Healthy Longevity and the Imperative of Human Progress

Here I'll point out a long article that ties together technological advances that increase human longevity with some of the broader modern issues of progress, change, and opposition to progress that are important in modern societies.

Stagnation and stasis are ever the goal of much of our politics: a thousand Canutes standing athwart the tide. People are reflexively conservative, even in times of great change brought on by technological progress, and that is reflected in regulation and other forms of obstruction that slow down beneficial change. Nowhere is this more apparent than in medicine, one of the most heavily regulated areas of research and development. We are in the midst of a biotechnology revolution, capabilities advancing by leaps and bounds in the laboratory, and costs plummeting, yet the delivery of new clinical therapies is becoming slower and more expensive year after year. The costs imposed by regulation have doubled in the past decade, and for no good reason.

Stasis is the path to destruction, the eventual collapse of a society under the weight of regulation and coercive redistribution. Continued and accelerating progress is the path to a golden future, and medical technologies to enhance longevity while also defeating age-related frailty and disease will play an important role in putting us on this road:

Technological progress, particularly radical extension of the human lifespan through periodic rejuvenation that can restore the body to a more youthful condition, is also the only hope for remedying unsustainable expenditures of national governments, which are presently primarily intended to support people's income and healthcare needs in old age. Rejuvenation biotechnology of the sort championed by Dr. Aubrey de Grey's SENS Research Foundation could be developed with sufficient investment into the research, and could become disseminated by biotechnology entrepreneurs, ensuring that older people do not become decrepit or incapable of productive work as they age.

Many people who receive rejuvenation treatments will not want to retire - at least not from all work - if they still feel the vitality of youth. They will seek out activities to support human well-being and high living standards, even if they have saved enough money to consider it unnecessary to take a regular 8-to-5 job. With the vitality of youth combined with the experience of age, these people will be able to make sophisticated, persistent contributions to human civilization and will tend to plan for the longer term, as compared to most people today.

Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope that the path of gradual embrace of ever-accelerating progress will be the one taken in the early-21st-century Western world. The best outcome would be for an existing elite to facilitate mechanisms for its own evolution by offering people of merit but from humble backgrounds a place in real decision-making. Some of that evolution can occur through market competition - new, upstart businesses displacing incumbents and gradually amassing significant resources themselves. The best instantiation of this in the United States today is the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial culture - which, incidentally, now tends to finance longevity research.

These developments are evidence that the United States today is characterized not by one elite, but by several - and the old "Paper Belt" elite is clearly in conflict with the new Silicon Valley elite. Differences in the breadth of vision among elites matter. For instance, breakthroughs in human longevity could actually be a great boon for medical providers and the first pharmaceutical companies that offer effective products/treatments. Even the most ambitious proponents of life extension do not think it possible to develop a magic immortality pill. Rather, the treatments involved (which will be quite expensive at first) would require periodic regeneration of the cells and tissues within a person's body - essentially resetting the biological clock every decade or so, while further innovation uncovers ways to reverse the damage more cheaply, safely, and effectively. This is a field ripe with opportunities for enterprising doctors, researchers, and engineers (while, at the same time, certainly endangering many extant business models). Some government officials, if they are sufficiently perceptive, could also be persuaded to support these changes - if only because they could prevent a catastrophic collapse of Social Security and Medicare.

The key to achieving a freer, more prosperous, and longer-lived future is to educate both elites and the general public to accurately weigh the opportunities and risks of emerging technologies. Too many individuals today, both elites and ordinary people, view technological progress with suspicion, conjuring in their minds every possible dystopian scenario and every possible malfunction, inconvenience, lost possibility, moral reservation, or aesthetic dislike they can muster against breakthroughs in life extension, artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and many other areas of advancement that could vastly benefit us all. If we have a modicum of technological progress, the West might be able to muddle through the next several decades. If we have an acceleration of technological progress, the West will leave its current problems in the dust.



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