The headline might seem a touch off putting but it was the best way I could think of to get the point across. While science fiction has long considered the idea that there could be some sort of mandatory maximum age (Logans Run, Star Trek: The Next Generation and others), the idea seemed ludicrous to most. We barely lived long enough to register as a flutter against the geologic scale of time, why would we happily kill ourselves? Way back in January of 2014 I wrote an article about how science had discovered a set of genes which could impact our lifespans. It was a more innocent time. The article more whimsical than worthy of serious consideration.
Well, that was then. This is now.
Christopher McFadden, over at Interesting Engineering, took a look into the current status quo and decided that immortality is no longer a matter of if but when.
The average human lifespan has increased dramatically over the last 100 years. This has been achieved largely, thanks to the fruits of our advancements in technology, science, and medicine – but could we ever achieve immortality?
Using things like vaccinations, we have been able to exterminate life-threatening diseases like smallpox. But pathogens, predators, and accidents aside, could we ever modify the way we live or our very bodies to become immortal?
In order to do this, we will need to overcome some of the major issues that cause us to age, and eventually die. Science has identified four key processes that cause us to age:-
– Chronological aging
If these can be reduced, stopped or eliminated, we may just be able to live forever.
Here are 11 potential technologies and theories that could help us achieve the ‘Holy Grail’ of eternal life. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. Regenerative Blood Transfusions Could Extend Human Life Spans
Although the concept sounds a little ghastly, dare we say vampiric, it could be used to extend the human lifespan by 10-20 years, perhaps more. Scientists have observed that a protein called GDF11 is very common in the blood of young mice but itis scarce in older mice.
This protein has been shown to increase skeletal muscle and increase heart strength. If it can be replicated and combined with our growing knowledge of synthesizing blood, regenerative blood transfusions could become commonplace in the not so distant future.
2. Longevity Pill’s Could Extend Our Lifespans by 15%
A pill that triggers the anti-aging enzyme Sirtuin 1 could, it is estimated to extend the human lifespan by as much as 15%. One example has been developed by a startup pharmaceutical company called Elysium whose Basis (NAD+ Supplement) is thought to slow down the aging process.
It is the culmination of 25 years of research and has begun human trials – so you might see in a chemist’s near you soon.
3. Nanotechnology Could Fight Cancer and Repair Cells
Self-replicating nanobots could perform vital life to extend functions in the future. They could be used in a variety of complementary ways from directing attacking cancer cells to performing repairs to our bodies at the cellular level.
4. Identification and Introduction of Longevity Genes Could Increase Average Lifespans Above 100 Years
Scientists have been trying to identify “longevity genes” by studying 152 Spaniards and 742 Japanese Centenarians. This recent study did identify several gene variations these groups share.
This is also supported by other work using gene therapy on yeast involving the protein ISW2. This showed that lifespans could be extended by 25% using this sort of technique.
5. Gene Therapy Could Extend Could Make Us Immortal
Studies have shown that if gene therapy can induce cells to express telomerase it can slow down the biological clock. Experiments in 2012 were actually successful on mice and extended their lifespan by as much as a 1/4.
This research is widely recognized as a “proof of principle” for the principle of life extension using gene therapy techniques.
6. Metamaterial Bionics Could Make Us Superhuman
Metamaterials are artificial materials that have been engineered to have properties not normally seen in nature. These could be used to create artificial organs and augment existing organs (like our eyes) to make you stronger and live longer.
Researchers are already exploring using them to replace defective human cochleas.
7. Robotic Avatars Could Make Us Cybernetically Immortal
Scientists believe that we may be able to save and upload copies of ourselves in the future. – so-called “cybernetic immortality”. These could then be installed into robotic bodies or avatars that would, in theory, enable us to live forever.
This process could be repeated ad infinitum as robotic avatars break down, have accidents or become obsolete. Robotic avatars like these are already being researched by organizations like the 2045 Initiative.
8. Molecular Manipulation Could Add 4 Centuries To Our Lives
Some researchers were able to extend the lifespan of some worms by manipulating the molecules that affect insulin and other nutrient signals. If the results could be replicated in humans, it might be possible to extend the human lifespan up to 500 years.
Scientists like Dr. Pankaj Kapahi are currently exploring this field in detail with some very interesting results.
9. Suspended Animation Could Help Us Live Forever
Suspended animation has been a common feature of science fiction for many years, but it could be a viable way to extend human life in the future. Doctors have been able to freeze and revive patients over a period of a few hours – a process called “induced hypothermia”.
This process slows down the body’s metabolism to such a level that it can put the body ‘on pause’. It can, of course, also kill if the timing is off. Such a technique, once perfected and extended, could be used to induce a kind of human ‘hibernation’ that could last, in theory, forever.
10. 3D Printing Organs Could Extend Our Lives
3D printing is developing incredibly fast and could soon be used to routinely print replacement body parts, like the human heart. Advancements have been made very recently by a UK team successfully printing replacement corneas is helping push this technique forward.
If this technique could be extended to using fat and collagen to print new hearts, this could add decades to donors lives.
11. Cloning Organs Could Help You Live Forever
And finally in our list of theories and technologies that could extend our lives is an alternative to printing organs – cloning. Cloning is not a new technology but it could be used to grow new parts of your own body.
Scientists have already been able to grow body parts like ears, bone, and skin and once perfected for more complex organs it will be used indefinitely to extend someone’s life.
Genesis 6:3 ESV
Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
Okay, enough science, let’s move on to philosophy and a bit of history. According to the Bible God set the maximum age of man at 120 years. Oddly enough science came to the same conclusion a couple of thousand years later. Since there are many long lived people in the Old Testament it’s generally agreed that somehow things changed. Some people, who are both theologians and scientists (and there are more than you might think) call this change “the God gene.” Something that was inserted into man after the famous flood.
Or, if you prefer, people never really lived nine centuries, and 120 years seemed like forever, so that was a good limit to hang on to.
Either way, 120 years is what we basically have carved out for ourselves.
Now, that’s changing. And rapidly.
Take the GDF11 protein mentioned above. Besides showing promise at turning back your clock, it also has shown promise for quashing Type II diabetes. As for replicating it and giving people “young blood” let’s call it a work in progress.
The gene therapies mentioned above were recently upgraded and attempted on worms (we share some cool genes with them) and, WA LAAA, they lived a lot longer. Like four times longer. Which would put the human bar at 480 years.
Simply put the future is here.
There are those who think that extended lifespans will be great because that means humans can work longer.
There are humans who think that’s a shitty idea and would prefer to use their extended lives doing something constructive or self empowering.
Then your 401K, or other retirement plan, comes into play. They are not designed to last that long.
What’s the point of life insurance?
Til death do us part?
Think of any social norm you can pop into your pointy head and then consider the ramifications.
Long lives? Less babies. What do you need them for?
Less babies would bring us to global population stabilization. But, and this is key, it also means we’ll have to interact more positively with those people. We have one earth and immortal conflicts, no matter how cool they look in Underworld, aren’t really productive.
Technology? People tend to resist change. And, if you’re comfortable where you’re at why would you invent anything new? So you can kiss innovation goodbye.
And, in the end, the question is no longer how long do you want to live but when do you want to die.