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Getting There

Twenty Five Years to Immortality

So claims, computer-scientist-turned-biologist, Aubrey de Grey.

link: http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/050411_aubrey_interview.html

The first part of the project is to get really impressive results in mice. The reason that’s important is because mice are sufficiently furry and people can identify with them. If we get really impressive results in mice, then people will believe that it’s possible to do it in humans, whereas if you double the lifespan of a fruit fly, people aren’t going to be terribly interested.

Now, what I want to do in mice is not only develop interventions which extend their healthy lifespan by a substantial amount, but moreover, to do so when the mouse is already in middle age. This is very important, because if you do things to the mouse’s genes before the mouse is even conceived, then people who are alive can’t really identify with that.

I reckon it will be about 10 years before we can achieve the degree of life extension with late onset interventions that will be necessary to prove to society’s satisfaction that this is feasible. It could be longer, but I think that so long as the funding is there, then it should be about 10 years.

Step two will involve translating that technology to humans. And because that’s further in the future, it’s much more speculative about how long that’s going to take. But I think we have a fifty-fifty chance of doing it within about 15 years from the point where we get results with the mice. So 25 years from now.

2030? I'll be 62. That works for me.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 19th, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
The main thing that worries me about serious life extension is the early stages, where only very wealthy people can afford it, and there is a clamor for the state to provide it for everyone. Any serious attempts to do that might very well send us back into the dark ages.
Apr. 19th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC)
the early stages
Yes, it could get ugly.

I can also envision scenarios where the government prohibits the use of effective life-extension/rejuventation techniques, thereby creating the hotest black market the world has ever seen along with agencies and policies with the power "needed" to combat this plague. Of course, every person of power would make use of the new technologies, and they'd bleach their hair, adopt some cosmetic crow's feet at the corner of their eyes, and then, glowing with radiant health and obvious youthful vitality, look directly into the camera and insist with a straight face that they would never violate the prohibition and that they advocate the harshest of punishments for those who do.

In all seriousness, given the increasing rate at which expensive technologies become affordable, I think the period during which effective life-extension exists as an attainable option only to the wealthy will prove quite brief; briefer than the period in which only wealthy show-offs and professional engineers shelled out the big bucks for electronic calculators.

Who knows, by the time we can buy a bottle of immortality pills at Wal*Mart for the price of a haircut, the super-intelligent AI's may tell us to either accept upload into the Matrix or take our immortal resource-consuming meat bodies off planet.
Apr. 19th, 2005 06:35 pm (UTC)
only for the rich - clamoring for state provision
De Gray gives a specific response to the first concern:


...a clamor for the state to provide it for everyone. Any serious attempts to do that might very well send us back into the dark ages.

Or they might succeed. De Gray argues for the latter:
There will be a lead-time of at least a decade, which I call the War On Aging, starting with the achievement of results in mice impressive enough to shake society out of its current fatalism and make people really want to cure aging as soon as possible. At that point, mayhem will ensue -- society will be turned upside-down in a million ways, by (e.g.) no one wanting to do risky jobs like the fire service any more -- but the big thing of relevance here is that (as noted above) it will become politically mandatory to throw serious money, taxpayers' money, at hastening the end of age-related death. The phrase "War On Aging" is appropriate, unlike "War On Cancer", because people will want to make sacrifices on the scale normally only seen in wartime in order to end the slaughter as soon as possible. The main such sacrifice will be in simple taxation, to pay for training of a staggering number of medical personnel, to deliver these therapies ASAP when they arrive, and also to provide much more thorough traditional medical care in the interim so as to give people as much chance as possible of still being in a reasonably healthy state at that time. That means that by the time rejuvenation therapies actually arrive, society will already have done what was necessary to ensure that they will be free at the point of delivery to all who are aged enough to need them.

Not a Libertarian dream come true, but we're flying away from the Libertarian ideal at light speed anyway. Given the choice between police state oligarchy and extropian-minded nanny state, I'll take the latter.
Apr. 23rd, 2005 08:22 pm (UTC)
Re: only for the rich - clamoring for state provision
Yea, there might be a chance that with something this important, the government will actually do the right things to spur cost-reducing innovations. But looking at the track record as regards the current catastrophe that is health care in the modern industrialized world, I am worried.
I suppose a lot will have to do with the form that life-extention technology takes on, but if the present value of the cost of treatment/maintenance is higher than the average individual's lifetime productivity, there is no way it can be provided to many people.

I also worry that people would turn even more to the government to enact risk-reduction measures (mandated safety standards) instead of leaving it to the market. Without the market feedback and valuation processes, the demands a potentially immortal populance might put on the state in this regards could well lead to major wealth destruction.

Apr. 28th, 2005 02:32 am (UTC)
clamoring for saftey
I also worry that people would turn even more to the government to enact risk-reduction measures (mandated safety standards) instead of leaving it to the market. Without the market feedback and valuation processes, the demands a potentially immortal populance might put on the state in this regards could well lead to major wealth destruction.

I see us continuing down that road already. If I raised my children the way my parents raised me, letting move about the interior of a moving car on long road trips rather than keeping strapped in place as the law now dictates, letting me ride in the backs of pick-up trucks, braving the now nearly-forgotten "high dive" (when was the last time you saw one of those?), shooting guns, I could well find myself deemed unfit by a governmental beaurocrat and have my children taken from me to be raised by govenment-appointed foster parents. I see this trend taking us into the depths of absurdity long before the advent of practical immortality.

My prediction: The Panopticon Society will be upon us long before we do our dance on death's grave.
Apr. 20th, 2005 05:20 am (UTC)
happy birthday toooo youuu! :)
Apr. 20th, 2005 12:28 pm (UTC)
Happy Birthday
Thank you.
Apr. 27th, 2005 11:14 pm (UTC)
I am somehow reminded of the classic Trek episode where the population of a planet have stamped out every sort of disease and become so long-lived that there is no more space on the planet for any sort of privacy. Until religious organizations can get over the idea that birth control is wrong, the introduction of immortality will only cause the problem of population control to get worse.
Apr. 28th, 2005 02:17 am (UTC)
Trek: Not Always Prescient
What the author of that episode did not know was that in materially abundant societies birthrates drop and the elderly start to outnumber the young. The longer this trend continues, the greater the disparity between the elderly who depend on the productivity of the young and the young people who support the ballooning population of pensioners. Those pensioners consume far more health care resources than do youngsters. Health care costs continue to escalate as an ever smaller portion of the population is called upon to supply the effort needed to perpetuate the system which supports the growing population of the aged.

Immigration presents itself as the obvious solution; bring in young blood from the still fecund "third world" to infuse the graying population with some vigor, but within a generation, the immigrants take on the reproductive pattern of the host country. Immigration only provides a temporary stopgap.

At some point, we'll either need to find a way to restore vitality and cognitive flexibility to the elderly so that they can learn to perform useful work to sustain themselves, or we need to hope that AI, robotics, nanotech, and other yet un-named fruits of the caldron take up the task of supporting the swelling ranks of those infirm of limb and rigid of mind. Or else we need to acustom ourselves to the idea of culling the human herd of its (metaphorically but not literally) dead wieght.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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