The healthy life extension community has certainly grown and become more mainstream over the past five years. This is all to the good, especially when the concepts of radical life extension and the prospects for research to achieve it are becoming more widely understood, both inside and beyond the scientific community. As Gandhi famously said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." On this scale, we're doing pretty well - scientifically literate folks aren't laughing any more, and the laughter fades from other segments of the population as media coverage spreads. Instead, we see a battle of ideas between those opposed to the very idea of healthy life extension, scientists arguing over timescales, funding and possibilities, and advocates for longer, healthier lives telling them to get on with it.
One common form of advocacy movement can be thought of as a pyramid; a large number of supporters and hard workers support a few people who are deliberately placed to catch and focus media and public attention. We humans have brains designed for village life - we like to relate to individuals rather than organizations or causes, and organizations providing individuals for that purpose tend to outperform. The apex of one of the pyramids I am involved in is biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, author of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (which I'm sure comes as no surprise to regular readers). By acting as a focal point for a portion of the healthy life extension community, Aubrey finds doors are opened that would otherwise be shut. Media coverage, organizational support and a network of supportive contacts are required in order to generate more of the same - in much the same way that the easiest way to make money is to start with a pile of money. It's a positive feedback look - growth and success inspires more growth and success. Every avalanche starts with a pebble, but it's a great deal of hard work to get the first few hundred pebbles to see it your way. After that, the options become more interesting.
Aubrey de Grey, and by extension the rest of us, are seeing new opportunities on the horizon. Invitations to self-important global conferences beyond the scientific community (such as TED) are a currency that can be grown and eventually bartered into relationships with wealthy philanthropists ... and thus funding. Give it a couple of years at the present rate of growth (of the Mprize for anti-aging research, of media coverage of SENS, of the supporting community, of connections to the wealthy and influential) and Aubrey will be pitching billionaires.
Which billionaires should Aubrey de Grey be pitching for funding for his proposed Insitute of Biomedical Gerontology, or for a series of research prizes focused of repairing the biomolecular damage caused by aging? Or rather, at this stage, which billionaires should Aubrey and his supporters be considering for cultivation? We know that John Sperling and Larry Ellison have a strong interest in aging and longevity research, and have already devoted large sums of money to the cause. Does this make them better or worse candidates? The executive director of the Ellison Foundation is a skeptic when it comes to SENS, for example. While it would no doubt be possible to pitch Ellison directly in years ahead, it may not be as fruitful as pitching another billionaire who has not spent years forming an existing set of opinions on the topic.
Have thoughts on the matter? Comment away...