If you follow the technological news, no doubt you know of the coming of 5G. It’s near impossible to escape the fanfare from your Internet and smart phone carriers, promising you downloads and connections faster than the speed of light. Definitely more than a hundred times faster than 4G which, by the way, some people haven’t caught up to yet, still languishing down in the ancient doldrums of 2G Internet. Never mind the many individuals and groups who don’t even have Internet. Regardless, there are important reasons to pay attention to the arrival of 5G because it is very much more than about your smartphone capabilities. Five G is ready to help you determine how long you live, and to have a disease-free life while you are at it.
Technological forces powered by 5G are close to major digital breakthroughs that will bring us what’s referred to as “The Internet of Things” – embedding everything possible (and all things are possible) with sensors, software and technologies making everything faster, easier and more productive in innovative ways beyond the wildest imaginations. Technological details are being released now, in real time, and I’m tempted to borrow the phrase from the 18th century town-criers when they shouted important news in the streets. “Hear Ye, Hear Ye!” Reason being that 5G and the Internet of Things (IOT) will affect the aging process in profound ways. IOT will not only bring you self-driving vehicles, from cars to buses to trains; and self-propelled robots for manufacturing, basic tasks and communication. IOT will make possible the fine art and science of self-healing human bodies.
The Beginning of the End of Aging is Here
The end of aging, is what we are promised by the bio-technology experts. Professor Stuart Kim, a well-renowned Bio-scientist of Stanford University has a bet with his global colleagues that the first person to live to 200 years has already been born. His bet doesn’t faze biomedical gerontologist, Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D., of the Sens Research Foundation, who professes that there is no cap on how long human beings can live. In fact, his bet is 1,000 years for individuals who have access to the coming technology which at the beginning of 2020 he predicted would be here within 20 years. But technology in the 21st century is moving faster than you can say the word Technology. If you blink, you might miss something. The unprecedented event of the COVID19 pandemic brought forward the widespread rollout of digital technology across all industries and hastened the advancement of human genome projects and gene therapies that were already in the works. Biotech companies are vying with each other to attract funding from investors so that they can release their medical and health breakthroughs to the public. The boast among them is that “Aging as we know it can be cured.” Their cure of choice is a process that seems to be on the way to become a medical normal – the process of gene-editing.
Harvard Health Publications until now, have instilled in readers that life expectancy depended on four factors – changes in the environment, such as sanitation, clean air and water; access to effective health and medical care; your lifestyle, which covers whether or not you smoke or drink, eat nutritious food, and manage stress; and the clincher – your genetic background. A Swedish twin-study of aging carried out from 1984 to 2010 suggested that centenarians owed their long life in great part to inheritable ‘good’ genes. The oldest centenarian so far was Jeanne Calment of France who died in 1997 at the age of 122. The process of gene-editing, which is currently unfolding as we speak, will turn the gift of “inheriting good genes” on its head. Individuals who simply inherit good genes may live to 122. Individuals who have their genes edited may live as long as they want. Possibly up to 1,000 years. As long as you can afford it.
The New “Survival of the Fittest” Challenge is Money
The US based national Human Genome Research Institute (www.genome.gov) tells us that genome engineering, or gene-editing is a method that lets scientists change the DNA of organisms such as plants, animals or bacteria. But the Human Genome Project has been at work in the background of our lives from the 1900s, propelled in more recent times by an editing tool called CRISPR invented in 2009, and now adopted by many research labs all over the world. CRISPR is allowing bio-techs to fine- tune technology that can alter human genes to reduce disease risk or replace old cells that cause chronic and life-ending illnesses and other life-altering conditions associated with aging.
Scientific and academic institutions are developing recommendations for policy-makers as regards the responsible and ethical use of gene-editing. Nevertheless, we live in a world where Money speaks loudly. News from the Investment world (EG. Angel Publishing and Brownstone Research) attest to the billions of dollars being poured into the work of labs that are ready to mass-produce preventive gene therapies and medical compounds to rid us of age-related illnesses and chronic conditions that limit quality of life as we get older. Aging in the US is reported as a 5 Trillion-dollar industry. Treatments for Heart-Disease, Cancer, Kidney Disease, Diabetes, Osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s account for 500Billion of it.
The money-changers will eventually determine how to maintain their profits from the new and improved technology-driven health care industry. We may see the modern version of “survival of the fittest” where you get to access the fountain of youth only if you can afford it. In the US, can Medicare or Medicaid support individuals on gene-editing pills that may cost up to $1000 per unit? Can socialist medical programs in Canada or Europe afford to supply gene-editing therapy to all their senior citizens? In fact, we know that the aging process begins in the body by age 30, and that the symptoms begin to gradually manifest themselves until you are aware of your body falling apart bit by bit. Should countries make anti-aging pills available to everyone from age 30?
To Live or Not To Live? Your Choice Only Maybe
The idea of ‘Death with Dignity’ seems already out-of-date even while many of the US states are still debating the introduction of laws about whether or not to allow suffering individuals to determine their end of life. The choice of dying with dignity has suddenly switched around from taking a pill to end your life, to now NOT taking the pill that can allow you to live forever. While governments struggle with policy-making on our behalf, the personal choice of how long we live, and whether or not we wish to start growing younger, will face us sooner rather than later. The ethics are not only about whether or not we tamper with our DNA for health reasons. It’s hard to resist a pill that makes chronic illnesses disappear and render debilitating pain gone forever. And also give you a face without wrinkles at age 200. Once the gate is opened, the technology exists to alter DNA for cosmetic purposes.
The promise of a veritable fountain of youth is exciting and also scary. If people live to be a young 1,000 years, the prospect is mind-boggling when we think of family reunions and holiday gatherings. On a wider scale, the demographics of sheer numbers of human beings who refuse to die, a depleted planet Earth, and scarcity of resources conjure up a man-made apocalypse. To relieve the congestion and fights for limited goods to meet the needs of exploding populations, count on there being a regular schedule of spaceships for relocating to Mars or other planets. That too is already in the works.
Meanwhile, some of us may actually appreciate the idea of dying one day. Enough will probably be enough long before the 200th birthday celebration. For those who want to live to 1,000, genome engineering will prolong your life and quality of life. But the choice may still not be yours. We don’t have a say in the ways of the Universe, despite gene-editing technologies. We don’t control the hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fires, volcanoes or the next pandemic brewing somewhere in the land of coronaviruses. And human beings will not stop killing each other or planning ways to destroy their make-believe enemies. But I admit that I welcome the soon-to-be reality of being able to live a life that is pain-and-disease-free – that is – until I die.