Hollywood movies have always been good at providing a glimpse into the future – be it space travel, advanced scientific discoveries or futuristic technologies shaping our society as a whole. One such movie is “Transcendence (2014)” – which is based on the premise of humans living forever with the help of a sentient machine created by a leading figure in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The movie goes on to show that while the body can die but the brain can survive by uploading to a powerful computer, where the person can exist as a digital identity forever! The idea may seem far fetched to many but one such company is already working on replicating this science fiction theory into reality. Elon Musk – the visionary inventor has started a company called Neuralink (2016), which is working on a long-term goal of developing a brain-computer interface (BCI) called Neural Lace – allowing human brains to compete with Artificial Intelligence (AI).
While we may not achieve physical immortality as the human body has certain limitations, but recent developments in the field of Healthcare have certainly put us on the path to living longer, healthier lives. Looking at the history of the past 150 years alone, an average lifespan of humans has jumped from 40 years to 72 years for women and 68 years for men. While there is still a wide discrepancy between the life expectancy in different countries, the general trend is upwards with an increase of economic well-being, drastically improved Medicare & most importantly giant leaps in technology. Citizens of Advanced economies have lifespans well in excess of 80 years with Japan leading the group with an average life expectancy of 85.7 years.
According to a 2012 United Nations report, there were approximately 316,600 people over the age of 100 in the world. The drastic improvements in medical technology estimate that by 2050, this number will jump to over three million. An insightful infographic by Futurism (below) highlights how the dream of immortality can become a reality in the not too distant a future.
Let’s look at some of the companies which are working towards longevity & preservation of human life with the help of technology.
Avatar Project – Founded by a Russian entrepreneur in February 2011, with the Russian specialists in the field of neural interfaces, robotics, artificial organs and systems as participants. The main goal of this mega-science project is to create technology that would enable the transfer of an individual’s personality to a non-biological entity.
Gero – This longevity company aims to extend healthy lifespan by employing Physics to reverse engineer biology. This Singapore based company is developing pills to control the progression of aging.
SynCardia – The company has invented what it calls SynCardia Total Artificial Heart (TAH), a device that can enable cardiac transplant-eligible patients to stay alive for up to 4 years. The Arizona headquartered company has two sized devices fitting most patients & enabling them to spend quality time with family & friends outside the hospital.
SENS Research Foundation – Controversial Project of Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) treats the process of aging as a disease – SENS SRF is focused on a damage repair approach the rectify the “diseases of aging” by providing treatments to people, which enable them to live longer, healthier life.
Human Longevity – A Health intelligence company which is devoted to early detection & disease protection by compiling & analyzing genotypic and phenotypic data to provide a solution for a healthier life.
Calico – Another research & development company utilizing advanced technology & experts from the fields of scientists from the fields of medicine, drug development, molecular biology, genetics, and computational biology to understand the process of aging & devise interventions enabling longer & healthier lifespans for people.
Apart from this, multiple independent research projects & companies are working on stem cell technology, gene editing techniques & nanobots solutions to provide tech-savvy health care. While technology has been a great enabler of improving health & well being of the general population, but an intervention in the biological process to elongate life span or provide immortal digital existence might spur another moral & ethical debate around the issue. Would you want to live forever?