Over the course of human history, our life expectancy has been on an upward trend: increasing from 30 years (during prehistoric times) to 35 years (in the Classical Greek and Roman eras) to 48 years (in Medieval times). Better living conditions in the mid-20th century caused the average lifespan to jump to the 70-year mark. And today, the average North American can expect to live to be 80.
If longevity continues to increase at this rate, by 2050, the average lifespan will be 88 years. By sometime next century, it could reach 150.
Innovation, enabled by digital technologies, will give humankind the gift of longevity.
At the global level, agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) are already using big data and predictive analytics to monitor outbreaks of disease and natural disasters, arming them to combat emerging epidemics or prepare for natural disasters before they occur.
At the local level, practitioners will be able to take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning algorithms to predict hospitalizations before a heart attack or seizure occurs—in some cases, up to a year in advance. With an accuracy rate of 82 percent, this will give caregivers plenty of time to intervene to prevent hospitalization, and even, in some cases death.
Fitness is an important aspect of health. Wearable technologies, like FitBits, give us access to greater health with tracking information to monitor steps, resting heart rate, and calories consumed. From pedometers to wristband monitors to cameras stitched into clothing—as technologies that allow users to stay connected and hands-free, wearable devices are moving into mainstream society.
But digital technologies promise to take us further than making predictions and monitoring our general health. Some scientists are approaching aging as a disease that can be cured, or a (genetic) code that, when hacked, prolongs health.
This is where biotechnology comes into play. Using techniques like gene therapy, which modifies immune cells to fight disease (such as HIV, Alzheimer’s, and cancer), scientists are looking to manipulate our genetic makeup to slow down or stop the aging process.
If they are successful and living to 150 becomes the new norm, we will be faced with what some call the life spanner versus immortalist debate: do we let time run its course and live out our years naturally, or do we leverage technology (like cryogenics and digital replication) to further extend our lives and have some version of ourselves (whether real or digital) live on forever?
Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, the implications of living to 150 will be far-reaching.
We will see a “greying” of the workforce. With more employees stretching out their careers, upward mobility for junior employees and entry into the workforce for first-time employees may be more difficult.
While education is linked to longer lifespans, it will play a larger role in future career spans. With professional lives lasting 80 years and covering dozens of careers, continuous learning and retraining will be required to avoid becoming redundant.
For the first time in human history, people over 65 will outnumber children under five. A more senior population may bend politics to suit their agenda (such as more generous benefits for seniors) which could result in tax hikes to support seniors requiring care for longer.
Insurance companies and pensions will face larger payouts. More retirees collecting benefits (for longer) could drain social security systems for subsequent generations. As a result, the age of retirement might get pushed back to help fund the system.
Of course, our quest for longevity will be in vain if the Earth is unable to support us. Water scarcity is already a global threat and, as well as causing flooding and drought, climate change has the potential to drastically reduce crop yields. With a projected global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, what happens if we cannot produce the resources needed to sustain a growing population?
Living to 150 will push us into unchartered territory.
There are many benefits to living longer, the most obvious being more time. More time to spend with loved ones, pursue hobbies, and expand our IQ (which I’ll cover in my next blog).
But there will also be many questions.
Only time will give us the answers.