September 25 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Biotechnology Year: Beyond Rating: 3
By Jack Uldrich
Cross-posted from www.jumpthecurve
I ask this question from neither a deep-seated fear of dying nor an egotistical desire to live forever. I simply ask it from the perspective of someone who is deeply interested in the accelerating pace of change and is concerned we are heading into a future for which few of us are really prepared.
Let me begin by sharing a couple of recent news items which speak to the astounding progress being made in the field of health care.
To begin, if I am in need of surgery sometime within the next few years, it is likely that that surgery will be conducted with the assistance of a robot. Given that these robots are already better than many human surgeons, this suggest I will not only get out of the hospital faster but that I will be in better condition when I do so. Continued advances in robotics will only improve surgical outcomes over the coming years.
Next, say, I am in an accident. There is now a very good chance – due to advances in the Nationwide Health Information Network, personal electronic records and the ever-improving capability of the Internet – that my providers will be able to rapidly access a growing wealth of medical knowledge in order to keep me alive.
Much of this knowledge will likely be genetic in nature and it is not unreasonable to believe – given the extraordinary advances in genomics as well as the possibility that I will within a few years be able to sequence my own genome for less than $1000 dollars - that I will soon be able to avail myself to a growing category of drugs individually tailored to treat me for everything from heart disease and diabetes to a wide variety of cancers.
Assuming then that I dodge some of these pesky middle-age risks, there is a very real chance, according to this article, that I’ll soon be able to “grow replacement body parts.” We can already replace our aging hips and knees, but what happens when I can replace my lungs and, eventually, my heart?
The question is a serious one because society is closer to this future than most people realize.
Alas, these advances – which I remind you are only from the past few days – are just the beginning. I am now 44 years and it is not unreasonable to think, given recent medical progress, that I will live to 100.
But even this is the wrong way to think about this issue. The question I – and all of us, really – need to ask is what further advances will be made in the next 56 years of my life and how might they extend my life past 100 years of age?
I recall a few years ago the story of two longevity researchers who placed a wager with one another on whether a person born in the year 2000 would live to 150 years of age.
Operating on the assumption that neither person might be around to collect on the wager, they agreed to place their respective $150 bets in an interest-bearing trust fund.
Interestingly, in 150 years the $300 was calculated to grow to $500 million – assuming (I believe) a moderately aggressive annually compound interest rate of 10%.
The future of longevity seems, to me, to lie within the “power of compound interest.” Medical and biological information is growing at a rate comparable to 10% annually. Assuming medical knowledge continues at this pace for the next 56 years of my life, society will experience a roughly 256-fold increase in health care-related knowledge between today and the year 2064.
Put another way, as impressive as our medical knowledge is today, it will represent less than 1% of everything we will know when I reach the century mark.
Will that massive amount of new knowledge then help keep me alive another century? And what might we then learn within the following 100 years which could extend my life even further?
Framed this way, the question of “Will I Die,” is one we should all be contemplating – for our own sake and for the sake of society – now.
Interested in related articles by Jack Uldrich that speak to the possibility of radical life extension? Check out these past posts: