Immortality sounds like something that we only read about in fantasy novels and see in science fiction movies, but through various, mind-blowing technological advancements, the idea of living longer than expected is becoming less and less fictitious.
The innovations in science, technology and medicine have been preoccupied with maintaining, increasing and improving the quality of life and as a human race we've reached a point where living longer (read, immortality) is a concept that seems plausible.
In a 2009 article on nanotechnology, Sharon Gaudin writes: "author and futurist Ray Kurzweil said that anyone alive come 2040 or 2050 could be close to immortal." Yes, this article might be slightly dated, however this nine-year-old prediction seems more probable with the innovations that are gradually coming to pass.
Most of the science fiction movies from the late 90s and early 2000s were pretty spot-on about what the future would look like. For example, in the movie Bicentennial Man (released in 1999), the theme of artificial intelligence (AI) is realised in 2048 or so; but AI is already a reality to us now - shout-out to Sophia the robot. Nevertheless, even when technology has developed in astonishing and rapid ways, the idea of living forever is something that might still be a bit far-fetched, right?
In a recent TED Talk titled "Printing a human kidney", Anthony Atala explains how a human organ can be 3-D printed from the host's own cells. This sort of advancement is brilliant in the context of ensuring that the people who need transplants to recover from particular complications are able to receive treatment in the form of a new organ printed from actual cells.
But like every scientific innovation, you have to think further than just the actual objective. If we can print an organ for someone who needs it, imagine how probable it is to print organs, and regenerate cells and limbs in order to replace old ones to ultimately live much, much longer than expected.
Ageing is a natural part of life, and according to Alan Russell, regeneration is also natural, though very temporary. He says that "a mammalian fetus, if it loses a limb during the first trimester of pregnancy, will re-grow that limb. So our DNA has the capacity to do these kinds of wound-healing mechanisms. It's a natural process, but it is lost as we age." What scientists hope to do, then, is to create a future where regeneration is the best approach to numerous medical issues, including ageing.
But are millennials interested in living forever? Here are some of their responses:
According to a 2017 Stats SA report, the average life expectancy from birth is 65.5 for women and 60.2 for men in South Africa collectively. The rate of suicides, on the other hand, are at an alarming rate and millennials are affected by the mental health issues that propel suicide and self-harm. This stands as one of the reasons why most millennials would not wish to live longer than necessary - the thought of adding more years to an already-challenging life may not be as awesome as movies and novels make it out to be.
READ MORE: QUIZ: What kind of millennial are you?
On a side note, living longer will still mean finding ways to generate a sustainable income over several decades; on top of being able to afford all the medical procedures involved with maintaining good health. Alan suggests that the older you become, the more expensive healthcare is. In light of just these two factors, perhaps fewer millennials would opt for living longer than statistically possible.
Millennials are feeling too overwhelmed by the things we deal with in our every day lives to want to add more years to our lifespans, and we might not afford to be immortal if it costs more than avocado toast.
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