Another Interview With Ray Kurzweil

CNet is running an interview with Ray Kurzweil on the topic of his approach to healthy life extension.

His regimen for longevity is not everyone's cup of tea (preferably green tea, Kurzweil advises, which contains extra antioxidants to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer). And most people would scoff at his notion that emerging trends in medicine, biotechnology and nanotechnology open a realistic path to immortality--the central claim of a new book by Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman, a physician and founder of a longevity clinic in Denver. "I am serious about it," said Kurzweil, a wiry man with few lines on his face for a 56-year-old. "I think death is a tragedy. I think aging is a tragedy. And going beyond our limitations is what our species is all about."

The scoffing is something that we advocates must continue to work on - the science behind the path to much, much longer lives (if not immortality in the traditional meaning of the word) is very sound. Still, having serious people talk seriously about immortality is, I think, very good for the wider healthy life extension movement. It provides a much better outrageous extreme, a topic I explored a while back:

The middle of the road, "reasonable" position in public or political debate tends to gravitate to midway between what are perceived to be the two opposite outrageous extremes, regardless of the actual merits of any of these positions.

With this in mind, it is occurring to me that part of the ongoing problem in the modern political debate over healthy life extension is that our "outrageous extreme" has always been a tentative, reasonable proposal that medical research carry on and that near-term technology would seem to allow us all to live a little longer - say, to 150. When the outrageous extreme from the other side - from the Bush administration, Leon Kass of the President's Council on Bioethics, and others - is that no-one should be permitted to research ways of extending healthy life span, we can see that the average between these two positions is not very favorable to our future health and life span. We wind up where we are right now: anti-research factions in governments worldwide are restricting and legislating against all of the most promising fields of medicine, while attempting to force through complete bans on stem cell research, theraputic cloning and other promising technologies.

We need a better outrageous extreme.

When immortality is on the table for respectable discussion, proposals to significantly fund research into rejuvenation therapies and a cure for aging will be more successful.

You can read an illustrative excerpt from Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman's "Fantastic Voyage" over at the Longevity Meme.


Immortality is the worng word indeed and not something to be achieved by simple medical prevention of aging.

How about using the (IMHO) more apropriate term "perpetual youth"?


Posted by: curious at December 28th, 2004 2:01 PM

Fuzzy definitions are a constant problem in the healthy life extension community, as elsewhere. "Physical immortality" is commonly used as shorthand for perpertual youth, vulnerable agelessness or other terms to describe a person who does not age but is otherwise vulnerable to accident, injury and so forth. The "physical" part of physical immortality gets dropped far too often - but it can usually be taken as read that this is what most people mean when they talk about immortality outside a theological context. See this post on the topic:

Posted by: Reason at December 28th, 2004 5:53 PM

Wow, Kurzwell takes some 250 pills a day. That's double what I take, and I thought I was extreme. I need to look through his book again and see if he has a full list of everything he takes.

Posted by: Scott Miller at December 29th, 2004 8:10 AM

You know, I think Ray has a valid point when discussing the "outrageous extreme" issue. For me, the "outrageous extreme" is physical immortality, pushing beyond the the mere cusp of escape velocity to the actual escape: a finite probability, hopefully greater than 1 in a 1000, of never dying, where "never" means just what you think it means. Never. A googolplex years, unfathomable to the current human mind, would be a mere blink of an eye in the existence of post/trans/meta-humans.

So what's the reasonable middle ground for me? What is it that I contemplate realistically? Living a few hundred years, maybe a couple millenia.

Why so short? Statistics. (I'd elaborate, but it's really not the point I'm after.)

For the average person, on the other hand, the outrageous extreme is living to 130. What's the reasonable middle ground? Five to ten extra years of a frail existence at the end, or five to ten extra years of health in the middle if you're really lucky.

Ray's right. As soon as we can make 1,000 years seem like a credible, even if currently unpalatable, possibility to the general public, we can expect resistance to 130 year lifespans to diminish greatly. Once we can make "half-life"'s of 500 years or more seem reasonable and credible, where someone has an infinitesimal but non-zero chance of living to a million years, then resistance to 150 or 200 or 500 year lifespans will diminish.

But right now, the only thing that's credible as an extreme seems to be the 130 year lifespan, so we get stuck with expectations for, with concomitant limits of, a five to ten year extension of healthy lifespan.

I like the Methuselah Mouse Prize because it allows a small segment of the population to push our own agenda, up to legal limits, without the need to acquiesce to the "reasonable" middle ground expectations of the voting/purchasing public, with their respective controls over politics and economics.

Posted by: Jay Fox at December 30th, 2004 5:20 AM

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