I just finished watching biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey's appearance on 60 Minutes, with scientists Jay Olshansky and Christian Sell providing the opposing viewpoints, in a segment entitled "Immortality." How far we've come in the past few years - that the opposing view in a mainstream media publication is now that radical life extension will happen, just not so much and not so fast! Overall, it was one of the most positive mainstream pieces on healthy life extension I've seen; good job all round.
The transcript of the segment can already be found online. A few choice quotes:
"The first generation [of anti-aging therapies] will give us maybe 30 extra years of healthy lifespan," says de Grey. "So, beneficiaries of those first therapies will still be around to benefit from improved therapies that will give them another 30 or 50 years and so on. So this is basically staying one step ahead of the problem." ... "What I'm after is not living to 1,000. I'm after letting people avoid death for as long as they want to," he says.
What I like about Aubrey is, he's not selling anything except ideas. He's set forth a series of testable research hypotheses, which is what science is all about, and he said 'test them'. I love that. That is what we should be doing in the world of science," Olshansky says. "I just wouldn't hold out immortality or 5,000-year life expectancies as the end result or the promise of what you're going to get from this."
"We're talking about saving 100,000 lives a day. And it takes a lot of problems to match that," says de Grey.
De Grey acknowledges that some people will say those 100,000 lives lost a day are just in the nature of things. "But, you know, it didn't stop us from using treatments for infectious diseases when we found out how to develop them," de Grey responds.
People are chained to their blogs nowadays; a nice brace of posts on the 60 Minutes show can already be found with a little hunting:
Being less than a novice when it comes to science - either theoretical or applied - I'm not one to evaluate anyone's biological and genetic claims. It certainly does pique my interest, however, when apparently intelligent and well-qualified scientists make claims about extending life expectancy for several centuries
I find all this talk so fascinating. I mean, to live well past 100 seems so out of reach, but then again, at one point man couldn't even conceptualize the technology that would enable us to go into space. Given the speed with which science is expanding (think about the past 10 years even. Look at how much better your PC is now compared to then. Medical treatments: AIDS drugs, cloning, mapping of the human genome, etc.), the possibilities are exciting.
Maybe someone who expects to live to the ripe old age of 874 will plan out things accordingly, postpone childbirth for a couple hundred years. But if, at 74 and standing on the golf course, I find out I've got almost a thousand more years to shave some strokes off my game, I might not be able to feign excitement.
Now, this research is in very preliminary stages. It's not likely that any practical, effective results will be obtained in my lifetime (but neither is it impossible that they might be). It's just fascinating to me that something I read about in a work of science fiction a couple of decades ago might someday actually become reality. Wouldn't that just be the coolest thing?
The Methuselah Foundation volunteers are very pleased, and rightly so. Hopefully this will be first of much positive media attention in 2006.