Societal Implications of Longevity Escape Velocity – An Introduction

If you’re not already familiar with the work of Ray Kurzweil you can be forgiven for skeptically raising an eyebrow at the notion of anybody claiming to predict the future.

Kurzweil, however, is not a psychic or clairvoyant. He’s a polymath. His deep understanding of technology and how has come to be know as Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns (LAR). I won’t re-write his bio, but a quick Google search will give you some idea of just how accurate his past predictions have been.

Essentially the Law of Accelerating Returns states that if you plot the evolution of human technology on a graph it reveals an exponential curve. This is the central theme of Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near.

By extension, Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns is having a dramatic effect on human life expectancy. Until the mid nineteenth century, the average human lifespan was around thirty-five years – give or take – which was only a slight improvement from the previous centuries, when a person was lucky considered lucky to have reached the ripe old age of thirty.

The 1850’s marked a turning point our understanding of medical science and in the 100 years between 1900 and 1999 we added thirty years to the average lifespan – from 47 to 77. Today – in Canada among several other countries – lifespans continue to lengthen and barring accidents, wars, etc., human life expectancy in 2020 will surpass 83 years.

Assuming Kurzwiel’s math is correct, we are approaching the knee of the curve and nearing what he calls Longevity Escape Velocity (LEV) – a state when life expectancy is extended by one year each year; a time when life expectancy starts keep pace with aging. Longevity Escape Velocity might seem at first to be a fanciful dream of immortality, but it only takes a quick glance in the rear view mirror to see that LEV is a valid concept.

Regardless of whether or not you buy in to Kurzweil’s predicted LEV timeline, it is indisputable that as time goes by we will continue to live longer and longer lives. The important question is how will society will cope with the ramifications of our lengthening lifespans?

  • Rapid onset of over-population
  • Food security and access to clean water
  • Understanding the economics of 2C life spans
  • Energy production and the impact on climate change
  • Governance and law enforcement
  • Immigration and travel

These are some of the questions I will be addressing in future blog posts. Please subscribe and join the conversation.



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