Last year, the World Health Organization defined ageing as a condition that could be treated. Scientific research suggests that a future in which humans live until 150, and perhaps beyond, is close. Is this something to celebrate? Will we all be retiring at 90 and living 60 more years as frail burdens to society? Should we be stockpiling birthday candles?
Here are some of the most insightful quotes from the World Economic Forum's recent session at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions about the issue.
“If we look at the past century, we managed to double the life expectancy. For the US, in 1900 life expectancy was around 47; now it’s around 80. We managed infectious diseases and made huge leaps in cancer [treatment] … this shows us how much has happened already. The forecast looks even more promising in terms of what we can achieve. Some stats are predicting that, in 2050, it’s [life expectancy] going to reach 95.” – Simone Schuerle-Finke, assistant professor, Responsive Biomedical Systems Laboratory, Institute of Translational Medicine; Branco Weiss Fellow, ETH Zurich
“Currently, ageing is not defined as a disease, but the WHO declared at the end of last year that it’s a condition that is treatable. There’s a huge push from scientists in ageing research to define ageing as a disease.” – Simone Schuerle-Finke
“If you think about ageing as a disease, you have a misconception about life. The ageing of the body and mind is a natural process, and it’s about how we come to terms with it accordingly. I have less mental capacity now [as an older man] than I did when I was Simone’s age, and my children have greater mental capacity now than I do, and that’s fine. I have less fluid intelligence, but I have more accumulated wisdom and knowledge. The notion that ageing is a disease leads one to misconceive the shape of one’s life.” – Jerry Muller, author and professor of history, The Catholic University of America
“As we live longer we don’t want to add years to the ends of our lives, we want to add to the middle of our years. Add when we’re more vibrant, when we’re working.” – Bob Kain, chief executive officer and co-founder, Lunadna
“The idea of living to 120, 130 or 150 seems to me to be highly undesirable: A nightmare scenario in terms of how people think about their lives and the things that give meaning and purpose. Some people leave their mark in the world through creativity, but most leave their mark by … having children and nurturing them and, if all goes well, becoming grandparents. [You should] see your life as not just a segment that ends with death, but as part of a larger narrative.” – Jerry Muller
“[We’re having] a discussion about whether we want to [live longer] or not, but it’s already happening. We have to get prepared now for how we deal with it. [We’re seeing the] fastest rates of age [life expectancy] increase since the 1960s … we all have different ideas of whether it’s desirable, but it’s happening.” – Simone Schuerle-Finke
“If we live to be 150, individuals will have more than 100 years spent in careers … I don't think we’ll get to be 90 in a nursing home then live for another 40 years. We’ll be in our 40s … then change career, maybe have the opportunity to have multiple lives in that middle part of life.” – Bob Kain
“I envisage a model of coming back to lifelong learning. A system where we have an educational part, you work, you have another education part, you work. Right now, at age 50, what the person learned 30 years back is outdated. So, you keep updating continuously. Then it becomes normal to shift careers. I find it incredible that some [people] leave high school, having their last education at 16, and there’s no connection back to that – they just keep working to retirement. This won’t be sustainable; it will benefit society on many levels to keep on with education as we go on.” – Simone Schuerle-Finke