SENS5 Video: Collective Advantages of Life Extension

As I mentioned the other day, there are more economic benefits to enhanced human longevity than just the obvious ones. Some of these benefits emerge from systematic changes in the interactions and relationships that make up society: the willingness to consider longer time horizons changes the way in which people value all sorts of things, both in the present and for the future. If fifty years from now is someone else's problem in your eyes, you are unlikely to be a good steward of fifty-year bonds - but if you are going to be alive, vocal and very much in the picture five decades from now, then the way in which you look at these things becomes completely different. You can substitute forests, farmland, houses, familial relations, companies, or a range of other entities for the fifty-year bonds there: we humans instinctively put a value on everything, and there's nothing wrong with that. The more that people value their relationships, possessions, future earnings, and a hundred other line items, the more willing they are to invest in maintaining these tangible and intangible entities.

This incentive to invest and improve is important, because short-termism is the road to ruin in all things economic - and everything that we do is in the general sense an economic decision. All wealth and civilization is built upon the move away from short-termism, to depart from the practice of strip-mining the present because you believe you are unlikely to benefit from the future. As the expectancy of human life increased over the past few centuries, so the time horizons of our ancestors broadened, and they became more likely to take actions that increased wealth: planning for the long term, investing in technology and research, trading rather than war, and building rather than tearing down.

A longer and healthier life is a good thing for individuals, but it is also positive for the whole society. This speech will give a quick description of positive political, economical and sociological aspects of a world with a largely delayed senescence: lower health costs, lower level of violence, higher level of happiness...

As a species, we are of course very much still mad, illogical barbarians by any absolute measure. But we are less so than now than in past generations - less violent at least, and more compassionate, although still just as deluded when it comes to a great many other topics, such as belief in the existence of dubiously benevolent sky gods. A great deal of that progress can be attributed to the changing incentives and values brought by increased longevity - and then the compound interest of small gains, amassed year after year.


But if it wasn't for short-termism we wouldn't have been able to field an army to stop Hitler and other threats to world peace. Immortals aren't going to risk their lives for their Country or a cause. Not saying there are not more pluses than minuses to extended longevity, but there are minuses. And although greatly increased live spans would probably lead to less violence, it would only lead to less violence among those who benefit from the enhanced lifespan, and I just don't see a scenario where the technology to enhance lifespan is cheap and abundant during the early decades of the technology.

Posted by: JohnD60 at February 6th, 2012 11:13 PM

I agree with JohnD60 about life extension technology not being cheap or abundant in the early decades. However, the wealthy elite will also be those we would most benefit from taking a long termist approach.

If the average man starts thinking long term, his life may change, and those of his friends and family.

If the president of a country, or the CEO of a major corporation starts thinking long term, the lives of millions of people might be improved.

Posted by: Siege at February 7th, 2012 7:14 AM

@JohnD60 - Your argument about Hitler is two-faced. You argue that nobody would fight against him, but why would anyone fight for him either?

Some technologies such as transplantation have irreducible costs (highly skilled labour) associated with them, but things like gene therapy, protein therapy and cell therapy can benefit from economies of scale as well as automation. I think concluding that they couldn't be widely available is a bit unimaginative. Microprocessor chips are marvels of very intricate engineering. If these can be made so widely available, I don't see why not some large molecule drugs and simple nano-vehicles. Biotech laboratories already have some advanced automation for routine tasks (the tedious part of PCR, for instance) so I don't see why cell culture and in vitro differentiation can't be automated (albeit with some level of AI required for monitoring the health and progress of cultures).

If rejuvenation biotechnology can be initiated late in life, it's something that people could save for in lieu of retirement.

Posted by: Jose at February 8th, 2012 2:03 AM

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