The Future of Health

Intelligence Squared
Royal Geographic Society

The Future of Health: When Death Becomes Optional

What if doctors no longer played God and you became CEO of your own health?

What if medicine were tailor-made for your own DNA?
What will the world be like when people start living to 150 – or even forever?

If only the wealthy can afford super-longevity, will the growing gap between rich and poor lead to a new form of social inequality?

These are some of the questions Intelligence Squared explored in The Future of Health: When Death Becomes Optional. Massive change is already under way. New tools, tests and apps are taking healthcare away from the professionals and into the hands of the individual. Wearable devices which monitor our fitness and activities are already ubiquitous. Before long they will be superseded by ‘insideables’ – chips planted just under our skin – and ‘ingestibles’ – tiny sensor pills that we swallow. The plummeting cost of DNA profiling means we will soon be entering the era of truly personalised medicine – the right drug for the right person at the right time – instead of the same drug for everybody.

All this means that we will be living longer, healthier lives. Some of the world’s top scientists believe that ageing itself can be treated as a disease, and the race is on to find a ‘cure’. Google and other Silicon Valley giants are pouring billions into longevity research, hoping that they can find the elusive cause of ageing and deactivate it, putting an end to the age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers that we tend to die of. If they succeed, the first person to live to 150 may have already been born. And an elite handful of very wealthy tech entrepreneurs have even more ambitious dreams: to make death just another medical problem which technology will sooner or later disrupt.

But what will defying ageing and death mean for society? What will be the impact on our financial, social and environmental resources when people start living well into their ‘second century’? And what will our democracies look like when old people are in the majority and start voting for all the privileges to be channelled to themselves?

We were joined by Dr Daniel Kraft, Faculty chair for the Medicine and Exponential Medicine program at Singularity University; João Pedro de Magalhães, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, where he leads the Integrative Genomics of Ageing Group; and Professor Tony Young, the NHS’s National Clinical Director for Innovation (known as ‘the NHS’s disrupter-in-chief’). The event was chaired by documentary maker and award-winning science journalist. Dr Michael Mosley.

Is the Party Over for Economic Growth?


It was a blast. Since the Industrial Revolution, we enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, propelled by a seemingly unstoppable wave of technological innovation. For 100 years from around 1870, life in the West was transformed by inventions such as electricity, the car and domestic appliances, which led to soaring growth, better lives and booming wealth for all. The poor became less poor, and the number of middle income earners exploded. In the second half of the 20th century the rest of the world began to catch up, with China lifting hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty and the rise of the BRICs.

But then it stopped. Since around 1970, middle incomes in the US have stagnated, while the top 1% have pulled away in terms of earnings and wealth. Productivity growth fell. The great recession of 2008 was expected to be a blip but we are still in the doldrums. China’s miracle growth has shuddered to a slowdown and is set to drop even further. Just last week, the European Central Bank announced fresh rounds of quantitative easing to try and pump life into the eurozone’s flagging economy.

Many economists are now predicting that stagnation is here to stay. We may hear a lot of excited talk from the techno-optimists about the Second Machine Age and the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rewards they are set to bring us, but some say that most of the fruits of the IT revolution have already been harvested. For example, driverless cars may be the future, but they will change the world far less than the invention of cars in the first place – and put millions of professional drivers out of a job.
If the age of endless growth is over, how should we assess the implications? Does the developed world face decades of misery-inducing recession, or – given that the planet’s resources are finite – can we look forward to a more sustainable future where ever-increasing consumption does not count as the main good? Or are the economic doom-mongers wrong? Will capitalism, that engine of human ingenuity, continue to be the route to rising prosperity for all? If so, what are the mechanisms that will kick-start the global economy again?

On 16th May 2016, we were joined by a star panel for this major discussion on the future of the global economy. On stage were Stephanie Flanders, JP Morgan’s chief market strategist for Europe; Deirdre McCloskey, acclaimed US economic historian; and Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey and author of ‘Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet’. The event was chaired by Economics Editor of BBC News Kamal Ahmed.

The Great Intelligence Squared Brexit Debate


How do we decide? The in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union on June 23 is a once-in-a-generation vote. For some of us it’s a matter of gut political instinct: we are natural inners or outers. But for many, coming to an informed decision on how to vote is a challenge, given the swirl of claims and counterclaims being made by pro-EU campaigners on one side, and Brexit supporters on the other. Every day there’s a fresh round of media stories, with ‘Project Fear’ warning us of the dire effect Brexit would have on everything, from jobs to farming and the NHS, followed by a slew of denials by the out campaign along with their own scare stories, such as the horrific crimes committed by EU citizens living in Britain under the freedom of movement right. Just give us the facts, people cry.

How would Brexit affect trade, for example? Is it true that Britain would be in limbo for ten years while our existing deals with other countries are renegotiated, or would we move swiftly to a new trading relationship with the outside world? And what about security? Does being part of the EU keep us safer, since it gives us access to other members’ databases on suspected terrorists? Or would Brexit lead to security gains, because Britain’s borders could be strengthened and extremists more easily deported?

In this major debate, to make the case for remaining in the EU we hosted former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who has long supported further European integration. Against him was Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP and chair of Vote Leave. No ‘little Englander’, she argued that Brexit is the progressive choice. But this was a debate with a difference. As well as our two main advocates, there were three special experts – who shared the findings of their research on the economy, law and immigration. In addition, there was a professional fact checker from Full Fact, an independent factchecking charity, who was on hand to resolve any disputed claim at the click of a button.

Keep ’em off the streets and behind bars: tough prison sentences mean a safer society

Intelligence Squared - Deep Dive Into
Keep ’em off the streets and behind bars: tough prison sentences mean a safer society

Lock them up. That’s the way we’ve always dealt with offenders. Criminals deserve to be put away for their crimes. Prison works because it keeps those criminals out of circulation, and acts as society’s most effective deterrent. Our prisons may be more crowded than ever – the prison population of England and Wales, for example, […]

We’ve overdosed. Psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry are to blame for the current ‘epidemic’ of mental disorders

There's a growing number who object to the widespread use of the ‘chemical cosh’ to treat people with mental difficulties. But psychiatrists and the pharma companies would argue that depression and ADHD are real conditions for which drugs work. Which side is right?

Drug pushers. We tend to associate them with the bleak underworld of criminality. But some would argue that there’s another class of drug pushers, just as unscrupulous, who work in the highly respectable fields of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry. And they deserve the same moral scrutiny that we apply to the drug pedlar on […]

I’d Rather be a Roundhead than a Cavalier

I'd Rather be a Roundhead than a Cavalier
To debate both the historical and present-day significance of this divide, Intelligence Squared brings together two acclaimed historians: Charles Spencer to defend the Roundhead cause, and Anna Whitelock to make the case for the Cavaliers.

In the 1640s England was devastated by a civil war that divided the nation into two tribes – Roundheads and Cavaliers. Counties, towns, even families and friends were rent apart as the nation pledged its allegiance either to King Charles I (supported by the Cavaliers) or to Parliament (backed by the Roundheads). Some 200,000 lives […]

Karen Armstrong on Religion and the History of Violence

Karen Armstrong on Religion and the History of Violence
Countering the atheist claim that believers are by default violent fanatics and religion is the cause of all major wars, Karen Armstrong demonstrates that religious faith is not inherently violent.

SOLD OUT  Tickets for this event have now sold out. If you would like to be added to the waiting list please email, including in your email the number of tickets you require and a contact phone number. Is religion is to blame for most of the bloodshed throughout human history? Many would concur, […]