Id say there is a 50/50 chance we will have brought ageing under decisive control within 20 years. In 100 years, theres an 80% or 90% chance we will have achieved that goal. There will still be aspects of ageing we cant control various types of cellular and molecular damage but we will be able to stay well within a comfort zone where that damage doesnt bring significant risks.
Once we dont have ageing, our longevity will be defined by other factors. We can put a crude number on that, if we extrapolate from todays mortality rates in early adulthood. The proportion of people who die at 26 is now less than one in a thousand. If we eliminate ageing, that rate will stay the same with each passing year: extrapolate from that and you could have people living for thousands of years. Well also be bearing down on car accidents, pandemics, asteroids so it makes no sense to put a number on how long people will live on average.
We have seen a levelling off of life expectancy recently but thats largely because the advances that brought about the great increases in the 19th and 20th centuries are now hitting diminishing returns. Theres also an obesity epidemic. But that ceases to be a problem when people dont need to look after themselves because the medicine is good enough, which will be the case fairly soon.
The single tipping point will consist of a combination of a number of therapies that repair various types of damage that accumulate in the body. We have worked to classify these types of damage into seven big categories, which allows us to work out how we might treat them. One of them is loss of cells, where they are dying and not being automatically replaced by the division of other cells. If thats happening, we need stem cell therapy. Different organs need slightly different types but only slightly different, which is why the classification is useful.
I dont believe solving ageing will increase an economic divide. The benefits will be extraordinarily valuable; it will pay for itself in no time. Any country that makes the political decision not to pay for this through taxation will soon become bankrupt, as other countries keep their chronologically elderly populations contributing to society.
I dont see any existential risks. Im interested in other risks, such as asteroid impacts; once we begin to understand that ageing is being eliminated, we will care much more about those risks and feel more invested in them. Im not too worried about overpopulation, either. Overpopulation is really about pollution the damage that people do. But we are acquiring solar technology, desalination, many things that will reduce the harm we do to the planet and therefore increase its capacity. Theres no reason it couldnt house 70 billion people.
My partner and I identify as cyborgs: Moon Ribas , co-founder of the Transpecies Society in Barcelona
Human beings will evolve. We havent always been human. We were sea creatures, then we were living in the trees, then we became human. Soon we will become something else. Technology is part of our lives and it will become part of our evolutionary journey, too.
In 2013, I designed an extra sense for myself. I have sensors on my feet so I can perceive the seismic activity of the planet: when theres an earthquake somewhere, I feel it. I call it the seismic sense. I dont consider it a body-hack but a mind-hack my aim was to use technology to change my perception of reality.
Were moving into an age where we can use technology to perceive things we couldnt otherwise. Its exciting that everyone will be able to design their own senses. My business partner,
Neil Harbisson, has an antenna implanted in his skull that allows him to hear colour waves. It picks up colour frequency, which creates vibrations in his skull, which he perceives as sound. His colour perception is now greater than ordinary human perception as it includes ultraviolet and infrared. A friend has extra senses in his ears that can detect atmospheric pressure and allow him to predict the weather. Were designing a retro-ceptive sense so you can see whats happening behind you; cars have it already. Instead of uploading new senses for our phone we will soon be uploading new senses for the self.
My partner and I identify as cyborgs as we are no longer 100% human. We have new body parts that give us access to perceptions that are beyond usual human perception. Its not about augmenting reality, or living in virtual reality; its more about revealing a reality that already exists.
Im sure there will be companies offering this commercially in future but for me, thats not as interesting as the creative possibilities. I now have two beats in my body, a heartbeat and an earth beat. I dont feel closer to machines; I feel closer to nature and other animals. I think its perfectly conceivable that we will be able to alter our bodies in such a way that we feel closer to the planet. We can be inspired by other creatures and how they perceive reality. Thats my optimistic point of view.
The body will have human elements, but will be integrated with technology: Braden Allenby , environmental engineer at Arizona State University and co-author of The Techno-Human Condition
We are entering
the Anthropocene an era in which it is humans who are the most critical to the way life on the planet evolves. But humans are not only altering the Earth were also designing ourselves. Artificial intelligence and gene-editing technology mean the human being has become a design space.
I believe the split between the human world and the natural world that weve all grown up with will begin to look obsolete. The human will become very different, as we fuse our individual selves into techno-human networks. Were used to thinking of ourselves as Cartesian individuals: separate from nature, separate from other human forms. But if you look at whats happened to our cognitive processes in the last couple of decades, youll see thats already changing. Weve already outsourced much of our cognitive ability to Google. People cant read maps any more because Google Maps tells them where to go.
Darpa (the US militarys Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) recently chipped an individual so he could telepathically control multiple drones. Thats just the beginning.
Photograph: Gustavo Papaleo for the Guardian
At the same time, our individual identities have become a new battle space and the implications for cognition are huge. Everything we learn about the brain shows how flawed our decision-making processes are, particularly when were under stress. Our cognition is not as effective as we think. The modern information environment is far more complex and faster than anything weve experienced. People are responding by falling back into simple narratives and identity politics as a defence against this complexity. Malign actors are learning how to manipulate these identities.
If we can survive this moment, I think we will move towards a world where man is no longer the measure of all things. It will turn out were simply components of large operating systems. Rather than the Frankenstein image of technology destroying humans, we will integrate the two. The body will still have human elements; but it wont look like anything you and I call human. It sounds hard to imagine but it is already happening. Look at any city street. At least half the people are looking at their phones. Were already integrated into networks beyond our physical environment.
Id like to bring the brain online: Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel, the California start up that designs brain-machine interfaces
Im trying to imagine a scenario where we can quantify our brain activity in something I call attebytes, says Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel Photograph: Kelly Lee
What we will be like in 100 years is one of the most relevant questions we could be asking as a species. Its generally been the case that humans could reasonably predict the circumstances of their life and their childrens lives, too. Now, the rate of change is such that we cant see further than a decade or two ahead. The aim is not to get people to predict the future. Its to get them to appreciate that they cant predict the future and to create alternative models to think about the future.
Were just a few tool discoveries away from being able to radically improve ourselves. Im building brain-machine interfaces that will bring the brain online, in a similar way to how other bodily functions are now online. Your footsteps are online, if you want them to be. The nutritional value of the food you eat can be online, too. But your brain is offline. If I want to know whats going on inside your brain, I have to ask you: Whats going on in your head? You will then query the small portion of your brain youre aware of. What Id like to do is bring as much of the brain as possible online, and make it as much of an intermediary of our existence as smartphones are.
We can measure what computers are doing with megabytes and gigabytes. Im trying to imagine a scenario where we can quantify our brain activity in attebytes. At the end of the day, you can download a pie chart of your brains neuro-processes. You might find youve allocated 737,000 attebytes of attention to a conversation about the future. You might discover you thought about an argument you had with your partner 45 times that day. Think of it as a step counter for the brain.
If that data goes online, what would happen? There is a dystopian scenario where the brain becomes open for business. You can imagine the goods and services that could evolve around knowing whats happening in someone elses brain. Facebook is currently working on brain-machine interfaces, but adding something like this into their ecosystem would be a really terrible situation for everybody. We cannot be careful or thoughtful enough about how we do this.
If we could establish a single priority for the human race, it would be improving our cognition. Everything we are, everything we are doing, is downstream from the brain. How we govern ourselves, how we deal with climate change, how we manage the economy everything depends on our cognitive processes.
Humans have been remarkably skilled at making enormous progress. We struggle with a lot of things. Were prone to negative dispositions and biases. But it wouldnt be smart to bet against the human race. Im very bullish about our potential.
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