Artificial Intelligence and Engineered Longevity: the Better Tools Viewpoint

A recent h+ Magazine article by Ben Goertzel provides a good outline of a point of view that is quite common in the healthy life extension community. There's a fair overlap between transhumanist groups, advocates for engineered longevity, advocates for the development of strong artificial intelligence, and the people who are in fact working on making progress rather than talking about the need for progress. Many of these AI advocates and researchers are strongly in favor of radical life extension efforts - so much so in some cases that it begs the question as to why they're primarily working on AI. The reasoning provided by Goertzel is essentially utilitarian: he believes that the ultimate goal of repairing and reversing aging will be achieved more rapidly if preceded by the advent of strong artificial intelligence.

AIs, Superflies, and the Path to Immortality:

Death and disease are such basic aspects of current and historical human life, that to envision a world without them requires considerable effort. And yet, as technology advances, it becomes increasingly clear that they’re solvable problems.


Some researchers believe we can massively reduce death and disease via "patching up" the various problems that arise in the body, without fully understanding the mechanisms underlying these problems. Others believe that the key is going to be a full understanding of the biological organism and - once we know how the body works - we’ll be able to systematically figure out how to improve its health and extend its healthspan. Both approaches are being avidly pursued by serious scientists, and, in my view, eventual success is almost certain. But the big question is when. There are many obstacles between here and there, including funding for research and limitations of current experimental technology. However, I’m increasingly convinced the most severe limitation constraining the quest for improved health and extended healthspan is the human mind itself.

If you find the article interesting, you should probably also read Goertzel's paper on the subject, AI Against Aging, Accelerating the Quest for Longevity via Intelligent Software. For my part, while I agree with some of the assumptions - in particular that strong AI will lead to a revolution in technology and productivity that will make everything we've achieved as a species to date look small - I don't think the utilitarian math quite adds up here.

Yes, we want better tools applied to the tasks and vast complexity of biotechnology, and as soon as possible. But an examination of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence - and the technologies needed to repair specific forms of cellular damage that cause aging - suggests that money is the real issue, not technology. All the necessary technologies to repair the damage of aging can be developed as logical extensions of the biotechnology of today; no radical new developments are needed, and if the research programs were fully funded, we could expect meaningful therapies in twenty to thirty years. This is no different from the projected path of progress for regenerative medicine - the medical students of today will be directing the processes of growing organs to order and replacing almost any cell population safely and accurately by the 2030s. That will happen even if AI research makes no progress.

But outside regenerative medicine, there is no great initiative or enthusiasm for medical research into repairing the fundamental biochemical damage of aging. No large-scale funding, no massive research community. Yet. This absence of research infrastructure and resources is the cause of slow progress and uncertainty, not the quality of tools that are presently available. Strong AI will make research and development both faster and better. But the timescale for its development is also a few decades from now, assuming things go well and the funding pool grows larger. So under the best case scenarios the first rejuvenation medicine will be contemporary with the first AIs worthy of the name.


Great analysis. You are spot on here. It isn't a technical issue it is a funding issue.

I've been mulling over the funding issue for some time. It seems like the entities at the forefront of life extension ideas (SENS) are not able to gather the financial resources needed to move forward in a meaningful way. I am very surprised by that. I recall two or three years ago there was a spike in funding for the Methuselah Foundation due to a few weathly individuals making large donations. Unfortunately, what I thought was the start of a significant trend was really just a brief event.

One idea I have had about fund raising is that organizations like SENS and the M Foundation may want to look into creating fund raising departments that would be modeled after other non profit or university departments. I'm not entirely sure that those types of models translate really well to a SENS organization, but it is certainly worth looking into. I have to think that a well run fund raising department for SENS could try to contact wealthy individuals and have some success. Even if only 1 out of a 1000 individuals donated significant sums of money the fund raising department should more than pay for itself. What about SENS placing a one page ad in Forbes? Or the Wall Street Journal? Sure the ad would cost a lot - but there has to be plenty of narcissistic millionaires out there that realize they can't take their money with them when they die and would like to help fund research in potentially giving them more life. Considering how much De Grey has been in the media, he and his ideas should be very powerful and should motivate wealthy individuals to fund his endeavors.

Posted by: Dan C at August 13th, 2010 9:44 AM

It's a question : if you are wealthy, do you want to spend your money on pleasures now and in the near future,.. or do you want to spend it much later, but now invest (or donate) in some uncertain research program that may prolong your life and give you pleasures in the far future ?
And the answer for narcissistic wealthy individuals is to spend most of their wealth now on present pleasures. Deffering their pleasures to some indefinite future is not a part of their mentality. That is why there is a lot of competition to get rich as quickly as possible and to have as much pleasure as possible now, because life is so short. So I am not at all surprised that, so far, few wealthy individuals donated for longevity research.

Posted by: nikki at August 17th, 2010 3:41 PM

I like Dan C's ideas; an effort should be made to reach out to wealthy people. I don't think they are uniformly narcissistic and present-oriented. Many of them are interested in a legacy, and in doing something important. What could be more important, or more audacious, than engineering an abrupt discontinuity in four billion years of evolution? The elimination of mandatory death? That such a thing stands a significant chance of benefiting a younger donor, or certainly his or her children or grandchildren would be a significant consideration, I'd think. There is a limit to the amount of pleasure money can buy. Is a person with $1.2 billion happier than a person with $1.1 billion?

Posted by: niner at October 31st, 2012 6:35 PM
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