The Future Awaits Its Makers

A fellow that you met today will, forty years from now, have an entirely artificial immune system. It is an early model, a prosthetic replacement that is a mix of synthetic cells and less organic medical nanomachines, and requires frequent work and an open data channel to keep in line. Obtaining it wasn't a choice - it is a new treatment for a small class of acquired autoimmune conditions that somehow manage to persist through complete removal and replacement of immune cell populations. It works; he doesn't get sick, at all. Ever.

Nonetheless, you shook this man's hand today. That future lies in waiting.

Earlier you passed by a kid who will outlive you, your plans, your memory, your immediate descendants, and the first phase of terraforming to take place on Mars. The young have it good these days: a solid eighty years of probable-worst-case life expectancy at birth that will take them well into the first age of radical life extension - and that even if the next twenty years take us through a miserable economic depression coupled with a spread of repressive regulatory regimes that effectively stifle life science research and its application. Many of the youngest children of today will live for centuries, and many of those will go on to live for thousands of years.

You walked right by that kid. In fairness, he doesn't know either, of course.

Then there's that new face at the office, fresh out of college: by the 2070s she'll be a shell of the person she was. A happy shell, however, the original exterior polished up by gene, cell, and enzyme therapies to minimize the changes of aging in skin and musculature, but all of the interior organs below the neck new from labs in Thailand and Vietnam over the years, grown from her own genetic material. That took money, even though it's second string organ biotechnology by that time - but the sharp average worker you can save enough to afford that sort of thing over a lifetime. It's not as though she'll be retiring any time soon, and better low on funds than living like a 80-year old from a century past.

That probably didn't cross your mind today when the two of you happened to be in the same meeting.

The point here is this: the next half century is shaping up to be a transformation to match the last, but this time in biotechnology and medicine as well as in computing. These little snapshot nascent futures are no different than my 1960s analog describing to you the future of a then-20-something-and-now-70-something individual: surrounded by monitors; in touch with distant corners of the world at the click of a button; the world's encyclopedias and research institutions available at a moment's notice; living drenched in a wealth of knowledge, and connected to half the world's population in near-instant communication; possessing such massive reserves of computation power that enormous multi-machine simulations run for little more than entertainment value; connected to this web of knowledge and communication by radio, microwave, and pocket-devices that can be used near anywhere; amidst a sea of surging culture, charged by a hundred million voices all talking at once.

This is an age of change, and much lies ahead of us. The potential for what sounds like science fiction - radical life extension, artificial organs and bodily systems, the defeat of disease and aging - lies nascent and dormant, awaiting those who will carve it from the passage of time, who will do the work to make these dreams a reality.

This is the time for it.


Considering the severe lack of funding for SENS, it looks like we're in Aubrey de Grey's worst case scenario in terms of when to expect a comprehensive rejuvenation platform. Looks to be around 2050, assuming no global disasters and nuclear war. I'm crossing my fingers that we can achieve LEV before my time is up (I'm 22 years old).

Posted by: Michael at June 21st, 2012 12:40 AM

Almost 27, and hoping the same. I do think things will accelerate tremendously in terms of funding if we can get a few significant successes going...

Posted by: Matt at June 22nd, 2012 5:28 AM

Reaching out and helping others understand they need to help themselves accelerate the solutions to their own challenges is the fastest way we can see such solutions arrive for everyone. The cavalry is not coming... we must do it ourselves.

Posted by: Kevin at June 24th, 2012 11:51 AM

In my experience (15 years in biotech/pharma industry) the most pressing problem is not funding the basic scientific research. It is effective translation of research from bench to clinic and a regulatory environment that favours creating moats for entrenched interests.

Posted by: Duane at June 25th, 2012 5:06 AM

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