Thursday, May 18, 2017

Is the increase in life expectancy accelerating?

Nick Bostrom
Some philosophers, such as Nick Bostrom and the transhumanists, have concocted an updated version of Nietzsche’s superman. Their forecasts are based on two scientific advances presented as imminent since several decades ago: immortality, which will be attained when the advances in medicine increase life expectancy beyond one year per year; and artificial intelligence, the design of super-intelligent machines. Both advances could be combined to attain immortality through artificial intelligence, by downloading our conscience (something we cannot even define scientifically) into a super-intelligent machine, so that it would go on existing inside the machine.
Unfortunately for transhumanists, the UN data do not confirm their expectations. Let us look first at the data about the evolution of the maximum life expectancy in the world from 1950 to 2015 (see table 1). These and the following data have been taken from https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Download/Standard/Mortality/.


Table 1. UN data on maximum life expectancy
Five-year period
Country
Life expectancy
Increase
(years/year)
1950-55
Norway
72.66

1955-60
Norway
73.49
0.17
1960-65
Iceland
73.55
0.01
1965-70
Sweden
74.05
0.10
1970-75
Sweden
74.76
0.14
1975-80
Iceland
76.23
0.29
1980-85
Japan
76.95
0.14
1985-90
Japan
78.51
0.31
1990-95
Japan
79.45
0.19
1995-2000
Japan
80.48
0.21
2000-05
Japan
81.83
0.27
2005-10
Japan
82.62
0.16
2010-15
Hong Kong
83.73
0.22

It can be seen that the maximum life expectancy passes with time from country to country, and its evolution is somewhat chaotic, but never in these 65 years has it even approached the target of one year increase per year. In fact, the maximum increase, which took place in 1985-90, only attained 0.31 years per year, below one third of the target.
Table 2 shows that the increase in life expectancy, measured in a different way, far from accelerating, seems to be decelerating.

Table 2. Latest UN data on life expectancy
Country
Life expectancy
Increase in life expectancy (years/year)
1995-2000
2010-2015
real
2010-2015
predicted
1995-2015
2010-2015
Hong Kong
79.38
83.73
83.28
0.29
0.28
Japan
80.48
83.30
83.50
0.19
0.14
Italy
78.63
82.84
82.29
0.28
0.27
Switzerland
79.23
82.66
83.23
0.23
0.18
Singapore
77.67
82.64
82.20
0.33
0.29
Iceland
78.95
82.30
82.01
0.22
0.19
Spain
78.49
82.27
82.00
0.25
0.21
...





USA
76.40
78.87
78.86
0.16
0.15
...





World
65.58
70.48
70.01
0.33
0.33
...





Sierra Leona
36.69
50.19
45.34
0.90
0.86

It can be seen at a glance that the increase in life expectancy in the last five years is systematically smaller than the same increase in the last 15 years, which means that it is slowing, rather than going up, as the transhumanists predict. The effect is stronger in the country with the maximum life expectancy during these last 15 years (Japan) with the consequence that in the latest data it has been superseded by the city of Hong Kong.
The UN previsions for the increase in life expectancy during the 21st century, for the leading country and for the world, are shown in table 3.

Table 3. UN predictions for life expectancy
Five-year period
Life expectancy
Increase in life expectancy (years/year)
Japan
World
Japan
World
2015-20
84.08
71.65
0.16
0.23
2020-25
84.81
72.69
0.15
0.21
2025-30
85.51
73.65
0.14
0.19
2030-35
86.20
74.57
0.14
0.18
2035-40
86.84
75.45
0.13
0.18
2040-45
87.47
76.28
0.13
0.17
2045-50
88.07
77.07
0.12
0.16
2050-55
88.68
77.83
0.12
0.15
2055-60
89.25
78.54
0.11
0.14
2060-65
89.83
79.18
0.12
0.13
2065-70
90.37
79.82
0.11
0.13
2070-75
90.97
80.41
0.12
0.12
2075-80
91.55
80.98
0.12
0.11
2080-85
92.07
81.53
0.10
0.11
2085-90
92.61
82.10
0.11
0.11
2090-95
93.15
82.65
0.11
0.11
2095-2100
93.70
83.17
0.11
0.10

In Table 2 we can compare the real data with UN predictions made in 2012 for the 2010-2015 period, and find that, for a given country, sometimes they are accurate (as for the US), sometimes they overestimate, and sometimes they underestimate. The reason is that the UN simply assumes that current trends will continue, and therefore their predictions are less reliable the longer the period predicted. Anyway, if not in detail, the average predictions can be considered a good preliminary estimate. It can be seen that, rather than acceleration, and contrary to the transhumanists, the UN expects a continuous deceleration of the increase in life expectancy during this century.


Manuel Alfonseca

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