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Michael Fossel, Ph.D., M.D.

indeterminate, or as you might say, indefinite. Again, I don’t mean by that infinite. I simply mean it’s indefinite. It’s hard to say. I don’t know any way to get a firm grasp on that question. You could say several hundred years, as I just implied, but I say that to stress that we’re not dealing with just an extension of two or three years of lifespan, and partly to say that I don’t how you can reasonably talk about several thousand years. But I want people to understand that it’s a significant change. The prospects are enormous, as are the implications of it in all regards, socially and otherwise.

David: How do you think human societies will change when people start living for hundreds of years?

Michael: Let me start by saying that I think that the personal consequences will basically be all for the good, but that the social consequences will either be a mixed bag, or certainly less easy to pin down. The first thing to point out is that any time you have societal change, it’s a societal disruption, with all that implies. It’s difficult for people. I don’t care what the societal change is, or how good it is, it tends to be costly to individuals. So the very fact that you’re changing something already puts you at risk. 

The second sort of a no-brainer is what happens to population. Most of us currently feel that the planet is overpopulated, although it’s really hard prove that. You start with assumptions about what you regard as optimal life style in optimal society, but, granting that, population will certainly go up. There’s almost no way around that, unless you add in the implied risks of an increased possibility of viral transfer, war, terrorism, and so forth, all of which are possible. But the overall initial guess is the population will go up, with consequent costs to the individual, and to societies that make up the planet. 

That also brings another corollary with it, which is increased risk of ecological damage. The environmental consequences are unlikely to be good. You could argue that they may be minimal, and you could argue that they may be maximal, but in any case, they’re likely to be negative. I’m not sure how you can make an argument against that. 

Now you get to the things that become much tougher to pin down. For example, what happens to the cost of living? That’s interesting. Actually, it probably goes down, and the reason is because you end up amortizing off the cost of training individuals. For example, it works out to about fifteen years before a company breaks even on the cost that they put into training the average tool and dye maker to be good, and paying his benefits. He may work for them for about another thirty years and then retire. Now, if he works for another sixty years, you see what happens to the cost of training. They’re essentially amortized off this longer period. Therefore, the costs to the company goes down, and the cost of making widgets goes down. 

Also, health insurance and life insurance costs go down. Having said that, if you’re actually trying to figure out those costs, you’re having nightmares, because you can not figure out what those costs really are. There’s nothing on which to base your prediction. If I say to you we’ve instituted full telomerase therapy, then you’ll ask, so what’s the lifespan, and how do I figure out life insurance costs? You have no way of knowing. What about health costs? Same thing. They’re bound to go down, but I don’t know where they’ll go to. So the cost of living tends to go down for that, and a couple of other fun reasons, but basically because labor becomes a bit more efficient in an economic sense. 

On the other hand, say you’re the eighteen year old looking for a job as a tool and dye maker, but the other man hasn’t retired. The population is going up, so they want more widgets, and they’re hiring more people. How do those balance out? Is the eighteen year old more likely to find a job as a tool and dye maker, or less? The same sort of approach goes for any profession you can think of. It takes about three years for a bank to break even on a commercial banker. As I said, it’s about fifteen years for tool and dye makers, and around seven for doctors. You can see who actually matters to society, reasonably enough. Tool and dye makers are more costly.

But no matter what profession you pick you tend to get some savings from labor costs, in terms of both of training and  benefits. Disability is sort of an odd mixed bag. On the one hand, you’re less likely to have a disabling condition. On the hand, you’re more likely to live with it. For example, say you’ve got someone like Christopher Reeves. How long is he going to live now as a quad? So what’s that do to the cost of disability insurance? You see what I mean. It’s very difficult. And that’s even just assuming that the healthcare benefits and costs stay the same, which they’re unlikely to do. 

Assuming that people will be less sick, what will that do to the costs of treating a sickness they get? And what about what they expect from health insurance to get that policy? Do you add dental? Do you add increased psychiatric costs because society is now a little bit more frightening to people? What about the costs of treating a heart attack when there are fewer? Do they go up or down? What happens to the rest of medical care? 

You see what I mean. It’s a mess no matter what you pick, essentially, whether it’s the economy, or whether it’s change in social costs to people. What happens to family structures? What happens to the length of marriages? What happens to treatment of children within society? For example, what happens to the cost of child immunizations when the percentage of children in the population drops, and childbearing adults drops? This means that their political clout goes down. Do you find that people are no longer willing to pay for immunizations as a society, let alone individuals? No matter what you pick, no matter approach you want to look at it, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to make any reasonable predictions.

David: When you speculate about how the extension of human life might effect societies in the future, have you considered the implications of advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology? 

Micahel: No, I found making even rough guesses difficult enough just restricting myself to the effects of extending lifespan via telomerase-based approaches. Predictions tend to be linear extrapolations, technological advances tend to throw curves. Predicting (poorly) one curve is already impossible enough without adding three more curves, to say nothing of the seven others neither of us considered, but which will actually play a more central role.

David: How do you think living for hundreds of years will effect human psychology?

Michael: I think in the long run, both for society and for people, the answer is actually going to be positive. But as I’ve just said, it becomes almost impossible to make a firm case for that. Because people will be living so much longer, my feeling is that we’re actually looking at something like that the advent of civilization. Now I could easily undercut that argument in great detail, to the tune of hours, but I think, overall, the answer is that it will be good for you psychologically and it will be good for us a culture. It will actually make us a more mature culture, and I don’t mean that in a bad sense. I mean that in a more civilized and kinder sense. But, boy, it’s a tough argument to make.

David: In your book Reversing Human Aging you compared the initial market for telomerase drugs, as being similar to the black market for psychedelic drugs. Why do you think that there might be a black market in the near future for telomerase drugs?

Michael: Oh, you have done your homework; you actually read that thing. I actually don’t think there would be a black market, but I think there could be. If I say I have a small company, and I can manufacture a telomerase inducer, and you have reason to believe that it works–never mind whether it does or not–and I’m not willing to sell it to you, or I’m selling at a price that you can’t afford, you therefore have an inducement to either make your own, buy it black market, or find it from some company that makes it on the sly. If you believe it works, and you can’t get it from me, you’ll want to get it from someone else.

David: Can you talk a little about your recently published book Cells, Aging, and Human Disease, what are some of the new discoveries that have been made since you wrote Reversing Human Aging?

Michael: There were a couple of people who criticized the first book on the grounds that it was speculative. That’s true, but I said that. I didn’t lie about it. I said this is speculation. I don’t know why they didn’t catch that. But they still criticized it, either on those grounds, or on the grounds that it wasn’t academic enough. So I decided to write the academic book, and that’s what the new book is. It’s about sixty percent text, forty percent references. It’s got some 4,300 references, and it’s basically an advanced level, graduate student biology text. 

The book is separated into two sections. In the first section I discuss age at the cellular and genetic levels. In the second section I go through the human body tissue by tissue. I discuss age-related pathology, how the systems and tissue work, as well as how aging and other

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