When Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in their latest findings, declared that average life expectancy in the country had increased to 72.8 years in 2020, it was a matter of celebration.
A gushing minister, while sounding a note of caution to ensure complementary growth in other important areas, pointed out that Japan's life expectancy was 80 years. Bangladesh would catch up with its illustrious regional neighbour soon, he said.
While 80 is a great target, Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, co-founder of the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation, made headlines two years ago when he said the person who would live to be a 1,000-years-old had already been born.
"The 1,000-year number is purely a ball-park estimate of the average lifespan – and even then, it's in the context of today's risk of death from causes that don't arise from ageing, so it's almost certainly very conservative," Dr de Grey said at the time.
Grey isn't the only one who believes that humans are about to live longer than ever before. If ones follows the money, then that trial will also lead to the same conclusion: we are about to surpass our ancestors in age.
According a 2019 Merrill Lynch report, companies "working to treat or prevent diseases and slow the aging process will provide some of the best investment opportunities over the next decade."
The report showed that anti-aging technologies, such as innovation in genome science and wearable wellness products, is a market already worth $110 billion, and it is expected to be worth $600 billion by 2025.
"Medical knowledge will double every 73 days by 2020 vs. every 3.5 (years) in 2010, and genomic sequencing costs have fallen 99.999% since 2003," the report said.
The report went on to highlight development in different areas which would aid in this quest to become an awake and functioning Rip Van Winkle.
It touched upon the study of the human genome, which it predicted would bring about the "next generation of gene editing technology offering potentially revolutionary advances in prevention and disease treatments."
Another key player identified was moonshot companies, disruptive companies which undertake ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project, normally without expecting profit and without the full investigation of all potential risks and benefits to come.
And the most important development of them all: the quest to delay death, also known as "ammortality," a market with the potential to hit $504 billion by 2025.
Advancements in technology may further speed up the race to achieving this ammortality. Only 66 Years separated the first successful plane flights and the moon landings. That's just a snapshot of how fast technology can move.
But what does it mean for us to live longer? Are we even ready for it?
As expected in a capitalist world, living longer may mean working more. But working more also comes with the real possibility of sudden finding ourselves with outdated skillsets or even having years of education made redundant.
Or, perhaps the elephant in the room: knowing that living longer means the quantity of life may be greater, but the quality may not be so.
And all this with having nothing to say about having to stay cool and relevant with more different generations.
What is longevity for robots?
According to estimates by Access to Information in Bangladesh (a2i), 60% of jobs in the RMG sector in Bangladesh may be taken over by machines.
A recent study by the Asian Center for Development estimated the number of garments workers in the country to be 4.2 million in 2020.
Automation, an inevitable part of advancement, would render more than two million people jobless and that too in only one industry.
The process will repeat everywhere.
So for us to live longer and thus work longer, we would have to constantly look to improve our skill.
Upskilling, however, is often a luxury and unless it is treated like a necessity of time, a large portion of the population will be left behind.
But without foresight accommodating such a massive change, a long life would just be an extension of the tribulations for many.
In this view, the onus is also on the employers to ensure their workforce have the necessary skills to prepare for an automated future.
Into the matrix
Digital upskilling, the process of bringing every employee up to date with the technology and automation that impact their jobs, will be a prerequisite to remain employable in the future.
If companies, or individuals, remain resistant to change, they will soon be phased out.
But if employers focus on augmentation instead of outright replacement, then workers can enjoy a longer working life.
A McKinsey research found that less than 5% of jobs can be fully automated.
But creativity, problem solving, emotional intelligence, resiliency and other core functions of the human brain will be left to humans. This means automation is not the doomsday scenario many have painted. A 2018 World Economic Forum identifies these skills as the ones to help us most in the future.
When the degree doesn't count
In 2018, global accounting firm Ernst and Young in a research paper made the shocking declaration that about 40% of existing university degrees would soon be obsolete and traditional undergraduate or postgraduate degrees could "disappear within a decade".
It said that universities had to adapt to a rapidly changing world, or risk having an outdated curriculum. It also envisioned a future of "lifelong learning" where courses would be developed in tandem with the ever-evolving needs of the market and then delivered online.
Even without a high life expectancy, many professionals have recently found that they skills they learned in fours' years at university, did not meet what they required later on.
For instance, an entire generation of marketeers suddenly had to adapt to creating campaigns on social media, knowledge of which was never disseminated in classrooms.
As we live longer, we may well have to consider which of our knowledge to retain and which to discard. To our benefit though, time has shown that learning is easier than unlearning.
An obsolete university, however, doesn't always mean having to return to academia.
Experts agree that the best course of action is to prepare for a world of continuous learning.
The World Economic Forum, in its 2018 Future of Jobs report, laid emphasis on how everyone would need up to 101 days of training leading up to 2021 just to acquire a new set of skills.
If employers find that it is easier to replace workers with those already trained, then that would probably be the course taken. So, in the future, expect more time spent behind books than one would expect in their 30s and onwards.
Quality, over quantity
It can be argued that the current trend of investment in medical research primarily focuses on reducing death rates, rather than reducing ageing, or age-related illnesses.
Increased life expectancy also comes with the increased risk of disease, disability, dementia and advanced ageing prior to death. In short, increased life expectancy also means increased morbidity.
So as mull how to use any additional years, we must also know that the quality of the years will unlikely be the same. Apart from looking solely at life expectancy, focus should also be given to healthy life expectancy: the numbers of years a person lives in a "healthy" state.
The best laid plans and even the greatest skillset is no match for an ailing body.
Work is being done towards this end as well. Dr Grey, in a conversation with Cambridge Independent, said, ""As for what other people can imagine, well, that's rather dictated by whether the media remind them that long life can and will only happen as a side-effect of staying truly youthful, as opposed to focusing on the longevity side-effect as if it were the goal in and of itself."
At a TED Talk, he hit the nail on the head, saying, "Getting frail and miserable and dependent is no fun."
His mission at SENS Research Foundation is simply the "medical defeat of ageing via damage repair."
His longevity theory relies on preventing people from getting sick. The aim there is to use rejuvenation biotechnologies directly to "remove, repair, replace, or render harmless the cellular and molecular damage caused by the biological ageing process."
If it works, then there's another worry we can discard.
Reimaging the golden years
While we are at this juncture, perhaps it is also time to redefine what we mean by old age. When does it start?
Right now, whether a person is of old age or not is tied to the individual's ability to receive pension. Sixty-five is considered the cut off age. But as we live longer and healthier lives, our golden years will increase.
And is 50 really the new 30? If our life expectancy increases, then that might just be the case.
Leaving aside all the financial and job concerns, something we already devote far too much time for, additional years grant us extra time to do the things we always wanted to do.
No longer do we need to buy a house in ours 30s, get married before 35, finish school by 20 and so much more. More time allows us more leeway and this crucial wiggle room can be used to make the most of what we have.
In just a century, we have managed to increase our life expectancy by 30 years. It is perhaps one of the most remarkable feats of mankind.
And it is time to wonder how we can make the best use of it.