Michael Antonov on the Future of Human Beings

When we think about the workplace of the future, we often conjure up visions of technology that will transform the way we work. From productivity improvements to more comfortable work environments, we let our imagination loose so it can find solutions to pains we witnessed firsthand. While we may have great ideas, we often forget […]

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When we think about the workplace of the future, we often conjure up visions of technology that will transform the way we work. From productivity improvements to more comfortable work environments, we let our imagination loose so it can find solutions to pains we witnessed firsthand. While we may have great ideas, we often forget another important aspect that will change our workplace – evolution of human beings as species. And no, I do not mean a new generation of millennials that will use mobile phones and social networks for everything they do. I mean the lifepath of real, breathing human beings with their faults and abilities will change.

Let me explain.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to join a group of great people to co-found a company called Oculus. This company brought virtual reality back from the dead and inspired reinvention of every industry imaginable, ranging from healthcare and entertainment to education and defense. This opened my eyes to the possibility of human progress making leaps once the technological stage is set, yet also realizing how little we’ve developed and how much farther we can go.

When we sold Oculus to Facebook, I decided to take up a new challenge and focus on an even bigger problem facing human beings – aging and health span. We always assumed that death is inevitable – everyone has a clock that stops someday. Fortunately, the fountain of youth concept and curiosity inspired scientists to do enough work in this industry to develop a different view. No, I am not suggesting that someone will invent a magic wand that will conquer death. But we have enough evidence to believe that we can extend average healthy life expectancy to over 100 in the next 30 years and possibly have our grandkids live to 200 or more. With exponential growth in molecular biology tools and AI capabilities there is a chance that with we can get there even faster.

What looks like a sci fi dream is actually not too far from reality. First, the ever-increasing life expectancy has been a trend for many years, with average world life expectancy more than doubling in the last 100 years. Second, technology developed in the last 20 years helped scientists get a better understanding of the biology of humans. We know a lot about why people age and die, including specific biological processes that affect humans as they age. There is progress in slowing them down or stopping them completely. In fact, we are at that point in time where we can confidently improve our health and build tools to extend human lifespan.

I’ve been following the human longevity movement for a few years and have seen great progress. DNA sequencing used to be hard, but now it is cheaply accessible to anyone. Study of epigenetics, key to understanding gene and cellular state changes with aging, is progressing rapidly and moving towards practical applications. At some point in the near future we will be able to clear out damaged and pre-cancerous cells, as well as the age-accumulated damage early, while also reprogramming the other cells to a more youthful state, potentially addressing Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And then there is wealth of new consumer wellness technology like Oura ring, iWatch, and Peloton, that raise awareness about basic steps to wellness, inspire consumers to watch their own health, and guide them to success. While some of these resources use old knowledge, like the basic benefits and mechanics of exercising and dieting, others use more innovative approaches. For example, Young.AI uses artificial intelligence to measure your body’s biological clock as well as unique data points and suggest action items to improve health or reduce effects of aging. Similarly, Viome can give you insights about your gut’s microbiota as well as your immune system and cellular health, using them to guide recommendations.

In his recent book  “Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To”, David Sinclair, a famous Harvard University biologist, makes a strong case for why we are in a crucial inflection point, where living to 120 looks more and more like a reality for the majority of the population.

To put things simply, we are seeing a major trend in healthier and longer-living, longer-working workforce. Our expectations for longer life drive our career choices. Today we study for a single job, build a career, and retire. In the future, we may want to change careers multiple times in our lifespan, take a few years break for college in early 40s, get married when we are 50, and delay retirement till 100; or better yet – reach 100 as our midlife crisis point. Either way, our life choices and the pattern of life will evolve. Our workplaces will change too. Companies will have to accommodate a higher need for learning and development to support longer career spans and changing employee interests. Workers will spend more time on fitness and health, slowly shifting employment costs from health insurance to longevity maintenance. Work schedules may have to be adjusted to support healthier lifestyle choices. Company parties may have to offer more expensive healthy food choices and employees may demand new types of benefits that will help them sustain their healthcare needs, like getting subscriptions to healthier lab-grown meat or help with living costs, like alternative energy or housing, both of which will become critical as world population grows and death rate slows down.

While these changes look like an additional burden on employers, they can actually bring a lot of positive changes to the workplace. Studies show that consistent food and sleep schedules as well as healthier physical and mental state drive productivity. Since people will stay longer in the workplace, we will have fewer labor force shortages and be able to take advantage of more experienced staff in positions where experience matters.

As a society, we will have to evolve together.

I think these changes are good for humanity. In fact, they were so near and dear to my heart, that I decided to contribute significant funds and effort to prolonging human life. First, I launched The Michael Antonov Foundation, a private foundation that has been donating over a million dollars per year to scientific research and hope to continue doing so for years to come. Second, I launched Formic Ventures, a venture capital firm with a focus on companies that can contribute to progress in longevity and human health span, plus the technological ecosystem around it. I was lucky enough to meet many great people in the human longevity space and witnessed tremendous progress, big enough to make me see and appreciate the not-so-distant future, one where humans are finally in control of their own destiny.

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