Exponential health is forcing us to deal with a new reality, where we either live a lot longer, or don’t even die at all…
The last person to die of old age has already been born.
That’s a pretty big claim right? But you’re hearing it more and more. The idea is that medical technology is advancing at such a rate that pretty soon will have conquered ageing, and with it, death.
At some point in the not too distant future (by historical standards) no one will die of ‘natural causes’. All deaths will be jet-pack related.
It might not happen to you. But it looks like it will happen for your children or your grand-children.
It’s one reason why I’ve started drinking super-smoothies. I want to make sure I’m still around when we finally topple death. I’d hate to miss it by a just few years. I’d feel totally ripped off.
So is the claim true? Well, who knows? The future is very hard to predict (just look at any sci-fi movie made in the 60s or 70s.) And when it comes to medical science, we’re talking about solving problems we aren’t even aware of yet.
But the point is it could be true. And a lot of people are starting to build plans around extreme increases in longevity.
Think about it this way. 100 years ago the average life expectancy was 42. Today, it’s about 80. So in a century it pretty much doubled.
So what happens from here? The pessimistic scenario says that all the low hanging fruit has been picked, and there’ll be diminishing returns to science from here on. We’ll still see life expectancy increase, but by less and less each year.
The linear scenario says that we’ll keep adding life expectancy at the same rate. So over the coming century we’ll increase it up to about 120.
But the exponential scenario says that we’ll double it again. So in 2100, life expectancy will be 160. (Which says that if you were born in 1960 or 1970, you could still be around!)
But why would we be following an exponential scenario? Because technology in general is on an exponential curve. Processing power has been growing exponentially since the 60s. Nano-technology is on the same curve.
And it’s technology that’s going to drive the medical breakthroughs of the future.
Scientists have already found the mechanisms that govern ageing. They’re already experimenting with rats on ways to reverse.
(Last week, someone grew an entire rat arm in a petrie dish!)
And there’s enough information out there. There are a number of species that don’t die of old age. Like the jellyfish Turritopsis.
The pieces of the puzzle are all on the table. It’s only a matter of time before somebody cracks it.
This has some pretty profound implications. Even if you don’t end up living forever, you could live a lot longer that you currently think.
And in a world where people are living to 160, retiring at 65 starts to look a tad early.
But what happens when the average age of the Australian citizen is over 80. Of course we can’t compare the 80 of today with the 80 of the future. Hopefully we’ll be improving the quality of life, not just dragging out our senile years.
Hopefully 80 is the new 30.
I’m hopeful that we’ll see a new cultural renaissance. It’s a generalisation, but older people tend to have a steadier, more nuanced outlook on life. I’m certainly not the firebrand I was when I was 20.
I’m looking forward to a class of citizens with a wealth of life experience, and enough energy to do something with it.
And maybe longer lives will help us end the short-termism in politics (Ok, now we’re edging on fantasy.)
And what does it mean for the economy?
Financial planners are already saying they need to get their clients thinking about much longer retirements. But they’re in a bind. People just don’t get how rapidly life expectancy is increasing.
Tell people they need to be planning to live to 150 and they’ll find another adviser. You just sound crazy.
And a lot of people were worried that there would be a sell down in assets once baby-boomers moved to retirement phase, and started eating into their wealth.
But baby-boomers will need those assets. So the sell-down is off. Or at least delayed.
And the great hunt for yield continues. That’s going to depress returns and keep interest rates low.
And does your financial strategy rely on a sizeable inheritance in the near future? You might need to rethink that one…
And think about what happens to property. Push death back 10 years and you add an entirely new cohort to the population.
Suddenly the population projections start to look a little light.
But we’re already undersupplied on the housing front. So as the population ages there’s going to be more and more pressure on the housing market. That’s going to keep prices moving higher.
And if we do conquer death? Then competition for existing property becomes intense.
Though I guess if no one is dying we might have to put limits on how many people are being born.
Probable a permit system. One out, one in.
Anyway, in this scenario, where life expectancies are continually increasing, ‘real’ assets become more and more valuable. And there’s nothing more real than real estate.
Property is a pretty good hedge against the end of death.
It’s going to be an interesting ride. But exponential health is forcing us to rethink our lifetime strategies in a major way.
What age are you planning to retire at?
What age are you expecting to die?