already been forced to give up its Tick-Tock cycle, and the semiconductor industry as a whole may explicitly give up maintaining Moore's Law as a collective research goal shortly.
In short, then, Moore's Law either ended a decade ago, is just now ending, or will end in a decade, depending on what you want it to mean.
My field of chemical information - a subfield of cheminformatics - has been an information technology since the 1800s. It was the Big Data of the 1940s and 1950s, many of the pioneers of information retrieval worked on chemical data (Luhn, Mooers, Taube), and the term "information retrieval" and concepts like stop words (as part of KWIC) were presented at chemistry conferences.
The doubling period for chemical information is 15-20 years.
Citation indexing is another offshoot of 1950s information technology. Scientific publication grows by about 5% per year (says http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2909426/ ), so doubles every 15 years.
Either 1) those are not information technology fields, in which case, why not? or 2) "according to Moore's Law" means generally "has exponential growth", not the more specific doubling every two years.
With #2 firmly in mind, consider "and that's the main reason why we can expect medical technology to advance exponentially in the future."
How do we measure "advance" in medical technology, how do we know it isn't already an information technology field, and why should we expect the doubling rate of under 20 years?
Finally, here's a quote from someone who "served on the advisory council of [a longevity] organization, along with the chairmen of a number of major US corporations":
> Why has the problem of aging been such an intractable one? Up until [recently], the prevalent view of scientists had been that the task of controlling aging was fundamentally impossible. But today, such a consensus no longer exists. Many researchers now believe that their predecessors failed, not because their goals were misguided, but because the tools and the level of sophistication they could bring to the task were inadequate. Moreover, it is argued that progress has been hampered because funding has been scarce, and researchers concerned with aging have been too few and far between. ...
> Growing public and private support for aging research reflects the scientific community’s own increasing commitment. Today, aging research occupies unprecedented numbers of highly talented individuals, not only specialists in gerontology, but researchers from other disciplines as well. These include biochemistry, endocrinology, immunology, neurobiology, genetics, and cell biology, to name only a few.
I'll give the link to where that quote comes from, but before following the link, when do you think it was written? http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v6p107y1983.pdf .
Life expectancy is skewed by infant mortality rates:
> Our conclusion is that there is a characteristic life span for our species, in which mortality decreases sharply from infancy through childhood, followed by a period in which mortality rates remain essentially constant to about age 40 years, after which mortality rises steadily in Gompertz fashion. The modal age of adult death is about seven decades, before which time humans remain vigorous producers, and after which senescence rapidly
occurs and people die.
 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_05.pdf page 3
I don't even know if we'll be able to reliably cure toenail fungus in the next 20 years - much less be able to solve a significant number of problems with aging in 30 years.
Doesn't look quite so good now, does it.
I'm not sure if there is yet anything well understood in the human body. Just mapping the genome will give us very little hints of the consequences in the physical body. Even figuring out how a protein folds is still considered a computational achievement (I think?).
Chess is a concrete computational system. Even most tasks that we have can be considered to be constrainable to a well defined system (hence the AI will replace a lot of manual workforce).
But until such a well defined "theory of human body" exists, computers are quite helpless to create it for us. Just adding computers will not magically make us understand everything better.
Thus, just quoting "exponential development" will certainly provide nice food for thought but will not offer any practical footholds for concrete progress.
The thing to take away here is that this is inevitable, but not necessarily for us, unless we dig in and get the job done right now. The development of the necessary technologies is very thinly funded, meaning that timelines are very uncertain. Senescent cell clearance may be under development in two US startups right now, a part of allotopic expression of mitochondrial DNA in clinical trials in France, clearance of one type of amyloid has had a successful trial in the UK, and clearance of glucosepane cross-links a couple of years away from a drug candidate, but other areas of biological repair needed for SENS-style rejuvenation of the old are still years away from getting to even this nascent stage. It is a miserable state of affairs given that the cost of progress towards prototypes in mice is a few hundred million, less than a single drug's development funding. Funding and advocacy make a huge difference at this point in the bootstrapping of rejuvenation therapies.
Escape Velocity: Why the Prospect of Extreme Human Life Extension Matters Now
The escape velocity cusp is closer than you might guess. Since we are already so long lived, even a 30% increase in healthy life span will give the first beneficiaries of rejuvenation therapies another 20 years—an eternity in science—to benefit from second-generation therapies that would give another 30%, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, if first-generation rejuvenation therapies were universally available and this progress in developing rejuvenation therapy could be indefinitely maintained, these advances would put us beyond AEV. Universal availability might be thought economically and sociopolitically implausible (though that conclusion may be premature, as I will summarise below), so it's worth considering the same question in terms of life-span potential (the life span of the luckiest people). Those who get first-generation therapies only just in time will in fact be unlikely to live more than 20–30 years more than their parents, because they will spend many frail years with a short remaining life expectancy (i.e., a high risk of imminent death), whereas those only a little younger will never get that frail and will spend rather few years even in biological middle age. Quantitatively, what this means is that if a 10% per year decline of mortality rates at all ages is achieved and sustained indefinitely, then the first 1000-year-old is probably only 5–10 years younger than the first 150-year-old.
My own pessimism is not helping.
(d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:
The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
The Age of Conquests
The Age of Commerce
The Age of Affluence
The Age of Intellect
The Age of Decadence.
(e) Decadence is marked by:
An influx of foreigners
The Welfare State
A weakening of religion.
(f) Decadence is due to:
Too long a period of wealth and power Selfishness
Love of money
The loss of a sense of duty.
Compared to stuff like cancer, I feel like replacing hearts is more an issue of cost and engineering rather than developing entire new forms of treatment.
Of course that means we need an ethical, voluntary, way of keeping population in check.
Which infers true sexual equality, or you get one child policies as successful as China's.
Or we have an exponential increase in lifespan and ever more people chasing those finite resources.
So, it's going to be a world very different from ours, or it's going to be a bloody mess.
May you live in interesting times?
There's no reason to believe that if we all suddenly could live forever that we wouldn't dramatically slow down how quickly we had children.
Talk to any family about why they're stopping to have children. You'll normally get answers along the lines of, "Well, we're not getting any younger." What if you know that you're not getting any older either?
Personally, if my wife and I hadn't been pushing into our 30's and worried about having a couple of kids before we were too old, we would have waited indefinitely.
Who knows... maybe we might not even have been married? If you have 1,000's of years ahead of you, do you saddle yourself with one person for an eternity?
UN estimates are that we'll peak at 10 billion.
Besides that it's already happening, reducing population growth isn't necessarily a good thing, in econimic terms of aggregate "utility." Is there a difference between preventing birth and causing death?
I just give slightly more credence to the UN's projection than Aldring's.
If a futurist writes about this, mostly backing his assumption by repeating alterations of the phrase "because of technological progress": I'm expressing my skepticism on hn.
I don't really see a miracle technology coming around the corner that will help us reduce deaths faster than now.
If you are interested in (anti) aging science Aubrey de Grey work seem like a good start.
"Cure for Cancer Around the Corner, If You're Filthy Rich"
If You're Alive in 30 Years You Might be in 1000 Years Too, If You're Filthy Rich"
See? Clarity is king.
Additionally, immortality is not a good thing. It would lead to domination of the world from now until eternity by the powers that be at the point at which the tech becomes available, stagnation of development (if you have 1000 years to do something, you'll take your time), and ultimately the depletion of what it is to be human.
The only way immortality could work would be with a complete moratorium on new births, and perhaps a Logan's Run style annual carrousel that randomly eliminates a percentage of the population.
None of that sounds better than what we have now.
This is talking about biological immortality - obviously an external event can still kill a person. In fact, a catastrophic species-ending event like a meteor would still be devastating.
And we still have to worry about runaway viruses (the Black Plague), political mind viruses (Nazism, Communism, Islamism), bacteria (Malaria etc.)
The biggest danger would be, as it already is, overpopulation. I think people would have to make a trade-off: have children or live forever. You won't be able to have both. At first, only the rich would be able to afford children and live forever, but given a long enough time period, social mobility will rotate enough people into being rich enough to afford it.
Now think about it realistically and philosophically. If computers are going to take over most of the tasks we do today - driving, cooking, research etc. as well as have a worldwide network of knowledge (eg Watson, Google) then what does any individual person become? Like an animal in a zoo, who exists mostly for pleasure and socializing but whose services to others aren't required. We can already see this as people get internet-connected cellphones... why ask your parents anything if you can google it? Both parties actually prefer that we google it.
Now imagine if it moves to even less latency, via heads up displays or into a computer-brain interface. What is each individual person really doing if the hive mind already has all the answers? Why do other people need this person? Just for pleasure and interaction.
And now think about your life when you were 1/3 the age you are now. Do you remember doing a lot of particular things? How does it feel to realize that most of the things that you did, it's almost as the same as if you didn't do them? Had sex that one random time with that person - how much would it matter to your current self if you did or didn't? Outside formational life events, most routine things you do today might matter to your future self almost as much as to some stranger!
So what is this continuity between your current self and future self? If you lived until 5 million years old, how much of your life could you really meaningfully remember, unless you are accessing an external memory? If you lived 5 trillion years but only remembered around 50 years total of your personal life, how is that much different than a person living 300 years and remembering 50? Only that you continue to live and your self preservation instinct always wins.
The older I get, the more I have questions about the meaning of my future self living 1000 years from now, with dim memories of my current self, versus someone else living 1000 years from now. Does anyone have similar questions and what answers have you come up with?