Humans could live to 500, says Google grandee

Bill Maris of Google Ventures has predicted that humans could one day live 500 years. Would you want to live this long, and how would the world be different if lifespans lengthened?

Google is one of the most diverse companies on earth. As well as shepherding our internet usage, it has invested in taxi firms, mobile phones and even artificial intelligence. Now, it is taking on its most ambitious mission yet: to increase the human lifespan to 500 years.

Bill Maris, president of Google Ventures, believes that rapid medical breakthroughs, along with a rise in biomechanics, could make it possible to live for centuries. Maris is a neuroscience graduate, who has already invested heavily in genetics research and cancer diagnosis startups. He believes that technology is the key to medical advances.

Medical technology can already do remarkable things. An electronic implant that stimulate the brain’s cochlear nerve, for instance, can restore hearing to people who are deaf.

Dr Pankaj Kupahi firmly believes it possible to radically extend human life. He came to this conclusion after tweaking genetic pathways in a type of worm: this increased the creature’s life by a factor of five. Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has also made some astonishing predictions. He claims that in just over 30 years humans will be able to download their minds onto a computer, making us digitally immortal. He also says that biological parts of our body will be replaceable with mechanical parts by the year 2100.

Most scientists currently believe the absolute maximum a human can live is around 120 years. Officially, only one person has ever exceeded that age — Jeanne Calment, who lived to 122. A recent convention of gerontologists and scientists agreed that the pursuit of extreme longevity was futile. Instead, it urged a focus on improving the living conditions of old people, as well as increasing life expectancies in poorer countries.

Do you really want to live forever?

Bill Maris is not the only person who would love to live to 500: such a lifespan would allow people enough time to achieve every dream and ambition they have. We could fill the world with learned, wise, fulfilled people with unimaginable expertise in their field. And on top of the ability to solve any problem the world throws at us, such a life would enable us to start living more slowly, with greater care for our impact on the world.

But there are also drawbacks to such a world. If everyone lived to 500, the world would become vastly overpopulated. The human population has already risen from six to seven billion in just 13 years — just think how much it would increase if hardly anybody died. And even if we could maintain physical and mental health, who knows what the psychological impact of such a long life would be? Maybe death is an underrated part of life.

You Decide

  1. Would you want to live to 500?
  2. Would you want to know the likely date of your own death? Why or why not?

Activities

  1. Write a story set in a world in which everybody lives to 500.
  2. ‘Medicine should focus on making life better rather than making it longer.’ Have a class debate on this proposition and put it to a vote.

Some People Say...

“Old age and the passage of time teach all things.”

Sophocles

What do you think?

Q & A

So will I live to 500?
Probably not, I’m afraid. Sorry. This technology is still a long way off, and it would cost a huge amount of money to develop it. Even if it becomes a reality, the cost of extending your life by a factor of five would prohibit most people from doing it. And over the course of 500 years, your chances of experiencing a fatal accident at some point would increase hugely.
How can I give myself the best chance of living as long as possible?
The best way to boost your chance of a long and illness-free life is simply to live healthily: exercise plenty, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, and cut down on sugary, processed food. But while this will undoubtedly make you fitter, nothing can protect you from sheer bad luck: many diseases hit people quite randomly.

Word Watch

Google Ventures
The venture capital investment (investing in new or up-and-coming companies) arm of global tech giant Google. It invests mainly in other technology companies.
Biomechanics
The study of the structure and function of biological systems, such as humans, animals and plants, and of the mechanical laws relating to their movement.
Jeanne Calment
Born in 1875, Calment died aged 122 in 1997. She lived an extraordinary life, having met Vincent van Gogh when she was 13. She smoked up to the age of 117 and attributed her long life and relatively youthful appearance to a diet rich in olive oil, port and chocolate.
Gerontologists
People who study the mental and physical effects of ageing. Geriatrics is concerned with health care of the elderly, paediatrics that of children.
Life expectancies
Japan, Andorra and Singapore have the highest life expectancies in the world — all over 84. At the other end of the scale, that in Sierra Leone is just 38. People in poor countries live less long for many reasons, for example poor sanitation, war and infectious diseases.

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