Futurists Gamble On Extending Life
It’s time to improve the health of the human body.
Everything else we use in our lives has been upgraded in the last 50 years, but the human body is long past due for some intervention. I’d much rather see research dollars go into the study of aging than the stuff we’ve already conquered-like two-door refrigerators and cup holders in cars.
What if aging and disease didn’t have to be a fact of life?
A forward-thinking Google executive-and a half dozen billionaires-are just now grappling with this very question: How do we correct the flaws in the human body with science and technology?
How can we correct faulty immune systems, keep our hair from falling out and replace parts that need replacing with greater ease?
It’s an important question because despite our technological advancements in the last century, human suffering is still widespread. And Google might just be the company to tackle this. They’re already developing driver-less cars and giant hot-air balloons that bring Wi-Fi to remote corners of the world, and now they’re gambling that the biology of the human body is like computer software that needs upgrading. It’s time to face the fact that our biology is still in caveman mode.
Google engineering director and futurist Ray Kurzweil thinks he can improve the quality of our biological lives. He’s proposed a series of “bridges” to help get us started.
The first bridge is keeping oneself healthy until new life-changing technology is developed.
So, take your supplements, eat well, don’t smoke and exercise.
Your goal is to be around long enough to reach bridge two.
Bridge two is called the “biotech revolution,” where science hopes to steer our biology away from disease.
Kurzweil argues that our biology is outdated much like computer software becomes outdated.
Humans still respond to their environments the same way they did 10,000 years ago.
Our insulin receptors, for example, say “hang on to every calorie,” as if we’re still cavemen who aren’t sure where our next meal is coming from.
When we didn’t have refrigerators, it was wise for our bodies to store those calories in our fat cells.
But we don’t need to do that anymore.
Kurzweil says that science has already learned to turn off the fat receptor genes in mice. Basically, they eat whatever they want, do not get fat or develop diabetes.
Bridge three is where things get a bit more interesting. Kurzweil is proposing that we intervene in our biological functioning with “nano-technology.” That means that we’ll go beyond biology and create robots the size of blood cells that can augment our immune system. These robots will recognize disease and reprogram our immune systems to deal with new pathogens.
How far away is this new technology? Kurzweil says maybe 20 years. (So, in the meantime don’t eat Fritos, because in 20 years you may be able to eat all the Fritos you want.)
If you think this sounds far-fetched, consider this little fact: We spend $80 billion a year on anti-aging already-things like skin creams and supplements and plastic surgery-even though there is no proven way to stop the aging process.
This is nothing new – spending money to extend life.
In past centuries, people swallowed all sorts of potions sold to them by salesmen who promised them forever.
Think about the lobster who doesn’t seem to age.
If he’s left alone, he has about the same lifespan as a human being.
Scientists have dissected lobsters after death only to find they look as shiny and new inside as they did when they were young.
Evolution has given the lobster a giant break.
It seems they’re awfully good at keeping their cells on the right track.
They don’t have oxidizing free radicals in their bodies that break their bodies down like we do.
They don’t have a built-in life expectancy.
Despite the fact that we like to eat them, we’re actually learning a lot about not aging from them.
(So please don’t eat too many.)
No one is talking about living forever here.
Very few of us would want to do that. But, like a lobster, it might be nice to swim around with a little more air in my tires any maybe for a while longer.