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Epic gains to be had in longer life
Mar 3, 2006  

Friend of the IEET Anders Sandberg had this letter published in the Financial Times in response to Richard Tomkins’ article on February 28 about his various anxieties about life extension.

Epic gains to be had in longer life

By Anders Sandberg

Published: March 3 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 3 2006 02:00


In his column “Why immortality would be a dead loss for humanity” (February 28) Richard Tomkins worries that a longer healthy lifespan would leave us in a boring, risk-averse society. Most evidence shows that the people who today reach high age tend to be interested in life and willing to do new things. It is unlikely that will change with better medicine except that more people will be healthy and vigorous. Longer lives might induce us to more long-range planning, but that is hardly a drawback.

Ageing and death deprives society of tremendous values and knowledge, while healthier lives provide society with increased experience, labour, consumers and producers. Longer lives would be a tremendous boon to economic growth. As shown in Measuring the Gains from Medical Research: An Economic Approach, the value of improvements in life expectancy is about as large as the value of all other consumption goods and services put together: the total value of the increased longevity that took place from 1970 to 1990 has been enormous, in the order of $2,800bn a year in the US. The sheer economic power of a more long-lived society might be a strong stimulus for adventure and growth, especially among the young who seek new niches rather than compete with their elders.

Even if successful anti-ageing would cause serious social problems, confound the religious, upset the current pattern of life (which is fairly recent, historically speaking) and cause more divorces, it might still be worth doing. Would these problems be so horrific that it is better to sacrifice more than 100,000 lives a day worldwide to avoid them? It seems unlikely.

As for life as a story with a beginning, middle and end, it is well worth remembering that there are short stories and epics. Would you rather be a Harlequin romance or Lord of the Rings?

Anders Sandberg,

Future of Humanity Institute,
University of Oxford,
Oxford OX1 2LL

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