This is the second in a series of articles on living to 100 and beyond. This post was originally published on May 26, 2010.
Living to 100 and beyond… is it a dream, or is it something we can achieve in our lifetimes? Last week, I introduced the concept of living to 100 and beyond, and I talked about how it will affect your retirement plans. In this post, I’m going to go into a bit more detail on what will help us reach 100 and beyond, and how the coming changes will affect us.
What is so great about extending our lifespans? Well, the biggest thing that most of us lack for is time; with time, just about anything can be accomplished, and just about any hurt can be undone. Unfortunately, we all have a biological limit, which gives us only a limited amount of time and energy to accomplish our goals and dreams.
Think of all the great things you could do with more time in your life. You could go visit every country in the world, for instance. You could also pick up a new hobby, such as playing the guitar, and master it. You could learn five different languages, and speak them all fluently. The changes coming ahead will not only give us more time to do all of these things, but it could even require less time for us to do them (think Matrix-style learning — hey, it’s not completely unreasonable).
One hundred years and beyond — how will we get there?
Increased effectiveness against cancer
One step on the road to extended lifespans is reducing and eliminating the things that kill us before our time. Now that we’ve greatly reduced (but not eliminated) the incidence of death via malnutrition, infection, and death at a young age from violence and disease, cancer has risen to become one of the biggest killers. Cancer is a difficult disease to treat; treating cancer often means undergoing grueling chemotherapy, which destroys many healthy cells along with the cancerous cells.
New technological improvements are greatly improving the means by which cancer can be fought and treated. There are new machines which can target a malignant tumour which significantly more precision than older methods. In the future, there will be more advanced robots which will be small enough to enter the bloodstream and kill cancerous cells as they form.
Improved reparation of the body
Even if we can reduce cancer and disease, accidents and old age can still get us. We could still get shot in an armed robbery, or a car could hit us while we are crossing the street. Stem cells hold great promise to help regenerate and regrow body tissues, and they no longer have to be extracted from embryos, either: they can be created from your own cells. Need a new liver or a new heart? No problem, just grow a new one from scratch. Look at this video on growing a new jawbone using stem cells.
Everything you see above is more or less possible today; the technology just needs to be refined, perfected, and made available to the masses. Further on in the future, those same miniature robots which will help protect us from cancer and disease could also be called upon to perform emergency repairs on our body should the need arise, as well as perform regular maintenance. Come to think of it, the same concept could be applied to vehicles and other machines, which means they would be self-healing and self-maintaining, and would not require regular maintenance nor repairs.
Increasing symbiosis between biological and non-biological systems
Even if we will live longer, do we really want to spend so many years with the body that we were born with? It’s one thing to repair and maintain your biological function, but what about extending your body beyond its biological limitations? One step on the biological side of things would be gene therapy and modification, but how about introducing non-biological elements; in effect, becoming a cyborg? How about a bionic eye, giving you eagle-like vision? How about artificial muscles, giving you strength far surpassing the biggest weightlifter but at a fraction of the size? How about peer to peer telepathy, based on wireless networking? These technologies will alter how we experience life in the future.
So, short of World War III or something on that scale occurring, it is safe to say that life spans will be extended indefinitely into the future. We therefore need to make our “retirement” plans with that in mind. Why do I put retirement in quotes like that? Simply because I think the definition of that word is going to be changing a lot over time. Even today, the idea of working at a company for 40 years and then retiring with a pension is starting to fade away.
I personally define retirement as “getting out of the rat race“. This means that you are no longer required to work for a wage, but have the freedom to start your own business, build up your own passive income, or simply do whatever interests you. In order to reach this point, a nest egg is still required, so retirement planning isn’t going to go away. It will simply be done with a broader purpose in mind.
How scarcity will change
What are we building up our nest egg for? I believe that with the coming changes ahead, the ways in which we spend and use money will be significantly altered. For instance, we can expect the future era to be one of abundance. In the past, we spent most of our efforts on simply producing enough food for everyone to eat. Today, food production is but a small portion of our total efforts as a society. Nonetheless, due to distribution and equity issues, people in some parts of the world starve, whereas people in other parts of the world still need to toil away many hours in hard manual labour, just to get enough food or money to survive. Even in the rich western nations, a significant portion of the population is employed in boring and tedious work.
I will explore the work aspect in more detail a bit later, but first let’s look at the main reason why we need to work so much: It is because even in this rich world of ours, resources are still essentially scarce, in relation to the amount of people on this planet. They are also not distributed very evenly. To not work is to live a life of relative poverty, if not one of absolute poverty. Granted, many of the “poor” in the rich western nations have access to decent housing and some amenities such as TV, but they still don’t live a very good life, especially in relation to their peers.
So, what material changes can we expect?
- Consumer goods will continue to fall in relative price. This extends to cars, TVs, computers, even homes (as far as material costs go).
- The dominance of oil in our economy is going to be broken at some point; with the huge amount of potential energy available in the universe, there is no need for high energy prices to be the mainstay of our future.
- Within the next few decades, we will see a shift to a true carbon economy, in that carbon will be the main building block for materials of the future. As molecular manufacturing becomes realized and energy costs come down, so our consumer goods will also become simpler; there will be no need to use rare and exotic metals for catalytic converters when there is no need for a catalytic converter in the first place.
- Scarcity will still exist in the medium to long-term future. In the medium term, there will still be a scarcity in land; indeed, one can expect land prices in relative terms to skyrocket as everything else becomes cheaper in real terms. With increased mobility and improved communications, we can also see a “globalization” of property values; those areas with a nice climate and good governance can be expected to rise in value, whereas those areas with poor climate and/or bad governance can be expected to stagnate or decline in value. The main driver here will likely be the quality of governance, since climate can always be adapted to and will be less of a problem with future technologies.
- New technologies such as sea steading and charter cities will expand the area of desirable land, helping to alleviate the pressure. In the long term, space colonization will provide new habitats for us physical creatures, and virtual worlds which appear as real as the real world can be expected to greatly disrupt the whole concept of attachment to the physical world.
Investing in your future
I mentioned earlier that the idea of working at a company for fourty years and then collecting a pension is outdated. Even if you are lucky enough to have such a job, it’s quite possible that it won’t provide you with the skills you will need to truly prosper in the future. In order to do that, you need to invest in yourself now, to help ensure that you are well-positioned to ride the trends of the future.
As technology takes over more and more of the mundane work out there, this means that highly skilled and creative work will be increasingly valued in the future, as well as those types of jobs that will not be foreseeably replaced by machines anytime in the near future. Some examples would be masseur/masseuse, life coach, team leader, etc….
In the next post on this topic, I will look at the financial planning aspect of things; I will take a look at growing the portfolio and then preserving it in order to pay you dividends in the future, thus helping you achieve your goals of ending the rat rate (the true definition of retirement by my standards).
- Wealth Artisan: Creating Space Series: Retirement
- Financial Samurai: What Do Retirees Age 65-75 Do Compared To The Rest?
- Budgeting in the Fun Stuff: Retirement Savings
- Nanofuture: What’s Next For Nanotechnology
- Accelerando (Singularity)
- The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
So, how do you feel about the upcoming changes? What do you think is going to come, and how are you positioned to ride the coming waves? I’d love to hear about it!
This post was originally published on May 26, 2010.