Managing Expectations

If you are around 40 years of age and basically average in terms of genes and health, the odds are good that in your first few decades you gained little in the way of longevity advantages over someone 20 years your senior, living in the same location. Medical science is progressing, but the young in wealthier regions of the world don't really use or need all that much medical technology once past the point of vaccinations and the standard - and diminishing - brace of infectious childhood diseases. The point here is that the bulk of any technology-dependent difference in your life span has yet to be engineered: it depends on how well you take care of the health basics from here on out, and far more on how rapidly medical technology progresses towards working rejuvenation biotechnology. If that medical technology isn't researched, isn't developed, isn't made available in a competitive marketplace, then the life trajectory of your parents is not an unreasonable model for your life.

If medical technology stopped moving forward now, then, sad to say, most people would not live a great deal longer than their parents. Gains due to medical technology are all in the future - they can be seen, discussed, and worked on in detail, but they are not here yet. What does that mean? It means that if you are 40, you're half-way done. You have half of the hour-glass left in which to make a difference - to help build the technologies that will smash this limitation of the human condition. Here are some recently released tables of European demographic data to reinforce the point:

In 2009 men in the European Union (EU27) could expect 61.3 Healthy Life Years (HLY), representing almost 80% of their life expectancy (LE) at birth of 76.7 years. Women could expect 62 HLY, 75% of their life expectancy (LE) at birth of 82.6 years in 2009.

Life expectancy at birth is an artificial construct - it is a measure of quality of health and medical technology, useful for comparisons, not a number that corresponds to what will happen to people born now or who are alive now. It reflects the life expectancy of a person born now if every statistical measure of health and mortality derived from the present population remained the same into the future. So in an age of advancing technology you would expect life expectancy figures to be lower than what will turn out to be the average age attained by your peers.

But still, it should be clear that unless progress in extending healthy life becomes more radical and less incremental, there are fair odds of 40-year-old you not living to see 80. This is not what anyone wants to hear, but it is what it is - the only way to make this different is to work to make it different. Support the work of the SENS Foundation, for example, or other causes that are involved in the science of extended human longevity and repair of aging.

One other item to keep in mind is that the cultural and financial institutions - such as Social Security in the US - that are ostensibly there to provide for you in old age some decades from now won't be around to help you. The money you're presently giving to your local government that is supposedly for that purpose? It's gone. That was nothing but a wealth transfer from you to someone further ahead in the ranks of the Ponzi scheme that you've all been drafted into. The system as it stands is set for collapse, with bailouts and massive devaluation of national currencies along the way, and that's before we consider the likely increases in longevity above and beyond the prediction models presently in use:

An IMF analysis says advanced economies would need to set aside half of their GDP today to pay for a three-year increase in longevity that is actuarially likely by 2050. ... Over the past several decades, governments have consistently underestimated longevity projections and thus have underestimated their pension liabilities. If people live just three years more than expected in 2050, which is in line with the average underestimates of the recent past, the funding gap to pay retirement benefits would be 1% to 2% per year - an amount equal to 50% of 2010 GDP. This gain in longevity will come as a huge shock to public and private pension schemes that are already woefully underfunded.

The point being this: don't look to the future thinking that anyone else is going to pay your way right at the point when it would be peachy keen to have funds for those new medical technologies that will reverse some of the aspects of your age-related degeneration. For one, do you really want to be just another grasping pawn in this vast game of generational theft, and for two, the odds are that the game will be over before you have the chance to do anything other than pay for someone else's increased standard of living. So make your own plans: save, save, save, and invest wisely.


But Ray Kurzweil states that information technology is growing exponentially, and as anti-aging technologies have become information technologies, then shouldn't we expect to see far more progress than you specify, given that it's growing exponentially?

Posted by: HR at April 20th, 2012 6:20 AM

@HR I don't specify how much progress we should expect - I specify what we should expect if there is little progress. Just because there can be progress towards a specific goal as a result of baseline technology improvement doesn't mean that will happen. Aging research in particular is a minority field in medicine, and longevity science a minority field within aging research.

We shouldn't expect the future of rejuvenation biotechnology to just happen without our intervention now to ensure that it happens.

Posted by: Reason at April 20th, 2012 6:25 AM

Great article, Reason. And one that really hits home for me. I will turn 38 this year. I'm concerned that we do see a fair amount of activity out there in research that may pay off one day, but it is only happening slowly and it is very difficult to predict when the first game changing therapy will be available. It could be 20, 40 or 200 years. Only two of those timelines do me any good. I agree with all you say - don't bank on others putting forth the resources to research these therapies, don't bank on social security and save and invest wisely. I'm currently contributing $100 a month to SENS and I save a lot of additional money on the side. The amount I do contribute to SENS is at least partially due to you. Thanks for keeping the members of this small community informed and motivated.

Posted by: Dan C at April 21st, 2012 8:22 PM

How old are you Reason?

Posted by: Loops at April 23rd, 2012 2:52 AM
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