Another Good Aubrey de Grey Interview

The busy bees of the Methuselah Foundation are doing a great job in generating press for Aubrey de Grey's presentation on the 15th. It just goes to show what can be done when you put your mind to it - excellent practice for engaging the larger players in the media. Another good interview has shown up in the University of Alberta's ExpressNews paper:

De Grey does admit his timeframe may be "somewhat overoptimistic." But he argues that only by treating it as a realistic goal do we stand any chance of making it happen. The main obstacle to progress, he said, is that many biologists work on the problems of aging in isolated experimental silos, too rarely pulling back from their work to take the long view.

"You don't have departments of theoretical biology, but you ought to," said de Grey. "When I actually identify a way in which different strands of biology could be put together for a productive purpose, I find it quite easy to get people interested in listening to each other once they've heard about the possibility."

The question de Grey faces perhaps more than any other, however, has less to do with cell biology than ethics or social science - is it desirable to extend human life, given that our world is already overpopulated? For de Grey, it's not up to him, or even any of us, to make that call. It is, however, a fundamental right of future societies to decide whether to adopt anti-aging therapies once discovered and whether the accompanying sacrifices are worth it.

"There are good reasons to suppose that we may genuinely have to make hard choices as a society," he said. "I like to be quite stark about this ... There's a good chance that we will end up having to make a choice between having fewer children than we really want or living less time than we really want.

"This is a choice that society of the future is entitled to make for itself as opposed to us trying to second guess ... by not developing these things and thereby forcing on society the requirement to choose death rather than childlessness."

A number of important talking points are buried in that short except. Firstly on timescales: if everyone accepts that developing working anti-aging medicine is going to take a long time - absent the work done to confirm this proposition - then this research will certainly take a long time. This is because funding will lag; no funding group devotes much time and money to what are considered to be extremely long term projects. Thus pessimism, reasonable or unreasonable, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in scientific and medical progress. Aubrey de Grey has good science and good motivations behind his timescale claims; in order to have any chance of reaching the goal of greatly extended healthy life spans in our lifetime, we need to support this research.

On overpopulation, I'm of the view that it's a nonissue based on what we know of human behavior and economics; Max More treats this subject well in his essay on Superlongevity and Overpopulation. Nor is the world currently overpopulated. Too many people mistake the terrible problems caused by politically-maintained poverty for overpopulation, but this is not a case of too many people - rather, it is an absence of the rule of law and undercapitalization of existing, unused resources. Here, as in many other aspects of healthy life extension and related topics, we need a better, more effective approach to education and the presentation of our ideas.


Like you and Max, I doubt there is going to be a dramatic conflict between having children and ending aging. Looking beyond the reasonable demographic arguments, there is a tremendous amount of resources in this solar system, and we only use a tiny fraction - the thin shell of atoms on the earth's surface and a billionth of the sun's radiance. We could use significant fractions of the moon's 10^22 kilogram mass and build billions of O'neill Cylinders for example ( Indeed, solving this biological engineering problem is just the first step...

Posted by: Travis Garrett at February 12th, 2005 10:54 AM
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