Two Paths to the Future

There are two paths to the future of healthy life extension. In the first path, the technologies we can see clearly ahead of us today are heralded, funded, developed and deployed - the seven modes of aging damage are either validated or extended as a good model for the defeat of aging, and repair and prevention strategies are created for all of them. We'll be able to look back to this time of hectic biotechnological development, and forward to a future that is as long as we care to make it.

The second path is one in which future development of working healthy life extension technologies is assumed but not acclaimed, is treated with only moderate interest, is mismanaged or centralized under government control. If this happens, we'll only be able to look back on what could have been, for we won't have a future - our time will have run out.

For an example of the first path in action, look back at the past thirty years of history of the computer industry, enabler of modern bioinformatics. For the second path, look no further than the past thirty years of the space industry or deep sea exploration. The future is not a given - just because something is possible is no guarantee that it will happen. The difference between the first path and the second path in technological development is in our hands.


There is a relevant difference between the first sort of examples and the second sort: there is not much incentive to explore the oceans or deep space. Space, in particular, is a largely worthless and unintesting place.

The upshot, of course, is that life extension belongs to the first sort, rather than second. There will be a torrent of desire, incentive, and funding for curing aging (perhaps as soon as most of the popular becomes convinced it is a genuine possibility).

Posted by: Kip Werking at August 11th, 2005 10:57 PM

Huh, I would have said that space in particular has way more enthusiasm and desire behind it in popular culture than healthy life extension. There really is no comparison - healthy life extension in any media is tiny in comparison to the space given over to space-related material.

Posted by: Reason at August 11th, 2005 11:10 PM

You're probably right---for now.

People are enthusiastic about space, because it's glamorous. But how many of them are actually willing to get out their wallet and *pay* for anything space-related? That is the true test of where the incentive is. And, I would suggest, people pay a lot more for bogus anti-aging stuff than space related stuff (although, this may be, in part, because there is just more bogus anti-aging stuff).

Fast forward a decade or three. Again, what will people be willing to pay for? Flashy footprints on the moon, as their bodies slowly fall apart? Or genuine life extension therapies, such as stem cell and gene therapy, perhaps a CR mimetic?

I might be overstating the case for this market, just as I think Aubrey tends to overstate the case for the market-after-the-10-year-old-mouse. Perhaps we both underestimate how irrational most people are. But in general, I can't help but feel that space is largely worthless, life extension is priceless, and people will (someday) realize this.

Posted by: Kip Werking at August 13th, 2005 12:30 PM

People are willing to pay for personal technologies that let them live a more fulfilling, more prosperous, more enjoyable life. Space and undersea technologies are a long way from being personal technologies. Life extension technologies are as close as your nutrition store or website. Once people start seeing individuals who are actually living longer because of life extension technologies, the enthusiasm and money will appear. Just demonstrating that a person lived 10-20 extra healthy years over what his genetic complement would normally have allowed would trigger a gold rush.

If space and undersea technologies became viable personal technologies, the investment and innovation in those technologies would also bloom.

Posted by: Interegnum at August 13th, 2005 2:13 PM

Unfortunately, that demonstration of additional life span would come too late for most of us - the lack of good biomarkers is a real problem for the near future of the industry. How to demonstrate it's working if you don't have long enough to conclusively demonstrate it's working? That's a large part of the motivation for the Methuselah Mouse Prize - getting the publicity and motivational boost of things that can be conclusively shown to work, but in a shorter time frame.

Posted by: Reason at August 13th, 2005 2:18 PM

I agree with Reason: the lack of bio-markers is a huge obstacle. Another obstacle: the slow, subtle, distributed nature of aging (like taxes), makes it easier to ignore.

Posted by: Kip Werking at August 14th, 2005 12:54 PM

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