What would you do with another 75 years on this Earth? Not as a pain wracked wizened elder in a nursing home, but as a vibrant super-centenarian with the energy of a 30 year old? Sonia Arrison is here to tell you it’s not only possible, it’s coming soon. The author, journalist, futurist and Silicon Valley insider’s latest book, 100+, explores the science and the fallout of extending our lifespans. Easy to read, and easy to understand, 100+ walks you through the incredible achievements in regenerative medicine we’ve already seen, projects them forward, and discusses the changes in environment, economy, family, and religion that will follow. Check out a few promotional videos for the book below. I had a chance to speak with Arrison about 100+, its vision, and the changes we’ll need to achieve this kind of longevity in our lifetimes. I can’t wait to not get old.
For those unfamiliar with her work, Sonia Arrison has been on the science beat for a decade, covering emerging technology for TechNewsWorld, their ramifications for Pacific Research Institute, and publishing two other books on modern tech issues. She’s also one of the associate founders of Singularity University, and presents there often. Here’s a quick overview of Arrison as it pertains to her new book on longevity – the SU class of 2011 makes an appearance around 2:00.
Here’s another promotional video, this one more focused on the technology discussed in 100+:
I’d start off by describing the technology that Arrison thinks will help humanity extend its lifespan, but you already know all about it. To regular readers of Singularity Hub, the first few chapters of 100+ will be more than familiar. Regenerative medicine based on stem cell treatments, genetic modification, and lab-grown organs – we talk about this all the time. Arrison puts it all together in a concise and compelling best hits list of modern science, attracting much needed attention to the successes we’ve already seen in repairing and replacing failed parts of people as they age or get injured. With straight forward prose and a palpable sense of enjoyment, Arrison steps you through all these advancements and lets you feel the awe of what we’ve already achieved.
That’s part of the purpose of the book. As Arrison told me, she crafted 100+ in order to “make it readable for the average Joe on the street.” She was inspired to explore the science of longevity after watching ‘extreme makeover’ type reality TV shows like The Swan. If people were crying in joy from having plastic surgery, how else might we want to change ourselves? From cosmetic augmentation to real transhumanism, Arrison realized that “the more [she] looked at it, the more it seemed like reality, not just science fiction.”
People want to be happier, healthier, and experience more life. That’s one of the fundamental arguments of 100+, and Arrison states her case strongly enough to convince almost anyone, and in a style that will be as accessible to your techno-phobic Uncle Walter as it is to your computer loving self. But if humanity wants more out of life, why haven’t we made more of a push for radical life extension? Partly, Arrison supposes, because we don’t realize regenerative medicine is so possible. “If everybody knew about it, we’d all put more energy into it and we’d all live longer, healthier, happier, lives.” To me, 100+ serves as a sort of evangelical text for those looking to spread the word about longevity.
Arrison, however, sees it a little differently: “some may call it ‘evangelical’ but I think of it as sort of a myth-busting book.” From the beginning, 100+ addresses the standard philosophical and pessimistic arguments against longevity. Bring up radical life extension with a large group and you’re bound to have someone posit that it’s natural to die, that we’re not made to live forever. Others will argue that humans have a negative impact on the environment, that aged people will bring down the economy, and that all rising populations are checked by disease and famine as Malthus surmised centuries ago. Well, “Malthus was wrong,” says Arrison, “because he didn’t account for human capital.” More people means more brains working on solving the world’s problems. And if longevity works the way she thinks it will, those minds will be have the vitality of youth, but with many decades of experience. 100+ spends a good deal of its literary real estate debunking the anxieties and barriers society throws up so it won’t have to seriously consider the consequences of humanity successfully living longer lives.
If disaster isn’t going to strike, what will? In what impresses me as the most daring, and yet most satisfying part of 100+, Arrison explores the impact 150 year lifespans will have on finance, family, and religion. People will have to plan on having money for decades longer, pushing us to be more responsible, more investment minded. Arrison thinks we’ll want to do more with that money because ultimately, “death limits our ambition.” Our families will transform to account for generations that span centuries and family trees whose branches split off in ways we don’t see today. With ovarian cell grafts, in vitro fertilization, and other emerging reproductive technologies women could have their own biological children at 80…100…even 120. Siblings could be born sixty years apart. The centers of our world will be radically different.
Arrison thinks religion will have to change with it. She originally thought ending the threat of natural death would kill religiosity. After all, why do we need an afterlife when we have endless life here and now? Yet to her surprise, Arrison’s research showed that religion doesn’t fade as people gain longer lives, that instead religions are adapting to focus more on the purpose of life. In her opinion, the religions that thrive will be those that help people find meaning and satisfaction with their extended time on this Earth.
While I’m much more of a nuts and bolts technophile, I found Arrison’s extrapolation of longevity’s impact on the social side of things very intriguing. True to its aim to be accessible to the masses, 100+ explores the impact on finance, family, and faith in a way that explains rather than condemns, and enlightens rather than proclaims. Without comprising her vision for the importance of life extension, Arrison still manages to be respectful of humanity’s more conservative elements. A bit of a tight-rope walk, but she pulls it off.
So there’s really little reason 100+ couldn’t be given to almost anyone in your extended social circle to get them thinking about the realities and possibilities of longevity. But what then? “Change has to come from the bottom up.” 100+ outlines the people, the institutions, and the trends we’ll need if we want to encourage life-extension science to be ready in our lifetimes. Arrison ends the book with a look at the movers and shakers that are actively pursuing immortality. Here her Silicon Vally insider credentials shine. Arrison also vents an often stated Bay Area frustration with the FDA, a bureaucracy that doesn’t even have an approval process in place for age-related treatments. To satisfy Arrison’s thirst for the fountain of youth we’ll need media outlets discussing longevity more regularly – “Instead of the healthcare crisis why aren’t we talking about making people healthier?” We’ll need philanthropists and governments to push for age-related research, and we’ll need everyone to make longevity a priority.
If 100+ is right about the escalation of longevity science in the next few decades, and I think it’s certainly likely we’ll have great advances there, then we could see the end to physical aging in our lifetimes. That’s something to marvel at. I asked Arrison what she would do with her extra time. Fitting for someone who confesses that she never feels like she has enough time, she gave many different answers. Family, traveling, charity, education… I bet many of our own lists would look similar. There’s so much for us to do with our time, and we haven’t even seen a fraction of what the future holds in store. 100 years ago, most people didn’t have indoor plumbing. Now we have the internet (a different series of tubes). Live to 150 and beyond and you’ll see things, you’ll be things, that you never imagined were possible. Sonia Arrison makes those possibilities seem within our grasp. All we have to do is accept our right to challenge death, and fund the science that could make it end. We’ve already had more successes than most of us know about. We could achieve much, much more.
[image credits: 100plusbook.com]