Future Culture

Futurist Writer Lei Kalina writes her tongue-in-cheek musings and ramblings on the growing worldwide phenomenon of the growth of the Future Culture in the 21st Century

Future Culture In The 21st Century

Future Culture In the 21st Century

Futures Studies, Foresight, or Futurology , according to Wikipedia, is the science, art and practice of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. Futures studies (colloquially called "Futures" by many of the field's practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue, what is likely to change, and what is novel. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends. Futures is an interdisciplinary field, studying yesterday's and today's changes, and aggregating and analyzing both lay and professional strategies, and opinions with respect to tomorrow.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Advanced Technology and Longevity Science

TWO LOUD VOICES HAVE SPOKEN, and their message is clear.

The message is from two outspoken advocates of transhumanism --- anti-aging media guru and renowned gerontology theoretician Aubrey De Grey and futurist-author Robert Freitas (Freitas’ Nanomedicine is the first book-length technical discussion of the medical applications of nanotechnology and medical nanorobotics). Their indignation and outrage at the prospect of aging and yes, death, has been heard by many who are closely watching the movements of progress in longevity science.

For De Grey , he emphasizes that “aging really is barbaric. It shouldn't be allowed. I don't need an ethical argument. I don't need any argument. It's visceral. To let people die is bad.” In his recent stint at TED Talks , he further argued that aging is merely a disease — and a curable one at that – and that humans age in basic ways, all of which can be averted.

Freitas, meantime, wrote in an essay based on his speech at the Fifth Alcor Conference on Extreme Life Extension in 2002, feeling very strongly against aging and finitude. Freitas said that “while you were reading this sentence, a dozen people just died, worldwide, and there, another dozen people have perished. I think this is an outrage. I want to tell you why I think so, and what nanomedicine can do to help.”

Nanomedicine.com, Freitas’ blog, informs:

More than just an extension of "molecular medicine," nanomedicine will employ molecular machine systems to address medical problems, and will use molecular knowledge to maintain and improve human health at the molecular scale. Nanomedicine will have extraordinary and far-reaching implications for the medical profession, for the definition of disease, for the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions including aging, and ultimately for the improvement and extension of natural human biological structure and function.

Analysts have regarded both Freitas and De Grey as “belonging to a highly visible but rather marginal community that regards death as a ‘bad lifestyle option’.

Can death be defeated? Both transhumanists are optimistic. Media observers point out that Freitas is confident that nanomedicine offers the best prospect for combating finitude, while De Grey insists on a multi-pronged assault on ageing through “engineered negligible senescence”.

And both Freitas and De Grey are not alone in promoting their stand on the issue.

It is true that now more than ever, anti-aging advocates and longevity science analysts have much more eagerness in carrying the torch to push forward its aim, which is “to monitor the progress of anti-aging technologies with one concern in mind -- to see that an overall beneficial effect on society will result from such technological advances.”

This, according to US’ The Campaign for Aging Research , a public benefit corporation founded in 2008 with its mission “to give everyone a new perspective on life in respect to the aging experience and life expectancy.”

The campaign’s advocates contend:

“We pledge to encourage the responsible development of therapies that will alleviate suffering and have an overall beneficial effect on society while implementing strategies to enhance the aging experience through our programs … The consideration of the reality of overpopulation and its consequences on our habitat is at the very core of our organization's values and a major concern for us …”

Recognizing the extreme power of advanced science and technology (“ Because it’s powerful it can be dangerous if in the wrong hands or used without checks and balances or planning ) , and underscoring the lessons of history that progress is unstoppable , they underscore their stand that “the direction that progress takes us is up to us. Our programs are here to modestly contribute to a global understanding of the potentials and risks of anti-aging technologies by all layers of society, and thus also to help plan for the future of biomedical research.”

In year 2000, the Longevity Consortium was formed : a consortium of scientists from multiple disciplines including laboratory-based scientists, epidemiologists and statistical geneticists interested in the study of genetics of aging and age-related traits , and was funded by a three-year grant from the National Institute on Aging.

The consortium’s study of genes associated with human aging, is, on the outset, pushing for collaboration and interdisciplinary communication with collaborative partners from other expertise and disciplines, which will be wholly beneficial -- for scientists, for Future Studies enthusiasts, technology advocates, among others.

Meantime, while the booming voice of anti-aging proponents grow louder, the debate heats up on ethical and social issues that so-called “technological interventions” may bring, and posthumanists continue propelling their ideas on tissue engineering, nanomedicine and stem cell research.

All these while the anti-aging cosmetic science technology skyrockets into a highly lucrative worldwide business: experts mention a whopping US$60 billion of dollars yearly generated by the global medical tourism industry with 20% annual growth, with Asian medical tourism said to rake in an estimate of US$4.4 billion, with half of the revenues going to the Indian market – according to Medscape.com

With all these , Nature.com gives its observation:

“Whatever differences separate technological utopians and pragmatic purchasers of expensive over-the-counter skin creams, they share a common sentiment: they fear ageing and death and seek ways to remain youthful and vigorous. They are afraid of the ravages of time and are wary of growing old in a society that prizes and pays for youthfulness and perfect bodies. The need to fill this demand is the major driving factor behind serious anti-ageing research and a rapidly growing market of consumer goods.”

“While transhumanists spin stories of an imminent biotechnological utopia, the 'worried well' search for immediate treatment options. Upper West Side and Bel Air devotees of Botox, Restylane and collagen injections are not prepared to wait for the arrival of cyborg bodies and posthuman flesh; they want to eradicate their wrinkles today.”

“For decades, biotechnology has been wrapped in hyperbolic commentary about its likely long-term benefits. We are not therapeutic nihilists who deny the role that various biomedical interventions have played in reducing morbidity and mortality; clearly, there is much to be said in favour of biomedical research. Still, as consumers seem to be convinced that effective anti-ageing therapies exist—when the benefits of most of these products are far from established—the ethics of the current marketplace deserve careful and critical analysis.”

“Most of the issues that are debated centre on therapies that may become available only after long and expensive research. But the social and economic problems associated with prolonging life are already here and need to be addressed. Such a discussion would benefit from a focus on specific and existing interventions, such as hormone replacement therapy, and a more thick-grained analysis of basic issues in biomedical research, priority setting, resource allocation and social justice considerations.”