Visionary Biologist Says: Reversing Ageing Won't Just Be for the Rich
Futurists are keen on a concept called "radical life extension."
Rather than settling for a standard life expectancy — like 78.8 years on average for an American — theorists, scientists, and investors want to find therapies to treat the age-related diseases that tend to kill us (like heart disease and cancer).
According to biologist Aubrey de Grey and his peers, once treatments are in place, the only things really killing people will be violence, accidents, and other non-natural causes. With that, de Grey says that living to be 1,000 years old will become an everyday thing.
De Grey has become one of the most vocal figures in the quest to conquer aging, between his much-viewed TED Talk “A roadmap to end aging,” his book , and his work as the chief science officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation.
The concern with radical longevity, as expressed by Manu Saadia at Fusion, is that wealth has a strong correlation with life expectancy. The wealthiest 20% of Americans can expect to live to 88.8 years, and for the poorest 20% it's 76.1 years. That gap would only increase with the super rich living longer than everybody else and accumulating even more assets — not to mention that billionaires like Peter Thiel are funding much of this research.
But de Grey says that extremely long lives won't just be for the wealthy.
"I'm quite sure it's going to be democratized," he tells Tech Insider, "even more democratized than anything we can think of today."
The reasons, the sometimes controversial biologist says, are twofold.
Living longer "is the thing that's going to matter the most to people," he says.
"Ultimately, this is what people are going to vote for," he says. "If it's not available to everybody, then a party that has a manifest commitment to making it for everybody is going to get elected."
Then there are the economics of aging.
"At the moment, when people get sick, it's incredibly expensive," de Gray says. "Probably 90% of the medical budget of the industrialized world goes to the diseases and disabilities of old age one way or another. That's trillions and trillions of dollars. If we can stop people from going that way by only spending billions of dollars, it's a big net win."
Additionally, if people can stay able bodied into their 80s, 90s, and beyond, then they can keep contributing their wealth to society, he says. Adding to collective wealth rather than drawing from it — which is why the "graying" of countries like Japan puts so much stress on an economy.
"Therapies will pay for themselves in no time at all," de Gray says, "and that means from a government’s point of view, even the government of a really tax-averse country like the USA, it would be economically suicidal not to frontload the investment to ensure that everyone got these therapies as soon as possible."
So living longer wouldn't just be a luxury good; it would be, to borrow from Bill Gates, a global public good.