If we completely eradicate aging and diseases in the future, what are the ramifications?
An undying global population – a blessing or a curse?
Virtually everything is connected. A significant change in one aspect of this connection will involve significant change in another. Humans dying of old age and disease, may have an important function in maintaining the balance of our global ecosystem. Conversely, humans living forever in good health and in youthfulness, may radically improve our economy and productiveness. Either way, a cascade of events will unfold.
There are roughly 100,000 people dying each day, with roughly 200,000 being born. That’s two people being born for every person that dies. Two thirds of those people that die each day, die from age-related diseases. How would these numbers be affected if we no longer age? What are the ramifications?
Let’s imagine that our species becomes immortal. You might think that it would exponentially increase our global population size, or at the very least that it would dramatically increase. However, one mathematical analysis contradicts this intuition. A study revealed that fears of overpopulation, even in the scenario of immortality and not just radical life extension, may be very much exaggerated. They found that in a 100-year projection of the future, in which all people are biologically immortal, the total population increase would only be at 22%. Moreover, this is given that every person on earth stops aging. In light of this, the argument against radical life extension of our species due to overpopulation, may not be as strong as one initially might think. Even assuming overpopulation is a valid concern, with regards to an undying global society, it is still greatly outweighed by the potential benefits it will present in my opinion.
As I’ve noted in my previous posts, aging and lifespans aren’t fixed inherit properties of reality, it is actually a rather malleable process. A significant extension of your healthspan (time spent in good health) through medical interventions, axiomatically increases your lifespan as well – albeit, it is not a strictly linear relationship. Health and lifespans over the last number of centuries have increased significantly with improved hygiene, nutrition, and medicine.
There is no reason to believe we’ve reached our maximum capacity just yet. In fact, my posts preceding this one have described many new advances showing promising results to ever extend our health and lifespan. I believe that if we invest more money in a biomedical war against aging itself, rather than age-related diseases in isolation, we might be able to completely eradicate all of the age-related diseases in unison. Concurrently, this approach has been analyzed to have significant health and economic benefits compared to interventions of individual diseases alone. In the United States for example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are granted $39 billion of funding, of which only 7,8% is allocated to its branch studying gerontology, the National Institute of Aging (NIA). Out of the $3,08 billion budget for the NIA, only $425 million is allocated to fund research – all of which is for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Only $84 million is allocated for other areas of research, none of which is specifically researching the cause of aging or how to prevent it. This means that most, if not all research into slowing down aging, has been privately funded. In the last couple of decades, there has been very little interest in aging itself but rather its symptoms. Its only recently that wealthy individuals have donated more substantial amounts to life science start-ups 1,2 in hopes of curing aging itself and not only its accompanying diseases.
There is a dire need for extending the healthy, productive periods of human life. Currently, there is a trend indicating a serious decline in global employment over the next 50 years with more people leaving the workforce, than there are people entering it. This results in a projection that the growth of our global growth domestic product is declining.
The demographic trend as it stands currently projects that by 2050, individuals aged 60 years or older will represent >20% of the global population. Additionally, probabilistic projections indicate a trend towards a global population with more people of old age than that of a young age.
Charts illustrates estimates and probabilistic projection rates of the world population. These projections were estimated used a Bayesian Hierarchical Model.
As a result, there are more scientists now advocating for increased funding to research in aging 3,4,5, mainly due to the ongoing demographic shift presenting many socio-economic challenges. Indeed, an aging population will in all likelihood cause a major healthcare crisis.
Not everyone wants to live forever, but most assuredly, no one wants to become old either. This dilemma induces a cognitive dissonance among most people. You cannot die of old age without experiencing unpleasant detrimental dysfunctions to your biology. Cognitive decline as an example, varies widely as we get older, from Alzheimer’s and dementia, to simply a reduced cognitive capacity. However, other aspects like frailty, reduced sensory input and motor function, remains an almost ubiquitous symptom of aging.
Invariably, one thing is certain, we will all die at some point in time. Not even stars live forever. If presented with an option in the future to either live indefinitely in youthfulness, or to die inevitably of old age, would you choose the former or the latter? Because unfortunately, you cannot have it both ways.
Imagine what the future holds.
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