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WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo
Galactic space lines may not be as far fetched as they sound. (credit: Virgin Galactic)

Clinical immortality and space settlement

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Whooah, we’re half way there…
Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, 1986

Actuarial escape velocity

There was a recent article in the New York Times, “Three Score and Ten”, which was inspired by a Lancet paper that predicted the median life expectancy for babies born in America in 2007 is greater than or equal to 104. In 3000 BC, it was 24 and stayed there almost until the industrial revolution. In 1850, it was 38. In 1909, it was 50. In 1959, it was 67. Current demographics indicate it’s only 78. The extra 26 years that Lancet predicts comes from anticipated future improvements in reducing death rates (morbidity).

If the rate of future improvements in morbidity increases, there’s a good chance of reaching actuarial escape velocity. This would be a situation where life expectancy for the oldest is increasing one year for every year that passes. This would put us on a path toward morbidity being solely due to accidents, acute illness and the like.

Some of the LEO settlers may be scampering around your house.

We have a way to go. Life expectancy among 80-year-old white women is now about 10 years. That implies a morbidity of about 6% per year, which is 6,000 deaths per 100,000. If morbidity is constant for all ages above 80, we can infer from Lancet that by 2111, morbidity among 80-year olds will be 2–3%. That’s more than a 50% morbidity reduction in 100 years’ time. Woah! Youngsters today are expected to get half way from today’s oldster death rate to clinical immortality. What if humanity goes the other 50% in 200 years?

Income escape velocity

For kids 5-14, morbidity is about 16 deaths per 100,000 per year from all causes. Suppose that by 2222, morbidity for all ages is reduced to 15 per 100,000. Median life expectancy would rise to 4,000 years with average life expectancy double that at 8,000 years. And if you’re 8,000 years old, you could expect to live another 8,000. If economic output per person keeps rising 2-3% per year, doubling every 30 years, and people don’t retire, undiscounted real lifetime money income will be about 1040 times current year income. Another way to put that is when you’re 4,000 years old (equivalent to today’s 40-year olds), you can expect to make six billion times as much when you’re 5,000 years old. What would you do in 10 years if you were handed a check for today’s world GDP of $70 trillion? I’d say, “Whooah.”

Earth thermal escape velocity

Current heat output of humanity is now about 1/10,000 solar flux hitting Earth. It is also growing 2–3% per year, doubling every 30 years or so. Help me make the idea become known as Dinkin’s Law. In 14 doublings, happening around 2424 AD, heat output will equal the solar flux. That’s when I date LEO settlement (see “The ultimate solution to global warming: emigration”, The Space Review, July 16, 2007). Some of the LEO settlers may be scampering around your house. More than one-eighth of babies born in 2007 will make it to 2400 AD under these assumptions. One-sixteenth will make it to 6400 AD.

Solar economic escape velocity

Cound Richard Branson be around to personally make Virgin Galactic interstellar?

Depending on how quickly morbidity drops and how fast economic growth proceeds, people alive today may be able to afford outfitting a 10,000 year interstellar expedition in 3222 AD not dissimilar to John Varley’s Rolling Thunder with a one-in-six chance of being alive on arrival in 13,222, assuming that they don’t get picked up by another faster expedition and taken to their destination sooner. If the number of stars with a human expedition on the way doubles every 8,000 years after that, humanity will be on the way to being throughout the galaxy in 300,000 years (maybe another million to arriving if we can achieve .1c). That is, less than two lifetimes to reduce the death rate to accidental and acute and, in the same lifetime, settle LEO; less than two more to settle the first star besides our own; 36 more to be able to have an expedition heading toward every star in the galaxy; and 125 lifetimes more to settle the entire galaxy. Richard the Lionheart concluded enough conquest 825 years ago to be remembered by his epithetic surname, “Lionheart”. Whooah: could Richard Branson be around to personally make Virgin Galactic interstellar by launching a cigar-shaped asteroid to Alpha Centauri and be remembered by the epithetic prenom, “the Biggest”?

The 1297 AD version of the Magna Carta, which is still on the books of England and Wales, was signed when life expectancy was 24 years. I just saw a 1297-edition Magna Carta in the National Archive last weekend and it looks like it’s in good shape. If the documents and the law can last 36 lifetimes, it seems like a good bet that our civilization can last another 36. In 3000 BC, Stonehenge was built and the builders saw the Milky Way. What could the builders think possible 200 lifetimes hence in 2000 AD? That world population would grow from 30 million to 6 billion? Could the founders of Troy think it possible that, 5,000 years later, one man could make more money in half a lifetime than three times 3000 BC global annual GDP? Could the 3000 BC Minoans think possible Icarus could chill his wings and tie himself to an amphora-shaped bronze pot? Sure, it could be the first in-flight chamber pot. What would 500 BC Greeks say if an upside-down amphora was filled with greek fire and tremendously compressed air in separate chambers that would be three times as tall as the Parthenon with a spout chilled well enough to get to the Moon without it melting? “Naah, impossible,” or, “Whooah, we’re half way there?”