The First Person to Live to Be 200 Years Old is Alive Today
Want to live to be 200? Maybe you can.
"But everyone dies." "It's only natural to die." "What are you, nuts?!?"
These are common reactions you're likely to get when you suggest that, just maybe, people aren't necessarily going to have to die within the next century or two. Let's start by taking a hard look at the "but everyone dies" one first.
Just how much experience do we have with this obvious fact? Well, the total number of all human beings that ever lived, as it turns out, is around 107,602,707,791, give or take a few billion, according to estimates from the Population Reference Bureau, through the year 2011. World population in 2011 was 6,987,000,000 (give or take a few million). That means that about 6.5 percent of the people who ever lived are alive today.
Now the 93.5 percent who have come before us have all died after living relatively short lives, and that's a real bummer, but here are a few more reasons why your life may not have to be such a short one.
Living to see a lot of birthdays? That's a lot of cake!
Three reasons for longevity
What follows is a mere slice of the information that's out there regarding "life extension", gerontology, and bigger picture trends about the current state of the fight against growing old. I'll present three reasons why I believe we can live to be much, much older than is conventionally believed to be the case today. The first two reasons are trend-based, with clear indications that the future is headed that way, and the third is purely empirically based, with lots of anecdotal (and supporting) examples.
Keep in mind that I'm just a regular person like you. I'm passionate about this stuff, but I don't have a PhD in gerontology or even a medical degree. This information is readily out there for anyone with the gumption to analyze and synthesize. I encourage you to do your own research as well and draw your own conclusions. I only ask that you actually take the time to draw your own conclusions, and don't continue based on preconceived notions of any sort without demanding evidence first!
Now, without further ado, here are three reasons I believe the first person to live to be 200 may be already alive today, and why you and I may well be among the first double centenarians.
How old was the oldest person in your family?
Reason 1: oldest ever lived are current
Here's a fact that you might be surprised to hear: the 10 oldest people who ever lived either died after 1990, or are still alive today. All of them. Every single one. That alone speaks volumes for the amount by which technology and education has improved our quality of life, and the ability to live considerably longer lives. It is statistically virtually impossible to randomly select from the millions of age stats we have and select only people from the last 25 years or so to make the cut. Nobody from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, or even 80s is on that list of longest lived. This is far from a coincidence.
Major innovations in sanitation at the turn of the century enabled a much, much bigger portion of people to make it to their 30s and 40s than ever before. By the 1940s and 50s, technology had taken another solid leap forward, and these middle aged folks were able to reap the benefits from these innovations in medicine. By the 1980s, in their twilight years, humans were able to not only survive a great deal many diseases previously thought to be fatal, but also were able to prevent the lion's share of diseases that plagued humanity for uncounted generations. Diet and exercise were beginning to be far, far better understood, and as a result, people were living longer and longer.
Let's briefly consider just one innovation that added decades to life expectancy. Between about 1900 and 1930, there was a study of mortality rates within American cities conducted. The study found that there was a 43% reduction in total deaths, 100% attributed to chlorination in bigger cities. Can you imagine such an insanely high reduction in mortality? I'm here to tell you that such a leap forward is happening today, and it isn't just one small leap - there are dozens of them.
Reason 2: we're adding hours to our life span with every passing day
On average, we're adding 5 hours per day to our life span. Further, many futurists and gerontologists like Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey believe that it's only a matter of time before 24 hours of life span are added every 24 hours. The idea here is to be around for that tipping point to happen.
Further, according to Wikipedia, in developed countries, the number of people aged 100 or older is increasing every year at a rate of 5.5%. This number might not seem so interesting until you do a little quick math. In 13 years, the number of centenarians will double, and then, 13 years later, if will double again, and so on. By 2050, based on this projection alone, there will be over 4 million centenarians, and by 2063, 8 million. By 2076, the year after the year I turn 100, there will be 16 million folks over 100 years old living in developed countries, according merely to current trajectories. I'd certainly like to be one of them!
But this only tells a part of the story. What's happening isn't a slight, slow change for the better. Instead, technology is rapidly accelerating. In fact, the rate of technology's acceleration is itself accelerating, as many who have been alive for more than 30 years can surely attest. Change is happening at an ever-more-rapid pace, and this absolutely includes medical technology.
Reason 3: we are entering a new epoch for humanity
The two above reasons are, as mentioned, trend-based. We can get an idea of where we're headed based on where we've been in the past as opposed to where we are now. As valuable as such a conceptual look back over history can be, it is equally important to have a look at current developments in the fight against aging.
The ever-expanding pace of technological acceleration that affects our lives on a daily basis has brought a startling amount of change over the last decade in particular, and we've seen this pace quicken over the last few years. "Radical life extension" isn't exactly a household phrase yet, but it's certainly out there on the Internet (over 300,000 search results for the phrase in quotation marks today). The notion is that we are gradually going to be able to eliminate virtually all causes of natural death, and there's a very simple concept that suggests that, at some point, average life expectancy will increase by more than one year of life in a calendar year.
Aubrey De Grey, among others, believes that we may well be at the "tipping point", to use Malcolm Gladwell's terminology, with such life extending technologies. We may see such changes in the next 20 years or the next 75 years, depending on a number of factors. Another buzzword (or "buzz phrase", more properly) is "regenerative medicine", which suggests that within the next few decades, it may well be possible to eradicate the overwhelming majority of today's causes of dying. This would likely extend life expectancy far, far beyond even today's longest lived people (upwards of 120 years). As such, the first person to live to 200 years old is very likely already alive today.
Isn't it only natural to die?
After all, death occurs across all species, right? Well, no. There are actually certain species out there that don't suffer death due to aging. Certain types of jellyfish, flatworms, and hydra can literally live (theoretically) forever. Mice in labs have had their lives extended considerably, among other species. Many of us are fully aware that there are trees on the planet over 5000 years old. Will the tree die "of old age"? I don't know, but it doesn't seem to be happening any time soon.
As we begin to unlock more and more of the keys to the way the universe itself works (both on the comsological scale and on the nanoscale), we are discovering more and more ways to extend lifespans in general. For humans, this means generating entire organs from scratch, using stem cells to create replacement tissues and smaller portions of organs, and manipulating our DNA itself, potentially. It will almost surely mean technology inside of our bodies, constantly monitoring changes and updates within our very bloodstream, as computers continue to shrink in size.
The tragedy of death
Death is a real tragedy, not some inevitable fact of life.
Religious pundits have always claimed, "God is in the gaps", meaning that, as science lacked the ability to answer certain fundamental and important questions at various times, that's where God came in to play as an all-purpose explanation. Can't find the missing link from apes to humans? That's because God. Don't know how to explain the fine constant problem? God.
Perhaps "death is inevitable" is the new "God is in the gaps." "Man dies of old age" seems to occur far, far less today than it did just 20 years ago. "Man dies of heart failure", sure. We now have a much more specific way to qualify exactly what caused the death, not simply pinning it on some kind of vague "she was too old" nonsense.
It is time to stop viewing death due to aging as inevitable, and instead start seeing it as the preventable tragedy it is fast becoming.