Your child may be the first human to live to 150
Scientists and health professionals believe the first human to live to 150 has either recently been born or is about to be. This means your little bundle of joy might be the first person to celebrate their own sesquicentennial. It may not always feel like it, but the world is the most stable it’s ever been, the healthiest, and best fed and connected. The march of progress, particularly in science and technology will make the world nearly unrecognizable in the future and with it will come massive health improvements. In the last 100 years average life expectancy has doubled and many believe it will again in the next century.
Right now, the world has not only the highest population ever, but also the lowest incidences of famine, disease, and war it’s ever seen. In the early 20th century war was a constant fear and while it still may be one, today’s wars impact far less of the global population than those of 100 years ago. Most humans on this planet don’t have to worry about troops trampling through their fields on a daily basis now. It can sometimes feel like we are on the precipice of a huge war, but in reality this is extremely unlikely. The kind of huge world altering wars between neighboring countries that embroil the entire world are likely over. The last 60 years are proof of this.
With this reduction came a similar, but even bigger reduction in plague and disease. For much of the course of human history, massive infectious events like the Black Death and smallpox’s devastation of North American indigenous people could reduce populations by as much as 50%. Thanks to massive improvements in health science including vaccination and better hygiene, these events no longer happen. In fact smallpox has been so effectively eradicated by modern science that we no longer even need to vaccinate against it. Smaller outbreaks like Ebola and Swine Flu still garner headlines, but compared with the population destroying plagues of the past, these are small by comparison.
The world is also the best fed it has ever been thanks to huge improvements in global logistics and connectivity. Yes, many people still go hungry in remote regions or ones with political climates that prevent effective distribution of food. Thanks to advances in fertilization technology, improved crop resiliency, and global shipping, the world has more people than ever and the vast majority are well fed. In fact, the world population is so well fed that this century marked a turning point where more people now die from too many calories – through heart disease, diabetes, or other disease – than die from too few calories. Much of the world is now struggling with trying to figure out how to deal with overeating and poor nutrition due to too many choices. Keeping the population fed however is not an issue in many places.
With these massive advances in worldwide stability and health, not only are people living longer, but have more time to continue improvements. Without having to worry about where the next meal was coming from or if a marauding army or plague would destroy the food or family, people can now spend their time on pursuits such as scientific research or technology. This in part is responsible for the dramatic scientific breakthroughs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Discoveries such as penicillin and live vaccines have greatly reduced deaths from infectious disease and increased life expectancy. More recent advances such as gene therapy, mitochondrial DNA replacements, and nuclear DNA transfers show promise in their ability to detect and eradicate mutations that lead to disease or lower life expectancy. Google for example believes so strongly in this mission that it has invested the most money for any of the Google Ventures fund on Calico, a company within the company focussed on eradicating death. The founders have publicly stated that they expect to live forever.
Technology and health have always played a complementary role with each other but look to fuse together even more in the future. Electronic devices like prosthetics and more recent tools like cybernetic skeletons that help improve mobility may trickle down to everyone, not just the impaired. Increasing strength and resiliency, these devices may pave the path for augmented humanity leading to cyborgs that combine the natural and digital. Many in the technology industry also believe we are approaching a moment in time called the singularity when our consciousnesses will be uploaded digitally and we will effectively live forever in the cloud.
Technology doesn’t advance in a straight line, it progresses in jumps. Over the next several years, we may not reach the singularity, but a series of small but incremental progressions are sure to arrive. These small improvements will have a huge but not immediately obvious impact on global health and life expectancy, increasing it slowly but surely, and increasing in effectiveness more and more over time, like a snowball building into an avalanche. This progression will mean continued increases in both length and quality of life. Your kids will lead a healthier and happier life than you, and that’s a good thing for the species. The inexorable march of progress will give your kids an even better world and life to look forward to which should be celebrated.