Technologies with the greatest promise to provide humans with this treasured dream of extended health, youth, and longer lifespan include stem cell therapies, genetic engineering, and nanomedicine.
Anti-aging activist Aubrey de Grey has identified medical breakthroughs that will eliminate much of the wear and tear on our bodies, as we grow old. Those who undergo continuous repair treatments, de Grey says in this TED presentation below, could remain healthy for millennia without fear of dying from old age.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil, in this PBS interview, details his personal anti-aging regimen; and in his book, Transcend, he pieces together a picture of what science could very well accomplish in the next 20 years. Kurzweil sees new drugs on the horizon that will keep most ailments in check; eliminating the pain and death now dished out by heart disease, cancer, diabetes and most other age-related diseases.
To understand why this medical future is unfolding so rapidly, it helps to look at how other technologies have advanced in the past. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore correctly calculated that computer chip power/value would double every two years; and this prediction has proved true to this day. Should “Moore’s Law” continue its advances, experts say; by 2030, today’s $600 iPhone will cost only 59 cents.
Speed to sequence the human genome doubled every year, finishing in just 14 years what some thought would take 100 years. Singularity University’s Vivek Wadhwa explains how exponentially-advancing technologies allow small teams to do what was once only possible for governments and large corporations. This allows us to develop solutions to more of our challenges, including anti-aging research.
Scientists predict breakthroughs in stem cell research will soon enable doctors to replace many aging and worn organs, bones and skin with new, youthful versions. Former TV star and actor Suzanne Somers describes how an FDA-approved stem cell clinical trial helped her regrow natural breasts in this video below:
Genetic engineering (correcting faulty DNA in our cells) holds great promise to eradicate many human diseases, including aging. Genetics could one day provide the means to change genes in adults; we will not only create designer babies, but designer baby-boomers and seniors as well.
In a recent New York Times interview, Harvard genetics professor George Church forecasts a bright future for regenerative medicine. Involved in the Personalized Genome Project, an aggressive effort to sequence the genes of 100,000 people, Church sees an increase in doctors altering DNA in patients to prevent inherited diseases and strengthen bodies as we move through this decade and into the next.
One day, we may be able to regenerate nearly every part of the human body, Church says. At first, the process will only be used to make sick patients well, but it will soon be clear that people who enjoy good health will want these procedures to enhance and reinforce their already healthy bodies. Many will likely want to become stronger and sport a healthier, more youthful look.
Although stem cells and genetic engineering grab most of today’s attention, experts believe that the most important breakthroughs will soon come from molecular nanotech. In Nanomedicine, Robert Freitas talks of tiny nanorobots that can roam through our bodies, repairing damage with atomic-scale precision.
Freitas predicts this futuristic technology will produce bio robots between now and 2020. Next will be hybrid robots built from engineered structural DNA, synthetic proteins, and other non-biological materials, which could appear during the 2020s. Positive futurists believe that by early 2030s, scientists will produce completely artificial devices: nanorobots that will protect every cell in the body from disease and injury.
These cutting-edge technologies promise to improve lives almost beyond imagination, keeping our bodies forever healthy and youthful-appearing. However, extending human lifespan beyond what some consider ‘natural’ is sure to evoke controversy – political, ethical, and religious.
Nevertheless, this debate is not likely to stop or even slow efforts to extend health and increase our lifespan. Demand from people who want better health and longer, happier lives will drive this future forward; and it could become reality in time to benefit most people alive today.
Can technologies deliver this bright future? Stem cell, genetics, and nanomedicine advances are occurring almost daily. The end of human aging may well be realized in 20 years! Comments welcome.
Dick Pelletier is a weekly columnist who writes about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He's also appeared on various TV shows, and he blogs at Positive Futurist.