Andrew enjoys taking a look at where the future is leading us by zooming out and taking a look at the big picture.
Want to live to be 200? Maybe you can.
"But everyone dies." "It's only natural to die." "What are you, nuts?!?"
These are common reactions you're likely to get when you suggest that, just maybe, people aren't necessarily going to have to die within the next century or two. Let's start by taking a hard look at the "but everyone dies" one first.
Just how much experience do we have with this obvious fact? Well, the total number of all human beings that ever lived, as it turns out, is around 107,602,707,791, give or take a few billion, according to estimates from the Population Reference Bureau, through the year 2011. World population in 2011 was 6,987,000,000 (give or take a few million). That means that about 6.5 percent of the people who ever lived are alive today.
Now the 93.5 percent who have come before us have all died after living relatively short lives, and that's a real bummer, but here are a few more reasons why your life may not have to be such a short one.
Living to see a lot of birthdays? That's a lot of cake!
Three reasons for longevity
What follows is a mere slice of the information that's out there regarding "life extension", gerontology, and bigger picture trends about the current state of the fight against growing old. I'll present three reasons why I believe we can live to be much, much older than is conventionally believed to be the case today. The first two reasons are trend-based, with clear indications that the future is headed that way, and the third is purely empirically based, with lots of anecdotal (and supporting) examples.
Keep in mind that I'm just a regular person like you. I'm passionate about this stuff, but I don't have a PhD in gerontology or even a medical degree. This information is readily out there for anyone with the gumption to analyze and synthesize. I encourage you to do your own research as well and draw your own conclusions. I only ask that you actually take the time to draw your own conclusions, and don't continue based on preconceived notions of any sort without demanding evidence first!
Now, without further ado, here are three reasons I believe the first person to live to be 200 may be already alive today, and why you and I may well be among the first double centenarians.
Reason 1: oldest ever lived are current
Here's a fact that you might be surprised to hear: the 10 oldest people who ever lived either died after 1990, or are still alive today. All of them. Every single one. That alone speaks volumes for the amount by which technology and education has improved our quality of life, and the ability to live considerably longer lives. It is statistically virtually impossible to randomly select from the millions of age stats we have and select only people from the last 25 years or so to make the cut. Nobody from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, or even 80s is on that list of longest lived. This is far from a coincidence.
Major innovations in sanitation at the turn of the century enabled a much, much bigger portion of people to make it to their 30s and 40s than ever before. By the 1940s and 50s, technology had taken another solid leap forward, and these middle aged folks were able to reap the benefits from these innovations in medicine. By the 1980s, in their twilight years, humans were able to not only survive a great deal many diseases previously thought to be fatal, but also were able to prevent the lion's share of diseases that plagued humanity for uncounted generations. Diet and exercise were beginning to be far, far better understood, and as a result, people were living longer and longer.
Let's briefly consider just one innovation that added decades to life expectancy. Between about 1900 and 1930, there was a study of mortality rates within American cities conducted. The study found that there was a 43% reduction in total deaths, 100% attributed to chlorination in bigger cities. Can you imagine such an insanely high reduction in mortality? I'm here to tell you that such a leap forward is happening today, and it isn't just one small leap - there are dozens of them.
Reason 2: we're adding hours to our life span with every passing day
On average, we're adding 5 hours per day to our life span. Further, many futurists and gerontologists like Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey believe that it's only a matter of time before 24 hours of life span are added every 24 hours. The idea here is to be around for that tipping point to happen.
Further, according to Wikipedia, in developed countries, the number of people aged 100 or older is increasing every year at a rate of 5.5%. This number might not seem so interesting until you do a little quick math. In 13 years, the number of centenarians will double, and then, 13 years later, if will double again, and so on. By 2050, based on this projection alone, there will be over 4 million centenarians, and by 2063, 8 million. By 2076, the year after the year I turn 100, there will be 16 million folks over 100 years old living in developed countries, according merely to current trajectories. I'd certainly like to be one of them!
But this only tells a part of the story. What's happening isn't a slight, slow change for the better. Instead, technology is rapidly accelerating. In fact, the rate of technology's acceleration is itself accelerating, as many who have been alive for more than 30 years can surely attest. Change is happening at an ever-more-rapid pace, and this absolutely includes medical technology.
Reason 3: we are entering a new epoch for humanity
The two above reasons are, as mentioned, trend-based. We can get an idea of where we're headed based on where we've been in the past as opposed to where we are now. As valuable as such a conceptual look back over history can be, it is equally important to have a look at current developments in the fight against aging.
The ever-expanding pace of technological acceleration that affects our lives on a daily basis has brought a startling amount of change over the last decade in particular, and we've seen this pace quicken over the last few years. "Radical life extension" isn't exactly a household phrase yet, but it's certainly out there on the Internet (over 300,000 search results for the phrase in quotation marks today). The notion is that we are gradually going to be able to eliminate virtually all causes of natural death, and there's a very simple concept that suggests that, at some point, average life expectancy will increase by more than one year of life in a calendar year.
Aubrey De Grey, among others, believes that we may well be at the "tipping point", to use Malcolm Gladwell's terminology, with such life extending technologies. We may see such changes in the next 20 years or the next 75 years, depending on a number of factors. Another buzzword (or "buzz phrase", more properly) is "regenerative medicine", which suggests that within the next few decades, it may well be possible to eradicate the overwhelming majority of today's causes of dying. This would likely extend life expectancy far, far beyond even today's longest lived people (upwards of 120 years). As such, the first person to live to 200 years old is very likely already alive today.
Isn't it only natural to die?
After all, death occurs across all species, right? Well, no. There are actually certain species out there that don't suffer death due to aging. Certain types of jellyfish, flatworms, and hydra can literally live (theoretically) forever. Mice in labs have had their lives extended considerably, among other species. Many of us are fully aware that there are trees on the planet over 5000 years old. Will the tree die "of old age"? I don't know, but it doesn't seem to be happening any time soon.
As we begin to unlock more and more of the keys to the way the universe itself works (both on the comsological scale and on the nanoscale), we are discovering more and more ways to extend lifespans in general. For humans, this means generating entire organs from scratch, using stem cells to create replacement tissues and smaller portions of organs, and manipulating our DNA itself, potentially. It will almost surely mean technology inside of our bodies, constantly monitoring changes and updates within our very bloodstream, as computers continue to shrink in size.
The tragedy of death
Death is a real tragedy, not some inevitable fact of life.
Religious pundits have always claimed, "God is in the gaps", meaning that, as science lacked the ability to answer certain fundamental and important questions at various times, that's where God came in to play as an all-purpose explanation. Can't find the missing link from apes to humans? That's because God. Don't know how to explain the fine constant problem? God.
Perhaps "death is inevitable" is the new "God is in the gaps." "Man dies of old age" seems to occur far, far less today than it did just 20 years ago. "Man dies of heart failure", sure. We now have a much more specific way to qualify exactly what caused the death, not simply pinning it on some kind of vague "she was too old" nonsense.
It is time to stop viewing death due to aging as inevitable, and instead start seeing it as the preventable tragedy it is fast becoming.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on July 11, 2017:
Well, Glenn, you never really know what's ahead, but I'm optimistic (cautiously so). All in all, it begins with good health today, so we might as well start doing that part!
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on July 05, 2017:
You gave a good argument for the possibility of living to 200 Andrew. This really gives us something to look forward to, assuming that health and quality of life go along with it.
There is so much happening with new technology today, that lately I have started thinking I wish I could live another hundred years just to see what the world will be like. You gave me hope. Maybe I'll get to see it, unless we get wiped out by an asteroid.
Anita Hasch from Port Elizabeth on March 07, 2017:
Interesting and thought provoking. I agree with you Andrew, people will be living longer in the future. The advances in technology is amazing. Just think, years ago we did not have the internet. I believe that one of the most important factors is a positive attitude. Having enough fruit and vegetables in your diet. Easy if you have smoothies regularly. Yes, you need to keep healthy otherwise you would not enjoy being a centenarian.
Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on June 20, 2016:
A very important hub.
Proverb: it is better to live a short life as a "swan" than a long life as a "crow."
Animal racism aside (!) this means that to be spiritually and ethically beautiful and to live a brief life, is infinitely better than to live a long life filled with crap.
Of course one might say it's possible to live long and be good etc just to be argumentive etc. However the facts are that huge wealth is needed to live inordinately or artificially long. Someone like Rupert Murdoch or count Vlad Putin may use every means at their disposal to dramatically increase physical life. Technology is promising all kinds of "potential immortality ".
Truly spiritual people often don't live inordinately long and often have short lives.
Literature and history has many warnings about certain people who wanted to live physically forever.
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on February 09, 2015:
Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Kylyssa. I'm glad you agreed with the main themes of the article, and I hope that you do, indeed, get to live long enough to benefit from age-reversing technologies and achievements. We are truly on the cusp of a revolution that is going to make today's medicine look just as primitive 50 years from now, as medieval "medicine" looks to us today.
Kylyssa Shay from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on February 09, 2015:
I think that you are correct in that at least someone alive today will probably still be alive at age 200.
I think that oligarchies are the most serious impediments such medical advances will face. Thankfully, I think the oligarchies are going to come crashing down because the freer flow of information is improving the world standard of living at an increasing rate.
I think science illiteracy is another impediment to be overcome. People resist the idea of living longer based on having an incorrect view of what that may be like. The idea of living to 200 with the last 120 years lived in a state of utter decrepitude is horrifying, but that simply isn't how it would be.
I full well expect my level of current decrepitude to be reversed if I can survive long enough to benefit from emerging medical technologies. I've lived with severe, chronic pain for about eight years now and one of the things that keeps me going is the idea that I may be able to see an end to my pain and disability. I hold on because I can envision a day when I can run and play again and no longer need to base my actions on how much pain I can tolerate and how much energy I have.
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on October 10, 2014:
Hendrika, that is, indeed, quite interesting! I wonder two things: first, did the people in question have some sort of need to restrict calories earlier in life? Caloric restriction is the one thing all experts can agree extends life. Second, is it possible that this is genetic? Very cool to hear, either way!
Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on October 10, 2014:
Very interesting. It is also valid that all people will not be able to afford to live that long as pensions will not keep up. In South Africa, strangely enough, we find many people living to be 100 and more in the extreme rural areas completely devoid of any technology.
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on October 09, 2014:
DreamingBoomer - I actually believe we'll be able to do just that (mend minds) eventually. I'd like to physically survive to be able to see that day, very much.
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on October 09, 2014:
Glad you enjoyed it, Alicia. I had a great time writing it. I wanted to do more research on the life extension work they're doing on worms and mice, but I also didn't want to bog it down with too many details for the layman. I hope I gave everyone enough to think about!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 09, 2014:
This is a very thought provoking hub! We certainly live in interesting times. Our increasing knowledge of biology and the advances in technology are fascinating.
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on October 08, 2014:
Thanks, Rhonda! Glad to give you a different perspective. I don't necessarily think everyone will want technology inside their bodies, and I'm completely cool with them not doing it, as long as I get to live a longer, healthier life as a result. :)
Rhonda Lytle from Deep in the heart of Dixie on October 08, 2014:
I have to say I found this highly interesting and somewhat terrifying. There is no doubt some humans are living longer. But, the question becomes how will the planet sustain us if it becomes a norm to have folks living to be over 100. While too many would scoff and say it is evidence not, the Bible speaks of people in ancient times living hundreds of years too. I'm not sure at all I want to live that long though I certainly hope those that do can. To me, the advances in technology and medicine allowing for such are a double edged sword. Yes, they help many live longer but are denied to so many more due to the expense. Even where there is socialized medicine available to all, some outrank others. The ethical considerations and ramifications lag centuries behind the technology. I can foresee a not so unlikely future where a privileged class has access to much of this and those they deem undesirable do not. Lastly, the dangers of technology within the body as an accepted thing for all is alarming beyond the telling. The potential for control and abuse is astronomical. My, my you have certainly sent my head spinning with this one :). Thank you for such a thought provoking read.
Karen Kay from Jackson, MS on October 08, 2014:
Whew! That's a lot of centinarians! I'm halfway there, Andrew, and I certainly don't feel like I've got another 50 years in me.... Hopefully by then we'll figure out how to mend old bones and old minds too! Great info! Thanks!
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on October 08, 2014:
Billy - I do believe 100 in 50 years will be like 70 is today. I think 70 today brings a decent quality of life. In another 50 years, 100 may well be like 50 today, which is worth shooting for. Glad to help you think about this stuff!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 08, 2014:
Give me 200 years with quality of life and I'd take it. It's that "quality of life" thing that is tough to come by. :) Interesting information for sure...I guess I better go exercise now.