How Would Extended Longevity Affect Society?

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05/01/2013
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Scott: I know you get this question a lot, but once we find these therapies and they start being implemented and people are living hundreds of years, that brings up a whole set of other issues in terms of over population, of food, I mean, lots of other issues. Is that kind of a side effect, then of what might happen down the road?

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D.: A lot of people are terribly, terribly exercised about what society will look like in a post-aging world, you know. How we would find room for all the people? Would dictators live forever? Wouldn't it be boring. And things like that.

The fact is, this is a nonsensical sort of conversation to have, because it assumes that we don't have a problem today. And, hello, yes, we do have a problem today. We have 100,000 people every day dying of the diseases and disabilities of old age, and furthermore doing so after a long period, usually, of decrepity or disease and dependence and general misery. We've got a very big problem today. In the industrialized world, the proportion isn't two-thirds, it's 90% of all deaths are due to aging.

If we look at today, there's lots of tradeoffs that we think about. There are tradeoffs. Sure. The fact that we've made good progress in postponing cardiovascular disease, is the main reason we have so many people today with Alzheimer's disease. Does that mean that we think that it was a mistake to make progress against cardiovascular disease? Of course not. What it means is that we need to work that much harder to have similar progress against Alzheimer's disease. And certainly the same when one looks at other societal consequences. For example, if we were to defeat aging, that would simply motivate us to work a bit hard to improve [radio polemity] and nuclear fusion and so on, so that we wouldn't have such a carbon footprint so that we could have more people on the planet with less environmental impact.

You know, these are really obvious points, and it's completely embarrassing that so many people fixate on these concerns, and refuse to acknowledge that we have a problem today that needs to be fixed.

Scott: Mm-hmm. Another part of that, if we get these therapies in place that we can extend our life, does it change the way a person, potentially, would live their life?

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D.: I have absolutely no idea how people are going to live their lives when they can expect to live heathily for a very great deal longer. But I don't really think that it's likely to be very much different from how it is today, except insofar as differences may arise as the result of new technology, you know. The internet has changed the way that people live, you know, so plenty can happen that has nothing to do with the actual biomedical progress that we're talking about here.

Scott: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D.: Really, how I think about it is, yes, there will be things that we have time to do that we haven't got time to do today, and that's good. Also, it means we're going to have time to get better educated, to have more adult education, more retraining, so the people who might be bored living a long time, and who already are bored with a normal lifetime, will actually understand how to make the most of what life has to offer.
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If life expectancy increased dramatically in the next couple of decades so that people lived for hundreds of years, how would that affect society? Would there be food shortage issues, overpopulation, etc? Dr. Aubrey de Grey touches on this issue as he sees life expectancy increasing dramatically in the near future.

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