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Want to live forever?

Posted 25/09/2013 by sevans

Ageing is something that none of us can avoid, but the possibility of living forever has suddenly been hitting the headlines in recent days. Perhaps the announcement that sounded the most like science fiction, was from theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who believes that technology could make it possible for one’s brain to continue living after the body has died. Appearing at the Cambridge Film Festival for the premiere of a documentary about his life, Hawking said: ‘I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer. So it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death.’

Hawking acknowledges, however, that such a feat is ‘beyond our present capabilities’, but, according to the Huffington Post, Russian multi-millionaire Dmitry Itskov hopes to someday upload the contents of a brain into a lifelike robot body as part of his 2045 Initiative.

So what is within our current capabilities to extend life? Certainly advances in hygiene and pharmaceuticals have made dramatic changes in the average lifespan in just over a century but what comes next?

Larry Page, ceo of the IT major Google, certainly believes further extension of life is achievable, and has put his money where his mouth is! Google is launching a new venture Calico, to be led by former ceo of Genentech Arthur Levinson, which will research new technology. Although Google has revealed few details, many observers believe that its expertise in data-processing will be used to look in a different way at age-related diseases.

Page believes that a radically different approach is likely to produce unlikely conclusions. Talking to Time magazine, Page asked: ‘Are people really focused on the right things? One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.’

Some might consider these comments somewhat hard-hearted but Page is a hard-headed business man. As such he and his new venture will indeed bring a new approach to changing people’s lives.

But as well as ageing affecting us as individuals and creating increasing loads on health services around the world, there is also an impact on companies apart from any lack of skilled individuals due to retirement. Ageing populations have a dramatic impact on purchasing and consumption as Paul Hodges will point out in his C&I webinar: The outlook for chemical demand in a world of ageing populations, to be broadcast on 9 October 2013 at 16.00pm UK time. To register, visit the C&I webpage.

None of us can stop the ageing clock, but, for better or worse, a lot of us are going to be around for a lot longer than we might have expected just a few years ago.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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