Strange as the headline of this article may seem, advances in medicine are rapidly reaching a level where rejuvenation of the human body to drive away age-related health issues is no longer in the realm of science fiction. Organ transplants, gene therapy, medical infusions are now increasingly getting popular.
Yuval Noah Harari, the seminal writer of the duology Sapiens and Homo Deus, says at this rate, it is possible that in the not-so-distant future, human beings may become ‘amortal’. That means we would still get killed if we fall off a cliff, get hit by a bullet or (more likely) a car, or drown in a shipwreck. But it may be soon that it will be unlikely that we will die of disease or age-related health complications.
He predicts that if a person takes the current level of medications available to him, he will elongate his life by ten years. Within that time, advancements in medical science will enable him to take another course of age-related treatments that would allow him to live for another ten years, and so this way, theoretically he can live forever.
As I said earlier, this is no longer in the realm of thought. The issue of longevity is now a major buzzword in scientific and corporate circles, so much so that it has spawned a new sector altogether. I received an email recently in which was enclosed the summary of a book called Longevity Industry 1.0, written by Dmitry Kaminskiy and Margaretta Colangelo.
The industry, of course, has its roots in general medical advancement. As scientists sought and found cures to various diseases, the natural outcome was that people started living longer. This was enhanced with widening state-sponsored public health initiatives and mass scale vaccinations like small pox, measles, polio etc. As a result, the general lifespan of human beings went on increasing, and still continues to this day.
The longevity industry is thus a natural outcome of this process. From finding cures to diseases, modern health sciences are moving on to produce anti-ageing infusions, immunity boosters, vitamin shots and the like. The result? You keep illnesses at bay.
And as you live longer, wider questions emerge. So how do you fund it? Maybe, when you started your working life, your retirement planning took into account your outlook for living a certain number of years. With these new developments, we are bound to live longer. So financial plans, social support plans, along with a whole gamut of services for the elderly, come into play. And this is where the longevity industry comes into the picture.
The Longevity Industry 1.0
With this background, the Longevity Industry 1.0 comes with some rather interesting findings. According to the authors’ estimates, the global longevity industry was valued at around $17 trillion (Dh62.39 trillion) last year, with projections to hit $27 trillion by 2026. This amounts to around a fifth of global domestic product. It is on track to become the biggest industry by capitalisation, the book says. Calling it the ‘biggest and most complex industry in human history’, the authors describe the longevity industry as diverse and dynamic ecosystem involving “a synergy between advanced biomedicine, AI [artificial intelligence], digital health, finance, pension and national health care systems, and governmental initiatives”.
So if one particular sector is expected to garner this level of the market, it would naturally have ramifications across not just the economy, but the wider society as well. A major issue that is raised is what the book terms as the ‘silver tsunami’, referring to a billion or more elderly people on the planet, collectively called the ‘seventh continent’. With lifespans in general going up across the world, it becomes imperative for global governments to plan for their well-being, in terms of medical care, social support, pension plans and the like.
Another issue for consideration is the pressure of the extra numbers on the planet. The authors have postulated through data analysis that Earth can support up to 25 billion people, so it would take some time to get there. However, the resources that would be needed to manage this burden is critical. “Many countries will decline and become bankrupt because of the Silver Tsunami,” the book warns.
There is also the issue of affordability. As a general matter of course, wealthier people will be able to afford life-enhancing treatments before others can, since it will be mostly a case of voluntary decision to go for such treatments. This, according to Noah Harari, will create a new world of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ — a select group of people who will become ‘amortal’ with these treatments and the rest of humanity who cannot. This will in turn result in a new master-slave relationship. The specific term Noah Harari uses is ‘Homo Deus’ — when humans can become godlike.
However, according to the authors of Longevity Industry 1.0, the affordability spread will be wider. They believe while in the initial period, the wealthiest people may have more access to these technologies; however, over time, the price of these technologies is expected to decrease exponentially, and in 10 — 15 years they will be affordable to the majority of individuals.
So, what does the future hold? It is true that the advances in health and medical sciences are having a major positive impact on human lives. This is bound to create a huge impact on our societies in future. How this can be managed will be a major challenge for policymakers.