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Transhumanism: Evolving the Human Body VIII

The cause of death in several geographical areas. In red the cause of death is a transmissible disease (transmissible both human to human or other to human, like non purified water containing bacteria). In green the cause of death is a disease that has been acquired by the person, as diabetes, high blood pressure, hearth attack, stroke, cancer. In yellow death as consequence of external causes (car crash, falling from a mountain…). Image credit: Healthy Planet

Extending human life

If  a life without disease and health care can promise a sort of “live forever young” the extension of human life is a different story, although it is obvious that if we were able to avoid diseases that are eventually resulting in death we would be one step forward in the direction of extending human life, but that is only the life that is cut short by a disease.

The maximum life span for humans is still a matter of controversy. Some studies claim that humans maximum life span is around 115 years (although a few exceptions have been recorded, like Jeanne Calment who died in Franc in 1997 at the age of 122). Others claim that there is no pre-coded maximum life span.

It is evident that today no one (that we know of) has been living up to 150 yea, however all those that have been living, and died so far, lived a life that was subjected to today’s (or yesterday’s) conditions. One could say that if we were to change those living conditions, e.g. by proactively avoiding issues, persons might live longer.

Looking at the genome of animals researchers have observed that during cell replication the terminal parts of the DNA strings forming each chromosome (the telomeres) gets shorter and have postulated that this shortening would eventually hamper further replication, hence putting a boundary to the life span. To confirm this, experiments have been carried out to stitch extra DNA on the terminal parts of the telomeres, thus lengthening them again as well as to artificially shorten telomeres in mice. So far (but significant more research is needed) it seems that telomeres play an important role in senescence and that tweaking with them may result in deferred senescence. Drugs (senotherapeutics) are also being tested on mice and seems to have some effect. As always happens there are also many “quacks” on the internet riding the wave of telomeres and promising the eternal youth. We are very far from that.

Still, these studies show that looking for a cause of senescence, and then overriding it, is within the realm of science and it might become possible in the next decades.

Retarding the senescence process, and all the chronic ailments that come with that is surely beneficial to the individual and to the community (just think about the huge medical expenses that are sustained in the last part of our lives). However, prolonging the average life span is affecting the Society as a whole in many ways.

It is quite obvious that anyone of us if asked: “Would you like to live longer” would say “yes!”, even more so if the lengthening of life would be associated to a good life, with no ailment, particularly those associated to the old age. The strive to have a better health in the elderly age is obviously also increasing the desire to live longer.

The average increase of life span has already affected the economic burden on pension funds, leading many Countries to postpone the retirement thresholds. In a society that is seeing the number of jobs shrinking this creates huge employment problems.
Considering the significant amount of resources, and people, today involved in elderly care, the perspective of a world with a growing elderly population that will occupy available jobs compound with the decrease in need for jobs looking at elderly is something to be taken into account!

Some are already looking at the effect of a population living to be 110 (that is close to current maximum life span) and are seeing that the working life would have to expand into the 80ies and 90ies. Considering a youth period of 25 years, dedicated to basic learning (up to college and university) that leave some 65-70 years of work versus the 40 years (on average) we have today. That is over 50% more jobs required.

Some are saying that society, and culture, will need to adapt to these changing condition, may be having people to work for 20 years in a row and then stepping out from the work for a 5 years sabbatical to be retrained to a changing world…

However, this is just considering a very limited extension of life. If you were to push the average life span to 150, 200, a completely different society would be needed. It may also be the case that once science and technology will find the youth spring that will be reserved for a lucky few, and the unlucky ones are likely to go on fight causing a shortening of the life span through wars….

One way or another a Society where life span would exceed on average what is today considered as the maximum human life span with be significantly different from today’s Society, it will be a transhuman Society.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.