Read about the vision that Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman have for the future of healthy life extension, reprinted with permission from their new book, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.
Copyright © Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman.
Immortality is Within Our Grasp
Do we have the knowledge and the tools today to live forever? If all science and technology development suddenly stopped, the answer would have to be no. We do have the means to dramatically slow disease and the aging process far more than most people realize, but we do not yet have all the techniques we need to indefinitely extend human life. However, it is clear that far from halting, the pace of scientific and technological discovery is accelerating.
According to models that Ray has created, our paradigm-shift rate - the rate of technical progress - is doubling every decade, and the capability (price performance, capacity, and speed) of specific information technologies is doubling each year. So the answer to our question is actually a definitive yes - the knowledge exists, if aggressively applied, for you to slow aging and disease processes to such a degree that you can be in good health and good spirits when the more radical life-extending and life-enhancing technologies become available over the next couple of decades.
Longevity expert and gerontologist Aubrey de Grey uses the metaphor of maintaining a house to explain this key concept. How long does a house last? The answer obviously depends on how well you take care of it. If you do nothing, the roof will spring a leak before long, water and the elements will invade, and eventually the house will disintegrate. But if you proactively take care of the structure, repair all damage, confront all dangers, and rebuild or renovate parts from time to time using new materials and technologies, the life of the house can essentially be extended without limit.
The same holds true for our bodies and brains. The only difference is that while we fully understand the methods underlying the maintenance of a house, we do not yet fully understand all of the biological principles of life. But with our rapidly increasing comprehension of the human genome, the proteins expressed by the genome (proteome), and the biochemical processes and pathways of our metabolism, we are quickly gaining that knowledge. We are beginning to understand aging, not as a single inexorable progression but as a group of related biological processes. Strategies for reversing each of these aging progressions using different combinations of biotechnology techniques are emerging. Many scientists, including the authors of this book, believe that we will have the means to stop and even reverse aging within the next two decades. In the meanwhile, we can slow each aging process to a crawl using the methods outlined in Fantastic Voyage.
In this way, the goal of extending longevity can be taken in three steps, or Bridges. Fantastic Voyage is intended to serve as a guide to living long enough in good health and spirits - Bridge One - to take advantage of the full development of the biotechnology revolution - Bridge Two. This, in turn, will lead to the nanotechnology-AI (artificial intelligence) revolution - Bridge Three - which has the potential to allow us to live indefinitely.
This, then, is the premise of Fantastic Voyage and the case we will make throughout: the knowledge of how to maintain our biological "house" and extend its longevity and vitality without limit is close at hand. We will tell you how to use the extensive knowledge that we do have today to remain heathy as the reverse engineering (decoding and understanding the principle methods) of our biology proceeds.
The 21st Century is Worth Living to Experience
Most of our conceptions of human life in the 21st century will be turned on their head. Not the least of these is the expectation expressed in the adage about the inevitability of death and taxes. We'll leave the issue of taxes to another book, but belief in the inevitability of death and how the perspective will soon change is very much the primary theme of Fantastic Voyage. As we succeed in understanding the genome and the proteome, many dramatic advances in treating disease and even reversing aging will emerge. The first two decades of the 21st century will be a golden era of biotechnology.
Many experts believe that within a decade we will be adding more than a year to human life expectancy every year. At that point, with each passing year, your remaining life expectency will move further into the future. (Aubrey de Grey believes that we will successfully stop aging in mice - who share 99 percent of our genetic code - within 10 years, and that human therapies to halt and reverse aging will follow 5 to 10 years after that.) A small minority of older boomers will make it past this impending critical threshold. You can be among them. The authors of Fantastic Voyage are of this generation and are intent on living through this threshold era in good health and spirits. Unfortunately, most of our fellow baby boomers remain oblivious to the hidden degenerative processes inside their bodies and will die unnecessarily young.
As interesting as the first two decades of this century are likely to be, subsequent decades should lead to even more dramatic changes. Ray has spent several decades studying and modeling technology trends and their impact on society. Perhaps his most profound observation is that the rate of change is itself accelerating. This means that the past is not a reliable guide to the future. The 20th century was not 100 years of progress at today's rate but, rather, was equivalent to about 20 years, because we've been speeding up to current rates of change. And we'll make another 20 years of progress at today's rate, equivalent to that of the entire 20th century, in the next 14 years. And then we'll do it again in just 7 years. Because of this exponential growth, the 21st century will equal 20,000 years of progress at today's rate of progress - 1,000 times greater than what we witnessed in the 20th century, which itself was no slouch for change.
The result will be profound changes in every facet of our lives, from our health and longevity to our economy and society, even our concepts of who we are and what it means to be human. Within a couple of decades we will have the knowledge to revitalize our health, expand our experiences - such as full-immersion virtual reality incorporating all of the senses, augmented reality, and enhanced human intelligence and capability - and expand our horizons.
As we peer even further into the 21st century, nanotechnology will enable us to rebuild and extend our bodies and brains and create virtually any product from mere information, resulting in remarkable gains in prosperity. We will develop means to vastly expand our physical and mental capabilities by directly interfacing our biological systems with human-created technology.
Although human ability to take command of the course of life and death is controversial, we belive that the ability to broaden our horizons is a unique and desirable attribute of our species. And we certainly believe that it is worth the effort to remain healthy and vital today to experience this remarkable century ahead.
Who Is The Enemy?
It is wise to consider the process of reversing and overcoming the dangerous progression of disease as a war. As in any war, if the enemy is at the gates - or worse, inside the gates - it's important to mobilize all the means of intelligence and weaponary that can be harnessed. That's why we'll advocate that key dangers be attacked on multiple fronts. For example, we'll discuss 10 approaches that should be practiced concurrently for preventing heart disease, particularly for people with elevated risk factors.
But if fighting disease and extending longevity and vitality is a war, who is the enemy? At the top of our list we should put ourselves. Of course, health issues get our attention the moment clinical disease strikes, but most people fail to focus on prevention and health enhancement in a timely manner before the onset of overt symptoms. Unfortunately, the medial profession is oriented toward detecting and treating these conditions only after they reach the point of crisis (symptom-control medicine), so most people receive limited guidance on disease prevention from their health professionals. You should not wait for others to show you the path to healing; the only person who can take responsibility for your health is you.
Our second enemy is the disease process itself. Our bodies evolved when it was not beneficial to the survival of the species for people to live beyond their child-rearing years and compete for the tribe's or community's limited food and other resources. Only a century and half ago, life expectancy was 37 years. If we want to remain vital for as long as possible, we cannot simply rely on the natural order that biological evolution has given us.
The third enemy is an increasingly vocal body of opinion that opposes extending human longevity on the basis that it supposedly violates the essence of human nature. Author Francis Fukuyama, for example, considers research that might extend human longevity beyond its current fourscore years to be immoral. Opposition to certain biological technologies such as stem cell research is delaying vital therapies for a wide range of diseases. We should note that we don't consider these thinkers themselves to be our adversaries but, rather, their regressive ideas. The essence of the human species is to extend and expand our boundaries. Ultimately, such opposition will end up being mere stones in a torrent of innovation, with the continue flow of progress passing around these barriers. But even minor delays will result in the suffering and death of millions of people.
Bridge Two: The Biotechnology Revolution
As we learn how information is transformed in biological processes, many strategies are emerging for overcoming disease and aging processes. We'll review some of the more promising approaches and further examples in Fantastic Voyage. One powerful approach is to start with biology's information backbone: the genome. With gene technologies, we're now on the verge of being able to control how genes express themselves. Ultimately, we will actually be able to change the genes themselves.
We are already deploying gene technologies in other species. Using a method called recombinant technology, which is being used commercially to provide many new pharmaceutical drugs, the genes of organisms ranging from bacteria to famyard animals are being modified to produce the proteins we need to combat human diseases.
Another important line of attach is to regrow our cells, tissues, and even whole organs, and introduce them into our bodies without sugery. One major benefit of this therapeutic cloning technique is that we will be able to create these new tissues from versions of our cells that have been made younger - the emerging field of rejuvenative medicine.
As we are learning about the information processes underlying biology, we are devising ways of mastering them to overcome disease and aging and extend human potential. Drug discovery was once a matter of finding substances that produced some beneficial effect without excessive side effects. This process was similar to early humans' tool discovery, which was limited to simply finding rocks and natural implements that could be used for helpful purposes. Now that we can design drugs to carry out precise missions at the molecular level, we are in a position to overcome age-old afflictions. The scope and scale of these efforts is vast; the examples in Fantastic Voyage are only a small sampling of the most promising ideas.
Reversing Human Aging
Our understanding of the principal components of human aging is growing rapidly. Strategies have been identified to halt and reverse each of the aging processes. Perhaps the most energetic and insightful advocate of stopping the aging process is Aubrey de Grey, a scientist with the department of genetics at Cambridge University. De Grey describes his goal as "engineered negligible senescence" - stopping us from becoming more frail and disease-prone as we get older.
According to de Grey, "All the core knowledge needed to develop engineered negligible senescence is already in our possession - it mainly just needs to be pieced together." He believes we'll demonstrate "robustly rejuvenated" mice - mice that are functionally younger than before being treated, and with the life extension to prove it - within 10 years, and points out that this demonstration will have a dramatic effect on public opinion. Showing that we can reverse the aging process in an animal that shares 99 percent of our genes will profoundly transform the common wisdom that aging and death are inevitable. Once demonstrated in an animal, robust rejuvenation in humans is likely to take an additional 5 to 10 years, but the advent of rejuvenated mice will create enormous competitive pressure to translate these results into human therapies.
Earlier in the evolution of our species (and precursors to our species), survival was not aided - in deed, it would have been hurt - by individuals living long past their child-rearing years. As a result, genes that supported significant life extension were selected against. In our modern era of abundance, all generations can contribute to the ongoing expansion of human knowledge. "Our life expectancy will be in the region on 5,000 years ... by the year 2100," says de Grey. By following the three bridges described in Fantastic Voyage, you should be able to reach the year 2100, and then, according to de Grey, extend your longevity indefinitely.