It is my belief that aging is a much harder problem than optimists believe. And the notion that every 20 years we’re going to make enough progress to let you live another 20 years is laughable.
We haven’t found anything close to reversing the effects of aging. What we’ve done is improve general health, improve nutrition, vaccinate, give antibiotics, get people central heating and air conditioning, remove dangerous chemicals, prevent accidents, and so on.
And when you treat all that, and keep people from dying of measles at 5, and getting hit by a car at 10, and dying of starvation at 14, and getting shot in a war at 18, and dying in a car crash at 30, and malaria at 40, and an infected cut at 50, and cancer at 60, and a fractured hip at 70, well, that person can live to be 90.
That’s a huge increase in longevity, but none of those advances are addressing aging, they’re just eliminating preventable causes of death one by one until it seems normal to live to 90. And then organ systems start to fail one after the other, and you fix one and another gets you. My Grandmother died at 92…of liver cancer. If she was 70, they could have treated her, but at 92 they didn’t bother, because what would be the point? Because even if she had survived the treatment–and she wouldn’t have because she was extremely frail by that point–something else would have come along in a year or two or three.
The only possibility for indefinite lifespan is to genetically engineer a brand new species that closely resembles humans, but doesn’t have the built-in aging process that all mammals seem to have. Humans already have extremely long lifespans compared to other mammals our size. And there aren’t any unaging mammals. Yes, there are reptiles and fish and many invertebrates that don’t seem to age and just keep going until something finally kills them. Maybe someday someone will engineer that trait into a human-like organism.
But that’s not going to happen to you, or to regular human beings. We’re going to have better and better treatment for the things that kill you, and drastically reduce early deaths. But we’re only going to push people to the upper limits of the natural human lifespan. Maybe one day we’ll see people routinely live to 100, and a few people into the 120s or even 130s.
Yes, we’ll see future scientific and medical advances in the future world of the future. Maybe I’m all wet, predicting that nothing can be done. But some technological advances we can see how they might be done, except we don’t have the resources or they can’t be done economically. We know fusion power will work, what we don’t know if any time in the next 100 years power from a fusion reactor will be cheaper than burning coal. You can have a “flying car” today, you just can’t have one that’s as safe and cheap as a family sedan. We could build a colony on the Moon, if only we decide to devote hundreds of billions of dollars every year to keep it there. And so on.
But aging isn’t anything like this. We don’t have anything on the horizon to indefinitely extend a mammal’s lifespan.
So don’t worry about being 110 and dying, and looking around at the 80 year old kids who are going to live forever. That isn’t going to happen.