Life, Extended

Would you like to live to 500? I asked the NWSH community, and this is what they said.

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This week, an unusual instalment.

I’ve long wanted to write a Sunday email that draws on the amazing conversations happening inside the NWSH Slack community.

Here is that email. A few days ago, I asked community members a question about radical life extension. The replies were so thoughtful, I knew immediately that I wanted to share them.

A massive thanks to Blake, Greg, and Gabrielle for offering their perspective in this instalment. And thanks, also, to everyone who makes the NWSH Slack group such a special place.

Let’s go!


How Long is Too Long?

Every week, I put a question to the NWSH Slack community, and a discussion ensues. This week, the question was on lifespan.

The week brought news of Altos Labs: a high-profile Silicon Valley startup joining the quest to radically extend human lives. The company has raised at least $270 million, some of it from Jeff Bezos; yes, your Amazon Prime membership is funding Jeff’s search for immortality.

I’ve long been fascinated by the huge variance in people’s attitudes to extended lifespan. So when I read about Altos, I knew I had this week’s question.

I wanted to test the community’s views on a possibility at the outer edges of what is feasible, without drifting into full-scale fantasy. This is the question that I put to the Slack group:

If you could choose to live to 500 and do so with good health and vitality until very close to the end, would you do it? To vote Yes hit 🙌. To vote No hit ⛔️.

I’d planned, this week, to write something longer of my own on extended lifespan. But the responses set me thinking about this subject from all kinds of new angles. Societal, economic, even emotional.

They provide a richness of perspective that exceeds anything I could access alone. That’s the power of community!

So below I share three of the best answers, each one by an active community member. I’m confident they’ll enrich your thinking on this fascinating subject, too.

After each answer, I make a quick reply. And at the end I’ll share my view on the initial question, and how my thinking changed as a result of our discussion.

And for more on the NWSH Slack group, just see the end of this email.


Blake Waranch, Social Impact Project Manager, NYC

Vote: ⛔️

My answer would really depend on the answers of those I love.

If I’m going to live to 500 but everyone I know and love is going to die before 100 let’s say, it seems extremely exhausting to live 400 more years building relationships and finding meaning in life over and over again.

Also, if we we’re talking about this current moment, I (pessimistically) don’t believe Earth will be habitable to humankind 500 years from now.

I don’t want the fear of dying from climate change every day, whether by the current issues we have, like heat waves, storms, and wildfires, or by something much worse in the future.

My Response: Thanks Blake; I hadn’t really considered the emotional and relational implications you outline here. Living hundreds of years while those around you are stuck with a normal lifespan does indeed sound exhausting. It’s also a brilliant premise for a sci-fi story; a dark, futuristic Groundhog Day 😬.


Greg Sherwin, Technology Leader, Lisbon

Vote: 🙌

There’s a lot that depends, including things we have little contextual awareness about.

How does the calculus around lifestyle risk change when we live to 500? By historical standards, Covid is a minor blip in the history of human public health. But we’ve raised our standards so much as to make any significant loss of life unacceptable. What happens when people expect to live hundreds of years? Will people also stop riding motorcycles? Nobody bungee jumps anymore?

What happens to population when we reach 500? What are the impacts on the environment when people simply stop dying? And what will that do to birth rates?

If income inequality is bad enough now, including between generations, what happens when that inequality is spread across seven or eight generations? When it’s Baby Boomers versus Generation AC (post-AA, AB)?

My Response: A changed calculus of risk for humans who expect to live to 500 is a fascinating possibility. As you say, Greg, it’s likely that we’re already the most risk averse people in history when it comes to physical wellbeing. On the other hand, would people feel more free to take creative and career risks if they knew they’d live far longer?


Gabrielle Reason, Marketing Lead, London

Vote: ⛔️

I’m absolutely fascinated by life extension, but I think it should be used only to improve health span – i.e. the number of years one is healthy and able – and not the length of life.

There’s a lot of rhetoric in billionaire/tech bro/biohacker spaces that, to me, has echoes of eugenics: ‘I’m better than others, so deserve to live longer than them and take up all the resources at their expense.’

Progress has always been driven by the rapid cycling of life. Creative movements are fed by fresh ideas and youthful optimism and energy. Arguably, if you take a brain full of wisdom and experience and allow it to live longer, its ideas could continue to develop. But we already know that flexibility in thinking and appetite for risk tends to decline with age.

David Sinclair addresses this debate in his book Lifespan. He argues that having an aged population could increase the proportion of conservative voters, as older people tend to lean towards the right. Also, extended lifespans would drive income inequality between generations even further, as the old have even more time to accumulate wealth.

Here in the UK we already seem in a tailspin from a conservative government that is driving income inequality. I don’t think we need to accelerate it any more!

My Response: The idea that we should use these technologies only to create extended healthspan is compelling. And I hear you when it comes to creativity and fresh ideas. I wonder if brains that could remain physically healthy for hundreds of years could remain creatively flexible? And I’m looking up Lifespan by David Sinclair!


My take and how it changed

Vote: 🙌

When I published the question, I told the group my answer was yes: I’d choose to live to 500 in good health if I could.

As you can see from the above, I was quickly schooled in some excellent reasons to temper that enthusiasm. A few I hadn’t considered; others I was forced to consider more carefully.

My answer remains the same. Life, it seems to me, is too precious to be refused. But that answer now comes with caveats.

I hope – though of course I can’t know – that we can prevent the Earth from being entirely uninhabitable in 500 years. And I believe we humans are flexible enough to remain creative, and open to necessary risk, throughout lives that last hundreds of years. Though I think we’d need to work hard to achieve that, and entire new branches of human psychology would be created in the process.

The questions around generational inequality raised by both Greg and Gabrielle are powerful. Extended lifespan has already had a significant impact here. If we were to add hundreds of years to human lives, we’d surely need to implement new forms of wealth distribution to stop inequality becoming ruinous.


💥 Join Us!

How would you answer the question I posed this week? What’s your thinking, more broadly, on the project to radically extend human life?

When I set up the NWSH community, my aim was clear: I wanted to create a space that supercharges all of us, by allowing us to share information, ideas, and perspectives on what lies ahead.

Now, there are over 500 members – including a small but dedicated core – doing just that inside the Slack group. And my ambitions have grown. I hope that, together, we can turn NWSH into the leading space online for those on a mission to build a better shared future.

So if you haven’t yet joined us, then jump inside! You’ll find discussion channels for #tech, #society, #planet, and more, where members curate must-read articles and their own ideas. You’ll get the chance to share your thinking on our weekly question. There’s a channel where you can highlight what you’re working on and seek feedback. And much more is coming.

Join the NWSH Slack group

When you join, head to the #intros channel to introduce yourself; other members will be sure to say hi. See you inside!

I’ll be back as usual on Wednesday. Until then, be well,

David.

Thanks again to Blake, Greg, and Gabrielle for this and many other brilliant contributions to the NWSH community.


David Mattin is the founder of the Strategy and Futures Research Unit. He sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.