In a report out today, the Pew Research Center offers a fascinating look at Americans' views on aging -- and on, specifically, the practice known as "radical life extension." The majority of American adults, the survey found, don't believe that such life extension capabilities will be generally feasible in the near future: 73 percent of them, asked whether the average person would live to be 120 years old by the year 2050, answered in the negative.
Where Americans place more confidence, it seems, is in the incremental technologies that could contribute to longer life spans. As part of its survey, Pew asked its respondents how optimistic they are about things like artificial limbs and cures for cancer. And the responses they got were fascinating:
In (other) words: 71 percent of Americans believe that, by 2050, artificial arms and legs will perform better at being limbs than their natural counterparts; 69 percent believe that there will be a cure for most forms of cancer. The survey respondents were slightly more split when it comes to the most radical life extension of all, the de-extinction of species; 50 percent thought cloning would bring species back to life by 2050, while 48 percent doubted the possibility.
Again, the survey respondents, for all this techno-optimism, didn't seem to believe that the advances would accrue to longer life spans for humans as a group. The year 2050 may well bring advances in medical science and in medical technology; the bigger question -- the one suggested by the telling phrase "the average person" -- is whether those advances will be distributed across the population. There are many ways to read Pew's predictions about human progress. The most cynical is that while Americans have faith in the advancement of human technology, they are less sure about the advances' abilities to affect the life of the average person.