How Long Would You Like to Live?

Over at The Speculist, there’s a survey where you can throw in your two cents on when average human life expectancy will reach 100, 200, even 500 years.

Survey takers seem pretty confident that life expectancies will reach 100 years through medical breakthroughs by 2050. A lot of them seem confident about 200-year life spans by 2100.

The survey asked people how old they would like to get. Said one respondent, “1000. About 20 years ago I looked at the rate of change in medical science.  No anesthesia when my grandfather was born, no antibiotics when my father was born, no DNA when I was born.  I concluded that my genetics would get me to 90-100, so I would get old once, and spend the rest of the millennium younger than I am now.”

Gets me thinking. People are assuming that innovative new biotech will stop or reverse the aging process. Terms like “molecular nanotechnology” summon dreams of self-repairing bodies that are endlessly 25, fit and hale, until they finally give out a few centuries later. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease—these enemies within us will be defeated. Who knows? Maybe some of these breakthroughs will happen at our upcoming UH Cancer Research Center. The speculists may be right, and I wouldn’t pass on the chance to avoid any of these diseases.

What would this long-lived world look like? The enthusiasm at The Speculist is for cheerful, attractive Methuselahs, confidently learning more, enjoying more and achieving more, freed from fear of death.

What if that isn’t what we get? A Twilight Zone thought experiment (read this in your best movie-preview narrator voice): In a world where all disease and aging has been defeated, the only thing to fear is … the world itself!

Say we do eliminate the internal causes of aging and death, or postpone them. That still leaves some of the leading causes of death untouched; namely accidents and violence. What if we come to fear these things so much, we spend our 200, 300 or 500 years as virtual shut-ins? Afraid to cross the street. Afraid to fly. Afraid to swim right after eating. Afraid to mountain bike, or surf. Risk, risk, risk! It piles up, accumulates, like actuarial plaque in an artery. Live for 500 years and your lifetime risk of being killed by lightning goes up nearly 7 times. “Don’t go out in that thunderstorm! You’ll kill yourself!”

Things you might overhear in this world, circa 2200:

“I’ve got 237 years invested in building this company, I’m not about to walk down a flight of stairs. You heard about Bob? Yeah, flight of stairs. Not even a flight. It was a curb. Tripped on a curb, dead at 193. It ain’t fair.”

“I’m not driving anymore. I figured it’s been 84 years since my last accident and I’m just thinking, you know, I’m overdue and what if it’s a really bad one?”

“Didn’t you hear about that murder? The victim was only 400, same age as me. I’m not leaving this house until the catch the person who did it! It was probably one of those angry little short-lifers—you know they hate us for what we have. Like it’s our fault the gene therapy doesn’t work for them. If they’re so miserable, they should just kill themselves, not one of us.”

“Well, what did he expect? Three-hundred years of skiing was bound to end in a fatal tree collision. You know, his youngest is still in college? I can’t believe anyone would just throw his life away like that! Selfish jerk.”

We’ll travel on foot, in small nervous packs, dressed like preschoolers at a skate park, all helmets, elbow pads and shin guards; silently tweeting our anxieties to each other through the cell chips implanted in our molars. We’ll be what we started out as, hominids on the savannah, wide-eyed at every snapping twig. But we’ll be young, healthy and beautiful and we’ll have a lot of time to think about things.

Hat tip Instapundit.