Let’s Get Ready for Disappointing Lifespans

Prudential has these billboards up in the Bay Area that say things like, “Imagine 30 years of doing what you love.  Let’s get ready for a longer retirement.”

One such billboard makes the claim: “The first person to live to 150 is alive today.”

Oh really?

Matt Ridley talks the statistics on the subject.  Basically, there appears to be some kind of asymptotic line of human lifespan at around 120.  We’re doing a much better job getting people up past 100 with better healthcare, but we aren’t moving the extremes of human lifespan, like, at all.  As far as the evidence shows us today, there’s a fundamentally different problem, not being solved by present medical techniques, that will be necessary to bridge in order to get anyone substantially past 120.

Now, is it possible that in the next 100 years, someone figures out that problem and can apply a solution to a presently living person and so 100 years from now, a centarian can reasonably look forward to the possibility of another 50 years?  Yes.  That is possible.  I mean, who knows what we will or won’t have in 100 years?

But is there a clear path on which we are obviously making progress towards a greater than 120 year lifespan?  No.  And maybe the problem is intractable, or maybe it can be solved but only by human germline genetic engineering, in which case maybe it won’t ever be solved, or will be solved but not for anyone living today.

Long story short: if you avoid misadventure or disease, and you’re presently under, say, 70, there’s a pretty clear path forward to you living to 100.  Past that, the path vanishes.  Maybe someone will blaze that path in the decades ahead, but equally, maybe they just won’t, and “the first person to live to be 150 is alive today” will join such predictions of the future as moon colonies in 2001.


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