STAT News, “reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine”, leads today on a survey it conducted in conjunction with Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. It seems that the American public is split on whether public funding should be made available to support research into gene therapy. The balance of opinion moves strongly away from 50/50 towards no when the science involves unborn babies – even where such research aims to eliminate disease. Support for gene editing research dwindles still further where the research is engaged in what the article describes as “more frivolous” pursuits, such as working to improve a baby’s intelligence.
We invariably use the expression “Follow the Money” when we are trying to understand the workings of corruption or malfeasance, or simply trying to understand how dreams and motivations are transmuted into outcomes. It will surely be a mark of the evolution of old thinking that looks back, and into a world of new thinking that looks forward, that we will grasp our understanding of how humanity’s interest in money will influence future behaviours, and so can plan for more distant horizons.
In the immediate aftermath of the death of Marvin Minsky, there has been more reflecting on the convergence of thinking machines with “meat machines” (that’s us) and how this is going to excite a number of miracles, including the already recognised phenomenon of extended longevity. The now comfortably received wisdom is that people are living longer, and will live even longer in the future.
The first question always to be put to received wisdom is “Really?” Are we all living longer, or is it just that the ones who are living longer are living much, much longer? Meanwhile, our carcinogenic world is cutting a swathe through all those youthful under-80s, and how many over-80s do we notice among the population of the obese?
The second question is about the money. If today’s average lifespan doubled from 80 to 160, two implications arising from the world we inhabit now is that people’s span of eligibility for pensions and the number of years of greatest risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease will each increase from the current 15 to the unimaginably expensive 95 – a factor of more than 6. Good luck with finding the money for that.