The way we are taught to think about aging and death is very linear: one typically spends their twenties going to school (for as long as they can afford to), spends their thirties finding a job, works hard at carving out their niche for the next thirty years and if they’re lucky have enough saved that they can retire at 65. The next 15 to 20 years can be spent “relaxing”, doing whatever they want, spending as little or as much time with their families and spouses as they want. This is the ideal vision; the parts that are often omitted from this future scenario are of course illness, widowhood, and isolation before death. To work towards retirement or old age for so long and then only be able to enjoy it for so short a time is almost feels ridiculous. To imagine a future where to be elderly is a coveted and rewarding position is to rebel against the mainstream ageism that has been engrained in most aspects of our current society. The New Golden Age is a non-ageist transhumanist utopia where this vision is realized through the embrace of radical science and technology. In predicting this future, it is important to look at current data trends and let them inform our hypothesis. This manifesto will also consider the biases and social implications of fighting the “problem” that is aging. Namely, there is an inherent classism, with most of the current research being funded by North American venture capitalism (namely the Silicon Valley elite) and meant for the wealthiest citizens of developed nations.
These two graphs from the World Health Organization show the top ten causes of death in low income vs high income countries. Communicable diseases were responsible for death in low income countries, while diseases linked to aging were responsible for more deaths in high income countries.
It is a recent phenomenon of the twentieth century that people have been dying in old age. Japan is currently the country with the highest life expectancy at 83 (National Institute on Aging). One hundred years ago, a person born in Japan would be lucky to live past the age of 50. After World War II, many countries experienced not only an increase in population growth (the Baby Boom), but also an increase in life expectancy. This was especially true for East Asian countries, with the average life expectancy jumping from less than 45 in 1950 to over 75 today (National Institute on Aging). One major setback for many countries in Africa is the HIV/Aids epidemic, which had the effect of decreasing life expectancy. The country with the current lowest life expectancy is Chad at age 50. In 1981, the life expectancy at birth was 45 (The World Bank). This being said, the majority of deaths in industrialised societies is from non-communicable and chronic diseases, not parasitic and infectious diseases (National Institute on Aging). Global improvements in public health systems and infrastructure had helped improve standards of living and subsequently increase life expectancy. The reason this part of the world (the wealthy countries) is so concerned with aging is because that is how we are dying: old, and from diseases associated with age and the effects of our youthful globalized and harmful lifestyles/habits. The rest of the world is dying “young” before the age of 70. Based on the data trends over the twentieth century, the life expectancy has only gone up. Is it logical to assume that the life expectancy can/should only go up from here? Even in wealthy industrialised countries, class and financial ability plays a part in life expectancy. In fact the gap in longevity between rich and poor is growing among some poorer more marginalized groups in the US, for example, and life expectancy is actually falling (Elliott, np). Even in developed countries like the US not all lives are valued equally, so who will be given the resources to extend and improve their quality of life?
I s it logical to assume that the life expectancy can/should only go up from here? Some scientists believe extending human life to it’s known “maximum” of 120 is feasible by 2045 (Corbyn,np). (Graph from Psychology Today)
Longevity science seeks to end age related diseases and prolong human life. For longevity supporters, death is “disease” that takes a severe emotional and economic toll on society (longevityscience.org), and ideally should be delayed, or even more radically, eradicated all together. Longevity science has (not very surprisingly) been snubbed by the wider scientific community as a pseudo-science. However, that has not prevented a number of vehement academics from around the world (including Dr. Marc Tartar, who teaches “Reliability Theory of Aging and Longevity” at Brown University) from contributing research and developing theories. In addition, many non-academic but very financially generous people have invested thousands (sometimes even millions) into scientific research surrounding longevity. One of these well-funded individuals is Aubrey de Grey, arguably the most outspoken advocate of longevity science. De Grey is the founder of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation, “a public charity that is transforming the way the world researches and treats age-related disease” (SENS.org). In addition to giving traveling lectures and engaging public debates to promote his cause, De Grey also funds SENS with an annual 5 million dollars of his own inheritance (Corbyn, np).
SENS also receives annual donations from many well established billionaire venture capitalists from Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley elite in particular seem to have become enraptured with the promises of longevity science. The motivations behind this seem to be the desire to make the most out of the comfortable and financially secure life they have ascertained for themselves. If you made more money than you could spend in a lifetime, wouldn’t you want to at least try? Peter Thiel, a billionaire from the Valley contributes an annual $600,000 to SENS. In 2013, Google founded Calico (The California Life Company), whose mission “devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives” by reverse engineering the biology of the human lifespan (Corbyn, np). Human Longevity Inc. is another company that aims to create a database of 1 million human genome sequences by 2020, including from “supercentarians”, or people who have lived past 100 (Corbyn, np). The amount of money getting pumped into the development of drugs, scientific studies and advocacy of lifestyle changes seems like it could make anything possible. Longevity science is very much an industry powered by venture capitalism, seeking to take advantage of the consumer.
A branch of activism and radical thought that is linked to longevity science is transhumanism. Transhumanism, meaning “beyond human” (Istvan, np) is an intellectual movement that advocates the use of radical science and technology (including biohacking, artificial intelligence, and robotics) to “improve the human condition” through life extension (Istvan, np). Transhumanism, because of its radical aims is controversial within and outside of the scientific community. Like longevity science, many of its proponents are white upper-middle class men. The most widely known transhumanist “activist” is Zoltan Istvan. Istvan was a 2016 presidential candidate in the American election, known as the first “anti-death” candidate. Istvan sees transhumanist rights as “the civil rights of the twenty-first century”, and is the creator of the Immortality Bus. Mimicking the Freedom Rider Bus of the 1960’s civil rights movement, the Immortality bus traveled through the Southern US in late 2015 to advocate the importance of radical science as a form of human rights (Istvan, np). Predictably, this put a rather abrupt end to his campaign. For the transhumanist vision of progress to be actualized requires major lifestyle investments of bio-technology (most of which is still in early phases of research). Most of it is not available to those who fear or challenge death the most, but is rather exclusive to those who can actually afford it.
So what would a future in which North Americans lived to the theoretical “maximum” age of 120 (Corbyn, np)? Let us envision this utopia as a place where the final decades of life may be the most fruitful, a “New Golden Age”. Prolonged human life would have major impacts on the institutions of the workplace, marriage and family.
At this point in human history, life expectancy is higher than it has ever been; more and more people are living past the age of 90. In the New Golden Age, the life expectancy is 120, making middle age 60 instead of 40 like it is now. At what age will people be considered “mature”? Younger people will be valued less for their potential and more highly scrutinized for their lack of skill and experience comparatively with the older population. Presently, people tend to have one career path and stay on it singularly. In the New Golden Age, people will have the time to change career paths as many as three or four times. In terms of ageism in the job hiring process, people may be less reluctant to hiring older people. The New Golden Age would strive to avoid this. Rene Bolheim of the Johannes Kepler University has found that delaying retirement doesn’t lead to a lack of jobs for young people; contrarily it has been found that policies that encourage the employment of older workers has not compromised a demand for younger workers (Elliott, np). The more important question is whether there will be enough jobs to sustain a population that has any number of career paths. This is especially important because most jobs are becoming automated.
If people are working until their 80’s they’re going to be taking more time off, and spend time learning new skills. People will need to be equipped with the capacity to learn new skills at any point in their lives, so education systems will need to be more flexible and more affordable. People may have the desire to earn multiple degrees (they will certainly have the time). More pensions and social programs will be needed if people of lower classes are going to be supported. Healthcare systems will have to improve so that people will be in good enough physical and mental health to work past the age of 80 and have an exciting series of retirement decades. The line between pre and post retirement will become significant in a different way; people will live life in two phases. Working towards retirement will be more meaningful, because it won’t just entail relaxing, but getting to live more freely for another several decades.
Longevity will also have an effect on expectations and practice of monogamy. Whereas now people expect to be together for 40 or 50 years, people in the New Golden Age may have more open attitudes to open marriages or finite relationships. Currently, there has been an increase in “grey divorces” for people over the age of 50; in 2014 people over 50 were double as likely to get divorced than was seen in 1990. The numbers were even higher for people over 64 (Sarner, np). More and more people are beginning to abandon 30 year relationships as they go stale, and finding happiness in older partners even though they have a limited amount of time together. In the New Golden Age, the concept of a lifelong partner may seem unrealistic for some people. Marriage may dissolve as an institution, and common law partnerships (perhaps not even restricted to one partner) will be more widely accepted. There will be less pressure to find “the one” or establish any kind of relationship before a certain age. Additionally, as people will be living longer, the number of children people want to have will change. In this transhumanist society, people will be able to genetically breed and adopt children at any point in their lives. The use of virtual reality and artificial intelligence can be used to simulate the perfect family, or recreate past relationships and spouses even after death. No one will have to grow old alone or neglected by their children.
Infographics provided by World Health Organization, taken from Inhabitat.com
In the utopia of the New Golden Age, people will be active and autonomous at least until the age of 80, the new age of retirement. Society will be regrouped by age, because each age group will have different needs in terms of space and facilities. Because people are living longer they will be less content with staying in the same location and same living situation for so many years. It will be normal for people to move houses three times. The Under Thirties will be just completing their educations and trying to decide on their first career for the next twenty or so years. Both high school and college will be extended from 4 years to 6, and double majoring will be widely encouraged and made more accessible. The Over Fifties will most likely have multiple children (possibly from multiple families), so suburban living will have to be adaptable and easily convertible. The Over Eighties will be the most secluded from the rest of society because they have earned the right to a stress free retirement of thirty or forty years. Urban centres will be reserved and designed for people of working age (30 to 80), and separated rural peaceful communities will be designed for the Over Eighties. The Over Eighties will have privilege and priority access to travel, tax exemption and the latest in entertainment and reality simulation technology.
Longevity science calls for the eradication of age related diseases like Alzheimer’s, but not diseases that unlinked to age like cancer. In a transhumanist society such as this one, everyone will have to follow a very rigid set of rules and daily regiments to enhance and maximize life experience. Following the example of President Zoltan Istvan , anyone who can afford it or receive enough government support to will have a chip implanted in them to regulate their calorie intake, cholesterol levels, cell production count, and immune system functioning. A daily drug regiment will be established and made affordable for people at specific intervals in their lives, thanks to the efforts of SENS and Calico, the most powerful companies in the world. They have partnered with pharmaceutical companies and the food industry to mold consumer choices to maintain habits that conform to longevity science. Drugs like metaformin (currently used for diabetes) will be taken monthly from the age of forty onward. After the age of 60 rapamycin will be taken instead, which is shown to protect against neurodegeneration (Corbyn, np). The Over Eighties will have blood transfusions every six months. It will be mandatory for Under Thirties to give blood donations every month. This blood will be stored and donated to the Over Eighties, as blood transfusions of young blood into old bodies has been known to improve mental alacrity (Corbyn, np).
Corbyn, Zoë . “Live Forever: Scientists soon say they will extend life ‘well beyond 120’”. The Guardian, 11 Jan 2015. Web. 10 May 2016.
Elliott, Larry. “Much like the Queen, we’re all going to be working a lot longer.” The Guardian, 24 Apr 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.
Istvan, Zoltan. “A New Generation of Transhumanists is Emerging.” The Huffington Post, 10 Mar 2013. Web. 12 May 2016.
Sarner, Moya. “Love in the age of living forever: could your marriage last 80 years?” The Guardian, 23 Apr 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.
No Author. “Living Longer”. Global Health and Aging. National Institute on Aging, Oct 2011. Web. 12 May 2016.
No author. “Life expectancy at birth total, (years)”. The World Bank. Np, no date. Web. 12 May 2016.
No Author. “About SENS Research Foundation.” SENS Research Foundation. SENS Research Foundation, no date. Web. 12 May 2016.
No Author. “Unraveling the Secrets of Human Longevity.” Longevityscience.org. Np, no date. Web. 12 May 2016.