As a long-time immortalist and longevity researcher, I opened up Sonia Arrison’s new book 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith with some trepidation. First of all, I already know a lot about the topic, so I reckoned I had little to learn from a popular treatment like this. Secondly, from my own radical futurist point of view, living 100+ years is not that exciting — I’m more psyched about 1,000+ or 100,000+, or better yet breaking out of the whole restrictive linear time axis altogether!
But actually I enjoyed the book very much, and I have to congratulate Sonia Arrison on putting together a book that is both highly accessible to newbies with no prior background in transhumanist thinking or longevity research, and also richly interesting to those of us who have playing in these regions of conceptual space for a long time. The main concepts in the book are indeed things I’ve been familiar with for a long time
- There is a host of rapidly accelerating technologies with the apparent capability of dramatically extending human healthspan
- Most likely, human psychology and society will adapt to dramatically increased human healthspan as it occurs, so that it will be experienced primarily as a Good Thing rather than as something traumatic or troublesome
However, the book is packed with a sufficient number of interesting informational tidbits, that I found it well worth reading in spite of my general familiarity with the biology, psychology and sociology of radical longevity.
Arrison reviews the key technological streams leading us toward radically increased healthspan — including gene therapy, stem cell therapy, Aubrey de Grey’s SENS concept, artificial organs, tissue regeneration, the potential application of advanced AI to longevity research, and so forth. Both current research and envisioned future advances are considered.
Then, in what is probably the greatest strength of the book, she considers the potential psychological and social impact of progressively increasing healthspan: the effects, as the book’s subtitle indicates, on personal life, family relationships, marriage, careers and the economy etc. Combining common sense with appropriate invocations of rigorous research and statistics, Arrison provides the most systematic refutations I’ve seen of the standard anti-longevity arguments — “death gives life meaning”, “overpopulation will starve or bankrupt us all”, and so forth. Step by step, and in an invariably good-natured and friendly way, she demolishes these arguments, making a solid case that increased healthspan is likely improve rather than degrade our emotional health and family lives and enhance our careers and economies.
The core of her arguments is pretty simple: Ultimately, death is a sad thing that causes more personal harm than good in most cases, and aging does harm to science and business and other human pursuits by taking people out of the workforce at a time when they’ve finally gained a rich and mature understanding of their fields of endeavor. But, given the amount of emotional attachment that so many people have to our current ways of thinking and living, that are adapted to early death, making these arguments carefully and tactfully is a tricky task — and Arrison does a fantastic job!
I was amused to read her re-counting of 1970s arguments that Earth was running out of food for people, and predicting starvation in the 1980s and 90s unless the population explosion was damped. Instead, what we have is an obesity epidemic in the US and some other developed companies — and a general recognition that the malnutrition problem still existent in some Third World countries is one of food distribution rather than food production. Technology for food production advanced in a way that 1970s techno and population pessimists did not foresee. Similarly, Arrison argues, technology and society will adapt to the challenges posed by increasing healthspan, in 1000s of large and small ways that are difficult to foresee right now in detail.
I don’t agree with every little point the book makes. For instance, the book sometimes reflects a tendency toward political Libertarianism that makes me uncomfortable. Arrison appears opposed to government funding of human enhancements for the economically less fortunate, arguing that government intervention always has various indirect costs and consequences. My own suspicion is that these costs will be worth paying, and it will be important for governments to explicitly ensure that healthspan extension and other technologically enabled biological benefits are made available to everyone regardless of economic means. But in the context of the book as a whole, this is a minor quibble, as it’s not one of the book’s focus areas. By and large Arrison stays wisely clear of short-term political issues, as well as grander futurist issues like the Singularity, and focuses on the likelihood of dramatic human healthspan extension and its probable beneficial consequences.
I would recommend 100 Plus to experienced transhumanists and futurists who want to get a richer perspective on the likely social and psychological impacts of radical healthspan extension … and perhaps more importantly, I would also recommend it to to anyone, regardless of background in future technology or transhumanist thinking, who is interested in a broader understanding of the world as it’s unfolding. For instance, my mother and sister work in social work and education, and don’t know much about biology or the Singularity or the Methuselarity — and when I’ve discussed the possibility of radical healthspan extension with them, they’ve raised the familiar complaints about death helping give life meaning, overpopulation, and so forth. I think both of them would enjoy 100 Plus and appreciate its careful exposition, and in fact I plan to pass my copy along to my mom now that I’ve finished it.
The more people outside the transhumanist community who read 100 Plus, the better — I think books like this can go a long way toward getting some of the goals that we radical futurists consider “obvious”, more widely accepted and adopted and better funded by society at large.