How long can we live?

According to the UK government “Nearly one in five people living in the UK today will survive to see their 100th birthday” (or to be more specific, The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said its figures suggested 10 million people – 17% of the population – would become centenarians)… hummm, now those are not bad odds … but what about beyond that, what is possible?

Well, I have some very good news for some. Dr Aubrey de Grey (pictured here), a Cambridgeshire academic who specialises in the ageing process, has announced ..

“I think the first person to live to 1,000 might be 60 already.”

Wait what!!! … that’s a typo, yes? Nope, you read that correctly … 1,000 (the birthday card manufacturers must love him). OK, so is he a fringe kook and is simply talking out of his arse?

Once again … Nope. Dr de Grey is the chief scientific officer of the SENS Foundation (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) which carries out research into the prevention and cure of ageing. This is not one lone nutter operating out of his garden shed, he is for real, and when you chat with him, you find that he does in fact have a good solid scientific basis for this claim. In fact, this is not a new claim, he first said this in 2004, and still stands by it.

“We will not be simply keeping people alive in a frail, sick state.

“We will be actually keeping them in a youthful state so that they have a low probability of dying each year.”

But how exactly is the scientific fraternity going to achieve this?

According to Dr de Grey, the genesis of this could be realised within decades.

“The medicines that I think are going to come along in the next 20 or 30 years are ones that not only slow down the ageing process and keep us from getting quite so sick, quite so young, but also reverse the ageing process,” he said.

“In other words, conduct periodic repair and maintenance at the molecular and cellular level, so that even if we have already accumulated some of the damaging effects of ageing we can be periodically fixed up – like any simple man-made machine.

“Once we get medicine like that, we should be in a very powerful position to keep people in a genuinely youthful state – not just looking young, but feeling young and functioning young – for as long as we like.”

Here are some links …

Ah but… (sigh! …. Oh come on now, you knew this was coming) … Carl Zimmer has been writing about this in Scientifc American here, he has a chapter in his e-book that ponders how to reconcile the visions of techno-immortalists with the exigencies imposed by real-world biology. So he mulls over some of the thinking he has tripped over at the Singularity summit .including ….

  • Thoughts from David Chambers about the concept of uploading your mind to a machine … would you still be the conscious you after that? (we just don’t know)
  • He also notes, that we have been here before … “When scientists figured out how to culture animal cells in the early 1900s, some claimed such cells would let us live forever. In the 1940s the success of antibiotics led some doctors to declare an end to the age of infectious diseases.” And along those same lines, some of Kurzweil’s forcasts from ten years ago have not happened, we have not cured cancer.
  • Today we still have no idea how the human genome actually works
  • Apparently Kurzweil also advocates exercise, keeping your weight down and popping vitamin pills (Kurzweil just happens to also sell those) … the first two are obvious, the last is putting you on some very dubious scientific ground
  • Ask real experts, and what Zimmer notes is interesting, they don’t laugh in your face and hang up on you … there is some interesting research going on.
  • There are indeed well respected folks out there such as Gary Marcus we do say, “There are going to be machines that are cleverer than we are”

He concludes with this observation from Marcus …

It doesn’t matter whether those of us alive today get to see it or not. Even if Fiesta Omelets don’t keep us alive for decades, our grandchildren or great-grandchildren may still have to cope with our too-clever creations. We owe it to them to get ready—if not for the Singularity, then at least for a life different from our own.

So can you live forever? Well, it looks like Zimmer (like myself) might not have not drunk the Singularity Kool-Aid, but we have both taken a sip, so while we will in all probability not live forever, we can at least have a hell of a fun time trying … as for progress to date? (checks pulse) yep still alive, so far so good.

2 thoughts on “How long can we live?”

  1. Thats often the first question that Aubrey de Grey gets … and its a really good observation. I was fascinated to listen to him go through all the objections (including this one) … he has some very good credible answers … and apparently no … its not a disaster. Hit You Tube and check out some of his talks … I forget which one it was where he answers this (I think it might have been his TED talk)


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