how we’ll live for a thousand years. maybe.
A number of researchers and utopian pundits are promising radical life extension, if not unlimited lifespans. But the science behind their claims is shaky to non-existent.
Earlier this week, The Times published a rather bizarre article about research designed to stop and reverse aging through advanced biotech research. It’s not that the article made any really outlandish claims itself but that it jumped around between optimistic promises for future life extension tools and bold predictions, and a very pragmatic set of reality checks which take into consideration the immense complexity of the technologies involved. Reading it was somewhat like watching the writer play a tennis match against herself, not quite sure which way she should go and what angle to take on the story. Should she be a curious skeptic or cheer these ideas and promise that one day we’ll really have an honest to goodness fountain of youth at our disposal?
It’s true that there are a lot of people working on keeping us feeling younger and more able while granting us longer lives. And it’s also true that they have billions of dollars in research grants to study virtually everything that can be used to repair our bodies as they age and break down. At the same time, the claim that we’re on the verge of thousand year lifespans made by Aubrey de Grey seems a bit too optimistic to be true because it would require a major reengineering of how our bodies work. The maximum theoretical human lifespan is an all too short 125 years and we can expect the last 50 to 60 of those to give us limited mobility and a barrage of health problems caused by the deterioration of our organs and tissues. To make it worth our while to live for a millennium, our bodies would need to constantly regenerate themselves, something for which they just didn’t evolve and requiring dramatic feats of genetic engineering to pull off.
Needless to say, articles like this are much better than The Daily Galaxy’s pervasive bits on transhumanism which not only get the science wrong but sometimes don’t even pay attention to what the research they cite is actually investigating. However, when it comes to life extension techniques, we’re still waiting for a treatment shown to truly increase lifespans. In that regard, pieces about our impending immortality or ability to live for at least a few hundred extra years seem like obligatory attempts at crowd pleasing. If I were the editor, I’d wait for at least one product in Stage III clinical trials before trying to trumpet the Fountain of Youth horn again…