Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, July 13, 2007

Maximum Age Increasing at Accelerating Rate

It is a long-held believe that humans have a maximum life span of 115 to 120 years. Like many long-held beliefs, this one is also incorrect according to a recent demographic study by UC Berkeley associate professor of demography John Wilmoth.
"Those numbers are out of thin air," said Wilmoth. "There is no scientific basis on which to estimate a fixed upper limit. Whether 115 or 120 years, it is a legend created by scientists who are quoting each other."
Wilmoth and his associates found that maximum life span at death has been rising for the last 138 years. (Note that this study concerns maximum life span at death, not average life span.) Not only has this number been increasing, but it has been increasing at an accelerating rate.

Historical records, on the other hand, show that the entire configuration of ages at death in Sweden has been shifting upward for 138 years, he said. The upward trend accelerated suddenly around 1970, more than doubling the rate at which the life span was growing, from less than one year of age for every two decades to more than one year per decade.

This has happened because of medical and public health advances throughout the century, said Wilmoth, whose analysis ruled out simple population growth as a factor. Some scientists had thought that the increased number of very old people could be due to a larger population base, but Wilmoth's data show that the main cause is increased survival after age 70.

There have been countless gripes about the technology that keeps people alive who would otherwise have died, all claiming that there is no point to prolonging life when there is no quality of life or hope of recovery. No argument here. But those who are working at eliminating or reversing aging speak not of life span, but of health span. The goal is to increase the span of years that people can expect to be healthy, not hooked up to life-saving machines.

I have been surprised by the number of people who say they would not want to live longer than the current average life span of about 80 years. Would the same people have chosen to live only 40 years when that was the average life span? To me these numbers seem arbitrary. But a deeper question arises: Why wouldn't people choose more life? Is it because they are unhappy? Perhaps that is true for some. Is it because they are bored? Again, perhaps. But another reason comes to mind: Is it because they are religious?

Those who believe that they will inherit eternal life in spiritual form through their religious beliefs may feel that prolonging their physical life is only postponing their journey into a heavenly existence. I'm not sure. In any case, I am confident that we will have that choice before too long. What will you choose if you make it until then?

Original Story

Singularity & The Price of Rice is updated daily; the easiest way to get your daily dose is by subscribing to our news feed. Stay on top of all our updates by subscribing now via RSS or Email.