For as long as human beings have searched for the fountain of youth, they have also feared the consequences of extended life. Today we are on the cusp of a revolution that may finally resolve that tension: Advances in medicine and biotechnology will radically increase not just our life spans but also, crucially, our health spans.
The number of people living to advanced old age is already on the rise. There are some 5.7 million Americans age 85 and older, amounting to about 1.8% of the population, according to the Census Bureau. That is projected to rise to 19 million, or 4.34% of the population, by 2050, based on current trends. The percentage of Americans 100 and older is projected to rise from 0.03% today to 0.14% of the population in 2050. That’s a total of 601,000 centenarians.
But many scientists think that this is just the beginning; they are working furiously to make it possible for human beings to achieve Methuselah-like life spans. They are studying the aging process itself and experimenting with ways to slow it down by way of diet, drugs and genetic therapy. They are also working on new ways to replace worn-out organs—and even to help the body to rebuild itself. The gerontologist and scientific provocateur Aubrey de Grey claims that the first humans to live for 1,000 years may already have been born.
Ray Kurzweil is mentioned nowhere in the article, but, of course, he has been predicitng these outcomes for decades. And, while these kinds of ideas are easy to dismiss, it might be worth your while to watch some reruns of Mad Men — set precisely 50 years ago — to see how much technology can change in just half of your lifetime.