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.