Are we prepared for the challenges of increased longevity?
Human beings have been seeking ways to prolong life and fight ageing for centuries, even millennia. Be it through natural remedies, medical advances, simple anti-ageing creams or more modern and complex cosmetic procedures, many people do all that they can to look younger and live longer.
On our sister blog Money Bulldog we today published a post mentioning the wave of new business start-ups in the field of human longevity, companies such as In Silico Medicine, Google’s Calico, Human Longevity Inc in the US, and Pathway Pharmaceuticals in Hong Kong. Google’s Calico is lead by Arthur Levinson, the seasoned executive from Genentech. His involvement gives us hope that the company is not only serious about Big Data, but also has a strategy for bringing the life extension products to market. Human Longevity Inc is headed by the sequencing pioneer Craig Venter, the founder of Celera, a private company, which competed with the government in a race to sequence the human genome. In Silico Medicine is lead by Alex Zhavoronkov, the reputable bioinformatitian and biogerontologist, who wrote extensively on the impact of biomedical discoveries on the economy.
One other organization, which follows a strategy similar to In Silico Medicine is the Department of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Its Big Mechanism project mines biomedical research data to construct complex cancer pathways and the targets are cancer and aging. Regardless of whether In Silico Medicine or the government wins this race, the mortality rates will go down dramatically.
All of these companies are attempting to extend the human lifespan and at the same time tackle disease, lessening the impact of ageing so that the quality of life during old age can also be improved. We don’t know exactly how Google is going to confront this challenge but if the methods of In Silico Medicine Inc. and Human Longevity Inc. are anything to go by, you can be sure that there will be some complex algorithms involved, algorithms that will examine the genetic data from thousands of people to look for clues or patterns that can be linked to both age and disease, clues which could soon lead to cures.
The Money Bulldog post focused on the effect that significant progress in increasing longevity could have on an individual’s retirement planning and pension provisions. Extended life however wouldn’t just present challenges to retirement funds. It would also present financial challenges to society as a whole, what kind of challenges?
Social Security Systems
With the rising number of retirees living long and healthy lives some of the developed economies with considerable debt burden may not be able to sustain the pressure. The situation is already quite dramatic in Japan and some of the EU countries, but it is the US we need to be concerned about. Unless we find a way to keep the retiring generation working, the radical changes in the dependency ratio may collapse the economy.
Some countries in the developed and developing world are already facing big problems due to lack of suitable housing. Although house prices are subject to varying market factors, in general there is still a real lack of affordable housing in many parts of the world. Increased longevity would only exacerbate this problem as the population inevitably increases.
The same problem could present itself with food. There is already what many consider to be a food crisis looming, which has been compounded in recent years by the extremes and changes in weather we are seeing in many countries. Again, increased population would likely place further pressure on the food supply and food prices, a challenge that would not be an easy one to resolve.
Energy is another resource that would become even more stretched with population increase due to increased longevity. We have already resorted to controversial ways of obtaining fresh sources of energy, fracking being one method that is currently receiving a lot of media attention. Unless fast and significant progress is made in the areas of alternative and renewable energy, the pressures of increased population could prove too much and energy prices could soar through the roof.
Whether you are a believer in global warming or not, all of the challenges mentioned above would doubtless present environmental challenges and could even cause environmental disaster if not properly planned for and taken seriously.
Here we’ve mentioned just a few of the global challenges increased longevity could present. So we all want to stay looking young and live longer, right? Well with the amount of companies now trying to make this happen, progress could come sooner than any of us might anticipate. The big question is will we be prepared for the financial challenges this could pose to both our personal finances and society as a whole?