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A fountain of youth is just around the corner

Aging is about to become a thing of the past


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Imagine what it will be like attending the Olympics in 2248. Men and women competing in their respective sports will range in age from 16 to 212. The oldest competitor is now in his 38th Olympic competition, and young people have complained for year how hard it is to break into some of the elite sports when old time veterans continued to strengthen their techniques and are addicted to the winner circle.

Certainly many of us wish this were one of our problems today.

Over the next couple decades, most of us will have the opportunity to decide how long we want to live. But while it may start as a forever wish, the promise of halting the aging process will be plagued with tremendous uncertainty, ethical debates and cultural pressures that few have anticipated.

The first wave of this technology will most likely be very expensive, but it won’t take long for the price to drop and for middle class people everywhere to taste the magic and experience the dream.

Early on, we will hear an ethical debates coming from those who profit from today’s short-lived version of humanity. We will, however, transition from those who profit from fixing today’s health problems to those who profit from prolonged life cycles and substantially better health from here on out.

We will also hear from over-population alarmists, limited resource worriers and those who fear we are playing God and interfering with our spiritual destiny.

There will be challenges to our social structures, pressures on our existing systems and a constant rewriting of rules for relationships.

In spite of the naysayers, just as we overcame our fear of flying in planes and traveling to other planets, we will transcend our current 19th century thinking on aging and death and look forward to what comes next.

This column is about what comes next.

In the future, old age will not look like old people trying to act young again

Benefits of an Aging Society

A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry determined that not only were older people more satisfied with life overall, they were also less likely to be anxious, depressed and/or stressed out. And the best part was that happiness tends to increase with age, with some of the oldest survey recipients reporting the highest levels of life satisfaction.

While this is counter to what most would imagine, there is a scientific explanation to these findings.

"Brain studies show that the amygdala in older people responds less to stressful or negative images than in a younger person," said Dilip Jeste, the study's senior author.

Gathered from extensive polling of 1,546 people ages 21 to 99, the older respondents, despite physical and cognitive decline, were more likely to have better mental health than the younger ones. 

According to Jeste, "As we age, we become wise. Peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for ourselves, knowing ourselves better, being more studious and yet more decisive are all upsides of aging.

Should we anticipate this level of age satisfaction for the 100-plus crowd as well. This is particularly good news for young people as they now have something to look forward to." 

History’s Search for the Fountain of Youth

An ancient story titled the "Water of Life" described Alexander the Great and his servant crossing the Land of Darkness to find the restorative spring that gave eternal youth.

Later, many stories of a “fountain of youth” were attributed to the first Governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon, even though most turned out to be a myth.

Throughout history, references to a magical spring continued to fuel the imagination of primarily wealthy people who dreamed of regaining the vigor of their younger years. 

More recently the dream of eternal youth has take on a much more scientific feel using terms like indefinite life extension, experimental gerontology, and biomedical gerontology to describe the study of slowing down or reversing the processes of aging.

Researchers in this field are referred to as "life extensionists", "immortalists" or "longevists." They believe that future breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation, stem cells, regenerative medicine, molecular repair, gene therapy, pharmaceuticals, and organ replacement will eventually enable humans to have indefinite lifespans.

In fact, a significant number of Silicon Valley thought leaders have tried to recast aging as merely another legacy system in need of recoding:

  • Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison’s Ellison Medical Foundation has spent more than $400 million on aging research.
  • Since 2013, Alphabet has been working on a moonshot life-extension project called Calico.
  • X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis has partnered with famed gene sequencer J. Craig Venter to launch Human Longevity Inc.
  • Paul F. Glenn, an 85-year-old VC who watched his grandfather die of cancer, launched an aging-science foundation more than 50 years ago that has funded a dozen aging-research centers around the country.
  • Peter Thiel has given over $3 million to the Methuselah Foundation, the research vehicle for the famed immortality advocate Aubrey de Grey. Thiel has also explored the transfusion of blood from the young to the old.
  • Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called for science to end all disease this century.

The sale of anti-aging products such as nutrition, physical fitness, skin care, hormone replacements, vitamins, supplements and herbs is an industry that already generates over $50 billion a year.

Even though we’re making progress and average lifespans continue to increase, no one has managed to crack the code for living past the 120-year threshold, and finding an attractive quality of life for people past 100 is still an elusive dream.

Transhumanism and the Singularity

Transhumanists believe that humankind can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations to become “superhuman” and eventually, immortal. For them, aging and death are the biggest plague of our time. 

Google’s Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has consistently predicted that machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence in 2029, and from this transition point we will witness the end on human diseases including the end of aging.

Going even further, transhumanists think the Singularity will give rise to a new breed of humans that are far beyond anything we can comprehend today.

Next: Setting the stage for an era of indefinite lifespans

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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