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2 roads to immortality

Life expectancy in the U.S. in 1901 was 49. A century later, it's over 77, a greater than 50% increase. In Japan, it's already in the 80's. The rate of growth over the past century was a lot higher than previous centuries. If this absolute growth rate continues to increase (meaning, if the pecentage growth rate is anywhere close to fixed), it will eventually reach a critical rate of 1 year per year (right now, it's at about 1 year per 5 years). Once life is extended on average by 1 year per year, life expectency becomes somewhat meaningless as someone can reasonably expect to live forever, barring unforeseen accidents, and assuming the medical technology keeps advancing.

I'd tend to stick with the conservative estimate above, not assuming we will ever fully halt aging, but being optimistic at the possibility of "effective immortality" within the next century or so. Others, such as Cambridge geneticist Aubrey de Grey are far more radically optimistic. According to the article linked above (via lars_larsen) he believes he can cure aging soon permanently, putting the life expectency of those in poor countires at around 1000 years, and those in richer countries at around 5000 years. This means that some of the ultra rich, who can afford body guards and protection against other unnatural causes, will literally be immortal. Needless to say, I'm very skeptical, but I'd love to see this happen! His name and his long beard remind me of Gandalf the Grey... perhaps once he's cured aging he'll rename himself to Aubrey de White!

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
gustavolacerda
Dec. 5th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
I saw Aubrey's talk in Milton Keynes this August, and took home a transhumanist magazine... One ad was like: "Achieve immortality tomorrow; Maintain optimal health today", which I found pretty funny. He's a friendly guy and was glad to entertain my questions.

I've linked twice to an interview where he talks about the "evolution of aging"... very interesting.

Anyway, I'm glad he's getting press... it's exactly what we need. He's a respectable scientist and he sounds like he has a case. It's just that his claims are shocking...
burdges
Dec. 5th, 2004 06:29 pm (UTC)
Transhumanist
I would consider myself a transhumanist and consider human progress to be exponential, but I tend towards extreme skepticism about claims of eliminating aging. Transhumanists are overly addicted to smooth models of human progress, and ignore the potential discontinuities between "paradigm shifts." In our specific case, absolutely none of our genes have been evolutionarily selected for life-spans over 100 years. So your not going to be able to count on mother nature for much eventually, which means you need an extremely good understanding of how the whole human body works. Not impossible though.

As a side note, it would be nice to have killed off religion before immortality is available.
spoonless
Dec. 5th, 2004 08:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Transhumanist

absolutely none of our genes have been evolutionarily selected for life-spans over 100 years. So your not going to be able to count on mother nature for much eventually, which means you need an extremely good understanding of how the whole human body works.

hmmm, good point. I really don't know enough about genetics to know whether this guy is off his rocker. I'm as shocked and excited at the prospects as anyone else, but when it comes down to it I'll have to leave it to the geneticists to say. I'm definitely glad someone is looking into it.

As a side note, it would be nice to have killed off religion before immortality is available.

Hopefully, they'll just get impatient after the first thousand years or so of wondering what heaven is going to look like, and kill themselves out of curiousity.

On an even sider note, it would be very nice to have killed off religion by brunch tomorrow.
troyworks
Dec. 6th, 2004 03:13 am (UTC)
Re: Transhumanist
I agree with this take. i have several cyronist friends and calorie restriction friends (of which i somewhat partake).

I find upload a more viable immortality than life extension. I have doubts that even with nanotech we can keep a body in age stasis, there are too many things designed to tear us apart.

That said 120 years is still something I think possible/reasonable but at this stage a wall that will require significant tech beyond what we have to extend as a whole, 200 years less so.

Also a high percentage of people even if the body was able to survive that long will die in accidents, or cancer/disease/infections, which can evolve faster in some cases than we can.
troyworks
Dec. 6th, 2004 03:16 am (UTC)
Re: Transhumanist
oh yeah I meant that our genetics are designed to take us apart (and get us out of the way for our prodgeny to replace us). Makes sense evolutionarily even if it's not quite convenient.

Our bodies are like a bunch of oscillators all ringing and decaying at different rates, with interference and sympathetic resonance defining the peaks and valleys of the waveform we call life. It's difficult in the extreme to get all these oscillators to do exactly what we want without unknown ripples to the rest of teh fabric.
burdges
Dec. 6th, 2004 05:37 am (UTC)
Re: Transhumanist
The transhumanists are correct about altruistic death. If altruistic death genes exist, there would be only a few of them, and we could easily eliminate them. However, the transhumanist are wrong about altruistic death genes being the problem. You just can not look at it in terms of survival of the species or survival of the individual. You need to look at it in terms of survival of the specific genes programming for death, and this makes altruistic death genes less likely. It also suggests that menopause is not altruistic. The truth should look more like this: most mutations are lethal, but natural selection weeds out mutations which are disadvantageous to the genes, so natural selection only weeds out genes whose lethal effects harm reproduction. In early human history, there were only a few grandmothers who survived past menopause to help raise their great grand children. Such a grandmothers survival benefited their genes living on in those (great) grandchildren, but such an effect is quite dilute (due to each grandchild being only mildly related to the grandmother), so the selection pressures are weak. So I'd conjecture, not that we have any altruistic death, but that we have massive numbers of genes which are accidentally lethal in old age.. many are even essential in the young.

True upload requires an extensive knowledge of the human brain too, a limited partial upload is far more viable. Prior to any form of upload, we will see a noninvasive mostly-indistinguishable simulation where computers are programmed to think like you, based on your interactions with the world. Here the presure will be to preserve the intellect of people who actualy have something to say, so start doing your research graduate students.. noone will run your program if you don't have anything valuble to say. :)

For the average person, I'd expect large scale use of stem cells for regeneration to cure many degenerative diseases, and eventually to buy quite a lot of time. But I can't guess how much time, or what the side effects will be (young cells may accedentally do a few things which harm their older neighbors).
troyworks
Dec. 6th, 2004 11:00 am (UTC)
Re: Transhumanist
I understand the point your were trying to make, altruistic genes or not, functionally they are the same to me, in that the number of variables involved in sustaining a human body is beyond the immediate technology I see coming down the pipeline to keep in synch. As you put it, there has never been a selection pressure to keep us around that long, and the genes that kill us (e.g testosterone) may be critical for early development.

True upload doesn't necessarily required extensive knowledge of the brain. We've already seen the artificial hippocampus, and we are beginning to see direct neural connections to the brain for paraplegics etc.

I agree with your take on stem cells. They are a good patch that have staggering beficial use, e.g. the woman who was treated with stem cell therapy for her spine now able to walk.

But in each there are limits before some other critical element fails, I don't know if brain cells can be replaced in that fashion or not.

Cloning might take the car part replacement (and aftermarket goods) philosophy a bit farther. But eventually we get to the difficult problem of severing nerves and reconnecting replacements in the same way (e.g. the spinal column) which I don't think can be done by any surgery process that I'm aware of.
burdges
Dec. 6th, 2004 04:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Transhumanist
True upload doesn't necessarily required extensive knowledge of the brain

It kinda does if you want to know that its working.

We've already seen the artificial hippocampus

For rats, we don't know how much more complex various organs in humans are. The good news is that having one for rats, means your allowed to stick one in some damaged people and fiddle with it, to find out how much more complex it is in humans.

I think the human simulators will necissarily outpace "upload" technology. The simulators may even be able to get surprisingly close to real people, without the usual invasive procedures associated to upload. Maybe a small implant in langage centers to allow the computer to experence the articulate side of your inner world. Just forget about the rest of "you" and become a simulation of all your higher order reasoning. No doubt people would try to build on such technology, to capture "all" of you, but we may discover that our non-articulate parts are not even worth the effort.


But eventually we get to the difficult problem of severing nerves and reconnecting replacements in the same way (e.g. the spinal column) which I don't think can be done by any surgery process that I'm aware of.

Actually, I think they have made quite a lot of success with nerve regrowth. I can also say that a surprising number of the attractive girls I met in graduate school were working on the problem.. and that is not just a Rutgers phenomenon. :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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