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What Happens When the Average Lifespan is 150 Years? 904

Posted by samzenpus
from the first-century-is-the-best dept.
First time accepted submitter Macgrrl writes "It was reported today in The Age newspaper that scientists believe they will have a drug within the next 5-10 years that will extend the average human lifespan to 150 years. Given the retirement age is 65, that would give you an extra 85 years, meaning you would probably have to extend the average working life to 100 or 120 years to prevent the economy becoming totally unbalanced and pensions running out. That assumes that the life extension is all 'good years', and not a prolonged period of dementia and physical decline. Would you want to live to 150? What do you see as being the most likely issues and what do you think you would do with all the extra years?"
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What Happens When the Average Lifespan is 150 Years?

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  • Legalized euthanasia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:09AM (#37737280)

    Well, you can't have such a sysyem without legalized euthanasia. Or you need a lot of homeless shelter.

  • Only for the rich. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:19AM (#37737374)

    Only the Rich would have access to the drug at first. And that invites all sorts of pessimistic thoughts. Their money will be hoarded for longer, not benefiting the system. They'll probably try to argue the average life expectancy is up therefore we should cut everyone's social security benefits... RIAA/MPAA and ilk will argue we now need longer copyright terms -- patent holders will do the same...

  • people will waste it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shadowrat (1069614) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:25AM (#37737416)
    A guy like Steve Jobs probably accomplished the most when he felt his time was severely limited. Stephen Hawking seems to have a similar motivation. I even find it hard to really put everything into a project when the deadline is still far away. If people think they are going to live twice as long, they'll probably just procrastinate 4x as much.
  • Re:Not gonna happen. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:31AM (#37737476) Journal
    A lot of these issues can already be addressed with treatments and replacements. Which raises interesting questions. Even if this medicine turns out to be affordable, the treatments to keep the body going beyond its designed lifespan most likely will be very expensive. So on what basis will this life-extending drug be given out? Will it only be issued in cases where it will help a person reach a natural age with a decent quality of life? Or will anyone able to pay for it be able to obtain it?

    There's already growing resentment against the fabled 1% who own almost everything... just imagine what will happen when people find out that "the rich" also get to live about 70 years longer than the rest of us. On the other hand, how fair is it to withhold life saving/extending treatment from someone willing and able to pay for it? (Assuming that one rich guy extending his life isn't going to affect the amount of healthcare available to the rest of us)
  • Re:Currently... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:34AM (#37737496)

    But there is no reason to think all those extra years of potential labor is needed. We already have more people than we need to do the available work.

    Old people (even more than the young) need housing, most of them need (or at least use) food services, and of course there are those that need continuous medical or other care. Assuming that the average 130 year old has the same needs as today's average 65 year old, we're going to have to have a lot more construction workers, handymen, cooks, waitresses, nurses, bus drivers, etc.

    Basically, the whole world economy is going to start looking a lot more like Florida, without the sunshine and beaches. (As a lifelong Florida resident, I can say this is not a good thing.)

    If we could create a social contract that anyone beyond the age of 85 who is not demonstrably self-sufficient gracefully step into the Kevorkian machine, then it could work beautifully - it will take a lot of adjustment to give up the "inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" just because you're un-naturally old. I also would fear a world where that age gets reduced to 50 or less, lots of people don't get life even half figured out by 50.

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:36AM (#37737512)

    What about lack of upward mobility? All my life I've been told I'm being held back because of the huge cohort of baby boomers who will eventually retire and then my generation gets to shine. Its finally starting to happen, slowly. What happens socially when the retirement age goes from 60 to 120, meaning I/we have to sit thru another 60 excruciatingly boring years?

    Another problem is if you thought income inequality was bad, wait until you see balance sheet inequality. So a college degree used to mean an extra average of $25/yr income (used to, now it just means unemployment plus student loans instead of just unemployment, and the receptionist and your realtor are now required to have English degrees or MBAs). Over 40 working years that delta adds up to lets say a million bucks. Over 100 years, it adds up to 2.5 million bucks. So I'd expect the education bubble to explode upwards even more.

    Another problem is no nation has more criminals than the USA. Do they get treatment? Should a 20 year old murder who got life meaning a 60 year sentence be released at 80, or not medicated so he dies at 80, or held until he's 120 or ? Another problem is the goal of the prison industrial complex is to make, say, 3% of the population felons per decade. If people only live as adults for maybe 50 years, that means 15% of the population dies after being imprisoned and they never work inside the legit economy again. What happens when people live to 150, that means 45% of the population gets felonized.

  • Mind Uploading (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WillDraven (760005) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:39AM (#37737560) Homepage

    I would spend all my extra years working on mind uploading technology. I want to live for a very long time, uploaded into a spaceship exploring the universe. When your mind is software you can just alter your perception of time and fast forward through all the boring parts.

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:53AM (#37737702)

    Can you imagine humans living longer and the birth rate of longer lived humans? What kind of impact would our planet experience from this?

    Female fertility will still end at the same age... Once the eggs gone, its gone, game over. Male fertility never really ends, although it declines some. So there will be 150 year old rich guys marrying women born when he was 130.

    Child rearing will be weird. In some American racial subcultures breeding begins below 15, others wait until 40+, with huge impact, some cultural groups its "normal" to be a grannie by 30, others its "normal" for grandparents to be dead of old age when the grandkids are very young. Imagine "everybody loves raymond" sitcom but with, perhaps, ten generations living across the street instead of just 1. On the other hand, with 3 to 15 complete living generations, possibly/probably local, that's going to destroy commercial day care operations. Maybe even destroy lower grades of public schooling, if every family is big enough to have a related "teacher".

    Currently young people take half a decade or so off from "work" to go to university and drink beer etc. Possibly, "young" people would live at home with parents and not start work until their cohort's females are post menopausal. In a way it makes sense, go to high school, start breeding, and when your kids are all in grade school, you start university, and when the kids are roughly in middle school hit the job market and start making money to pay to raise your own kids and soon grandkids. So you'd start work at age 50. Some people will insist on starting work at age 15, which is going to be weird.

  • by gorzek (647352) <> on Monday October 17, 2011 @08:54AM (#37737724) Homepage Journal

    But what would those people be doing?

    We already have a problem in the US where older workers aren't retiring because the economy is so bad. This means fewer jobs being opened up for young workers fresh out of college. And given that the unemployment rate is high and the labor force participation rate has declined, I think we're looking at a future with fewer jobs per capita than we have now. Combine the effects of increased productivity gains, advances in automation, and the offshoring of both industrial and knowledge jobs, and you have a recipe for massive unemployment. Extend the human lifespan by several decades and you've made the problem worse, not better. We're talking about a massive oversupply of labor, which will drive wages down, harm living standards, and take a labor market that's already cutthroat competitive and make it even worse.

    It's not that extending human lifespans is a bad goal--it could be a great thing, and for me it could mean that I still have 80% of my lifespan left! It's certainly staggering to think about. But without any kind of long-term plan to repair our economic situation, I don't see this being a boon to anyone except the wealthy who can both afford the treatment and have the financial resources to live comfortably for that long. So the average lifespan will increase dramatically but it will be distorted by those who can afford the longevity treatments. Life expectancy among the poor has remained stagnant for decades and even decreased among some minorities, I might add. This, at the same time some are talking about raising the retirement age. In effect, poor minorities would never be able to retire.

    All this may seem tangential to the issue of greatly extended lifespans but we absolutely have to consider the wider socioeconomic implications of such advances. That isn't the job of science, per se, but it's definitely within the purview of sociologists, economists, and politicians. If we're about to have an even bigger retirement boom than expected (we've already got the Baby Boomers starting to retire), we should work to prepare for it now before it has consequences we haven't considered.

  • Big inequalities (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hipp5 (1635263) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:10AM (#37737878)
    I suspect that there will be a HUGE spread of inequality between the old and the young. First of all, the increased retirement age will mean it takes a lot longer for positions to open up. Young people will be stuck waiting for their turn to be a teacher or urban planner or whatever. Second, inheritances won't come at a time when they're particularly useful. Currently in western society you get an inheritance (if there is one) anywhere from the time when you're getting married to the time when your last children are going to university. The years between these two events are the years where you have some of your biggest capital expenses (wedding, buying a house, cost of having children, sending kids to uni, etc.) and inheritances tend to help with at least one of these things and reduce the financial strain on the family. Now people will get them at the age of 110 instead, which means they're going to buy a boat instead of earlier times when it would reduce financial strain. Third: compound interest. People who make sound investments at the age of 25 will be absolutely loaded by the age of 150. This in turn increases the lobbying power of old people. The AARP is already a huge lobbying force in the United States. What happens when enough old people are gazillionaires that they basically set policy (answer: I doubt it will be to the benefit of the young).
  • Re:Currently... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by beadfulthings (975812) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:16AM (#37737940) Journal

    Currently, a lot of people need to continue working until age 71 in order to receive their full Social Security. That includes most Boomers who are hitting sixty right about now. You can retire with diminished benefits starting at 62. You can begin manipulating and using your 401.k at age 58.

    As for me, I'd like to get to hold a grandchild or two, and then I'd be happy to move along. I was widowed (suddenly and too young) this past summer. It's gotten an interesting reaction from neighbors who are here from China to study. They're absolutely incensed that I didn't leave off working immediately and move in with one or the other of my two grown sons. Apparently my daughters in law are supposed to be taking care of me in addition to working at their regular jobs. The fact that I still have a meaningful job that brings in an income is incomprehensible to them. It's been a fascinating cultural discussion.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wwphx (225607) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:39AM (#37738238) Homepage
    It would totally change the basic paradigms of work. I know my (previous) boss resented having to pay for his employees to stay up-to-date on new tech, I can't imagine what corps will think when people potentially are working for them for a century. And I cannot imagine what it would do for promotion stagnancy.

    Me, personally, I do not want to live to 150. I turn 50 in a couple of months, and it turns out that I have an immune disorder that kicked in to high gear two years ago. In those two years, I've had over 200 infusions (twice a week) involving 4 needles in my abdomen for 90 minutes or so twice a week. I don't want to think about doing that for a hundred years. Yes, they might develop a cure (they will certainly improve treatment models), but I'm not expecting a cure in my (current) lifetime. They've been able to jump-start immune systems with gene therapy, but they've also had a tremendous increase in tumors in such patients. It's possible that an immune system could shut down to prevent the start/spread of tumors as a defensive mechanism.
  • Re:Umm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by composer777 (175489) * on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:40AM (#37738254)

    Yep, except you have to throw out the fact that the average worker is several times, in some cases, orders of magnitude more efficient and productive than they were when SS was originally created. The gains came about through better technology, longer working hours for many, less vacations, doubling the workforce by adding women, etc. So, where did all the productivity go? It certainly wasn't shared, that's for sure. It's gone to support billionaires rich enough to buy entire islands and form their own countries. It's part of why unemployment keeps rising (if people are more productive, and you are over-producing, why keep them on the payroll when you aren't paying them enough to buy their own products?).

    So, no, we won't HAVE TO raise the retirement age to 150. What we really need is to remodel the economic system in a way such that gains in efficiency are returned to workers, not owners. But, that means throwing out capitalism. Once that happens, things will become even MORE efficient, by leaps and bounds. Who would stay at work 4 hours if they could get it done in two? Right now, we incentivize people to be inefficient and many of them oblige us by dragging out a couple of hours of work into an 8 hour day. No one dares to do anything about it on a large scale, because people in power love capitalism, and a 50% unemployment rate would cause massive riots. So, they allow the rabble to keep themselves busy for 8-10 hours a day, so that they are too exhausted to get into trouble. Even with all that artificial inflation of work hours we still have problems finding enough "work" for everyone.

What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying. -- Nikita Khruschev