A Conversation with Aubrey de Grey on Aging and AI

A good interview can be found at h+ Magazine, in which Aubrey de Grey and Ben Goertzel discuss a range of topics. Goertzel is an artificial intelligence researcher who strongly supports the goal of achieving radical life extension, so the interaction between the two fields is one of his interests:


On a different note - I wonder how much do you think progress toward ending aging would be accelerated if we had an AGI system that was, let's say, roughly as generally intelligent as a great human scientist, but also had the capability to ingest the totality of biological datasets into its working memory and analyze them using a combination of human-like creative thought and statistical and machine learning algorithms? Do you think with this sort of mind working on the problem, we could reach the Methuselarity in 5 or 10 years? Or do you think we're held back by factors that this amazing (but not godlike) level of intelligence couldn't dramatically ameliorate?


I think it's highly unlikely that such a system could solve aging that fast just by analysing existing knowledge really well; I think it would need to be able to do experiments, to find things out that nobody knows yet. For example, it's pretty clear that we will need much more effective somatic gene therapy than currently exists, and I think that will need a lot of trial and error. However, I'm all for development of such a system for this purpose: firstly I might be wrong about the above, and secondly, even if it only hastens the Methuselarity by a small amount, that's still a lot of lives saved.

My take on it is that the researchers working on strong artificial intelligence are stretching the point when they discuss the relevance of their work to rejuvenation research - but this is based on my own particular estimate of how the near future of of artificial intelligence development will likely play out. Any and all systems that help biologists manage information will do their part in accelerating progress towards interventions in aging - but the next two decades don't look likely to see much more than incremental advances in expert systems. Better expert systems and knowledge management tools are a good thing, but they aren't strong AI.

I think that the first strong AI will most likely emerge from emulation and simulation of the human brain, and the computing hardware powerful enough to enable that to happen will only just be emerging twenty years from today. Meanwhile, those twenty years between now and 2030 are a vitally important time for longevity science: either we get our act together and build (a) a meaningful, funded, supported research community and (b) the scientific basis for all the necessary biological repair technologies in that time frame, or rejuvenation biotechnology will not arrive in time for those of us heading into middle age today.

So for us, I don't see that strong AI development has an enormous relevance to the future of human longevity - no more so than any line of development likely to spin off incrementally better knowledge management tools. For our descendants, strong AI will absolutely reshape the world. But we're in a far worse position than they will be when it comes to time to wait and the tools at hand - not a hopeless position, but one that requires a great deal more work right here and right now.


AI is something that has been going on for the last 10 to 15 years and you can see it everywhere, from games to consumer electronics.. but I think we still have a long way to go to get to the "movies" stage.

Posted by: Harmony Heart Group at June 10th, 2011 12:53 PM

AI strikes me as being mostly a distraction from real anti-aging advocacy. Computing power only affects some things, and regular experiments will still always be needed to test theories. Computers don't magically solve problems, they're just a tool. I wish all the people spending time theorizing about AI on H+ message boards would instead focus on advocating for biotech (likes SENS) and volunteering for orgs like the SENS Fdn and Methuselah Fdn. Even if I'm wrong, and AI does turn out to be important to life extension, there are plenty of people working on it already.

Posted by: Kim at June 13th, 2011 12:10 PM

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