How long would you like to live?

How long would you like to live? This was one of the questions raised during this year’s Nobel Prize Dialogue in Tokyo, held on March 17. The Nobel Prize Dialogue is a full-day event aiming to create a dialogue between the scientific community and the rest of the society. By bringing together Nobel Laurates, world leading scientists, key opinion leaders, policy makers, different interest groups and the general public, a discussion is held on a global topic that affects us all. This year’s theme was “The Age to Come”, discussing the challenges, but also opportunities, with an aging population. The Age to Come is a highly relevant topic, not the least in Japan. Japan is facing the challenge with an aging population and shrinking workforce. Today, the population reaches about 127 million people, but it is expected to decrease by 22-23 percent between 2010 and 2050, with the elderly (65+ years) accounting for nearly 40 percent of the population. The same development is expected in several other countries, however, Japan’s aging populating is currently outpacing the other countries.

Adam Smith from Nobel Media and the Nobel Laureates Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Angus Deaton, Tasuku Honjo, Tim Hunt and Randy Schekman. Photo: Michael Jacob.

“Aging is a great mark for success” said Angus Deaton, one of the Nobel Laurates participating at the Nobel Prize Dialogue. In general, we live longer as a result of improved healthcare and life quality. Population growth is to a large extend affected by the fact that people live longer, not an increasing number of births. However, aging is not only about living longer, but also about how to maintain a healthy life longer. The body is programmed for survival and is continuously repairing itself. Aging can be described as a build-up of damage, where medical sciences and technology today can significantly delay the damage from reaching a fatal level.

To be able to keep improving the health of people, and fight diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, the demand for basic research was brought up for discussion several times during the dialogue. Especially within biology, there is still a lot to be learnt, and as laureate Tim Hunt put it: “We don’t know what we don’t know”. However, there is also an importance of focusing research on finding solutions to the challenges we face today, and make sure the research has an impact in society. Under the dialogue, Cyberdyne demonstrated how robotics can be used within geriatric care, to improve the life quality of the elderly, and also simplifying the care. This was a great example of the importance of technology and innovations for an aging population.

Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai demonstrating the use of a robotleg. Photo: Michael Jacob.

The evening before the Nobel Prize Dialogue, the discussion was warmed up at the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo through the “Laureate Talk”, initiating the discussion around the Age to Come theme between the laureates. It was then followed by deepened discussions among the invited guests at a Nobel Prize Dialogue Dinner hosted by Ambassador Magnus Robach in his residence. The occasion proved to spur creative discussions, as panellists at the dialogue the next day declared that they initiated innovation collaboration the evening before.

Deputy Minister Yamawaki during the kanpai speech at the Nobel Prize Dialogue Dinner. Photo: Alexander Mahmoud.

To sum up the dialogue, the question is not only how long you want to live, but also how to increase the share of healthy and happy life, and ensure that society effectively and constructively handle the change in demography. Although stated that happiness is a relative and subjective feeling in small as well as large context, it was clear that ageing is a great mark for success, and that getting old is a privilege for an increasing share of the population today, and tomorrow. The Age to Come will for sure be challenging, but also prosperous and enjoyable. Science and innovation will be instrumental on the way to the Age to Come.