The folk at Responsible Nanotechnology have added their own thoughts to biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's recent article on the intersection of nanomedicine and the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. How do the future of medical nanotechnology and the future of real, working anti-aging medicine overlap? Read the post here:
Of course, if CRN is right about how quickly molecular manufacturing can be developed (and probably will, once militaries and corporations start racing for it), then it will arrive long before anyone has a chance to become 200 or even 150 years old. That's the good news.
The bad news is that in different people, each aging process happens at different rates. If a thirty-year research cycle is enough to keep the average person alive, a fraction will die for lack of the breakthrough in less than 20 years. After several such cycles, the fractions add up, and by this model, most of the population would still have to expect to die of old age sooner or later. (This isn't covered in the article, but I emailed my analysis to de Grey, and he confirmed it as a concern.)
On the third hand, I expect that--if regulation allows--molecular manufacturing should allow a far shorter research cycle than 30 years. With the ability to build custom-designed diagnostic and treatment hardware on the fly for pennies per device, it should be possible for a research group to test and evaluate hundreds of treatments per year, benefiting almost instant feedback--which should make such a rapid testing cycle safer than today's medicine, if it's done responsibly.
I'm dubious about large reductions in the length of business or research cycles through technology while humans are still in the loop. You can certainly make the process cheaper and better, meaning that more attempts at a given business or research model will operate in parallel, but there is a point past which the length of the business cycle cannot be easily compressed. That point is very much a function of the human element: meetings, fundraising, decisions, organizational friction, and so forth - all very time-consuming and proven very resistant to improvements in the time taken. Regulations don't help either - if you want to slow progress, ensure that the end results are not as reliable or effective as they could be, and make the product more expensive, you can't do better than regulation. It has always puzzled me as to why CRN see ever larger regulatory structures as the way to go, but to each their own.
The Responsible Nanotechnology post ends on a gratifyingly sensible note, however:
The implications of extended healthspan are not as scary as most people assume. Birth rate has a much higher potential effect on the population than death rate. End-stage medical care takes more resources than simply staying alive and healthy. That's not to say there are no reasons for concern, but I don't think it should be assumed that trying to slow aging is irresponsible or destructive, as some have claimed. In any case, molecular manufacturing will pose far larger and more urgent problems than a population of healthy hundred-year-olds.
You can find an excellent Max More article on why overpopulation is unlikely in world of far longer life spans at the Longevity Meme.