“The new opportunities we will experience by extending our lifespan to live for centuries is thrilling, especially when you consider human-machine convergence and the latest discoveries about human potential and peak performance.”

This is the word from Mic Mann, director of Mann Made and co-organiser of SingularityU South Africa Summit 2018, who adds: “It’s also more important than ever to find solutions to the challenges that arise from an increasing global population and the extension of the average lifespan.”

“Dr Aubrey de Grey champions the idea of longevity escape velocity, which predicts that life expectancy will increase by a year every year going forward in the very near future, making us immortal.”


Sustainable, hunger-busting biology

Professor of tissue engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology, Mark Post’s research reveals that it takes around three kilogrammes of feed, 189 litres of water, seven square metres of land and approximately 1 000 Btu (British thermal unit) of energy to produce a Quarter Pounder hamburger patty.

It’s for that reason – and because we’re already using 70 per cent of all our agricultural land to produce meat – that he’s questioning how we will feed the world in 2050, when we have a projected 10 billion people and a 70 per cent increase in the demand for meat.

“We will need to come up with other solutions, such as using a cow’s muscle stem-cells to produce beef. By doing that you could reduce the total headcount of cows across the world and you would not have methane emission and resource issue,” says Post. In October 2018, he’ll discuss the state of food security and highlight some of his research and findings with delegates at SingularityU South Africa Summit 2018.


Performing at peak to boost our human potential

What is the silver bullet that makes some people perform better than others? “McKinsey has completed a 10-year study on peak performance in top executives. They found that top executives in Flow are five times more productive than out of Flow. They realised that if we could increase the amount all of us are in Flow by a mere 20 per cent, overall workplace productivity would double,” says leading expert on the neuro-physiology of human performance and Director of Programmes for the Flow Genome Project, Jamie Wheal.


Digital biology to eliminate diseases

“Just like a computer has an operating system built on a code of ones and zeros, all life on earth runs on the same operating system, namely DNA. When we start thinking about DNA not as a physical molecule but rather as digital information, then everything we can do to computer code, we can also do to DNA, and it’s known as Digital Biology,” explains Dr Tiffany Vora, Principal Faculty in Medicine and Digital Biology at Singularity University.

“If we want to create code from scratch, that’s synthetic biology, if I want to move chunks of code around, that’s genetic engineering, something we’ve known how to do since the 1970s. One of the most exciting advances now, is our ability to debug DNA code, go into individual As, Cs, Ts and Gs and change them, precisely and permanently. That’s what gene splicing is, precise and permanent changes to the source code of life,” she continues.


Living to 1000

Scientists predict that the first person who will live to reach their 1000th birthday has already been born.

If we misunderstand the nature of aging, then we are at high risk of presuming we can’t do anything about it,” says biomedical gerontologist Dr Aubrey de Grey. “Imagine we could stop our bodies causing damage, or if we could repair the damage that was created every so often, so that the overall amount does not continue to increase. While the first is impossible because it’s just against the laws of physics – our bodies do age – the second option of repairing it, is entirely doable.

“This whole approach of comprehensive repair of the damage that the body does to itself has a good chance of reaching a kind of decisive level of development within the next 20 years or so, which means, of course, that we should be able to take people in their 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s and actually fix them back up.”

As the chief science officer of the SENS Research Foundation, De Grey isn’t just theorising, he has developed a possibly comprehensive plan for such repair, termed Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which breaks down aging into seven major classes of damage and identifies detailed approaches to addressing each one.

SingularityU South Africa Summit 2018 will take place in Johannesburg in October.

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