Given the members of the advisory committee for the Grand Challenges for Engineering, there appears to be a large and obvious hole in the list of challenges offered for consideration. Researcher Attila Chordash asks the obvious question:
Why was life extension ruled out of the 14 Grand Engineering Challenges?
It is a big challenge to learn how could healthy lifespan extension as a big and realistic challenge have been left out? Why did Kurzweil (author of the book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever) not stand up for it? Why nobody out of the luminaries thought that regenerative medicine and stem cells worth discussing more than a tiny side note? And what about Venter, whom I still like to be interview as there are many points in his activity suggesting a life extension connection. Somebody in the committee was clearly against it?
I was also surprised, given the tenor of press articles on the Grand Challenges, most of which focused on Ray Kurzweil and his views on the future of radical life extension and other transhumanist technologies. Given a committee, it seems, you can water down any set of ambitions to thin gruel indeed.
American inventor and futurologist Ray Kurzweil said mankind is on the brink of radical advances in computer science and medicine that will see tiny robots or "nanobots" embedded in people's bodies, fending off disease and boosting our intelligence. Breakthroughs in technologies such as RNA interference, involving inhibiting the functioning of genes, and gene therapy will allow us to flick genetic switches on and off and add new ones - putting an end to many illnesses and expanding lifespans, he added.
Precious little of that in the Grand Challenges themselves. Chordash offers some opinions collected from his network; it boils down to the conservatism of the any old guard, scientific community or otherwise. But there is no debate on the feasibility of healthy life extension in the gerontological community these days; the arguments are all over how the goal will be accomplished, how much can be done, and how long it will take. When you put together a Grand Challenge for Engineering on medicine and manage to completely leave out extending the healthy human life span, you make yourself irrelevant to what is actually taking place in the laboratories and research communities today.