Interview With Aubrey de Grey at h+ Magazine

h+ magazine, the Wired of the transhumanist community, is presently running an interview with biomedical gerontologist and longevity science advocate Aubrey de Grey on the subject of the technological singularity and its relationship with a future that includes the engineering of enhanced human longevity:

h+: In the past five years or so, talk about the "Singularity" has become much more mainstream and acceptable, much like talk about radical life extension. Do you think that looking at futurism through the frame of the multi-faceted "Singularity" idea is helpful, or just makes matters more complicated?

AdG: I think it's helpful. People have quite extraordinary difficulty thinking about non-linear change, and the general concept of the Singularity, especially the Kurzweil version... but really all versions, is a nicely canonical example that is as good as any to use to educate people in such thinking, even if that education consists mainly in simple repetition.

In the case of life extension, the concept of "longevity escape velocity" (the rate at which rejuvenation technologies need to be improved in order to stave off age-related ill-health indefinitely) is similar to the Singularity (though subtly different) -- indeed, someone recently gave it the rather neat name "Methuselarity", and I have been mystified at the difficulty I have in explaining it to people -- they find it much more "ridiculous" than the near-term goal of adding 30 years of healthy life, even though in reality it's far LESS speculative.


h+: The idea of extreme life extension is closely connected to the Singularity meme. To what extent do you think that technological progress in computers and bioinformatics is pushing along life extension research?

AdG: Well, first of all I would like to qualify your initial statement. I think there is actually not all that much in common between life extension and accelerating change: the defeat of aging will really be just one event in the progress of technology, albeit a particularly momentous one. I therefore think that the only strong connection between the two is in the similarity of mindset and of attitudes to the future that attracts people to the two themes.

As for your question: Bioinformatics is playing a modest but not central role in hastening progress in the biotechnological approach to postponing aging that I pursue. More general progress in developing full-blown artificial intelligence, however, may well result in a much more dramatic hastening of the defeat of aging, if computers can be created that are much smarter than we are and thus able to solve the trickier problems inherent in postponing aging much faster than we can. I therefore strongly support such research.

As I've noted in the past, there's a lot of overlap between the artificial intelligence and longevity engineering crowds, and much of that occurs via the transhumanist community.


Yeah, I've seen more and more articles about the "singularity" in the regular media lately. I don't pay much attention to them because I don't buy into the singularity and I don't you do either. I think the main effect of advancing computer and semiconductor technology is that it makes it easier for people to do engineering work. There is software that allows you to design all kinds of stuff that you needed an engineering team to do back in the 70's or 80's. My friend in Japan designs all of his process equipment himself on his laptop, then has this small engineering company in Korea manufacture his designs. This was not possible 20 years ago. Likewise, such acceleration is occurring in biotech as well.

This is the real performance increase that is ongoing. I agree with Aubrey that bio-information is not that central to life extension. What has to be done is lots of experiments in developing the SENS concepts. I think a lot of the work, especially in stem cell regeneration medicine, will be done for us. We have to do the parts that no one else is doing such as the mitochondrial stuff, the lysosomal aggregate removal, and other such stuff. This can only be done by experiments. I think what will bring down the cost of experiments and accelerate things is producing tissue on demand from renewable stem cells (iPS). You can crank out all of the human tissues that you need to run your experiments. Better yet, you can have something like those 96 well micro plates where you can do 96 runs at a time with 96 different compounds or tissue types. Real progress will come with accelerated, reduced cost experimentation.

I don't buy into the AI hype at all. Progress is limited because of the rate and cost of experimentation, not because of limits on our IQs.

Posted by: kurt9 at September 29th, 2009 10:18 AM

"Progress is limited because of the rate and cost of experimentation, not because of limits on our IQs."-kurt9

We've seen in things like genome sequencing, manufacturing and the search for useful compounds by testing 10,000s of thousands of chemical compounds, etc how automation can lower costs exponentially and diminish time to completion exponentially.

If we can actually have hardware with human brain capability for 1000$ in a few decades, as some expect, and the required accompanying software. We could automate the full scientific enterprise.

Posted by: flashprogram at September 29th, 2009 12:27 PM

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