How to face the Singularity

So last time we looked at the insane rate of health breakthroughs occurring and its just accelerating. Things exist today that did not exist five years ago: 3d printed trachea, stem cell grown tiny livers that function, genetic splicing, nanoparticle delivery of medicines, devices that enable telepathic messages between brain and limb (across the country, no less).

Ray Kurtzweil has coined a term ‘the Singularity’, and the phrase ‘longevity escape velocity’. Ray’s brilliant insight is that at some point in time, people will be able to reverse ageing (ie invent youthing), and after that point in time, we will have radical life extension. Not just enduring in frail decrepitude but the norm will be young, vital bodies well into our 100s, 200s or 300s The Singularity is the point in time when no-one will die from ‘old age’. We’ll still die in accidents, maybe of specific diseases. People will look back on previous centuries when death was an inevitable, final wall approaching everyone, and be appalled.

Ray says, “To live to 300, first live to 100”. What he means is, do everything in your power now to stay alive ten more years; in those ten years, the accelerating pace of discovery will result in ways to extend your healthy life another ten, or twenty.

Aubrey de Grey’s insight into anti-ageing is that ageing can be broken down into seven distinct processes; we have the technology to tackle each one at a time, and reverse-engineer them. Bill Andrews has a more personally powerful analogy; ageing is like a series of candles burning down, and you die when the first one burns out. You need to pay very close attention to the one that is burning fastest for you. Telomere shortening may not be your fastest burning candle.

There are a few ways to identify what candle is likely to get you:

  • your biomarkers and health measures (things like VO2 max, handgrip, blood pressure, insulin, C-reactive protein, triglycerides, waist to hip ratio, stair-climbing ability)
  • your family health history (interview your surviving forebears; go wild, get your whole ancestry and family tree while you’re there)
  • your DNA (see previous post; 23andme, promethease, SNPedia all for $100)
  • your country’s most common death statistics.

Cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory illness are the big three. If you all your relatives died early of stroke and you have high blood pressure, work on that candle! If you die now, you might be losing 100 years of life, so its worth doing some basics.

An intelligent exploration of PubMed quality information (or provided by a trusted source) provides a vast number of actions that you can take to reduce your top risk factors. I’m a great believer in not waiting until you get golden proof; given the number of years you might lose by doing too little, better to do too much. So The key screen anything that is low cost, benign and convenient. For example PubMed, longevity research and population studies indicate nuts, berries and chocolate are associated with longer lives. These are benign, relatively low cost and really nice. I’m drinking a hot cocoa while I write, and defrosting a bowl of raspberries to go with my nut and black bean brownie for breakfast. There are lots of common themes – weight-bearing and short, high-intensity cardio exercise, sleep, stress…give these the importance they deserve.

And take basic idiot precautions. As a road safety expert, the most cost-effective way to avoid dying senselessly 100 years too soon in a car crash is to ‘make it click’ (yes, advice brought to you by Ronald McDonald). IMHO, avoid attacking wasp nests, swimming with sharks, doing amateur electrical repairs or extreme sports like Base-jumping. And in the meantime, keep happy!

 

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