Future Current provides a valuable service by transcribing and making available the proceedings of meetings on transhumanist topics, such as healthy life extension and the ultimate defeat of degenerative aging. Two recent posts cover talks by Ronald Bailey and Anders Sandberg, given at the 2007 IEET event entitled Securing the Longevity Dividend. They are well worth your time as a reminder of the way in which the policy-focused world thinks.
Here we have a very important driving factor, that is the belief that it is possible to extend life, which is not that widespread. People are in general very interested in life extension, but they don’t quite believe in it. I think this is very much the same situation as cloning before Dolly. I remember myself two weeks before the cloning of the sheep Dolly actually saying in a public forum, “Oh, cloning of mammals is years away.” It’s good to know that I’m a conservative guy that is sometimes wrong about the future. Life extension might come unexpectedly, and that’s not necessarily just a good thing, because some people might panic. On the other hand, if people don’t believe it’s possible, they won’t fund it.
It's only unexpected if we advocates haven't done our jobs - and the same goes for any alleged panic ("oh no, we don't have to suffer and die quite so soon..."). It seems to me that healthy life extension is a good deal more challenging than mammalian cloning, to the point at which it will take a very large and well supported research community to make real progress. It's more in line with cancer or regenerative medicine in that respect. No-one is going to be surprised by the advent of working rejuvenation therapies, for all the same reasons that no-one will be surprised by the development of cures for a broad range of cancers, or tissue engineered replacement organs.
I would like to conclude that I think it is easily the case that these kinds of treatments are very likely to be affordable. The pro-mortalists fail to understand the effort to extend healthy human lifespan is a perfect flourishing of our uniquely human nature. The future generations will look back at the beginning of the 21st century with astonishment that some very well meaning and intelligent people actually wanted to stop biomedical research just to protect their cramped and limited vision of human nature. Those future generations will look back, I predict, and thank us for making their world of longer, healthier lives possible. To end, let me quote Sirtris Pharmaceuticals co-founder David Sinclair who said, "I would be disappointed if we were all born one generation too early." Me too.
For more information on the ongoing Longevity Dividend initiative that was the focus of this IEET event, you might look back in the Fight Aging! archives: