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From Alchemy to Biotech

Humans have been searching for the fountain of youth since the beginning of written history. Whether a Greek historian, or a Spanish conquistador, all believed that far-away lands hide the mystical water source. Today, with the world map fully explored and a much better understanding of the causes of aging, it appears that eternal youth is not that far from reach.

Researchers at different biotech foundations around the world are looking into combating age-related diseases and making us live longer. Their progress and work could make one believe that, in the decades to follow, we could experience a drastic increase in human lifespan. With proteins that reverse the aging process in cells and technological advancements that are far beyond any predictions, the only question left is how the world would look like in this futuristic scenario, in which life expectancy has more than doubled. From a social, economic and political scenario, I will attempt to depict the centenarian lifestyle of the human of the future.

Socially speaking, what we consider normal today might be completely reformed. One of the most frequently addressed issues when word of the work in combating  aging came out, was the issue of children. As concerns over overpopulation grow each day, people living more than 140 years might not seem such a good idea at first. Recent research has, however, shown that there is a maximum limit to which the human population might grow and UN statistics estimate a drop in the birth rate of developing countries. As economic growth increases, a negative correlation with the number of children per household can be observed. Therefore, a drop in average birth rate is expected even without any interference from the biomedical gerontologists. An increase in average life expectancy would only further accentuate the process. But, one might never know, it could also mean that childbirth will be strongly regulated, which from China’s experience we know has certain unwanted moral and long-term repercussions.

Our perception of time could also change. A longer life means, in effect, more time. It is likely that perceiving our life as passing slower could result in a more calibrated living pace with a different approach to our work day and our daily routine. Increased family time, more patience and possible a better self-understanding could all lead to increased welfare and a more satisfactory life.

Old age is generally associated with longer work experience. Therefore, the employer might take a different approach towards the aging employee. Such a trend is already happening as the “Baby Boomer” generation is approaching retirement. Employers look for more experienced workers as a stabilizer of the fast-paced younger generations. The unsustainability of retirement funds is also one of the factors that speeded up the process. The aging population of the European Union would largely benefit from a better integration of senior workers and, in the future, alongside the increased lifespan, we might see that they become the backbone of the workplace. Thus, this idea brings us to the likely economic change.

On a positive note, more time and more years to focus on one task will most likely result in increased specialization. As Adam Smith always tells us, specialization is the pillar of economic progress. More focus on one task means increased productivity and better technological development. The centenarian lifestyle might bring about a whole new job sector and would largely allow more focus on education and research.

New jobs will likely arise from the anti-aging market created by the supposed medical advancement and new biotechnologies. Coming back to the present, the trend might already start peaking. Estimated to reach a value of $191.7 billion by the end of 2019 and growing at a CAGR ( compound annual growth rate) of 7.8%, the anti-aging sector is experiencing rapid and constant increase. Companies such as Calico and Human Longevity Inc, are already focusing on the long-term goal that stays at the basis of this article, and the firms are confident and optimistic in their attempt to – “tackle aging”.

Sticking to the labour market, switching careers, while currently common, could become the norm. With double the life expectancy of the average human today, the human of the future might be tempted to pursue more than one career path. This might, in the long term, allow for a better allocation of resources, as many do not fully employ their capabilities and knowledge.

However, there are a lot of assumptions to be made if the previously mentioned advantages are to become reality. A fluid job market, access to job training, education and a faster rate of job creation compared to technology development are only a few of them. Furthermore, we also imply that all the people living until the turn of the century are still fully capable of work and are not in need of extra care. How governments perceive this possible change in demographics is also of paramount importance to how anti-aging technologies will shape the future.

From a political perspective, it is hard to determine how our society will evolve given the longer life span. The only certain thing is the imminent reform that will be implemented. Increased political stability would be a prosperous and advantageous outcome. Our political leaders would have time to remedy mistakes and governmental policies might be better implemented in the long-run. Of course, the exact opposite might happen, increased government power in the hands of people that do not have the long-term good of the population in mind.

As always, any drastic change that revolutionises humanity’s perception, such as a considerably longer life-span will have both advantages and disadvantages. According to Audrey de Grey, one of the leading researchers at SENS Research Foundation (non-profit organisation researching the application of regenerative medicine to aging), there is such a thing as “longevity escape velocity”. The concept implies that, in the hypothetical situation where anti-aging treatments have already been developed, the rate of development of related technologies will be exceeded by the rate at which life expectancy actually increases. How we handle this futuristic situation is the basis of how the day to day life will look like.

No matter how optimistic you are, there is still a long time until any discoveries will be made. However, this does not make the possibility of the situation and the efforts of the scientists any less reputable. Whether you believe in a magical treatment that could bring you eternal youth, a Black Mirror like scenario where our neural connections will be forever imprinted on a hard drive, the prospect of the future of humanity is always an exciting discussion topic. Of course, the possibility of humans living for centuries might remain a sci-fi movie scenario, but like with anything future related, you never know. Assuming gerontologists are right and the discovery will be made, how we will handle a rapid increase in human lifespan is hard to asses. If used right, it could bring generous investment opportunities and increased economic growth. After all, hoping for the best usually motivates us to take action and a few extra years to visit the country you always wanted to go to might not be such a dreadful idea.


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