You Never Grow Old

This week saw the release of Ghost Targets: Expectation. I already posted a little sales blurb for you so I won’t spend today’s post on that, but I’d like to pull out the opening line from the plot synopsis one more time to start the day’s discussion.

Eric Barnes put an end to human aging. Now he’s paying for it with his life.

I like to say (and have said on this site) that even though it’s science fiction, the technology in the Ghost Targets universe is all stuff that’s within 10 years of production in real life, right now. Given that, this quote might seem a little startling (or in direct opposition).

But the premise is based on the intellectual work of Cambridge theorist Aubrey de Grey who says precisely that. He’s famous for saying that the first person who will live to be 1,000 is alive today (and could be as old as 50 or 60). You can read more about de Grey on his Wikipedia page, but a good (lightweight) introduction to his ideas can be found in this BBC article.

Here’s the introduction, in de Grey’s own words:

Ageing is a physical phenomenon happening to our bodies, so at some point in the future, as medicine becomes more and more powerful, we will inevitably be able to address ageing just as effectively as we address many diseases today….

It is not just an idea: it’s a very detailed plan to repair all the types of molecular and cellular damage that happen to us over time.

And each method to do this is either already working in a preliminary form (in clinical trials) or is based on technologies that already exist and just need to be combined.

The promise isn’t just long life, but long-lasting youthfulness — in mind and body. Dr. de Grey insists that the processes that cause us to get frail with age are mechanical and reversible.

One of the best presentations I’ve seen of his idea was in his TED Talk.

It’s not a short video, but the information it contains is fascinating. He points out that we don’t have to figure out how to make a person to live to 1,000 in the next 40 years. We just have to learn how to make them live an extra 40 years, which will buy us time to figure out the next step.

I’ve read a lot about Aubrey de Grey, and a lot of it is incredibly scathing or condescending criticism. His predictions are by no means a foregone conclusion, but much of his reasoning is sound even if some of the particular processes he’s recommending don’t bear out.

The world of Hathor is set at the far end of that 40-year span he mentioned, and in it (as of the first chapter of Expectation), there’s a drug called Gevia that’s supposed to keep everyone young.

For the sake of my story, I don’t state whether that life-extension represents a 40-year extension or a 900-year one. Either way, I think it’s something we’d see as a welcome addition…and probably a world-changing one.

Imagine what we could do with significantly extended lifespans — all the things we could experiment with, all the skills we could develop, all the things we could know. I read recently that the total calculated worldwide processing power of all our technology is equal to the synaptic activity of a single brain. Imagine how much information we, as a species, lose every day with every person that slips away.

That’s really the heart of it, for me. It’s just like Hathor, really. The greatest promise of it is the potential to save the information we’re all working so desperately to gather and create, every moment of our lives. That’s a future I’m willing to hope for.

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