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Mission UTOPiA

“Mr Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you." So Anthony Hopkins berates Tom Cruise in mellifluous tones for his lack of ambition in the Mission Impossible series. For actuaries, “Mission Impossible” has long been the ability to accurately predict the future of mortality, many years hence. Enriched by new sources of data from around the world, generation after generation have sought to develop more sophisticated models that capture volatility and quantified scenarios. However, all that past trends tell us with certainty is the scale of achievements or disasters from the past, perhaps denying future generations the benefit of repetition.

The pertinent questions are what remains to be unlocked – by who and by when. Perhaps inspiration should come from a celebrated statesman and author. A mere 500 years ago, Sir Thomas More gave us the concept of Utopia – an imaginary idyllic island where people live in harmony and perfect health. If we can conceive a time-dated definition of perfect health, then we have a framework for how much further improvement may be possible, at what cost and where efforts should be focused. We should build our model of Utopia on a clear evaluation of the successes of public health from antibiotics to vaccines to smoking cessation. The future levers to improved health are many – molecular imaging, precision medicine, improved adherence, digiceuticals, as are the obstacles we put in our path. But the destination continues to beckon, irrespective of our course. The question for actuaries is simply how long will the journey take – whether at the country, societal or individual level.

A daunting challenge indeed – but one where our understanding improves with every step. UTOPIA – our next mission!

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